Capitol Reports, Feb.29, 2012

In Legislative News, Missouri Press News On
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Headline: Business-backed bills advance in the legislature [Entered: 02/29/2012]

By Cole Karr and Joe Chiodo

Two major issues pushed by business advanced in the Missouri House during the last week of February.

On Monday, Feb. 27, the House Workforce Development Committee approved a Senate-passed bill that effectively restricts workers from filing damage lawsuits against employers for occupational diseases.

The bill would expand workers’ compensation coverage to include occupational diseases. Workers’ compensation provides health care coverage and awards for permanent injury or death. If a worker gains coverage, the worker and his or her family is prohibited from suing the employer for the injury or disease, with some exceptions.

Additionally, the bill would exclude people in prison from gaining workers’ compensation coverage.

Two days later, on Wednesday, Feb. 29, the full House gave first-round approval to a bill that affects the way damages are awarded in civil cases.

The measure paves the way to comparative negligence in civil lawsuits, meaning that those found guilty in multiple-defendant cases would pay damages based on how much they are at fault. Currently, if one defendant does not have adequate funds to pay the damages, then the other defendant or defendants must pick up the tab.

* Get the liability lawsuit radio story [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/TORT.HTM].

* Get the liability lawsuit bill, HB 1298 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM98 ] .

* Get the workers’ compensation bill, SB 572 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUMW2 ] .

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Headline:  FBI joins Missouri auditor in investigating MEM Insurance Company after making political campaign donations [Entered: 02/27/2012]

By Stacey Kafka

The FBI is joining the state auditor in an investigation into a state insurance company after the company donated thousands of dollars to political campaigns.

The state created Missouri Employers Mutual Insurance Co. with public funds in 1993 to provide workers’ compensation coverage to small businesses. The company claims it is not a public company, which would make the political campaign donations acceptable.

Schweich’s office released an audit of the company on Monday, Feb. 27, and found it’s necessary for the legislature to make the decision if MEM is a public or private company.

“For public employees you can’t get incentive payments, so if this falls in the public realm any incentive payments would’ve been inappropriate, and that’s something we want the legislature to take a look at,” Schweich said.

The audit also found the company spends lavish amounts on employee perks, such as tens of thousands spent on MU football and basketball tickets, and bonuses, plus compensation for terminated workers. Public companies are not allowed to give severance packages to former employees.

The audit covers a period when former Gov. Roger Wilson was president of the company. He was placed on leave by the MEM board in May and later fired.

Wilson, a Democrat, had served in the state Senate and was elected twice as lieutenant governor. He assumed the office of governor for a few months after the death of former Gov. Mel Carnahan in a plane crash in 2000. He chaired the state Democratic Party from 2004 to 2007.

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

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

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Headline:  Missouri’s House reverses cuts to colleges with money from the blind [Entered: 03/01/2012]

By Jordan Shapiro

The top budget leader in the Missouri House announced on Thursday, March 1, his plan to restore funding to public universities by eliminating a state program for the blind.

House Budget Chairman Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, plans on ending a $28 million program for the blind to reverse the 15 percent cut to public universities called for by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.

“The governor’s assault on higher education ends today,” Silvey said.

Silvey’s plan would add a total of $106 million more than Nixon’s proposal. The plan would give colleges the same amount of money they are getting this year.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said he applauded Silvey’s work to restore the funding to colleges but did not agree with taking money from the blind.

“I would rather go into the administration of state government for the cuts than the blind,” Kelly said.

To restore higher education funds that Nixon cut, Silvey took $28 million from the Supplemental Aid to the Blind program, which provides care for 2,800 people who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid. Blindness is the only disability in Missouri to have this special fund.

“It’s about a fundamental question of fairness in the disability community,” Silvey said.

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

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

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Headline:  Senate rejects increased Farmland Property Tax [Entered: 03/01/2012]

By Mary McGuire

The Missouri Senate beat the weekend deadline to approve a resolution that rejects the Missouri State Tax Commission’s recommendation to increase the grades of agricultural land that could be taxed based on their productivity and yield.

The resolution was approved in a 19-8 Senate vote and was delivered to the governor on Thursday, March 1.

Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown, sponsored the bill and said that in light of recent natural disasters that have afflicted Missouri, farmers can’t afford to pay the increased taxes.

“Following 2011, where we had multiple disasters in ag country, with the floods, droughts, straight winds, tornadoes — everything that really made 2011 not a very good year — I personally didn’t think it was a good time to be raising taxes,” Munzlinger said.

There was push-back by senators from urban and suburban areas of the state, who said they doubted that the agriculture industry had as bad of a year as it claimed and said that it was unfair that farmers have not seen tax increases in 15 years.

“I have read articles that the farming industry was one of the bright spots in the economy this year,” said Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis County.

