Capitol Reports, May 18, 2012

In Legislative News, Missouri Press News On
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Go to http://www.mdn.org/mpanews for the latest version.

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Headline:  As lawmakers head home many issues facing Missouri are left unresolved [Entered: 05/18/2012]

By Jordan Shapiro and By Matthew Patane

Missouri lawmakers head home after a tense legislative session with some of the biggest issues left unresolved.

From the beginning to the end, the session was dominated by fighting among the large Republican majority. Republicans were divided on major education issues such as eliminating teacher tenure.

Before the legislative session closed, the Missouri General Assembly was able to send the state’s $24 billion budget on time to Gov. Jay Nixon, but the Senate debate was dominated by late-night filibusters and personal attacks against Senate leadership.

As the legislature entered its final day, many signature issues had already died, but many other bills were sent to Nixon for approval. Measures passed include:

– A judicial reform bill that attempts to keep nonviolent offenders out of prison if they violate their parole.

– A higher education bill that would create a system for transferring credits among the state’s public universities.

– A tax bill that would allow Missouri communities to collect local sales tax on out-of-state car sales.

– A business bill that would prohibit workers from suing their co-employees for accidental injuries sustained while at work.

– A measure that would allow restaurants at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport to sell liquor starting at 4 a.m.

– A bill authorizing St. Louis residents to vote on a tax to redevelop the grounds of the Gateway Arch.

– A telemarketing law adding cell phones to the no-call list.

– A measure to be sent to voters that would establish a health insurance exchange.

– A measure allowing employers to opt out of providing birth control for their employees.

– A health care bill that cracks down on unlicensed day care providers.

Despite these and other accomplishments, lawmakers fumbled on addressing key issues that had been dubbed priorities for the session.

The General Assembly began the year with an ambitious agenda to tackle the state’s education issues. Republican leadership outlined a plan to provide relief for students living in unaccredited school districts, fix the public school funding formula, change teacher tenure, expand charter schools and allow the state to intervene immediately in a failed school.

Although the major items on the agenda failed, lawmakers did achieve what House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, called incremental progress.

“I don’t think we went forward on education reform on the big ticket issues,” Tilley said. “Now I do think we are going to make incremental progress this year with charter school expansion.”

As the session came to a close, lawmakers were able to pass an expansion of charter schools in failing school districts. Under current law, charter schools can only be in St. Louis and Kansas City.

Supporters said the charter school bill would provide an alternative for students living in struggling school districts.

“We need to do something to help these kids,” said Rep. Rick Stream, R-St. Louis County. “And we don’t need to wait until next year or the following year or five years or 10 years down the road. We need to act now to give these kids a quality education.”

The bill’s fate now lies with Gov. Nixon, who called for higher quality charter schools in his State of the State address in January.

A push to allow the state to intervene immediately in the unaccredited Kansas City School District was held up as the session closed, because the Senate did not approve a change to teacher tenure, which would eliminate seniority as a criteria to consider when a district has to lay off teachers.

Sen. Kiki Curls, D-Kansas City, said leaving 17,000 students in Kansas City in an unaccredited district without state help “is disgusting.”

“I am going home to 17,000 kids that cannot read. I do not get it. This is what we are here for,” Curls said.

One of the bigger education issues facing the legislature was providing a fix to Missouri’s underfunded public school funding formula. Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, sponsored measures that would have provided a fix to the funding formula if the state government could not appropriate enough money to fully fund the formula.

Pearce said it was a “major disappointment” that the body had not passed the funding formula fix. Pearce said divisions about the legislation stemmed from each lawmaker’s location in the state and the types of schools that were in each district.

* Get the newspaper legislative wrap-up story [ http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/FWRAP.HTM ]

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Headline:  Major bills that have passed the 2012 legislative session [Entered: 05/18/2012]

Major bills clearing the legislature include:

– HB 1042: Establish a system for transferring credit among the state’s public universities. Require the Higher Education Department to establish a list of at least 25 courses.

