MPANewsBook: Statehouse News for MPA Members
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Headline: A note from Jordan. [Entered: 08/31/2012]
This week we have a lot of coverage about Missouri’s drought conditions. Although we are receiving a lot of rain this weekend, the drought stories are still pertinent. We have updated some of the stories to include mention of the Hurricane Isaac-remnant that is causing the heavy rain.
Also in this edition is a preview of the legislative veto session on Sept. 12. Next week, one of our reporters will have a more in-depth preview.
Phill has confessed to me he messed up and partially wrecked our computer system that he’s been spending the week frantically trying to fix. That’s why, he says, he did not get out to you what he had promised on the survey summary and the quick explanation of the various MDN resources. He assures me he’ll get his (and our) computing nightmare fixed by the start of next week.
As always feel free to call our office (573-751-2888), Phill’s cell phone (573-353-7525) or my cell phone (314-406-9528) with any comments, questions or suggestions.
Headline: Missouri’s November ballot language changed on federal health care. [Entered: 08/28/2012]
A Cole County circuit judge has rejected language drafted by the Democratic secretary of state to describe a Republican-sponsored provision to restrict state implementation of the federal health care law.
The November ballot proposal involves the creation of a health exchange that would provide a standardized system for consumers to compare different private health insurance plans. The federal health care law says that the federal government will operate such a Web-based “exchange” with standardized policies unless a state creates its own system.
But Missouri Republican lawmakers have been hesitant about adopting such an exchange. The measure in question on the November ballot was passed by the GOP-controlled state legislature and would prohibit the state administration and the governor from establishing such an “exchange” without approval from either the legislature or the voters.
Secretary of State Robin Carnahan’s original ballot description indicated the proposal would “deny individuals…the ability to access affordable health care plans.”
The language ordered by the judge and backed by Republicans would describe the proposal as prohibiting “the Governor or any state agency, from establishing or operating a state based health insurance exchange” without voter or legislative approval.
Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, called the decision “a tremendous win for Missouri voters.”
On Thursday, Aug. 30, Carnahan announced her office would not appeal Green’s ruling because of a lack of support from Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster.
“Although we strongly disagree with the decision by the Cole County Circuit Court, this office is not in a position to appeal the decision on its own. We are disappointed that Attorney General Koster has refused our request to file an appeal,” Carnahan said in a statement on Thursday, Aug. 30.
Koster said in a statement the summary chosen by Judge Green “more accurately reflects the legislative intent” and added the “argument is over.”
Headline: Missouri officials urge residents to prepare for Hurricane Isaac remnants [Entered: 08/30/2012]
By Matt Evans and By Christine Roto
Missouri officials are urging residents to prepare for severe storms and heavy rainfall as the remnants of Hurricane Isaac move through the region.
Forecasters predict the path of the hurricane to go through mid-Missouri and into the St. Louis region. While the storm will bring much-needed rainfall to the drought-stricken region, some officials are concerned about where all that water will go.
“It looks like it’s going to be a rain event rather than a high wind event,” said Missouri Public Service Commission Chairman Kevin Gunn. “We don’t know how it’s going to react with it being so dry or where water is going to go. So people need to be prepared for potential flooding which could in turn lead to potential service outages.”
As of Thursday, Aug. 30, the National Weather Service in St. Louis is predicting 3 to 5 inches of widespread rainfall, but also notes that higher amounts are possible. The weather service predicts the rain will begin Friday, Aug. 31, and last through the weekend.
Gunn says it’s important to be prepared for power outages. He suggests putting together an emergency kit that includes items like bottled water, food, flashlights, blankets, a battery-operated radio, and batteries. He also says to call your service provider if there is a power or gas outage.
Missouri’s drought-ridden lawns will receive some relief through the rain from Hurricane Isaac. National Weather Service forecaster Scott Truett said Missouri can expect three to five inches of rain from the storm.
Truett said it is still difficult to determine exactly how much rain Missouri needs to break the drought.
“We’re going to need anywhere from 9-15 inches of rain,” Truett said. “That would have to occur over several weeks or several months not just obviously in one storm.”
Brad S. Fresenburg, a professor of plant pathology at the University of Missouri, said homeowners should be wary of over watering lawns because this could create runoff and puddles.
* Get the print story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/CANE.HTM]
Headline: Telemarketers will be prohibited from calling cell phones under a new law. [Entered: 08/27/2012]
By Brendan Cullerton
A bill expanding Missouri’s No-Call List to cell phones and fax machines became law on Tuesday, Aug. 28.
The measure allows Missouri cell phone users to register their phone on the Attorney General’s website to prevent receiving calls from telemarketers via phone call or text message. Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said the new law addresses a major consumer complaint.
