Capitol Reports, May 4, 2012

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Headline: House-Senate budget talks tense, at a stand still [Entered: 05/02/2012]

By Jordan Shapiro

With just a week before the deadline before passing the budget, negotiations between Missouri’s House of Representatives and Senate about the state’s $24 billion budget have hit a standstill.

The House refuses to agree to a meeting of the House and Senate conference committee on the budget unless the House will pass a separate bill assuring funding for veterans homes.

The constitutional deadline for lawmakers to reach an agreement is 6 p.m. Friday, May 11.

A disagreement on how to fund veterans homes has been one of the most difficult issues between the two chambers.

House Budget Chairman Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, said he blames Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, for the gridlock.

Silvey said Mayer was playing games with the budget and “playing chicken” with the lives of veterans and children.

Mayer responded to Silvey’s criticism by referring to him as the “junior budgeter in the House” and saying he canceled scheduled meetings between negotiators.

The House passed its veterans plan, which shifts casino revenue away from early childhood programs to the veterans homes, on Wednesday, May 2. The House replenished the early childhood funds with money from a national settlement from tobacco companies.

The Senate has yet to take up the House position, but has crafted its own plan.

A draft proposal by the Senate Veterans Committee chairman, Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, keeps the House plan but adds language limiting the activity of the Sue Shear Institute and prohibiting the use of a rating system for preschools.

The Sue Shear Institute is based at the University of Missouri and engages in professional development for women. Both of those issues have been pushed by Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County.

Although Mayer has not brought the House veterans plan up for a vote, he said he has concerns about Crowell’s plan.

“The whole tone of it leaves me with a lot of consternation,” Mayer said.

Democrats have also balked at the Sue Shear language and threatened to block the bill. Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, said she would launch a filibuster if it came up for a vote.

* Get the text story. [ ]

* Get the budget tables. []

* Get the veterans bill, SB 498. [ ]

* Get last week’s coverage of the Senate’s budget debate. []

Headline:  Missouri House opts to restrict teacher tenure after a close vote [Entered: 05/03/2012]

By Paige Hornor

The Missouri House of Representatives voted on Thursday, May 3, to pass a bill that would allow dismissal of tenured public school teachers before newer teachers under some circumstances.

The House plan is a revision of the original bill that simply would have eliminated job-protection tenure for public school teachers.

The House-passed bill would establish criteria for dismissing teachers that would include:

* Individual performance makes up at least 70 percent of the consideration, including evidence of student achievement such as standardized test scores, which would be determined by the district.

* A record of misconduct or criminal activity is considered a negative factor.

* Significant contributions to the school as a whole such as sponsoring an extracurricular or tutoring program.

* Special training or certification such as a master’s degree will be considered a positive factor.

* Each contract and collective bargaining agreement authorizes use of evaluations as the basis for firing decisions.

“This is about rewarding and accelerating and exalting those great teachers so you don’t have to get rid of them based upon an antiquated, horribly hamstringing policy set up by some special interest group in some contract,” said House Republican Leader Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County.

Opponents of the bill argued it would end teacher tenure.

“Seniority is the same thing as tenure, they are one and the same. … That seniority equates to salary so when we say, in the bill, that salary shall not be a controlling factor, … we are setting up a condition for lawsuits,” said Rep. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 83-76 after keeping the board open for more than 10 minutes. It now moves to the Senate.

* Get the bill, HB 1526 [].

* Get the text story [].

* Get the roll call [ 12&ne_vote”3 ] .

Headline:  Missouri representative announces he is gay, opposes bill to limit sexuality discussions in school [Entered: 05/02/2012]

By Tyler Fine

A Republican state representative publicly announced Wednesday, May 2, that he is gay and denounced legislation that would limit open discussions about sexuality in public schools.

At a news conference, Rep. Zach Wyatt, R-Green Castle, said he would no longer lie to himself about his own sexuality and that being homosexual should never be a Republican or Democratic issue.

Wyatt’s announcement comes in response to a Republican-backed bill that would make it illegal to teach subjects or have extracurricular activities that talk about sexual orientation, unless the subjects relate specifically to the science of human reproduction.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Cookson, R-Fairdealing, has said his bill is misunderstood and that he would not withdraw the legislation. Cookson has also said he thinks public schools should focus on core subjects, such as math and reading, and not sexuality.