– HB 1219 (Vetoed by the governor): Restrict discrimination lawsuits by an employee against an employer. Impose limits on awards. Require proof that discrimination was a motivating factor.

– HB 1323: Give the Health Department the power to investigate and shut down an unlicensed childcare provider if there are pending criminal charges against the provider.

– HB 1498: Allow earlier Sunday morning opening times for the sale of liquor by the drink at St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

– HB 1504: Authorize a sales tax for the Gateway Arch in the St. Louis area, upon local voter approval.

– HB 1540: Release from Workers’ Compensation coverage liability a co-employee performing non-delegable duty of an employer in some circumstances.

– HB 1549: Expand the no-call telemarketing law to include cell phones and faxes.

– HB 1577: Impose additional requirements on local public schools on dealing with foster children. Require timely enrollment and participation in extracurricular activities.

– HB 1731: Transfer gambling boat fees to veterans homes and ban the state from operating any program that evaluates early childhood education programs.

– SB 566: Establish a statewide requirement that cats and dogs be vaccinated against rabies.

– SB 572 (GOVERNOR VETOED): Expand Workers’ Compensation to cover occupational disease, thus restricting lawsuits for occupational disease awards.

– SB 576: Expand who can sponsor charter schools that get public funds and compete with regular public schools. Let a charter school operate in any district that is unaccredited or provisionally accredited. Expand reporting and accountability requirements for charter schools. Let the state auditor audit charter schools.

– SB 749: Prohibit requiring a employer or health plan provider from having to cover abortion, contraception or sterilization if it violates religious beliefs.

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Headline:  Missouri lawmakers approve further regulations for unlicensed childcare providers [Entered: 05/18/2012]

By Josie Butler

Unlicensed childcare providers would be further regulated under a bill passed in the House on Friday, May 18.

The bill would prohibit individuals charged with neglect or the death of a child to provide childcare services during an ongoing case.

It would also require all unlicensed providers to disclose their licensing status to the parents or guardians of the children the facility cares for.

The bill would prohibit Children’s Division workers responding to a child abuse or neglect investigation from contact before a home visit.

The measure is named after Sam Pratt, who died in 2009 while under the care of an unlicensed childcare provider. His care provider, Martha Farris, was charged with abuse of a child and involuntary manslaughter. Farris has been released on bail and continues to provide childcare services.

* Get the bill, HB 1323 [http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM23]

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Headline:  House approves health care measure [Entered: 05/16/2012]

By Matthew Patane

Missouri representatives approved a measure that would allow health care providers to refuse to participate in certain medical practices that violate their beliefs.

Supporters of the bill say it protects the religious freedoms of health care providers and physicians since it protects these providers from retribution if they do not provide certain medical services, such as contraception or abortions.

Opponents of the measure say, however, that the bill would restrict access to certain types of health care.

The measure also says health care providers and employers cannot be mandated to attain medical insurance to cover abortion or sterilization procedures and that pharmacies cannot be required to supply certain medications.

The final version of the measure was approved by the House and Senate on the legislature’s last day — Friday, May 18. The measure now awaits action by the governor.

* Get the bill, SB 749. [http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUMt9.]

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Headline:  Cell phone users win a legislative victory [Entered: 05/15/2012]

Cell phone users would have a new tool against telemarketers under a measure the legislature sent the governor Tuesday, May 15.

The bill would allow cell phone numbers to be included in the “no-call” list maintained by the state attorney general.

With some exceptions, including political calls, telemarketers are prohibited from calling numbers on the no-call list unless there is a pre-existing business relationship with the phone subscriber.

The measure passed by the legislature also would expand the restrictions on telemarketers to include text messaging and faxes.

Business phone lines, however, would continue to be excluded from the restrictions.