“For years as I’ve been attorney general and during Gov. Nixon’s time as attorney general I don’t think that there was one complaint that came forward more frequently than people requesting that their cell phones be put on the no call list,” Koster said.
Telemarketers violating the new law could face a fine of up to $5000.
Well before the law was to take effect, the Attorney General’s office began accepting applications for registering cell phones on the now call list. The office claims that 1.8 million cell phone users have already registered their phones. The site to register is http://www.ago.mo.gov.
* Get the No-Call List bill, HB 1549 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM49&YEAR 12 ]
* Go to the Attorney General’s web site. [ http://www.ago.mo.gov/ ]
Headline: Drought cuts Ameren’s hydroelectric production in half [Entered: 08/30/2012]
By Taylor Beck
Due to the drought, Ameren Missouri’s hydroelectric production has been cut in half, according to the manager of Hydro Operation Warren Witt.
“It simply means that we have to produce that power, and replace it with something that’s a little more costly,” Witt said.
To increase rates, Ameren must file a case with the Missouri Public Service Commission. Kevin Gunn, the chairman of the commission, said he does not think the drought conditions will affect current utility rates.
“It’s such a small percentage of how our electricity is generated in this state that it really shouldn’t have any effect, and it certainly wouldn’t have an effect on current rates because we look backwards when we’re setting our rates. We look at what a company has spent,” Gunn said.
Rate cases take around eleven months, so consumers would not see the price effects, if any, of the drought for at least a year.
Headline: Former House Speaker officially registers as lobbyist [Entered: 08/30/2012]
By Matthew Patane
Former House Speaker Steve Tilley officially has filed to be a lobbyist just two weeks after resigning from his post as Missouri’s House Speaker.
Tilley registered with the Missouri Ethics Commission Thursday, Aug. 30, officially becoming a client for three St. Louis-based companies: Fred Weber Inc., a Maryland Heights construction company; Supermarket Merchandising Inc., a merchandising display manufacturer; and Strategic Capitol Consulting LLC.
Tilley left the General Assembly five months before the end of his term, citing a focus on his optometry practice, consulting on political campaigns and spending time with his daughters as the reasons for his resignation.
* Get Tilley’s official registration with the MEC [http://mec.mo.gov/EthicsWeb/Lobbying/Lob_SearchLobDisplay.aspx?LobID=L003354&MyYear 12].
Headline: New law changes conditions of probation and parole. [Entered: 08/30/2012]
By Katherine Kreider
A Missouri House bill went into effect on Tuesday, Aug. 28, that could allow some convicted criminals to have shorter parole.
The new law allows some parolees to earn credits toward parole periods for complying with the conditions of their release. Supporters of the bill say it will help save taxpayers’ money by reducing the number of non-violent offenders that the state has to supervise.
The law’s sponsor, Rep. Gary Fuhr, R-St. Louis, says that this law could help lighten the financial load for taxpayers in Missouri.
“There are various estimates of them that can save anywhere from $50,000 up to several million dollars depending on how many people actually comply with their probation or parole provisions,” Fuhr said.
Those who do not follow the conditions of their probation will be sent to a mandatory 120-day correctional rehabilitation facility or returned to prison.
* Get the bill, HB 1525 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM25&YEAR 12 ]
Headline: Supporters say a new law will slow down red light camera tickets. [Entered: 08/29/2012]
By Brendan Cullerton
A law that went into effect Tuesday, Aug. 28, requires the state and its municipalities to time their yellow lights according to federal traffic safety standards.
Sen. Jim Lembke, who sponsored the legislation, said some cities were shortening their yellow light times to raise revenue from red light camera citations. Lembke said that made the intersections less safe because drivers had less time to stop.
Lembke, R-St. Louis County, said the new law may cut into cities’ revenue from red light tickets, but he thinks the intersections will be safer.
In 2011, the city of Arnold set its yellow light timers using the federal standards. The city found that the number of red light tickets dropped by 90 percent compared to last year.
Missouri Municipal League executive director Dan Ross says there was no evidence of cities lowering timers to gain revenue.
“I think, you know, now there is one standard so everyone knows what the rules are, and we support the standard, and people going into the cities know what to do,” Ross said.
* Get the radio story [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/LIGHTSR.HTM]
Headline: Governor calls for update to review of state tax credit programs
By Matthew Patane
Gov. Jay Nixon is reassembling a commission to once again look over Missouri’s 61 tax credit programs.
Nixon originally tasked the Missouri Tax Credit Review Commission with a similar review in 2010, which resulted in a report recommending the elimination of some of the state’s tax credits.