* Get the radio story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/HCR8.HTM]

* Get the resolution, HCR 8 [ http://www.house.mo.gov/billtracking/bills121/biltxt/intro/HCR0008I.htm ] .

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Headline:  Candidates for national, statewide office begin filing under new districts [Entered: 02/28/2012]

By Mary McGuire and Jordan Shapiro

Filing for office began on Tuesday, Feb. 28, using some district maps that are not finalized. One of the maps is part of a case in state Supreme Court and another is still under consideration by the commission that authored it.

U.S. House of Representatives

A decision by U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, to challenge U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, for a congressional seat has left Democratic lawmakers hoping a primary between the two can be avoided with a Missouri court decision.

Missouri lost one of its congressional districts — Carnahan’s — after the 2010 census. Carnahan and Clay have filed for the same congressional district — now held by Clay — which includes all of St. Louis City and northern St. Louis County.

The Missouri Supreme Court has heard a legal challenge to the new congressional maps passed by the General Assembly after it overrode a veto from Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.

“We are still hopeful that the Supreme Court and this body will end up revisiting the maps and we’ll be able to work that out because I would hate to see them run against each other,” said Rep. Susan Carlson, D-St. Louis City.

Rep. Tishaura Jones, D-St. Louis City, said the contest will not be pretty and will be divided along racial lines.

“This is going to be a very divisive race, for the city and for the region,” Jones said. “It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be nasty, it’s going to be ugly; everything that people don’t like about politics, this race is going to embody that.”

Missouri Senate

Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, filed to run for office in the heart of Kansas City after the new state Senate map moved her district across the state.

Cunningham filed her candidacy for the 2012 state Senate election in her current Senate district number, which is now located on the other side of Missouri. The new 7th District includes the urban core of Kansas City and is currently represented by Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Jackson County.

Cunningham said she might launch a legal challenge to the new Senate map, but she filed in her old district number anyway. Her only opponent so far is Rep. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City.

“I think I will do whatever is necessary to make sure it is constitutional,” Cunningham said about the map.

The new Senate map was released by a bipartisan commission appointed by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. The map does not become final until March 12, when the commission has to take another vote for its adoption.

* Get the text story about the filings for U.S. House of Representatives. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/CARN1.HTM]

* Get the U.S. congressional maps. [http://www.mdn.org/2011/DATA/MAPS.HTM]

* Get the text story about the Missouri Senate. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/SEVENTH.HTM]

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Headline:  Mother of child who died in the care of an unlicensed child care provider testifies on child care legislation [Entered: 02/29/2012]

By Danielle Carter

The mother of a child who died at the hands of an unlicensed child care provider testified on Wednesday, Feb. 29, in favor of a bill that would crack down on the providers. The House Professional Registration and Licensing Committee held a hearing for a bill that would enact rules and penalties for unlicensed child care providers.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jill Schupp, D-St. Louis County, first called Shelley Blecha to testify in favor of the bill. The bill is named Nathan’s Law in memory of Blecha’s son, who died while in the care of an unlicensed child care provider.

Nathan Blecha was three months old when he died at an in-home, unlicensed day care provider that his family had used for three and a half years. The care provider placed Nathan on his stomach in a playpen and some loose bedding became wedged in front of his face, resulting in suffocation.

Blecha cried while telling the committee and audience the story of what happened to her son.

“There was nothing that could be done,” Blecha said. “All they could do was simply ask her (the child care provider) to never watch children again. The prosecutor wouldn’t do anything because the fine was $200 … I paid more for the ambulance ride for my child than the prosecutor could even get for his life.”

Committee members quoted a study by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which reported 54 other children died while with child care providers over a 55-month period.

The bill awaits a vote in the committee.

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

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

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Headline: Missouri House passes a bill to add lottery ticket for veteran funds [Entered: 03/01/2012]

By Paige Hornor

The Missouri House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday, March 1, that would add a state lottery ticket for the Veterans Commission Capital Improvement Trust Fund.

It would require the state lottery to develop and begin selling the tickets July 1, 2013.

“This is very necessary, needed to ensure that we continue to provide services to our veterans in our seven veterans homes. Without this resolution, the veterans home fund and trust fund will be bankrupt by the end of 2013,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Sheila Solon, R-Blue Springs.

All of the profits from the lottery would go toward veterans programs. Opponents said they are concerned that this lottery would detract from the lottery benefiting education.

The bill passed by a vote of 137 to 14. It will now move to the Senate for approval and would require a public vote before the amendment is added.

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

* Get the bill, HJR 45. [http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HJR&NUME]

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Headline:  American Bar Association task force recommends review of Missouri death penalty [Entered: 03/01/2012]

By Sherman Fabes

Missouri’s death penalty was questioned Thursday, March 1, by a task force for the American Bar Association.

