Headline: Senate forces out governor’s nominees for economic development director, UM Board of Curators [Entered: 02/02/2012]
By Jordan Shapiro
Facing expected Senate rejection of his confirmation, Jason Hall announced Thursday [Feb. 2] his resignation as director of the Department of Economic Development. On the same day, the Senate blocked the nomination of Columbia attorney Craig Van Matre to the University of Missouri System Board of Curators.
Hall’s resignation was announced in a news release issued by the governor’s office as the Senate began meeting about gubernatorial nominations.
Neither the governor nor his communications staff was available for immediate comment.
During Senate debate, Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said that at age 36, Hall was too young and lacked sufficient business experience to manage the agency that handles business promotion for the state.
During his earlier confirmation hearing, some members expressed frustration that Hall would not directly answer questions about his positions on various economic development issues.
Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, showed frustration in a meeting Monday [Jan. 30] after Hall told him he had no opinion on several legislative proposals, including his stance on the state’s prevailing wage law, right-to-work law and minimum wage law. Hall told Crowell he had not “had much experience” with those legislative proposals and had no opinion.
The department has been under legislative review since last year when a Chinese investment project promoted by the department failed, leaving behind $39 million in bonds that had been issued by the city of Moberly.
The president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, Dan Mehan, had backed Hall’s nomination.
“He’s intelligent, he knows economic development, and he knows how to consummate a deal,” Mehan said.
Gov. Jay Nixon named one of his staff lawyers, Chris Pieper, as the acting director of the department. He becomes the fourth economic development director since Nixon took office in 2009.
Hall’s resignation came as several other nominations by the governor were blocked in the Senate or withdrawn as the Senate met for the last time before its deadline to act on nominations that were made before the legislature began its 2012 session.
At one point, legislators complained about the lack of communication by the governor. Even a Democrat — Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Jefferson County — voiced frustration with Nixon’s failure to talk with Senate members or for staff to coordinate effectively with the legislature.
The Missouri Senate also blocked the nomination of Van Matre to the UM Board of Curators.
Several Senate Republicans filibustered Van Matre’s nomination, citing a 2007 editorial in the Columbia Daily Tribune in which he called members of the Missouri Republican Party “minions” and said they wanted to create a Christian theocracy.
Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, opposed Van Matre’s appointment and said he should not expect the Senate to approve his nomination after the words used in his 2007 editorial.
“I told him [Van Matre] won’t have to temper his comments on the Board of Curators because he won’t be on the Board of Curators,” Engler said.
In 2007, Van Matre attacked a Republican legislator’s plan to eliminate the state’s nonpartisan plan to appoint judges. He accused Republicans of being in control of the anti-abortion group Missouri Right to Life.
Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, sponsored Van Matre’s nomination. Schaefer withdrew the nomination after members of his own party voiced their opposition. Schaefer said Van Matre was qualified for the position but that his appointment faced “insurmountable hills” in the Senate.
* Get the text story about the UM Board of Curators nomination. [ http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/CURATOR.HTM ]
Headline: Senate approves workplace discrimination bill after daylong filibuster [Entered: 02/02/2012]
By Matthew Patane
Following an extensive filibuster, Missouri Senators finally gave approval in the early hours of Thursday [Feb. 2] morning to a bill that would limit discrimination protection for workers.
Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, sponsored the workplace discrimination bill and said he wants to bring Missouri statute in line with federal law. Senators reached a compromise after members from both sides of the aisle met behind closed doors to negotiate the bill’s language while the filibuster continued. The two sides eventually reached a deal by eliminating parts of the bill dealing with summary judgment in discrimination cases.
Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, led the daylong filibuster against the business-backed bill. Earlier this week members of Missouri’s Legislative Black Caucus spoke out against the bill, saying they supported their members in the Senate and would continue to oppose the bill until it is defeated. Chappelle-Nadal said she would restart her filibuster if the proposal reached the Senate floor after being through the House.
As the Senate was locked down in a filibuster Wednesday [Feb. 1] evening, private negotiations were underway with some members of the Legislative Black Caucus to force a compromise.
House Republican Leader Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, said the goal was to get a bill passed that the governor would sign. Nixon had vetoed a similar bill last year.
