Headline: Legislation filed to address Missouri’s failed school districts [Entered: 01/26/2012]
Legislation was filed Thursday [Jan. 26] to address the accreditation loss of the school districts in Missouri’s two largest cities, St. Louis and Kansas City.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, takes a substantially different approach for the two areas.
For Kansas City, Cunningham’s measure effectively would eliminate the school district and divide up the district among adjoining school districts.
For St. Louis, her plan would expand charter school alternatives and provide government support for parents to send their kids to private or parochial schools.
Just before the start of the 2012 legislative session, the legislature’s top leaders had made dealing with the non-accredited districts a “must-pass” issue.
The governor included reference to the two school districts in his State of the State address but did not offer any specific solutions.
* Get the bill, SB 706 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUMp6 ] .
Headline: Missouri presidential primary a ‘formality’ in eyes of Republican Party [Entered: 01/27/2012]
By Ashley Hartman
Missouri voters will get the chance to vote for a presidential nominee on Tuesday, Feb. 7, but the results might not mean very much.
The Secretary of State’s office said the primary will cost Missouri taxpayers $7 million for what will be a non-binding vote on the Republican side. The Democratic results will count, but President Barack Obama is the only well-known candidate on the ballot.
That the state will hold a non-binding “beauty contest” primary for Republicans goes back to threats from both the Republican and Democratic national parties. They warned that Missouri would have its votes at the national political conventions cut in half if the state did not delay the primary until later in the year. The two parties argue that they want to shorten the presidential campaign season but still honor traditional early-start states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.
“This year, because of some circumstances beyond our control, some national rules and some things that happened to the General Assembly, the primary is actually more of a formality,” said Jonathan Prouty, spokesman for the Missouri Republican Party.
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/PRIMARY1.HTM]
Headline: Security heightened at Missouri Capitol after cross-hair stickers found at offices [Entered: 01/25/2012]
By Joe Chiodo
Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers and Capitol Police heightened security on Wednesday [Jan. 25] after six legislators found cross-hair stickers on their doors late the previous day.
The stickers targeted Democratic Sens. Victor Callahan, Jolie Justus, Kiki Curls, all of Jackson County in the Kansas City area, and Robin Wright-Jones and Marie Chappelle-Nadal of St. Louis City. Rep. Scott Dieckhaus, R-Washington, also had a cross-hair sticker on his door.
At the time the stickers were placed on the doors, the senators were on the chamber floor debating a bill that implements parts of President Barack Obama’s health care reform bill.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol is still investigating Tuesday’s [Jan. 24] incident. Senators said the troopers collected the stickers to lift prints. Legislative aides removed the first stickers, but someone replaced them with larger ones. There were no witnesses.
“It’s the boldness in that act, that they would come back into the Capitol and place another one, that is disturbing,” Curls said.
Wright-Jones said she does not feel any different walking into the Capitol because as a progressive African-American female, she is “consistently assaulted in one shape, form or fashion about my existence.”
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/STICKERS.HTM]
* Get the radio story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/GUN.HTM]
Headline: Nixon administration skewed amount of his proposed cuts to education [Entered: 01/24/2012]
By Jordan Shapiro
The budget cuts to higher education announced at Gov. Jay Nixon’s State of the State address on Jan. 17 ran deeper than the numbers presented by the governor’s budget director and reported by the media.
Although the 12.5 percent cut presented by the governor’s budget director and used in many news reports is not completely inaccurate, the actual cuts in appropriations to public universities are 15.1 percent deeper from what the Missouri General Assembly approved last year. The cuts to Missouri’s public universities are the deepest in at least two decades.
The more accurate figure caught the Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, by surprise. He agreed the 15.1 percent cut was the more accurate number.
Schaefer called the governor’s 12.5 percent cut “not true.”
The two sets of numbers come results from a difference in perspective and a spending withhold Nixon placed on the colleges last year.
The Missouri Constitution allows the governor to withhold money from a budget if state revenues fall below the expected levels. Nixon used this power in July to withhold $150 million from the 2012 budget, $10 million of which came from the universities.