In a statement issued by his office, Nixon called upon the commission to update its original report due to “record redemptions” during the 2012 fiscal year. Nixon also said Missouri redeemed $629.3 million in tax credits in 2012, an “all-time record” and up from $522.9 million in 2010. The commission is set to meet at the State Capitol on Sept. 12, the same day legislators return for their 2012 veto session.
During the last legislative session state legislators said Missouri is expected to redeem $685 million in tax credits.
Efforts to scale back tax credits to businesses, developers and special interests have been stalled by a dispute between Missouri’s House and Senate. While various Senate members have called for cuts in tax credits, a majority of the House has strongly supported tax credits for economic development.
Nixon said the commission is comprised of 27 members, including business officials and legislators. It is co-chaired by former state Senate Appropriations Chairman Sen. Chuck Gross, R-St. Charles. Gross is now the director of administration for St. Charles County.
* Get a PDF of the commission’s 2010 report [http://tcrc.mo.gov/pdf/TCRCFinalReport113010.pdf].
Headline: Governor urges lawmakers not to override his veto of use tax on cars bought outside Missouri. [Entered: 08/27/2012]
By Jordan Shapiro
Gov. Jay Nixon sent a letter to lawmakers Monday, Aug. 27, asking them to not override his veto of a measure that would allow Missouri to collect sales taxes from cars purchased out-of-state.
Nixon said the 122,702 Missourians who purchased a car after March 21 would receive a tax bill if lawmakers override his veto when they meet Sept. 12.
“It is unfair and punitive to retroactively tax at least 122,702 Missourians particularly without a vote of the people,” Nixon said in his letter.
The legislation passed the Senate unanimously and then the House on a 122 to 21 vote during the last week of legislative session. Nixon vetoed the bill on July 12.
The measure was passed in order to address a Supreme Court decision in January that prevented Missouri from collecting a use tax on cars bought outside the state.
Lawmakers sought to reverse the court’s decision to give Missouri car dealers, who must impose the tax, a better chance to compete with neighboring state rivals.
* Get the bill, HB 1329 [http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM29&YEAR 12]
Headline: Bluetongue infection rate in Missouri deer difficult to pin down [Entered: 08/30/2012]
By Eric Stoyanov
Despite the recent hurricane-driven rains in Missouri, this summer’s past extreme drought conditions have increased the number of deer infected with the bluetongue virus. State conservation officials said the exact infection rates are difficult to determine.
There are currently 1,100 deer that are believed to have died from the bluetongue virus according to Emily Flinn, a state deer biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation. However, Flinn said it is difficult to know the exact number of cases since diseased animals may not be noticed right away.
Jason Sumners, another state deer biologist with the department, said the bluetongue virus is passed by midges, which are insects that are more prevalent during droughts.
“The appearance of the midge and the appearance of the infection is highly correlated with extreme summer drought and the conditions that we are experiencing now are ideal for that,” Sumners said.
The conservation department is asking people to report dead deer, especially deer found by ponds or bodies of water, so they are able to track the distribution and severity of the virus.
* Get the print story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/DEER.HTM]
Headline: Veto Session Preview [Entered: 08/31/2012]
By Jordan Shapiro
Lawmakers will gather in Jefferson City on Sept. 12 to decide whether to override the vetoes of Gov. Jay Nixon.
A number of high profile bills will be on the lawmaker’s slate. Overriding the governor’s veto requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the General Assembly.
The current Republican-controlled legislature has already successfully overturned a Nixon veto when they passed congressional redistricting maps in 2011.
Top priorities include bills dealing with contraception, use taxes on cars purchased outside the state and a bill allowing students to attend a different school district if it is closer to where they live.
The bills to be considered during the veto session are:
* SB 749 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUMt9&YEAR 12 ] -stipulates that employers do not have to provide contraception and birth control to their employees. The law is in conflict with President Barack Obama’s health care law.
* HB 1789 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM89&YEAR 12 ] -allows a student to go to a school in a different school district as a result of “travel hardships.”
* HB 1329 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM29&YEAR 12 ] -allows state to collect use taxes on cars purchased outside the state.
* SB 837 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUM∞7&YEAR 12 ] -changes the definition of “franchise” for disputes between alcohol wholesalers and suppliers.
* HB 1250 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM50&YEAR 12 ] -removes the June election day. The law also moves the presidential primary to March and eliminates the February election day for all races except bond issues.
* SB 566 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUMV6&YEAR 12 ] -requires a rabies vaccination for dogs and cats.
* SB 569 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUMV9&YEAR 12 ] -removes the June and February election dates.