The black caucus members had held a press conference Monday [Jan. 30] opposing the bill that they said will erase years of progress for civil rights and worker protection from discrimination.
The bill changes current state law to require discrimination to be considered a motivating factor for termination of employment, instead of a contributing one. Lager’s proposal also puts a cap of $300,000 on punitive damages.
* Get the text story about the bill. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/WORKDISC.HTM]
* Get the bill, SC 592. [http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUMY2]
Headline: The House Education Committee approves a shift in state funding to local schools [Entered: 02/01/2012]
By Stephanie Ebbs
The House Education Committee approved a measure that could give extra state funds to lower-funded schools in a year when the state is facing the potential of a near standstill budget for public education.
Missouri’s current formula for allocating funds to local schools is based an expectation of major funding increases to correct unequal levels of per-student spending among Missouri’s school districts.
The state’s stagnant economy, however, has prevented the state for the last few years from meeting the formula’s funding requirements. For the next fiscal year, the state would be about $500 million below the “full funding” requirement of the law.
The measure approved by the House committee effectively would impose cuts per-student state funding for better off districts, called “hold-harmless” districts, in order to free up funds for the poorer districts.
A similar plan to scale back state funding to hold-harmless districts, many in suburban areas, was blocked last year from a vote in the Senate by opponents who said it would be unfair to their districts that could see a reduction in state funding.
Headline: UM System recommends 7.5 percent tuition increase [Entered: 01/31/2012]
By Scott Kanowsky
The University of Missouri System announced Tuesday [Jan. 31] it wants its system curators to approve as much as a 7.5 percent tuition increase.
The decision comes after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon proposed a 15.1 percent funding cut to higher education in his FY 2013 budget.
In documents posted online, the system recommended increases on all four UM system campuses at a 6.5 percent average, although the spike still needs approval from the Missouri Department of Higher Education.
* Get the radio story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/CURINC.HTM]
Headline: China cargo hub back on the market for legislators [Entered: 01/31/2012]
By Matthew Patane
Despite previous failures, legislators are once again attempting to create an international trade hub in St. Louis.
The idea came before the General Assembly last session, but died when the House refused to take action on the bill after the Senate tacked on a series of tax-credit cuts. The Senate plan amounted to a total of $1.5 billion over a 15-year period. Legislators heard the same proposal during the special session but members of each chamber could not compromise on the bill, effectively ending all hope of passing it.
That is, until the current legislative session.
The House Economic Development Committee unanimously passed a bill Tuesday [Jan. 31] that grants a total of $60 million in tax credits over eight years to freight forwarders who direct cargo out of St. Louis to international destinations. The original plan for an international hub at Lambert offered $360 million in tax credits to companies to build a hub, which included warehouses to hold cargo.
Kansas City area representatives expressed concern that the bill would only apply to St. Louis, but bill sponsor Rep. Mike Leara, R-St. Louis County, said he was open to the idea of expanding the idea of a cargo hub to any area in Missouri that could support one.
Committee chairwoman Rep. Anne Zerr, R-St. Charles, reminded members and witnesses that Leara’s bill is essentially the same as the one the committee passed during past sessions. Although business representatives came out in support of the bill, there was little opposition to the proposal, and those that opposed were soon cut off by Zerr for not sticking to the purpose of the hearing.
The proposal now awaits a vote on the House floor.
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/CHINAHB.HTM]
Headline: Catholic schools ask lawmakers to let them educate students in failing districts [Entered: 01/31/2012]
By Jordan Shapiro
St. Louis and Kansas City Catholic school leaders offered to take students from failing urban districts at a Senate committee hearing Tuesday [Jan. 31].
The offer came during a Senate General Laws Committee hearing on bills to address the unaccredited St. Louis, Kansas City and St. Louis County Riverview Gardens school districts. Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, led the efforts.
The superintendent for Catholic schools in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, Dr. Dan Peters, told the committee his schools could provide a quality education for half the cost of public schools. The associate superintendent for the St. Louis Archdiocese, Dr. Robert Oliveri, also told senators his schools have about 7,700 empty seats that could accommodate students from St. Louis Public Schools.
“We want to allow students like ours the chance to choose a caring educational environment,” said Leon Henderson, president of Cardinal Ritter Catholic High School in St. Louis.