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/BUDGET1.HTM]
Headline: Missouri budget director doesn’t recommend proposed higher education cut in budget [Entered: 01/23/2012]
By Josie Butler
Missouri’s budget director expressed frustration with the fiscal year 2013’s reduction in higher education funding.
“There are reductions in this budget that we would not be recommending, and this is one of them,” said Budget Director Linda Luebbering. “We would prefer to have more money for higher education. This recommendation is purely around making sure the budget’s in balance.”
In his 2013 budget recommendation, Gov. Jay Nixon proposed a 15 percent cut in state appropriations to public universities.
Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee said in the past three years, more than 25 percent of cuts were to higher education funding — leaving the rate of state aid equal to what it was in 1997.
The budget isn’t official until it passes a majority vote in the General Assembly.
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/BUDG.HTM]
Headline: Senate moves forward with bill to require voter approval before Missouri could implement “Obamacare” [Entered: 01/24/2012]
By Andrew Weil
Legislation that would prohibit the Nixon administration from implementing the federal government’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act without voter approval got preliminary approval from the Missouri Senate on Tuesday [Jan. 24].
Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, sponsored the bill and said it is about separation of power and checks and balances on the executive branch.
“This bill goes to the people for a decision, and the people should be trusted to make the right decision at the ballot box,” Schaaf said.
Schaaf also said his bill does not prevent Missouri from creating state-based health exchanges or from following federal law. He said it does prevent the executive branch from acting without the legislative branch — all while protecting the rights of the legislature to control the purse strings of government.
Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Jackson County, opposes the bill. She said she believes there are too many unknowns and with this bill, the state might not be able to prepare for the inevitable.
“I would think that most Missourians in this state, regardless of how they feel about the Affordable Care Act, would want us to be smart enough as legislators to do the contingency planning necessary, [so] that we are not under complete federal control in the event everything goes forward in the way that the current administration in D.C. wants it to,” Justus said.
The U.S. Supreme Court is currently reviewing the health care law and is expected to conduct its hearing on the matter in March.
The bill must pass one more vote in the Senate before going to the House.
Headline: Republican Ed Martin switches races to run for attorney general [Entered: 01/26/2012]
By Paige Hornor
St. Louis Attorney Ed Martin dropped his congressional bid to run for attorney general Thursday [Jan. 26] morning.
Former Gov. Matt Blunt’s chief of staff will challenge incumbent Democrat Chris Koster for the position. Republicans Ann Wagner and Randy Jotte are still in the race for Missouri’s second congressional district.
Martin asked voters to support him in his plans to refocus Missouri’s needs. Martin said if he is elected, he will address many of the state’s problems, including the drug epidemic, illegal immigration, voter fraud and no-call lists. He said his campaign also focuses on moving away from the federal health care law and federal government growth.
“We have to have an attorney general’s office that is not focused on politics and is focused more on the simple fact that we have laws, we have a constitution, and we have to abide by them,” Martin said.
Republicans are already lining up behind Martin, the only major Republican in the race. The state’s Democratic party gave him its own welcome into the race.
“We welcome Ed to the race for however long he decides to stay,” Caitlin Legacki, spokeswoman for the Missouri Democratic Party, said.
* Get the text story [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/MARTINAG.HTM].
Headline: Only licensed physician in Senate vows to kill prescription drug-monitoring bill [Entered: 01/25/2012]
By Josie Butler
The only licensed physician in the Missouri Senate vows to strike down a bill that would create a prescription drug monitoring program.
“If it comes to the Senate, it will pass only if they can overcome my filibuster,” said, Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph.
The legislation would create an electronic log to monitor patient prescription use.
Physicians would have access to this database to view patient prescription history. The program has been created to prevent patients from getting multiple drug prescriptions from multiple physicians or pharmacies, also called “doctor shopping.”
The House committee has not yet voted on the bill.