Ironically, the bill’s sponsor said he had not been subjected to a telemarketing call on his cell phone until just about two hours after his bill had cleared the legislature.

“It demonstrates that this is becoming more and more prevalent,” said Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff. “The telemarketers are becoming more and more aggressive about looking for cell phone numbers and putting them into their databases.”

Richardson said the attorney general’s office was getting hundreds of complaints per week concerning telemarketing calls to cell phones.

Richardson’s bill cleared the legislature without a single dissenting vote in either the House or Senate.

Previous efforts to expand the no-call law had encountered legislative resistance for including political robocalls.

Critics of those efforts argued restricting calls for political campaigns violated the U.S. Constitution’s right of free speech.

* Get the bill, HB 1549 [http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM49].

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Headline:  Charter school expansion approved by the legislature [Entered: 05/15/2012]

Missouri’s governor will have to decide whether to sign or veto a measure to expand competition to local public schools in sub-par districts.

The House sent the governor Tuesday a measure that would expand where independent charter schools can operate and who can sponsor them.

Charter schools receive some public school funds, but operate independently of many of the regulations governing public schools.

Currently, charter schools are limited to St. Louis and Kansas City.

The measure passed by the legislature would allow a charter school to operate in any school district that is unaccredited or provisionally accredited.

In addition, more organizations could sponsor charter schools, including a local school district or a special state commission created by the law.

The measure also includes provisions for expanded government review of charter schools, including the right of the state auditor to audit a charter school.

Supporters argued the state has a responsibility to provide students in failing school districts with an alternative.

“We need to do something to help these kids,” said Rep. Rick Stream, R-St. Louis County. “And we don’t need to wait until next year or the following year or five years or 10 years down the road. We need to act now to give these kids a quality education.”

But critics charged the bill did nothing to address the underlying problems facing the unaccredited districts of St. Louis and Kansas City.

“This is a distraction to continue to pull resources,” said Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis, during the final House debate Tuesday. “A lot of these kids are homeless in St. Louis city public schools. The homeless rate is extremely high. We have to address those concerns.”

Springfield Democrat Rep. Sara Lampe warned that the bill could open the door for profit-making, out-of-state charter school companies to undercut the financial base of a local district that ran into accreditation problems.

“The only thing that this bill is needed for is to create an opportunity for expansion of a business out into the state into your community, to draw profit off your community and take away your local community school.”

The measure now goes to Gov. Jay Nixon. In his January State of the State address, Nixon urged lawmakers to impose stronger quality controls over charter schools.

* Get the bill, SB 576 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUMW6 ] .

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Headline:  Nixon throws a bomb into the legislative session [Entered: 05/17/2012]

Just hours after lawmakers passed a measure to restore a sales tax on auto sales, Gov. Jay Nixon issued a written statement attacking the bill that members of his own party had supported.

The bill came in response to a state Supreme Court decision that struck down a law imposing a local sales tax to register a car that had been purchased in another state.

Supporters say the law collectively would cost local communities more than $20 million in taxes and even more for school districts.

In addition, legislators have said that Missouri auto dealers have asked for the measure in fear that customers would go to adjoining states to purchase autos in order to escape the local taxes.

In his written statement, Nixon charged the bill “would bypass a vote of the people and improperly impose a tax increase.”

Nixon said he was willing to work with the legislature on the issue.

But with the General Assembly facing a 6 p.m. Friday, May 18, adjournment, the bill’s sponsor said it was too late.

“I think he’s pretty well staked out his position. I think his campaign staff has told him what he’s going to say,” said Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City.

Silvey said they would wait until the veto session in September if the governor vetoes the measure.

The bill had passed the Senate without a single negative vote. It cleared the House by an overwhelming margin of both Republicans and Democrats — far more than would be needed to override a veto.

* Get the bill, HB 1329 [http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM29].

* Get the House roll call [http://www.mdn.org/2012/FORMS/VOTEVIEW.HTM?ne_year 12&ne_vote“4].

