Capitol Reports, Feb. 23, 2012

In Legislative News, Missouri Press News On
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Headline:  St. Louis County senators lose in the latest Senate redistricting map [Entered: 02/23/2012]

By Jordan Shapiro and Andrew Weil

Two of the legislature’s leading conservative voices are the losers in the new state Senate map released early Thursday morning, Feb. 23.

The maps released by a bipartisan commission appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon moved Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, whose term expires this year, into a district where she could not run for re-election.

“I am not drawn anywhere. I am in nowhere land,” Cunningham said.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, would still live within his current district, but he would be facing a more Democratic-leaning electorate. Like Cunningham, Lembke’s term expires this year.

“I am very surprised and disappointed,” Lembke said.

Senators are elected for four-year terms. Half of the seats go up for election every two years. This year, odd-numbered districts are up for election. Cunningham currently represents the 7th Senate district. Under the new map, Cunningham would live in Sen. Brian Nieves’, R-Washington, even-numbered district that will not be up for election until 2014.

The map becomes final after a 15-day period for public comment and possible revisions.

Republican and Democratic leaders in the state House of Representatives called for a new model Thursday, Feb. 23, for how Missouri handles redistricting.

The U.S. and Missouri House maps are currently being considered by the Missouri Supreme Court.

Democratic Leader Rep. Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County, said the current “disjointed” process should lead to an evaluation of the state’s procedure.

Rep. Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, said term limits have blocked looking at the redistricting process.

“With term limits, the actors and all the stakeholders involved are likely going to be different every 10 years,” Jones said, “so I think it’s one of those things where, you know, politics everyone has short term memories to begin with and when you extend something and only do it once every 10 years the memories just don’t last that long,” Jones said.

* Get the full text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/JANE.HTM]

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Headline:  Senate Transportation Committee heard testimony on future I-70 plans [Entered: 02/22/2012]

By Cole Karr

The Senate Transportation Committee heard public testimony on Wednesday morning, Feb. 22, about a bill that would allow tolls on Interstate 70.

Kevin Keith, Missouri Department of Transportation director, said the state has a unique opportunity to use public-private partnerships to place a toll to make future improvements. He said for $4 billion, two lanes for cars and two lanes for trucks can be built both ways across Missouri.

Bill sponsor Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said he doesn’t like the idea of tolls but that it’s better than a gas tax increase alternative.

However, committee Chairman Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, said he favors a direct tax such as fuel or sales tax.

Tom Crawford, president and CEO of the Missouri Trucking Association, said he is afraid part of the plan discriminates against interstate commerce and gives local residents a free pass.

Ron Leone, executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, said the toll will take away business from his members. He argued that roads are public assets and should not be used for profit.
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Headline:  Seven female Missouri legislators express outrage after they were prevented from speaking during contraception debate [Entered: 02/22/2012]

By Josie Butler

Seven female state representatives voiced outrage at being ignored by Republican House leadership during a discussion about President Barack Obama’s contraception mandate.

The House debated and approved a resolution Wednesday, Feb. 22  that opposes the federal health care mandate. Republican representatives argued that the mandate would impede religious freedom and that the federal government should not be involved in religious organizations.

Several female Democrats were not recognized by the Republican presiding officer, Rep. John Diehl, R-St. Louis County, when they rose to speak against the resolution.

Following adjournment, seven female House members, calling themselves “the silent seven,” held a news conference on the Capitol steps.

Diehl declined comment.

Rep. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan County, said he believes there are other options to providing birth control and said he is worried about the cost of providing contraception.

“It would cost nothing to anyone if we decided to use abstinence as birth control,” Schatz said. “Abstinence is free.”

The resolution was voted on and adopted by a 114-45 vote. Although only one Republican voted in opposition, 12 Democrats joined the other side in favor of the resolution.

Women in the group said they will continue to stand and demand recognition on the chamber floor until they are recognized.

* Get the text story about the Senate’s contraceptive debate.  [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/SB749DEB.HTM]

* Get the full text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/CONTRA.HTM]

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Headline:  Nixon administration accused of questionable accounting [Entered: 02/21/2012]

By Jordan Shapiro

Both Republicans and Democrats attacked Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration about how it manages the state’s $23 billion operating budget during a House Budget Committee hearing Tuesday, Feb. 21.

House Budget Chairman Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, accused the governor of running the state like Enron, the failed energy company that tanked because of its notoriously corrupt leaders.

“It is not actual money, it’s fake money,” Silvey said while discussing the 2012 budget restrictions imposed by Nixon.

Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis, added to the criticism and accused Nixon’s office of using “fuzzy math” to put the budget together.

At issue is $111 million withheld from various programs in the budget by Nixon at the start of the 2012 fiscal year even though funds were appropriated by the General Assembly. The governor can withhold money during the fiscal year if state revenues fall below their expected levels.

Silvey and others on the committee asked State Budget Director Linda Luebbering why more withholds have not been released given the current revenue collection and the governor’s request for an extra $1 million to Missouri Science and Innovation Reinvestment Act, which would have pooled money to be distributed to new science and technology companies in the state. The MOSIRA law was struck down by the Cole County Circuit Court as unconstitutional, but before the ruling, Nixon had asked for the funds to start the program.