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/PRESCIP.HTM]
Headline: Testimony regarding charter school expansion bill gets tense [Entered: 01/25/2012]
By Stephanie Ebbs
Lawmakers in Jefferson City are exploring options for students in low-performing and unaccredited school districts. An alternative form of public school called a charter school has become a buzzword in potential legislation as lawmakers search for a solution for the unaccredited St. Louis and Kansas City districts.
Charter schools are public schools that operate outside a traditional school district, allowing them to set their own curriculum under the supervision of their sponsor while abiding by state testing standards. These schools have been hailed as a solution to urban public schools with low test scores; however, charter school performance varies just as much as public schools.
“It’s time that we’d tried some different methods,” the bill’s sponsor Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, said. “What I bring is just a tool, it’s just a tool in the toolbox. It’s not going to be for everybody, it’s not gonna be a cure-all, but I do think it will move us a little bit forward.”
The General Assembly is considering a bill that would make the standards regulating these schools more strict and allow them to be established statewide instead of only in St. Louis and Kansas City.
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/CHARTER.HTM]
Headline: Workplace discrimination bill blocked in Senate [Entered: 01/23/2012]
By Matthew Patane
The Senate failed to take action Monday [Jan. 23] on a bill limiting protections for employees who file discrimination complaints. A Democrat-led debate kept the chamber from voting on the proposal.
The legislation limits protection employees receive after filing a discrimination complaint by placing a cap on punitive damages. The bill requires illegal discrimination to be a motivating factor, instead of a contributing one, for termination of employment.
“If we are really serious about growing jobs in the state then we have to change the environment we are in,” the bill sponsor Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, said.
Despite its relatively quick passage through committee, the bill faced opposition from Democrats concerned about the effect of limiting damages on business accountability.
Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/WORKDIS.HTM]
Headline: House committee tries again on tax incentives [Entered: 01/24/2012]
By Jordan Shapiro
A Missouri House committee approved tax incentives for data storage centers and amateur sporting events Tuesday [Jan. 24] after identical programs failed to pass the General Assembly last year.
The House Economic Development Committee sent two bills to the House floor to spur the growth of data storage center facilities and to attract amateur sporting events to Missouri. Similar bills failed during last year’s regular session and special session. House Budget Chairman Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, sponsored the data storage initiative.
Silvey’s bill provides a state and local sales tax exemption for data storage centers spending money on utilities, computers and equipment. The company would have to meet a minimum requirement of $37 million in capital investment and create 30 jobs to qualify for the tax break. The jobs created would have to pay 150 percent of the average state wage, currently at $45,000 per household, to qualify.
“If you don’t meet that, you don’t get it,” Silvey said about the legislation’s requirements.
Silvey described his bill as “anti-Mamtek,” referring to the failed development project in Moberly, because the tax credits will not apply unless there is an economic benefit to the state. Silvey said his bill is a “tax rebate” rather than a tax credit because the state does not lose tax revenue unless the economic benefits of the data centers are realized.
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/TAXIN.HTM]
Headline: Senate bill would bar those on welfare from gambling [Entered: 01/26/2012]
By Mary McGuire
Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, introduced a bill Thursday [Jan. 26] that would bar those receiving welfare from gambling activities.
The measure would put welfare recipients on a list for riverboat casinos to check before allowing entrance to the casino floor.
“People who are on public assistance are relying on their fellow citizens to help them through life, and if they are going to be taking taxpayer dollars because they need assistance, they don’t need to be gambling with those dollars,” Schaaf said.
Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis City, opposes the legislation and calls the bill “self-serving.”
“People who receive welfare have a life like people who do not, and they have every right to do anything that the state funds,” Wright-Jones said.
Wright-Jones threatened to filibuster the bill if it reaches the Senate floor.
Headline: Lawmakers worry gambling fee could drive away cash from Missouri [Entered: 01/23/2012]
By Josie Butler
Some lawmakers expressed concern Monday [Jan. 23] about the casino gambling fee that Gov. Jay Nixon suggested in his State of the State address, saying that an increase in the admission price could limit some of the revenue the state makes if casino-goers take their money across state borders.
Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, said he is skeptical about the increase because it could affect casinos in the Kansas City area.