* Get the Senate roll call [http://www.mdn.org/2012/FORMS/VOTEVIEW.HTM?ne_year 12&ne_vote“5].

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Headline:  Missouri lawmakers reduce penalties for possession and distribution of crack cocaine [Entered: 05/18/2012]

By Josie Butler

The penalties for crack cocaine possession would be reduced in a measure passed in the House on Friday.

Under the measure, a person who distributes, manufactures or attempts to distribute or manufacture 8 to 24 grams of crack cocaine commits a Class A felony. The measure increases the quantity from 2 to 6 grams to 8 to 24 grams.

The measure would also make any individual in possession or attempting to purchase cocaine in the quantity of 8 to 24 grams guilty of a Class B felony. Any individual in possession of more than 24 grams would be committing a class A felony.

* Get the bill, SB 628 [http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUMb8]

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Headline:  Rush Limbaugh inducted behind closed doors to Missouri’s Hall of Famous Missourians. [Entered: 05/14/2012]

In a locked-door session of Missouri’s House guarded by at least a dozen armed police officers, Rush Limbaugh’s bust was unveiled for placement in the Missouri Capitol’s Hall of Famous Missourians.

The ceremony was in a House chamber surrounded by armed Highway Patrol and Capitol Security police with public access blocked to the chamber.

Democrats were not invited and were given notice less than an hour before the ceremony began. The door to the Democrats’ side of the chamber was locked and guarded by armed police.

House Speaker Steve Tilley, who selected Limbaugh for the honor, said he was the person who asked for the armed security.

He said Democrats were not invited because they had indicated earlier disagreement with Limbaugh’s selection.

“With the controversy surrounding him, I thought it was acceptable to do an invitation-only event,” Tilley said.

House Democrats had criticized the selection after Limbaugh had used a sexual epithet to describe a woman who had sought to testify before a congressional committee on contraception.

In short remarks, Limbaugh made reference to the controversy, praising Tilley for resisting critics of the decision to honor Limbaugh.

“He was tough, he did not give him any quarter, laughed at them when they called his office, which is what you have to do because they’re deranged,” Limbaugh said to laughter. “Our friends, so called friends on the other side of the aisle, are deranged.”

House Democrats quickly issued blistering attacks.

“It is quite clear from their handling of the Limbaugh ceremony that Republicans were ashamed of what they were doing and wanted as few people as possible to witness it. When you take great steps to hide what you’re doing, it usually means that you know what you’re doing is wrong,” said House Assistant Democratic Leader Tishaura Jones, D-St. Louis.

House Democratic Leader Mike Talboy, D-Kansas City, said he was considering asking the Gov. Jay Nixon why the Highway Patrol was used for the event. Talboy said he had reason to believe that Nixon’s administration would not allow Limbaugh’s bust to be placed in the Capitol rotunda, the location of the Hall of Famous Missourians.

The administration controls the rotunda, although the House has passed a measure to turn control of the third-floor rotunda over to the legislature.

The governor’s office issued a four-page statement raising legal questions as to whether the House speaker has authority to place a bust of someone in the third-floor rotunda where the Hall of Famous Missourians is located.

The administration reported that the Board of Public Buildings “has authority to determine what artifacts are placed in the Hall of Famous Missourians.”

The board is composed of the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.

* Get the newspaper story with photo [ http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/XGR14.HTM ] .

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Headline:  Mo. lawmakers approve earlier hours to serve alcohol at Lambert International Airport [Entered: 05/18/2012]

By Matt Evans

Alcohol sales would be allowed to start as early as 4 a.m. at St. Louis and Kansas City airports under a measure Missouri lawmakers sent to the governor’s desk Friday.

The House passed the bill by a vote of 95-55.

Currently, alcohol sales don’t begin until 6 a.m.

Supporters of the bill say earlier sales would cater to people traveling internationally and through different time zones.

