Capitol Report, Sept. 9, 2011

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+ communities make strides to increase security since 9/11 [Entered: 09/08/2011]

St. Louis and Joplin authorities have implemented systems to increase communication — what they say is the primary security precaution — to ensure the safety of the state and nation in the decade since 9/11.

St. Louis Area Regional Response System Director Nick Gragnani said they installed a terrorism early-warning center where intelligence analysts nationwide work together to share information to prevent terrorist activities similar to those on Sept. 11, 2001.

“The unique thing about [the 9/11 airplanes] were they didn’t care about learning how to take off or land,” Gragnani said. “They were only interested in flying the plane from one point to another. Now that is a clue. It would have helped a lot if those agencies would have shared that information at the time that they had it.”

Gragnani said regional collaboration and coordination are important to unite the country when major incidents or everyday contingencies occur.

The Joplin Police Department has increased its security at Joplin Regional Airport during flight times since 9/11. Lt. Matt Stewart said the department is also working in conjunction with the FBI to investigate any potential threats or suspicious activity the community brings to its attention.

“The communication and sharing of information has increased dramatically since then, and I think that’s probably been the biggest positive from that event,” Stewart said.

The St. Louis County Police Department’s Emergency Communications Network is also working on the implementation of a radio system to increase communication between St. Louis, St. Charles and Jefferson counties — an idea sparked by the 9/11 attacks. The network’s director, David Barney, said he hopes to place everyone on the same radio platform and achieve public safety cooperation.

“9/11 pointed out really the need for public safety interoperability and the need for various public safety agencies to work together,” Barney said.

Contracts have not yet been signed, but Barney said the aim is to complete the system in 2013.

Get the radio story. [ http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/FLAG.HTM ]

[By: Jessi Turnure[Email: jatmb7@mail.missouri.edu, Cell: 314-780-1078)]

+ tax breaks get stalled on the first week of the Missouri legislature’s special session;[Entered: 09/08/2011]

The plans of the governor and legislative leadership for swift action on tax breaks for a China air cargo hub ran into a roadblock in the Missouri Senate on the first week of the session.

Faced with growing opposition within his own party over efforts for a quick vote, Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, announced Thursday [Sept. 8] that a Senate vote on the matter would be delayed until Tuesday [Sept. 13] at the earliest.

Mayer’s decision came after a two-hour, closed-door caucus of Senate Republicans before the Thursday session that was scheduled to take up the China cargo hub legislation.

“A bill of this magnitude and of this importance needs the attention of each member of this body,” Mayer said.

One member, the Senate’s only practicing physician, described the delay to extending the life of a patient at the request of relatives even though he knows the patient has a terminal tumor.

“The tumor here is ‘aerotropolis,’ and I believe the chemotherapy that we’re doing is costing us about $25,000 a day to do this, to keep this alive a few more days,” said Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph.

But other members, including one of the Senate’s harshest critics of the China hub proposal, said the idea was not necessarily dead yet.

The proposal would provide about $260 million in tax breaks for the development of warehouses and other support facilities for a transport hub to be based in the St. Louis area.

The plan is combined with a package of reductions in various tax credits, including complete elimination of some programs. Proponents argue those tax credit cuts would finance the China hub plan. What tax credits to cut and how deeply to cut them is one of the major controversies that stalled Senate action.

The governor and legislative leaders agreed earlier this year to a plan that would make significantly smaller tax credit cuts than had been approved by the Senate during the regular session. Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, attacked his own party leaders for signing onto the agreement without consulting members.

“Don’t tell me that I can’t kill bills and I can’t filibuster bills, because the leadership does it all the time,” Crowell said on the opening day of the session, when his three-hour filibuster delayed the Senate from even getting organized.

As the first week of the session evolved, there were signs of growing opposition to elimination of tax credits for lower income elderly and disabled renters. It was to be one of the largest tax credit cuts. Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, described it as “robbing the poor to give to the rich.”

One of the early signs of problems for the China hub deal emerged when Purgason declined to carry forward as the sponsor of the leadership’s package with the governor and, instead, sponsored his own bill.

“I’m not willing to go through a process where I get handed a bill and say this is the bill, you need to go out and pass it,” Purgason said. “When we’re spending taxpayer dollars, we need to move slowly because we’re spending some else’s money and our kids’ money, and we’re spending money that goes to education.”

The rental tax credit program was established to provide a tax break similar to the “circuit breaker” provided to lower income elderly homeowners.

Critics, however, have argued that renters living in facilities with little or no property taxes benefit from the tax credits.

Get the radio story about the weekend break. [http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/MAYER.HTM]

+’s House rejects Nixon’s efforts to block considering disaster relief [Entered: 09/08/2011]

The efforts of Missouri’s governor to restrict what lawmakers can consider in the state’s special session were rejected in a bi-partisan vote in Missouri’s House Friday [Sept. 9].