The $1 increase is predicted to generate $50 million in revenue, State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said, which would be used to increase the veterans fund and generate money to build a veterans home. She said there is a waiting list of 1,700 veterans who want to live in the existing homes.
“We’re hopeful that these can move in advance of anything else and really make it through,” Luebbering said. “They are reasonable initiatives that we think there’s wide support for. We don’t see any reason why they can’t pass.”
No legislation has been proposed to change this part of Nixon’s proposed budget. The budget isn’t official until it passes a majority vote in the General Assembly.
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/GAMB.HTM]
Headline: Representatives suggest bringing windmills to the Capitol, solar power to state parks [Entered: 01/25/2012]
By Tyler Fine
A Missouri House committee heard proposals for two bills Wednesday [Jan. 25] that outline a way to bring renewable energy to the Capitol as well as Missouri state parks.
The first bill, proposed by Rep. Zachary Wyatt, R-Green Castle, aims to start a program in one of Missouri’s state parks. The program would test renewable energy resources, such as solar panels, to provide energy for the as-yet-unspecified state park.
Committee chairman Rep. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, proposed the second bill, which aims to utilize renewable energy to the Capitol. Holsman hopes to use river turbines, solar panels, windmills and horizontal geothermal energy sources to generate power for the Capitol.
Both Holsman and Wyatt voiced their concerns about the financial capabilities of the projects but assured the committee that the projects had serious potential to be economically beneficial in the long-run. The committee did not vote on either of the bills.
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/ENERGCOM.HTM]
Headline: Texting-while-driving legislation taken up by Senate committee [Entered: 01/25/2012]
By Cole Karr
The Senate Transportation Committee heard testimony Wednesday [Jan. 25] on a bill to extend the age limit on texting while driving.
The current texting-while-driving ban covers only Missouri drivers under the age of 22. A bill sponsored by Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis, would ban texting while driving for all Missouri drivers.
“We’ve had some deaths already that have been attributed to texting while driving,” Wright-Jones said. “And certainly you cannot have your eyes on your phone and on the road at the same time.”
Committee chairman Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, said he’s against distracted driving but would rather see the bill as a primary offense, which would allow law enforcement to pull an individual over solely for texting while driving.
“This secondary offense, I don’t like it at all,” Stouffer said. “It needs to be a primary offense.”
Wright-Jones said she might change the bill to make the ban a primary offense, thus potentially increasing its likelihood of passage.
Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, said the law steps too far into personal freedom. He said others have died because of distractions such as reaching for a CD or getting something out of a glove box while driving.
The committee took no action on the bill.
Headline: House bill would provide adoptees more access to birth records [Entered: 01/25/2012]
By Danielle Carter
The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on Wednesday [Jan. 25] about legislation that would give adoptees more access to their medical histories.
The bill would give birth parents the option to provide contact information that their biological child could access upon turning 18. The legislation would also allow biological parents to provide a medical history that could be used for faster diagnosis of disease. Providing information would not be mandatory, but currently no such option exists for parents who are putting their child up for adoption.
Carolyn Pooler, who was adopted in the 1940s, was recently diagnosed with cancer. She said it is “horrid” that she was unable to get her medical history to help with treatment.
Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, expressed concern about a parent’s right to privacy in reference to the bill. Its sponsor, Rep. Jeanie Lauer, R-Blue Springs, said the information would only be provided to adoptees with parental consent.
* Get the radio story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/ADOPTION.HTM]
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/ADOPT.HTM]
Headline: House committee hears plan to streamline process for transferring college credits [Entered: 01/24/2012]
By Andrew Weil
The Missouri House Higher Education Committee heard testimony on Tuesday [Jan. 24] supporting a plan to ease the process of transferring college courses throughout public universities in Missouri.
The plan would create a list of 25 lower-level classes that would be universally accepted from one public university in Missouri to another.
Rep. Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, who is also the Higher Education Committee chairman, sponsored the bill. He said the plan would make the process of earning a college degree more efficient throughout Missouri.
“Higher education is the key to an educated workforce, and we know that we are not ready in Missouri to meet the demands of the future: This is one way we begin,” Thomson said.