The chair of the committee handling the bill said he did not intend to schedule a hearing on the measure in the remaining few days of the legislative session.

* Get the text story. []

* Get a video of Rep. Zach Wyatt’s news conference [].

* Get the bill, HB 2051. [ 51.]

Headline:  Prescription drug-monitoring bill dies in Missouri’s Senate [Entered: 05/03/2012]

By Jordan Shapiro

After an eight-hour filibuster by the Senate’s only medical doctor, a bill to create a prescription drug monitoring program is dead.

Although the Senate gave first-round passage to the measure, Senate Republican Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said the bill creating a government database of medications prescribed to patients will not be considered for final approval given the lack of time remaining in the legislative session.

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, led the effort against the bill. He said prescription drug monitoring by the government would be an infringement on a patient’s right to privacy.

“This bill causes every citizen to be forced against their will to give up their privacy and their personal information,” Schaaf said.

The measure is sponsored by Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington. It would create a database of people prescribed certain drugs for doctors to check before writing prescriptions. The drugs that would be included in the database are mostly narcotics and painkillers. A patient’s name and information would be purged from the database after six months.

Engler confirmed the issue would not advance further and said more Missourians are going to die from overdoses because of it.

He said the database would help weed out people addicted to narcotics who “doctor shop,” or get multiple prescriptions from different doctors.

“Prescription drugs are being abused,” Engler said. “It’s the No. 1 drug abuse problem in the country. We are going to be the only state that doesn’t monitor prescription drugs in the country.”

* Get the text story. []

* Get the bill, SB 710. []

Headline:  Missouri House Education Committee approves expansion of charter schools [Entered: 05/02/2012]

By Stephanie Ebbs

Charter schools could expand across the state — but not without meeting a higher standard of accountability. The House Education Committee adopted a bill Wednesday, May 2, to change the law regulating charter schools.

Charter schools are public schools that operate independently of traditional school districts. The schools are held to performance standards by their sponsor or a governing board. Students at charter schools still take the same standardized tests as other public school students, but the schools are not subject to the same accountability procedures.

Legislators have been attempting to hold charter schools to the same standards as traditional public schools. Charter schools’ performance measured by state testing standards is as varied as the performance of traditional public schools. Charter schools are also not required to report their financial status, an issue that recently played a role in the state voting to close six charter schools in St. Louis.

Under the bill, charter schools would be held to the same accountability standards as traditional public schools, just outside the official Missouri School Improvement Program procedure. They would report their financial and performance data to the school’s sponsor, which would be responsible for intervention. Sponsors have the option to intervene immediately or close a school if standards are not met.

Although this bill would not create charter schools, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, said it provides another option for rural school districts that are trying to avoid consolidation or districts where there is demand for an alternative form of public education. According to a poll presented by Students First, a student advocacy organization, 69 percent of Missourians supported expanding charter schools outside of St. Louis and Kansas City.

Charter schools are one of the major education issues of the current session, including public school funding and dealing with the unaccredited St. Louis and Kansas City school districts. The bill will now go to the House floor for debate. If no changes are made, it will go to the governor.

* Get the text story. []

* Get the bill, SB 576 [ ]

Headline:  Circuit court adds more uncertainty for school transfer students [Entered: 05/03/2012]

By Jordan Shapiro

A St. Louis circuit court tossed out the state statute allowing students in an unaccredited school district to enroll in an accredited school in a neighboring county.

The statute had been upheld by the Missouri Supreme Court in 2010, but ongoing lawsuits have prevented students living in the unaccredited St. Louis City school district from enrolling in St. Louis County schools.

On Tuesday, May 1, Judge David Lee Vincent ruled the school districts in St. Louis County were not required to accept transfers from St. Louis city.

If enforced, the student transfer law would affect the 72,000 students living in unaccredited school districts in St. Louis city and Riverview Gardens. The law requires the county schools to enroll these students with tuition and transportation costs paid by the unaccredited school. The law would also apply to the now-unaccredited Kansas City school district.