The task force conducted a study of Missouri’s capital punishment and published recommendations for the General Assembly.

Paul Litton, task force member and University of Missouri law professor, said, “Missouri has inadequate measures to guard against wrongful conviction.”

Members of the task force said their report was neutral on whether there should be a moratorium on executions. None of the members, however, said that they supported capital punishment.

Task force recommendations include a review of how the police identify suspects and whether people with mental illnesses should be sentenced to death.

The team could not cite any particular past or present case that the recommendations would have changed.

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

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Headline: Primate ownership in Missouri would be tougher under Senate bill [Entered: 02/29/2012]

By Stacey Kafka

The Senate Agriculture Committee passed a bill Wednesday, Feb. 29, to make it more difficult for Missourians to own a primate.

Exotic animal owners would be required to obtain a permit to own a large ape or baboon if the legislature approves the bill. Primate owners would also be required to microchip their pets.

The bill passed through the committee with a vote of 6-1.

* Get the bill, SB 666 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUMf6 ] .

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Headline:  Capitol Perspectives: Echoes of a Past Budget Crisis [Entered: 03/02/2012]

By Phill Brooks

An Albany reader of my earlier column about relations between the governor and legislature suggested that Gov. Jay Nixon’s reluctance to work with lawmakers might reflect a lesson from former Gov. Bob Holden’s experience.

Interesting point because there are some very close parallels in the challenges the two administrations encountered.

Democrat Bob Holden served as governor from 2001 to 2005. By the end of his administration, his relations with the legislature had become horrid.

Holden came to office as Republicans were gaining control of the legislature. Just weeks after he was sworn into office, a special election gave Republicans control of the Senate for the first time in 52 years. The House fell to Republicans less than two years later with the 2002 elections.

Holden did not help himself in how he responded to the Republican tide.

Rather than moderating his liberal philosophy, Holden seemed to go out of his way to pick a fight with the legislature.

When revenue collections began falling short, he proposed a tax increase package that would have been one of the largest in state history. It was an obvious nonstarter for a Republican legislature with members who had campaigned on holding down state spending.

Beyond proposing a tax increase, Holden refused to give lawmakers a budget that was balanced on existing revenues. Instead, his budget was based on the legislature passing nearly $700 million in tax hikes.

On top of that, some of his leading administration and budget officials flatly refused to assist legislators in crafting a balanced budget. When the legislature passed a budget based on existing revenues, Holden simply vetoed major parts of the budget, which forced the legislature into an early-summer special session.

Holden again called for higher taxes. The legislature again refused and passed a budget based on existing revenue. And, again, Holden vetoed the budget bills. Only after the legislature refused to budge and passed its original bills with almost no debate did Holden give in and sign the bills.

The next year, 2004, started on the same path, with the governor again calling for massive tax increases.

Holden’s State of the State address to the legislature was described in at least one news report as having “scolded” the legislature for its refusal to raise funds. As I remember that speech and its tone, calling it a scolding was putting it mildly.

It was so confrontational that it provoked an outburst of heckling by House Speaker Pro Tem Rod Jetton, who was applauded by his GOP colleagues for interrupting the governor’s speech.

It was the first and only time in my career I’d seen that kind of behavior during a governor’s address to a joint session of the legislature.

Holden never seemed to recover his political balance in that final year of his administration. In August, he was defeated decisively by Claire McCaskill in the Democratic primary for governor. Republican Matt Blunt won the general election.

There are some clear similarities between the Holden era and the situation Nixon now faces.

Like Holden, Nixon must deal with a Republican-controlled legislature. And Nixon is grappling with problems similar to those Holden encountered with education funding because of the slow growth of state revenues.

Also like Holden, Nixon is facing harsh legislative criticism for withholding education appropriations to balance the budget.

There are, however, some significant differences.

Although Republicans still control the legislature, in even greater strength than Holden faced, there is a less partisan tone. The Republican speaker named three Democrats to chair House committees, one of which is a powerful appropriations committee.

In the Senate, relations between the two parties are so cordial that the Republican leaders invited Democratic Floor Leader Victor Callahan to join them for the leadership news conference on the opening day of this year’s legislative session.

A while back, a former legislator told me that he thought Republicans had learned how to be a majority party while Democrats have learned how to be in the minority.

Another difference lies in ideology. Holden was a consistent, unapologetic liberal going back to his first years as a young state House member.

Nixon is significantly more moderate. Facing a budget crisis similar to that of Holden’s era, Nixon flatly has ruled out tax increases. Instead, he champions an idea supported by many Republicans: business tax breaks for economic development.

Although the financial crises the two men faced are similar, their approaches are substantially different.

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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