The bill would also let students who leave public community colleges to attend public four-year universities use classes from the four-year universities toward an associate’s degree. This would only be in effect for students who left a community college before receiving an associate’s degree.
“There are some schools at this point in the state that actually are doing that and are making a conscious effort to do that, but it’s not statewide; we would like to see this done statewide and in a more organized manner,” Thomson said.
No one testified against the plan during Tuesday’s [Jan. 24] hearing. The committee is scheduled to vote on the plan sometime during the first week of February.
Headline: Capitol Perspectives: Tax Credits and Term Limits [Entered: 01/27/2012]
By Phill Brooks
A major division in Missouri government that has created a near-gridlock on a key issue for the state might be having its last hurrah. And you can give the credit to legislative term limits.
The issue is tax credits given to special interests, developers, businesses and various social activities.
Collectively, tax credits now cost the state more than $500 million per year — as high as or higher than the state’s current budget shortfall.
There are tax credits for developers to build low-income housing and renovate historic buildings. Those are two of the biggest. There also are tax credits for adopting children and for lower income elderly homeowners and renters. Some of the state’s key economic development programs involve tax credits to business for creating new jobs.
A tax credit is almost like money that can be spent to pay state taxes. It is a credit that can be applied against a state tax bill in some period of time after it has been issued, usually five years.
Part of the problem is that because many tax credits do not have to be redeemed immediately, there is not a degree of certainty as to the financial impact to state revenues in any given year. If a major developer tax credit were eliminated today, it would take five years before the revenue savings for the state budget would be fully realized.
For the past few years, there has been building opposition in Missouri’s legislature to the rapidly growing cost of tax credits. A coalition in Missouri’s Senate has argued for putting lower caps on tax credits, requiring periodic legislative reauthorization of tax credits and more direct legislative control over the annual amount of tax credits that could be issued.
A couple of years ago, Gov. Jay Nixon added tax credit control to his legislative agenda.
But those calls for tighter controls of tax credits and reductions have met stiff opposition in Missouri’s House of Representatives. During the last special session, the House overwhelmingly rejected, 17-131, an amendment to require periodic re-approval by the legislature for historic buildings and low-income housing tax credits.
House leaders argued that requiring periodic legislative reauthorization would give any one member of the Senate the power to kill a tax credit program by filibuster. And, they argued the tax credits have been a powerful tool for revitalizing by local communities.
But opposition to tax credits has become so strong in the Senate that the chamber was willing to let the main economic development issue for the special session die if the House would not agree to scale back tax credits.
That opposition, however, might be seeing its final days because of term limits. The core of the group that has fought to scale back tax credits is serving its last year in the Senate.
Gone next year will be Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, Jason Crowell, Luann Ridgeway and Chuck Purgason. Brad Lager becomes term-limited two years later.
Purgason, the Senate’s Ways and Means Committee chairman, concedes that time is running out for his coalition. “A lot of stalwarts on tax credits will be gone,” he said in a recent interview.
House Speaker Steve Tilley expressed the same sense about the potential for a fundamental shift in the Senate on tax credits when we discussed this issue earlier this year.
Tilley noted that among the new leaders who could emerge in the Senate is his predecessor as House speaker, Ron Richard. As speaker, Richard led the fight against Nixon’s efforts a few years ago to scale back tax credits.
He became one of the strongest champions for tax credits as an economic development tool. He was powerful in his warnings that a period of economic downturn was not the time to back off on tax credits.
It has been one of the major predictions of term limit-critics that the Senate would become similar to the House because of a more frequent turnover of senators being replaced by House members.
Next year, tax credits might be the first clear policy shift to be seen from term limits.
On the other hand, there are newer Senate members who are just as fiscally conservative as the departing old guard. But I do not sense that they are going to be as dominant a coalition or as forceful on this issue.
And do not forget, Richard had the political skills to gather the votes to get elected to the most powerful position in Missouri’s House. That’s a point Tilley made — do not underestimate Ron Richard.
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.]