By an overwhelming vote of 127-22, the House passed and sent the Senate a measure that would appropriate $150 million from the state’s budget reserve fund to cover natural disaster relief costs.

House action came despite the governor’s refusal to include natural disaster relief in his call for the special session. Missouri’s constitution prohibits the legislature from passing a measure that is not included in the governor’s special session call.

However, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Clay County, said he hopes the governor ultimately will extend his special session call to include disaster relief funding for Joplin and flooded farm fields.

In July, Nixon announced disaster funding would be included in the agenda, but he later dropped the idea, telling reporters it was not included because a final estimate of the recovery costs has not yet been determined.

As an alternative, Nixon has withheld funds from the state’s regular budget for education and other programs, to set aside money for those future bills. His withholdings have included programs such as public school transportation, Parents As Teachers, college scholarships and domestic violence centers.

Nixon’s withholdings prompted a lawsuit by the state auditor that is pending in Cole County Circuit Court.

Silvey’s alternative appropriations measure now goes to the Senate.

Get the roll-call vote [ http://www.mdn.org/2011/FORMS/VOTEVIEW.HTM?ne_year=2011&ne_vote=896 ] .

+ unsure how many Medicaid recipients without services after firing SynCare [Entered: 09/08/2011]

Although the Missouri Health Department severed ties with Medicaid service provider SynCare the first week of September, the department still does not know how many Medicaid recipients are being affected by the change.

Health Department Director Margaret Donnelly said she does not know when the department will receive an exact number for how many Medicaid recipients are currently lacking services due to the split with SynCare. Donnelly said she believes the state staff can take care of the situation.

“As we have assessed the situation, we really believe in the immediate future that it is the quickest and most orderly transition to have the state staff assume all of these responsibilities,” Donnelly said.

Rep. Thomas Long, R-Battlefield, said he thinks private providers ought to get involved.

“It would be better for us to involve the providers in getting rid of this backlog and in moving forward,” Long said.

Get the radio story.[ http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/SYNCARE2.HTM ]

[By: Jenner Smith[Email: JJSR4C@mail.missouri.edu, Cell: 913-220-5700)]

+ Lawmakers, educators on board with fresh Facebook bill [Entered: 09/07/2011]

Missouri’s contested “Facebook law” got a makeover from legislators and education groups Wednesday [Sept. 7] when they unanimously agreed to have local districts create their own policies regarding teachers’ communication with students via Facebook, texting and other private means.

The Senate Education Committee voted 8-0 in favor of the bill’s new wording, sending it to the full Senate.

However, the measure goes beyond the specific special session call of Gov. Jay Nixon, who limited the legislature to considering a simple repeal of the social media restriction.

Governor spokesman Scott Holste said Nixon does not intend to expand his call.

Representatives from state education groups, including the Missouri State Teacher’s Association, Missouri School Board Association and Missouri National Education Association, spoke in favor of the revisions at Wednesday’s [Sept. 7] hearing.

Earlier this summer, MSTA filed a lawsuit against the law charging it violates First Amendment rights of teachers. The lawsuit describes the law as being “so vague and overbroad that the Plaintiffs cannot know with confidence what conduct is permitted.”

“The only communication prohibited in Senate Bill 54 was hidden communication between a teacher and student,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County. Cunningham met with education organizations earlier this summer to address their concerns and amend the bill.

The amended wording requires local school districts to create their own policies regarding electronic communication by March 1. It also broadens the wording to apply not just to teachers but to all school staff.

Get the full text story. [ http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/FACEBOOK.HTM ]

Get the radio story. [ http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/FBBILL.HTM ]

[By: Stephanie Ebbs[Email: ebbs.stephanie@gmail.com, Cell: 618-525-4700)]

+’s legislative special session starts on acrimonious note [Entered: 09/06/2011]

Senate leadership plans for the legislature’s special session were wrecked on the opening day of the session Tuesday [Sept. 6].

The problems began when Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, launched a three-hour attack against the governor and his own party’s Senate leaders for their agreement on a special session call that restricted the ability of legislators to change the agreement on tax breaks for businesses and special interests.

“It’s repugnant to the very ideas that inspire the greatness of this state and country that we are hamstrung and we so willingly concede to the shackles of this special session,” Crowell said.

Crowell warned he would be willing to filibuster to death the tax package that includes various tax breaks to business for development including the China hub proposal for St. Louis. A personal confrontation on the Senate floor between Crowell and the Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer led to a closed-door session of Senate Republicans in an effort to work out their differences.

But the Republicans emerged with another sign of problems within their ranks when their Ways and Means Committee chair expressed reluctance to sponsor the tax-break bill deal worked out by the governor and legislative leaders that he had not been given the opportunity to review. Purgason said he also objected to the speed at which the leadership was pushing the bill of hundreds of pages in length and that few had the opportunity to read.

Faced with Purgason’s objections, Mayer filed his own version of the leadership’s compromise with the governor promising swift action on the proposal.