In 2010, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld a law in Turner v. Clayton that allows students living in unaccredited school districts to go to an accredited school in an adjacent county. In St. Louis, county schools have resisted letting students from St. Louis City enroll, citing a lack of classroom availability.
Cunningham’s plan allows St. Louis City students to attend county schools, but it also allows those same schools to set limits on enrollment. The bill also includes a tax credit, which opponents call “vouchers,” allowing students in unaccredited districts to attend private schools.
For the Kansas City school district, Cunningham calls for an annexation of the Kansas City school district by surrounding suburban districts with stronger academic reputations.
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/CATHOLIC.HTM]
Headline: Bill to eliminate teacher tenure under scrutiny in House committee [Entered: 02/01/2012]
By Stephanie Ebbs
The possibility of replacing teacher tenure with continuing contracts was under scrutiny Wednesday [Feb. 1] in a House Education Committee hearing.
Representatives questioned the teacher tenure bill’s sponsor, Rep. Scott Dieckhaus, R-Washington, about the emphasis on data and student growth in teacher evaluations.
Under the bill, teachers would be evaluated for renewal of their contract annually. Fifty percent of the evaluation would be based on teaching standards and the other 50 percent on student growth.
Dieckhaus assured members of the committee that districts would have flexibility in creating standards for student growth and would not be locked in to state testing standards.
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/TEACH.HTM]
Headline: House committee approves college course transfer credit bill [Entered: 01/31/2012]
By Paige Hornor
The House Higher Education Committee unanimously approved a bill Tuesday [Jan. 31] that forces Missouri’s public universities to accept transfer credit from sister institutions.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, would streamline the process of transferring credits by requiring the universities to create a list of 25 transferable lower-division courses.
The measure also allows students to use credits from public four-year universities to get an associate’s degree after leaving a community college.
Thomson said the current system of transferring credits isn’t always to the student’s benefit.
“They’re not universal. They’re not all the way across the state, and we oftentimes have students that transfer from school to school that don’t really lose a credit, they still have it, but it doesn’t really count for what they intended it to,” said Thomson, a former school administrator.
Representative Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, opposes the bill.
“It’s a bad idea to tell universities how to conduct transfer credits because the legislatures don’t know anything about [the process],” Kelly said.
No one spoke against the bill during the hearing, and it will now move to the House Rules Committee for clearance and full House debate.
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/TRANCRED.HTM].
Headline: Lawmaker seeks to reconnect children with their incarcerated mothers [Entered: 01/30/2012]
By Tyler Fine
Rep. Penny Hubbard, D-St. Louis City, who has worked in the St. Louis corrections department for more than 25 years, proposed a bill that would reconnect children with their incarcerated mothers.
The bill would give state funding to a two-year pilot program to provide transportation to the two primary Missouri female corrections centers in Chillicothe and Vandalia so that children can visit their incarcerated mothers once each month.
Hubbard said that often when a parent is incarcerated, the children are left in the care of relatives or foster families, many of which do not have the means or time to transport these children to see their mothers on a regular basis. Hubbard also said that reconnecting these women with their children would give support to the children, who often feel abandoned or resentful about the separation.
“We have to love these children more, we have to try to reach them,” Hubbard said.
A private program similar to the pilot program, called Patch, exists in Springfield.
Rep. Mike Brown, D-Kansas City, suggested that the pilot program could provide information on the effect of child visits on recidivism rates. Brown said the program might have the potential to lower recidivism by reconnecting families.
The bill is scheduled for a second hearing in front of the Urban Issues committee on Monday [Feb. 6].
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/HB1220.HTM]
Headline: Campaign Life Missouri and Planned Parenthood debate abortion pill in committee [Entered: 02/01/2012]
By Josie Butler
Administrators from Planned Parenthood and the Missouri Catholic Council clashed on Wednesday [Feb. 1] over a House bill that would create more restrictions on the administration of abortion drugs.
The bill would restrict the sale of RU-486 and other abortion-inducing drugs that terminate a pregnancy within the first seven weeks. A prescription would be required 24 hours before a licensed physician in a hospital or abortion facility could administer the drug. It would also prohibit “tele-medicine” abortions, in which a woman has an abortion in her home under the supervision of a physician via teleconference.