Funds currently being withheld include transportation for school districts, money to public universities and the Parents as Teachers program.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, called the withholds, which were made before the fiscal year even began, a “comprehensive abuse.”

* Get the full text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/RESTRICT.HTM]

* Get the governor’s budget proposals. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/DATA/BUD13.HTM]

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Headline:  Ethics legislation not a priority this legislative session [Entered: 02/21/2012]

By Mary McGuire

Following the Missouri Supreme Court’s decision in mid-February to strike down an ethics law passed in 2010, Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, says new ethics legislation isn’t a priority in this legislative session.

“I think the last one took some time and quite a bit of work, and here it is almost March, so it’ll be difficult to get that done in this session,” Mayer said.

In light of the recent state Supreme Court ruling, Gov. Jay Nixon has urged legislators to expedite ethics laws before the filing deadline.

Earlier this month, Rep. Jason Kander, D-Kansas City, filed a bill which would reinstate all legislation thrown out by the high court. It would also add a provision that contributions of more than $500 must be reported immediately.

“Ethics reform is good for the people of the state,” Kander said. “It might be bad for politicians, but that is not a very good reason not to do it.”

* Get the full text story.  [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/ETHLEG.HTM]

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Headline:  Missouri House takes steps to prevent future economic development failures [Entered: 02/20/2012]

By Matthew Patane

Following the conclusion of the Missouri General Assembly’s investigation into a failed artificial sweetener plant in Moberly, a state representative has filed legislation that would take steps to ensure another similar failure does not happen again.

The introduction of the legislation comes a week after the House Government Oversight Committee released the results of its investigation into the financial collapse of Mamtek U.S. Inc. A Senate committee also released its findings and recommendations last week, ending the legislature’s investigations into the economic development project.

The legislation largely follows the House committee’s recommendations, which includes requiring any municipal government to provide insurance for bonds issued for economic development projects. One of the bills follows the lead of the Senate’s recommendations by proposing the implementation of a five-star rating system for economic development projects.

If passed, the legislation would also require greater due diligence standards from the Department of Economic Development and third-parties involved in investigating projects.

Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, is the chairman of the House committee and sponsored five of the seven bills.

* Get the full text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/MAMBILL.HTM]

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Headline:  Missouri House committee adopts education omnibus bill [Entered: 02/22/2012]

By Stephanie Ebbs

Newly hired Missouri public school teachers would not have the possibility of tenure under an omnibus education bill approved by the House Education Committee. Eliminating the measure of job security in favor of yearly contracts is one of several controversial issues lumped together in a bill attempting to improve Missouri’s schools.

The bill encompasses the biggest education policy issues of the current session, such as:

* Establish the “Teacher Tenure Act.” The act would remove the possibility of tenure for teachers hired after June 30, 2013. It would also eliminate seniority-based layoffs.

* Provide government-funded alternatives to public schools. The “Passport Scholarship” provision of the bill creates a tax credit that would pay for a student living in an unaccredited district to transfer to a private or parochial school.

* Give the State Board of Education more power over an unaccredited district. The board would be given powers to determine an “alternative form of governance,” including establishing a special administrative board and creating a plan to regain accreditation.

* Adjust distribution of state funds to get more money to poor districts. The provision is designed to address the legislature’s failure to “fully fund” the School Foundation Formula that determines allocation of funds to the state’s public schools.

* Allow an expansion of charter schools. Charter schools are currently limited to St. Louis and Kansas City districts, but they could move into any district that loses accreditation after three years of provisional accreditation.

* Increase accountability and transparency standards for charter schools. Charter schools would be required to prove they are in compliance with state and federal education standards as well as in solid financial standing before their charter would be renewed. Charter schools would also be required to report financial problems to their sponsor immediately to prevent sudden closures.

* Eliminate the minimum salary requirement for educators with post-graduate degrees.

* Create a “clearinghouse,” a neutral third party to coordinate student transfers from unaccredited districts.

* Get the text story [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/EDBILL.HTM]

* Get the bill, HB 1740 [http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM40]

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Headline:  Top Missouri Senate leader pushes bill to prevent protests at funerals [Entered: 02/20/2012]

By Natalia Allen

The Missouri Senate president pro tem is sponsoring a bill to make violent vandalism and disruption at a house of worship a crime. The bill that would make offenders punishable by jail time and fines.

Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said he sponsored the bill as a partial reaction to the Westboro Baptist Church’s protest during the funeral of 9-year-old Christina Green. Christina was killed during the assassination attempt of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Arizona lawmakers passed similar emergency legislation to prevent a protest at her funeral.

The Missouri legislation would make it illegal to disturb, attempt to disturb or vandalize a house of worship in an attempt to protect places of worship. According to the language in the bill disturb includes, “profane discourse, rude or indecent behavior, or making unreasonable noise.”