The Missouri Senate has been unable to end a stalemate on adopting legislation to resolve the student transfer issue. Several plans have been put forward, including allowing the receiving county schools to cap enrollment at a certain number. No plan, however, has received a vote on the Senate floor.

Headline:  Missouri General Assembly committee discusses expansion of No Call List [Entered: 05/03/2012]

By Mary McGuire

The House Utilities Committee has approved a bill that would expand Missouri’s No Call List to include automated phone calls and cell phones.

Automated calls from school districts, Amber Alerts and work-related phone calls would be exempt from the proposed legislation, but all others would be placed on the No Call List.

The measure would further bar companies from using fake aliases on caller IDs. Violators would be subject to fines up to $5,000.

Groups making political phone calls would also be required to register with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

The bill would also block solicitors from text message solicitation.

The Senate Commerce Committee also heard testimony Tuesday, May 1, regarding a bill that would add cell phones to the Missouri No Call List.

* Get the bill, HB 1549. [ ]

* Get the bill, SB 484. [ ]

Headline:  Environmental activists criticize nuclear power plant bill [Entered: 04/30/2012]

By Mark Hodges

Although only two weeks remain in the legislative session, representatives from the Missouri Coalition for the Environment and Renew Missouri took to the Capitol to criticize a bill that would allow Ameren to increase its rates to pay for construction costs before a new reactor is built.

The bill has been debated in one form or another for the past several years but never passed. It would allow Ameren to increase its rates to pay for an early site permit for an additional power plant. If the bill passes, Ameren could take up to $45 million from its customers to pay for the site permit.

Ed Smith, safe energy director with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, said increasing the rates would be unfair.

“I will not go to a car dealer and start giving them money years in advance for a vehicle that I may never drive,” Smith said. “So why should I be forced to give my utility money years in advance for a nuclear reactor that may never be built?”

Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, is the bill sponsor. He said the timing and arguments of this press conference didn’t make much sense.

“Right now, there’s really no logical reason anyone would belong to their organization unless you’re a provider of wind or solar energy trying to get the government to mandate your product,” Lager said. “They’re just trying to keep membership. Sometimes, right or wrong, when people start to lose their position of strength in this building, sometimes they have to reinvent the reality of what’s occurring.”

* Get the text story. []

Headline:  Missouri House panel approves measure to create committee to investigate MEM [Entered: 04/30/2012]

By Matthew Patane

Less than three weeks after a former state governor and CEO of Missouri Employers Mutual was indicted for misappropriation of funds, a Missouri House committee has moved on a measure to further investigate the insurance company.

The House Government Oversight Committee unanimously approved a bill Monday, April 30, that would create a committee to investigate the Columbia-based company. The bill’s original language only established a Senate committee, but an amendment by Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, would make the future investigation a joint effort between the Senate and the House.

Although legislation is not required to establish an investigative committee, Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, said passing the legislation would make it known that lawmakers were dedicated to investigating the issue.

“It could be a good idea to privatize MEM, but, on the other hand, I don’t like legislating on the fly,” said Barnes, who is the House committee chairman.

An earlier audit of Missouri Employers Mutual stated the company had lavishly spent money on trips and special employee benefits. The audit also stated that this conduct is inappropriate for a quasi-governmental entity like MEM.

* Get the radio story. []

* Get the bill, SB 856. […6.]

* Get the text story on former-Gov. Roger Wilson’s indictment. []

Headline:  Senate committee votes to move “birther bill” to Senate floor [Entered: 04/30/2012]

By Cole Karr

The Senate Elections Committee voted 4-1 to approve a bill that would require presidential and vice-presidential candidates to provide proof of U.S. birth and citizenship when filing with the Missouri Secretary of State’s office.

The bill’s effects wouldn’t take effect until the 2016 election.

Lawmakers expressed skepticism about whether this will actually be taken up for debate in the Senate at such a late stage in the legislative session. If passed in the Senate, the bill would go to the governor’s desk.

* Get the bill, HB 1046 [ ]

Headline:  Missouri House of Representatives takes on school bullies [Entered: 05/03/2012]

By Ashley Hartman

The Missouri House of Representatives passed a bill that would require employees and students to report incidents of bullying and to notify the families of the victim.