“This bill would seek to protect women by placing reasonable regulations and giving women basic information before using an abortion-inducing drug,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Andrew Koenig, R-St. Louis County. “I believe it would reduce the number of abortions in the state.”
Michelle Trupiano, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, said this bill has nothing to do with protecting women’s health and the bill will not reduce abortions.
“All this bill does is make abortion harder to access, it does absolutely nothing to protect women’s health,” Trupiano said.
According to Planned Parenthood, it adopted tele-medicine methods to increase clinical availability in rural areas.
“It is a protection bill for women,” Missouri Right to Life spokeswoman Susan Klein said. “It’s to assure that women are getting the best care possible.”
The current abortion-pill distribution procedure requires the woman to come to the clinic for blood work, an ultrasound and a meeting with a physician. Within the next 72 hours, the woman returns to the clinic to receive the first dose. She is then given the second dose, misoprostol, and pain medication along with instructions on how to self-administer the drug at home 24 to 48 hours after the first dose.
The committee has not yet taken action on the bill.
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/ABORTPIL.HTM]
Headline: Families oppose bill that would close mental health rehabilitation centers [Entered: 01/30/2012]
By Josie Butler
The sister of a resident at a state-run home for the “intellectually disabled” testified against a bill that would close such homes and integrate their residents into community life.
Mary Vitale’s brother lives at the Bellefontaine Habilitation Center, a facility in the St. Louis area for those with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
“We are extremely alarmed at the relentless efforts to close habilitation centers,” Vitale said in an emotional testimony on Monday [Jan. 30]. “The very specialized care and services he receives at the Bellefontaine Habilitation Center has allowed him to attain and maintain his highest God-given abilities. The only reason my brother is alive today is this specialized care.”
The bill would require the Department of Mental Health to develop a plan to move intellectually disabled persons out of state-funded facilities and into community-based living.
Dolores Sparks, chair-elect of the Congress on Disability Policy, said she believes that the state should assist people in transitioning into an acceptable environment. Sparks said she believes the proposed bill would accomplish this.
She said she believes Missouri is doing a good job transitioning individuals into the community and that the challenge is the cost of care in the institutional settings.
According to the Department of Mental Health, the average cost of supporting individuals in the community in 2011 was $211 per day. The average cost for a resident in an institution can range from $353 to $578. Many expenses such as dental, medical, therapies, transportation costs, room and board and day programming are included in calculating habilitation costs but not in community costs.
The House bill follows a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1999, known as the Olmstead Act. This law would transition “people with disabilities into the least restrictive type of care,” said Rep. Zachary Wyatt, R-Green Castle.
The House did not take immediate action.
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/HABCENT.HTM]
* Get the radio story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/HB1077.HTM]
Headline: Senators discuss government funding for improvements to St. Louis Rams football stadium [Entered: 02/01/2012]
By Joe Chiodo
The St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission presented a plan to the St. Louis Rams on Wednesday [Feb. 1] to keep the team in the Gateway City. The confidential plan sparked talk of state spending at the Capitol.
Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, questioned spending plans for the St. Louis Rams stadium improvements Wednesday [Feb. 1] at a Senate appointment hearing. Crowell said if state money is needed for improvements, he wants it brought before the General Assembly. He added that he does not agree with funding a new dome when higher education funding is at 1997 levels.
Sports Complex Authority nominee James Shrewsbury told senators he does not believe the economy is stable enough to support major government funding.
The Rams have until March 1 to respond to the commission’s proposal.
* Get the radio story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/RAMS0212.HTM]
Headline: Senate committee hears testimony from 2011 Missouri River flood victims [Entered: 01/31/2012]
By Crystall Cho
The Army Corps of Engineers took the heat for their handling of the 2011 Missouri River floods at a Senate committee hearing Tuesday [Jan. 31].
Victims of last year’s flood voiced their opinions to the Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and Environment Committee.
Representatives from the governments of Holt and Atchison counties said they had concerns in regards to the role of the corps. Atchison County Commissioner Curtis Livengood spoke against the corps’ approach to the 2011 flood.
“This didn’t just affect mid-Missouri, and we have a huge loss of revenues,” Livengood said. “We needed immediate assistance and relief after the inevitable flood damage.”
Livengood said that more areas can be improved by preparing citizens in better ways.