Mayer said the term “house of worship” includes churches, synagogues, mosques and other private or public buildings. Protests would be prohibited at military monuments, cemeteries, schools and hospitals.

The penalty for disturbing or attempting to disturb a house of worship ranges from a class C to a class A misdemeanor, which can be punishable by a maximum of 15 days to one year in prison. However, vandalism of a religious institution would result in a class D felony, which is punishable by a maximum of four years in prison.

No one testified against the bill. Voting on the bill is expected to begin as early as next week.

* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/HWORSHIP.HTM]

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Headline:  Missouri senators debate change to mandatory child abuse reporting law [Entered: 02/20/2012]

By Stephanie Ebbs

A law requiring anyone age 18 or older to report an incident of child abuse came under more scrutiny in the Missouri Senate than expected. Several senators said they were concerned about the unintended consequences of making failure to report abuse a Class A misdemeanor.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, said he sponsored the bill to prevent a situation like the one involving Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky from happening in Missouri.

The current law only requires those involved in “child care or treatment,” such as teachers or medical professionals, to report abuse. The law does not specifically include university employees.

* Get the text story.  [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/REPORT.HTM]

* Get the bill: SB457 [http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUME7]

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Headline:  Capitol Perspectives: The Curious Saga of Redistricting [Entered: 02/24/2012]

By Phill Brooks

In an American democracy, you would not think it’s possible for a small group of unelected officials to subject citizens to a legislator whom they did not elect. You would not think it possible that voters could be blocked from getting to elect their legislator.

Yet, that is exactly what Missouri’s Senate Redistricting Commission has proposed.

A leading conservative voice in education, St. Louis County Republican Sen. Jane Cunningham, will be blocked from seeking re-election this year under the tentative Senate redistricting plan proposed Thursday, Feb. 23, by the Senate Redistricting Commission.

Cunningham’s term expires this year, as do the terms of all the 17 senators elected from odd-numbered districts. But under the new map, Cunningham would be placed in an even-numbered district represented by a senator from another county — Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington.

Like all senators from even-numbered districts, Nieves’ term will not expire until 2014.

So, citizens living in a portion of St. Louis County will be represented in Missouri’s Senate by a man they did not elect. And those residents will be blocked from the right to choose their senator for two years.

This is not the first time that switching a Senate district number blocked a senator from office. It happened to Sen. Jeff Schaeperkoetter, D-Owensville. After just four years in the Senate, he was blocked from seeking a second term in 1992 because his district number went from odd to even.

But this year, the redistricting saga has been particularly unusual.

The first commission effort in 2011 failed because the bi-partisan commission could not reach an agreement on a map. There are an equal number of Republicans and Democrats on the commission. Like a decade earlier, the commission deadlocked along party lines.

That tossed redistricting to a panel of appeals court judges picked by the state Supreme Court. You would think that judges would do better. They did not.

Their first effort violated a constitutional restriction on splitting counties between districts. Realizing their mistake, these lawyers rescinded their first plan and adopted a new map.

But Missouri’s Supreme Court ruled the appeals court panel did not have legal authority to rescind its first plan. So that threw redistricting back to a new bipartisan commission.

The House map also has been embroiled in controversy. Like the Senate plan, it was drawn by an appeals court panel. And like the earlier Senate map, the House map is under legal challenge in a case now before Missouri’s Supreme Court.

Missouri’s Constitution requires that a House district be “composed of contiguous territory.” But that word “contiguous” takes on an usual meaning for the 50th District where lives Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia.

To get from one part of that district to the other, Kelly would have to drive through three other House districts and travel nearly 30 miles outside his district.

His only other option would be to swim or boat across the Missouri River.

That’s because the district is split in half by the river. And there’s no bridge, or even a ferry service, connecting the two halves of the new 50th District.

The 50th is not the only such district. The new map has a total of four House districts that are split by the Missouri River without a connecting bridge in the district.

That’s one of the points in the Supreme Court case, that those districts do not meet the definition of contiguous.

We do not know what the judges who drew that map were thinking because reporters could not cover their deliberations. The judges did not consider that they were bound by the state’s open meetings law that governs most other government agencies. That also is part of the legal challenge to their map.

One unusual aspect to the House map is the large number of incumbents thrown together into the same districts. Legislative staff report more than 50 House members would be in districts with two or more current members.

Lumping so many incumbents together not only exacerbates political tensions, it would assure a significant turnover of members in a chamber already showing the loss of continuity because of term limits.

House Republican Leader Tim Jones describes the House plan as just plain “bizarre.” The St. Louis County Republican and a bipartisan group of other legislators have concluded that there needs to be a complete review and overhaul of Missouri’s redistricting process.

“I believe there is a bipartisan interest in taking a look at this entire process, from top to bottom, so our successors 10 years from now do not have to have an experience such as this,” Jones said.

The House Democratic leader agreed. “It is time that we start looking at how we conduct the redistricting process and try to find some way that is not necessarily as disjointed as we have now,” said Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County.

One intriguing possibility is that revising how legislative districts are drawn could provide a vehicle for repealing or changing legislative term limits.

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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[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.]

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