This bill would not only implement programs to prevent bullying, but it would also educate the student body and faculty of the harmful side effects.

Rep. Sue Allen, R-St. Louis County, sponsor of the bill, said, “Teachers, families, students, bulliers all have an opportunity to be better and safer.”

Under the bill, schools would allow people to anonymously report incidences of bullying.

Earlier in the week, the House shot down an amendment to the bill that would create a scholarship for bullied students to transfer to another district. Opponents said that because bullies exist in every district, it’s better to educate students about how to deal with the situation and avoid bullying.

* Get the bill, HB 1049 []

* Get the radio story. []

Headline:  Capitol Perspectives: The Responsibility for Education [Entered: 05/04/2012]

By Phill Brooks

This past week, another chapter was written in the history of a decades-long debate about Missouri’s responsibility for the education of its children.

The chapter was penned by a St. Louis County circuit court in a decision invalidating a law that gives St. Louis City students the right to attend accredited schools in the county.

The decision was based on the central question of who pays the bill for education.

Going back to 1865, in the aftermath of the Civil War, the Missouri Constitution has required that the state legislature “provide free public education” for children.

You would think that the meaning of such a simple sentence would be pretty obvious. But for as long as I’ve been covering this place, there has been a continuing debate about what that phrase means in terms of the state’s financial responsibility for education.

It was a central issue in the St. Louis school desegregation lawsuit that was filed in 1972.

State attorneys general, including current Gov. Jay Nixon, spent years fighting the state’s financial responsibilities for desegregation both in St. Louis and a similar case in Kansas City. Among the arguments was that the state had limited, if any, financial responsibility for integrating St. Louis schools because racial disparities were the result of school district boundaries over which the state had no control.

Missouri lost that argument. And, eventually, the state agreed to a complicated settlement that accepted a degree of state financial responsibility to correct the consequences of racial disparity in the St. Louis City school system.

But that case was based on racial imbalance. It did not address the issue of financial disparities among school districts across the state in which racial disparity was not an issue.

You might think that the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which guarantees that states provide “equal protection of the laws,” would assure equality for one of the most basic services of state government.

But that’s not how it plays out with the courts. In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court held it was OK to have unequal levels of per-student spending on education because of differing levels of funding generated from local property taxes.

Although Missouri law provides funds to help ease the differences in property values among school districts, the system fails to completely equalize per-student funding — by a long shot.

Those disparities led to a major overhaul of education funding in 1993 in the aftermath of a lower state court decision against the school funding system.

As part the evolving acceptance that education is a state responsibility, the legislature included in the law a provision that if a school district becomes unaccredited, as both the St. Louis City and Kansas City school districts have, the children in the district have a legal right to transfer to another district that is accredited by the state Education Department.

The law, however, retains an older provision that requires local schools to cover the transfer costs. In the recent case, the St. Louis County circuit court held that requiring local school districts to cover those costs violates the state constitution’s Hancock Amendment, which bans the state from imposing new financial obligations on local government.

The judge cited testimony that potentially thousands of children from St. Louis City could demand seats in St. Louis County schools. That would impose an extra financial burden on county schools for teachers and bigger school buildings. It also would cost the city school district because the law requires that the unaccredited district pay some of costs borne by the schools getting the transfer students.

From my numerous discussions with Mel Hancock, I don’t think he ever imagined that his amendment would be used to restrict the right of children to transfer out of unaccredited schools.

Hancock’s motivation was to make sure the state did not shift costs onto local government as a way to get around the primary purpose of his amendment, which was to limit the growth of state government spending.

But years after his death, Hancock’s amendment now has become the foundation for another step in the state’s financial responsibility for local public schools.

In the short term, the St. Louis County circuit court’s decision has eased pressure on lawmakers to address the student transfer issue in the remaining days of the legislative session.

But there will remain for future legislatures the much broader question upon which there has been little apparent agreement among state leaders: What, ultimately, is the state’s moral, if not legal, responsibility to assure an equitable and accredited level of education for students across Missouri?

As always, let me know (at 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]

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