President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said the Senate committee does not plan to hold another hearing regarding the flood.
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/FLOOD.HTM]
Headline: Capitol Perspectives: Lori’s Filibuster [Entered: 02/03/2012]
By Phill Brooks
Not much happened this past week in Missouri’s Senate. There’s a one-word explanation why: filibuster.
Most of the week was spent in endless Democratic talk to block a vote on a Republican-backed bill pushed by business that would raise the requirements to win a discrimination lawsuit against an employer.
With more than a two-thirds majority, you might think Republicans could just shut off debate. Unlike the U.S. Senate, ending a filibuster takes just a majority of Missouri’s 34 members, or only 18 of the Senate’s 26 Republicans.
But senators value the power that each one of them can stop a bill and force a compromise. So, voting to shut down a filibuster is very rare in the Senate. On only 10 bills have there been votes to end a filibuster in the past 40 years — the last time was in 2007.
The most dramatic filibuster I’ve seen was in 1970. It was Earl Blackwell’s filibuster to block passage of an income tax increase. It went so long that senators set up cots to sleep outside the chamber. Senators’ offices were smaller, not so plush back then.
However, not all filibusters are done just to kill a bill. Often, the real purpose of a filibuster is to force those in the majority to compromise or add a provision to a bill.
That’s what happened with the employment discrimination bill of the past week. It ultimately got to a vote because the filibuster forced Republicans to work out a compromise with Democrats.
Other times, a bill being filibustered has nothing to do with the bill itself. Instead, one bill might be held hostage to force action, or change, or abandonment of some completely different bill.
At times, filibusters are conducted just for show. I’ve seen filibusters conducted to demonstrate to a special interest that a group of senators had really tried ever so hard to stop a bill. Or the majority party might allow a filibuster so they can demonstrate they tried, ever so hard, to push for a vote on some bill that the majority party actually did not want to come to a vote because of divisions in the party or the political dangers of a recorded roll call.
Sometimes what looks like a filibuster is just to slow things down to provide time for behind-the-scenes negotiations. We saw that this past week, too, when what sounded like an evening filibuster was providing time for a discussion to take place just outside the chamber between the Senate’s Republican and Democratic leaders.
In the years after Republicans first captured their current majority of the Senate, the Democratic leader, Ken Jacob, would talk endlessly about almost anything that arose in the Senate. His purpose, as he explained to me later, was not to kill any specific bill, but rather to slow down the rush to pass a Republican, conservative agenda. The slower the process, the fewer bills that could be passed before the session came to an end for the year.
The true purpose of a filibuster is not always clear. I learned that lesson when my wife, Lori, inadvertently caused a filibuster. She had come by the Capitol for us to go out to dinner during a Senate break. As we were leaving the building, I stopped by a senator’s office.
In the office were some of the lions of the Senate, including Dick Webster, Clifford Jones, Don Manford and Paul Bradshaw. One of them asked her about her college major. “Political science,” she answered. To that, she was urged to return after the Senate’s dinner break and they would have a “political science” present for her.
After dinner, she went to the Senate’s visitors gallery thinking that maybe she would be introduced to the Senate.
Well, it became something very different.
The birthday present turned out to a nightlong filibuster concocted for a completely bogus issue. If I remember correctly, it was Webster who first rose and charged there was a secret deal cut between Gov. Warren Hearnes and Attorney General Jack Danforth. The scheme, he claimed, was to slip through the Senate that night a proposal to let Democrat Hearnes run for a third term in return for easing the residency requirement so that Republican Danforth also could run for governor.
So those Republican lions, joined by a few Democrats, just blabbed on through the evening blocking any Senate action on anything.
I can still see in my mind the perplexed, confused expression of the Senate’s majority leader, Democrat Basey Vanlandingham, who kept trying to tell his colleagues that there was no such scheme afoot. There once had been such a measure, but it had been long dead with no effort to revive it.
Even my colleagues at the Senate press table were confused. They kept asking each other what was going on. Nobody had heard anything about a Hearnes-Danforth scheme. I, of course, knew the answer. But I kept silent, feeling a bit embarrassed that an innocent office visit had caused such a commotion.
As always, let me know (at email@example.com) 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.
==========================================[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.]