* Get the bill, HB 1498. [http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM98.]

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Headline:  Capitol Perspectives: An Incremental Session [Entered: 05/18/2012]

By PHILL BROOKS

House Speaker Steve Tilley may have coined the best word for the 2012 legislative session. “Incremental” was how he described what the legislature had accomplished on education.

Expansion of charter schools in under-performing districts cleared the legislature, but not the more sweeping changes that some lawmakers had sought, including state support for private schools, eliminating teacher tenure and fixing the broken formula that allocates state funds to public schools.

Education was just one of many major policy issues that legislators and state leaders had cited at the start as priority issues that were unfulfilled. Other major issues that pretty much fell by the wayside included expanding the state’s clogged interstate highways, ethics legislation, economic development, tax modernization and criminal sentencing reduction.

While the legislative session might not have soared, there were some notable accomplishments. A budget got passed, despite one of the bitterest Senate debates I’ve observed.

Lawmakers also sent the governor, with little fanfare, a measure that affects more Missourians than most of the issues they debate — a bill to include cell phones and text messaging in the legal restrictions on telemarketers.

And, in a few of the major policy areas such as business liability for worker injuries, college credit transfers and criminal sentencing, there were smaller, incremental steps.

A number of factors frustrated legislative efforts. The most pervasive involved the deep divisions within the Republican legislative majority that had emerged during the fall special session when the House and Senate deadlocked over tax breaks to special interests, businesses and developers.

Beyond the House-Senate split was a division among Republicans in the Senate itself that erupted into name-calling during the Senate’s debate on the budget — with a senior Republican accusing his fellow Republican leaders of breaking their word.

The Republican split struck me as a consequence of having a super majority. I saw the same bitter split emerge among Democrats when they dominated the legislature. At times, the internal fights among Democrats were far uglier than anything I saw among Republicans during this current session.

Tilley recounted conversations with legislative leaders from other states who told him “the larger the majority it is, sometimes on specific issues, the harder it is to accomplish.” Tilley said that when a political party’s majority is smaller, it tends to be more geographically similar and, thus, ideologically similar.

Complicating the problem for Republicans this year was the absence of an accepted titular leader for the party who could bring the warring factions together.

When Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder dropped his campaign for governor and Tilley dropped his campaign to replace Kinder as lieutenant governor, it left no obvious legislative peacemaker for Republicans. And Gov. Jay Nixon never really stepped forward to assert a personal and public influence to forge compromises among legislative factions.

Nixon’s most public effort was for lawmakers to repass the campaign finance disclosure and enforcement laws that the state Supreme Court had thrown out on a technicality. But then he over-reached by including a call for imposing limits on campaign contributions that had stiff opposition among GOP lawmakers.

After just one news conference on the issue, Nixon’s effort appeared abandoned for the rest of the session.

That’s a quite different role than for other governors I’ve seen who actively engaged themselves in the legislative process. Even when Democrats controlled the legislature, Republican governors Kit Bond and John Ashcroft personally injected themselves into the legislative process and regularly were seen working with legislators.

A major factor in this year’s legislative session has been term limits. That particularly is the case with the Senate. As a couple of former Senate leaders have expressed to me, the Senate has lost the sense that it is a family that works together, above party and faction.

While term limits have been around for a while, it had a greater debilitating effect this year. Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer suggested it was because only in 2011 did the Senate completely lose its old guard of members who retained that spirit of the Senate being a family.

Finally, this was, after all, an election year. And as some of my press corps colleagues kept reminding me after I wrote a positive column about the possibilities at the start of the session, little usually gets done in an election year. Politics almost always seem to get in the way.

We sure saw that this session with the many hours spent on ideological and partisan issues over which the legislature had little control — like federal health care.

With adjournment of the legislative session, Capitol Perspectives takes a summer break. I’ll be back in the fall to provide an historical perspective to the fall campaigns, the issues and personalities.

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, 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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