For the governor, things got a bit more complicated when the House Budget Committee chair, Ryan Silvey, R-Clay County, sponsored a measure to use an emergency fund to finance natural disaster relief costs for tornado damages in Joplin and flood damages. Silvey acknowledged his bill was beyond the scope of the call of Gov. Jay Nixon, who had ruled out letting lawmakers consider disaster relief funding in the special session.

Nixon argued his administration did not yet have a cost estimate. Instead, the administration had withheld appropriated funds from other agencies — mostly education — in order to reserve $150 million for future natural disaster relief expenditures. The governor’s action has prompted a lawsuit by the state auditor.

Silvey said he hoped that the governor eventually would agree to include natural disaster funding in the special session call, which Missouri’s constitution uses to restrict issues addressed in a special session of the legislature.

+ Former governor reportedly under federal investigation [Entered: 09/07/2011]

Missouri’s former governor Roger Wilson is under federal investigation for his link to illegal campaign donations, the Kansas City Star reported Wednesday [Sept. 7].

State records show that an unnamed St. Louis law firm donated $8,000 to the Missouri Democratic Party in 2009. Sources told the Star that authorities are investigating whether these donations were reimbursed by Wilson or public insurance company Missouri Employers Mutual Insurance Co.

This July, Wilson was fired as president of Missouri Employers Mutual Insurance Co., which provides workers compensation insurance to small businesses in the state.

If these donations came at his direction, Wilson could have been in violation of state and federal laws that prohibit contributions made in the name of another person, the Star said.

Wilson told the Star he could not comment on the issue.

[By: Elizabeth Hagedorn[Email: echrp7@mail.missouri.edu, Cell: 314-913-0639)]

+ Phill’s column: Special Sessions and Technical Sessions [Entered: 09/09/2011]

For all the attention generated from the opening day of the legislature’s special session, it’s likely your House member skipped the first couple of days.

In fact, most of the elected members of the House of Representatives skipped the opening day, including the chamber’s top leaders: the House speaker, majority leader and minority leader.

The official journal for the opening day notes the presence of just 29 of the House’s 159 members (there are 163 seats, but the House currently has four vacancies).

Most of these members skipped the opening day because their leaders essentially told them not worry about showing up.

“Whoa,” I suspect you’re thinking. “How can that be?”

The answer relates to what is called a “technical session.” You will not find that term defined in the constitution or the statutes, but it is a common practice in the Missouri legislature.

Many of the sessions of your state House and Senate do require members to attend to cast votes, participate in debates and offer amendments. For example, the final passage of a bill in a chamber requires an affirmative vote by more than one-half of the elected members.

But some legislative actions, such as the introduction of bills and bill assignment to committees, do not involve a vote, discussion or debate. That’s where a technical session comes into play.

It’s an official session, but it is limited to doing those kind of housekeeping matters when the leadership promises no votes will be taken. The Missouri Constitution makes reference to the fact there can be sessions for which a majority of the members do not need to attend.

Before you think that’s just an excuse for legislators to slack off their jobs, consider this. A sparsely-attended special session can save the state a bundle of money — more than $10,000 if a large number of House members do not show up for a session where their presence really is not required.

The savings is related to the daily “per diem” a legislator gets for attending a House session. If a legislator skips a chamber session, he or she does not collect that $98.40 daily expense allowance.

For many years, the House was packed on the opening day of a legislative session.

Some members actually looked forward to a special session. They could get together with legislative friends, spend some time on various legislative-related activities such as interim committee work and, of course, get wined and dined by lobbyists.

But things changed in 2001. In that year, House staff advised the speaker, Jim Krieder, that a special session could start with a technical session.

House leaders argued there was no real purpose in requiring members to be present because the state constitution prohibits the chamber from voting on bills any sooner than the third day of a session. So for the first few days, there would be little official work for members.

This use of technical sessions for the start of a special session is not without controversy. The Senate always starts with a full-blown session that members are expected to attend.

Some senators argue that the beginning of a special session is significant enough that there should be a recorded entry in their journal that a majority of the members were present to answer the governor’s call on the day and hour at which he called them into session.

Besides, senators like to voice opinions on any number of issues, regardless of whether there is any formal bill before them for debate, as we discovered with the Senate’s opening day of the special session on Tuesday [Sept. 6].

Does it make any difference whether a special session starts with a full attendance of members? Maybe not. But in the marble cave of Missouri’s statehouse, this the kind of technical, procedural issue that can generate hours of discussion.

Term limits might have played a role in the continued use of technical sessions for opening the House in a special session. There are fewer legislators, I sense, who enjoy having the summer or fall disrupted by having to show up in Jefferson City. There’s a greater emphasis now on getting the session finished as soon as possible, in the fewest number of days.

As always, let me know (at column@mdn.org) if you have any comments. If you would like your comments, or a portion of them, included in a future column, let me know and be sure to include your full name in your email.

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