* SB 635 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUMc5&YEAR 12 ] -an omnibus bill dealing with financial institutions, school funds, private roads, real estate appraisal, agricultural education programs, liens, and state purchasing preferences.
* HB 1758 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM58&YEAR 12 ] -allows biological parents to petition for visitation rights and custody for an adopted child.
* HB 1900 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM00&YEAR 12 ] -an omnibus bill regarding the executive branch reorganization, tax increment financing, annexation, workforce transition services for youth with disabilities, persons with mental disabilities, service dogs, employment security laws, accessible parking, the Brain Injury Fund, and employment disqualification lists for home care employees and establishes the Iran Energy Divestment Act.
* HB 1219 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM19&YEAR 12 ] -changes the standards in workplace discrimination lawsuits.
* SB 572 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUMW2&YEAR 12 ] -adds occupational diseases to the worker’s comp system instead of allowing employees to sue in civil court. The Senate already overrode Nixon’s veto on this bill, but the House has not.
Headline: Capitol Perspective: The Costs of Candor [Entered: 08/31/2012]
By Phill Brooks
The Todd Akin controversy has reminded me of other times that Missouri politicians have gotten into trouble for misspeaking — or, maybe, for saying what they truly believed, but subsequently claimed were mistakes in their language.
As journalists, we appreciate those sources who speak to us with unrestrained candor. But we sometimes extract a heavy price for the candor we seek.
That lesson was demonstrated in the early 1980s shortly after the discovery that the eastern Missouri town of Times Beach had been contaminated by dioxin in waste oil sprayed on the town’s unpaved roads to keep down dust.
The contamination was so high and dangerous that residents were forced to abandon their homes. There were immediate proposals for government assistance to Times Beach residents for their losses.
I chatted about that with the Senate Appropriations Committee chair, St. Louis County’s Ed Dirck. It was a relaxed, laid-back conversation in which there was no immediate story objective.
That quickly changed when Dirck answered a casual, almost philosophical question of why government should bail out the Times Beach folks when there is no expectation for government to pay a family that lost its home to fire and chose not to have fire insurance.
Dirck immediately responded that the Times Beach homeowners should not be compensated. Besides, he said, it was their own fault because it was their city that agreed to a cheap contract for oiling their roads.
His comments became a major story and triggered a torrent of criticism that Dirck was being heartless. Times Beach was a lower-income community. Some residents faced horrid economic losses without government assistance. Beyond the losses, they were going to have to deal for years with questions about the long-term health effects for their families.
To his credit, Dirck never blamed me. He said it and, at least at the time, believed what he said. But, politically, if not governmentally, it was a stupid thing to say.
A similar situation arises when a public official says something that we in the media are pretty sure the official did not intend to say. Do we report it? Should we ask, “did you really mean that?”
The value in asking a follow-up question as to whether a politician really meant what he or she said was demonstrated by Bob Holden on the day he became governor in 2001. Talking with reporters immediately after his inauguration, Holden said that the very next day he was going to meet with the head of American Airlines that was negotiating a takeover of St. Louis-based TWA.
Holden’s announcement was big news. TWA was facing bankruptcy and its takeover by a non-Missouri airline raised major concerns about what level of service would remain at the St. Louis airport.
But Holden’s statement struck me as a bit odd. The sale was about to be made. I was sure the top airline executives had more pressing matters than meeting with a governor.
So, shortly after, I asked Holden if he really planned to spend his first full day as governor out of his office. Well, no, Holden said, that’s not what he meant. He meant that he’d talk with the airline executive by phone or send one of his staffers. Holden even acknowledged that nobody had been able to get a meeting or discussion scheduled.
It was not the first such misstatement by a governor. We once had a governor who misspoke so frequently that he told a few in the press corps that we should report what we knew he meant, not what he actually said. Of course, we cannot do that in our profession.
As for Todd Akin, I got to know him very well during his years in Missouri’s House. He regularly joined me for lunch. I enjoyed those conversations because there was a remarkably unreserved candor in Akin. Unlike so many politicians, he would not pause before answering a question to figure out the safest answer. Akin seemed to have less regard than most politicians I’ve covered for the political consequences of his statements.
As I’ve written before, I have a friend who is afraid the Akin controversy will have a chilling effect on politicians’ candor — that they’ll be less likely to respond without reservation and less eager to make themselves available for casual conversations.
I share that concern.
But I’m also hopeful that from the Akin episode, politicians may have learned that if you say something to a reporter, you better be sure you say exactly what you mean. We cannot get inside a politician’s head to determine what the politician meant to say. And it certainly is not our job to protect politicians from their own statements.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and a faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.
Past columns are available at http://www.mdn.org/mpacol.]