Capitol Reports, November 16, 2012

In Legislative News, Missouri Press News On
- Updated

MPANewsBook: Statehouse News for MPA Members
Go to http://www.mdn.org/mpanews for the latest version.

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Headline:  A Thanksgiving note from Phill [Entered: 11/16/2012]

Friends,

A heads-up about our schedule for the remainder of 2012. We will be off next week for Thanksgiving break, so there will be no MPANews that week.

I’ll post material on MDN.ORG if a major story breaks, but traditionally Thanksgiving is a pretty dead week in the statehouse.

The following week, the first week of December, likely will be a heavy news week. It’s the start of pre-filing of legislation for the 2013 session.

MPANews will finish the year on December 14. All my student reporters will be gone (I too will be off a bit during the Christmas and New Year holidays).

The legislature convenes Wednesday, January 9. We’ll resume that week. A couple of my reporters are so dedicated that they’ve volunteered to help staff our coverage until the school semester begins.

Finally, I apologize for the delay in getting last week’s issue of MPANews emailed to you. It was a consequence of miscommunication (which I promise will not happen again). It also was a demonstration of just how critical Kent is to our service. He had been off that week. We surely missed his copy editing. We all owe him a huge thanks for cleaning up our copy.

Remember, an updated version of MPANews always is available online (http://www.mdn.org/mpanews).

You also can get the archives of my columns (http://www.mdn.org/mpacol) and links to filed as well as working stories (http://www.mdn.org/newsbud).

Phill

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Headline:  Missouri Supreme Court rules state has power over municipalities on residency requirements. [Entered: 11/13/2012]

By Taylor Beck

The Missouri Supreme Court upheld a law giving the state power over St. Louis City in residency requirements for certain firefighters.

The ruling upheld a law passed by the General Assembly that allows firefighters with more than seven years of service to escape a city’s residency requirement if they live in an unaccredited or provisionally accredited school district.

St. Louis City requires its firefighters to live in city limits, but the Supreme Court ruled the state legislature can enact its own residency rules even for charter cities, such as St. Louis.

“We’re very disappointed. We really believe that personnel rules for city officials should be left up to the locally elected officials. It’s a real local control issue,” said Missouri Municipal League Director Richard Sheets.

Sheets said St. Louis and Kansas City are the only cities affected at the moment because they are the only charter cities with unaccredited or provisionally accredited school districts.

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Headline:  Missouri Public Service Commission looks to cut utility rates for low-income Missourians [Entered: 11/15/2012]

By Taylor Beck

The Missouri Public Service Commission, the agency that determines utility rates in Missouri, is looking to cut rates for low-income Missourians.

Currently, customers pay a different price depending on whether they are a home or business owner. This process is called a “rate class.” Prompted by public hearings across the state, the commission is looking to create a separate residential rate class with a lower rate specifically for low-income residents.

If the commission were to create this new rate class, people like Kathleen Chitwood could see a change in monthly utility bills.

“If they want to lower it? Yes, it would benefit me,” Chitwood said.

Chitwood represents other low-income residents in Missouri as an alternative board member for the Jefferson Franklin Community Action Corporation. She said the bad economy has put her and many others in a bind to pay for necessities such as groceries and utilities.

“Well there’s so many people out there. There’s elderly out there, there’s single moms out there that don’t have a job or were laid off and they’re struggling,” Chitwood said.

Chairman of the House Utilities Committee, Rep. Darrel Pollock, R-Lebanon, said he does not see the new rate class as something the commission should be looking to adopt.

“My personal opinion is that I know that utility bills are expensive, they’re expensive for everyone,” Pollock said. “All hard-working people have to pay them.”

Pollock also said there are existing programs and laws to help low-income residents, such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program offered by the Missouri Department of Social Services. The program provides financial assistance to help pay heating bills for Missourians during the winter months based on income, household size and available resources. Community action agencies in Missouri also help low-income citizens with bills.

“Look at ways to lower the cost of energy for all taxpayers and citizens of the state, rather than set up another governmental program of assistance and then that takes our eyes off what I think our goal should be is to drop those energy rates for everyone or make them more affordable for everyone,” Pollock said.

* Get the print story [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/LOWRATE1.HTM].

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Headline:  Missouri Chamber of Commerce plans to challenge minimum wage increase [Entered: 11/14/2012]

By Brendan Cullerton

Missouri’s minimum wage will increase by 10 cents in 2013, but the state’s top business organization is fighting the change.

The hourly wage is slated to rise from $7.25 to $7.35 next year because of a 2006 ballot measure approved by voters that ties the minimum wage to cost of living.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s spokeswoman, Karen Buschman, said the minimum wage should not be tied to an indicator that automatically increases.

Buschman said the high minimum wage will drive businesses — and the jobs they create — to Missouri’s neighboring states. Illinois is the only adjacent state with a minimum wage higher than $7.35 an hour.

“The last few years we have pursued legislation to try to disconnect the minimum wage from the mandates it is currently tied to,” Buschman said. “We have been unsuccessful, but it will likely be part of our legislative priorities for the upcoming year.”

Director of Missouri Jobs With Justice Lara Granich said the fear that businesses will suddenly flock to bordering states is unfounded.

“All the research shows that this does not bear out. That’s just a scare tactic in the public today to try to keep the minimum wage down,” Granich said.

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Headline:  October jobs report shows Missouri unemployment rate lower than national average [Entered: 11/13/2012]

By Christine Roto

Missouri added 13,000 new jobs in October, but the state’s unemployment rate remained unchanged at 6.9 percent.

The Missouri Department of Economic Development released the job numbers for the month of October on Nov. 13. The department’s spokesman, John Fougere, said the latest numbers are part of a positive trend in job growth.

“The state has now added approximately 47,000 new jobs in 2011 and 2012,” Fougere said.

Missouri’s unemployment rate has been below the national rate for 38 consecutive months.

Fougere also said the Missouri labor force grew by about 10,000 people in October.

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Headline:  State officials threaten to subpoena the director of the Missouri Department of Revenue. [Entered: 11/13/2012]

By Katie Kreider

State lawmakers are considering using a subpoena to force the director of the Missouri Department of Revenue to appear before a House committee.

The Missouri House of Representatives Interim Committee on Government Bidding and Contracting met on Nov. 13 to continue a discussion on the government’s bidding process, but the hearing was stalled after revenue director Alana Barragán-Scott refused for the third time to appear before the committee.

“She’s refused to show up three times, and instead what she does is send persons within the department that can answer some factual questions but won’t give any answers on how policy might be improved, and that’s just unacceptable,” said Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, a member of the House panel.

Committee members said the Revenue Department lacks a strict set of rules for bidding.

“If they do not have written specific rules to follow how can anyone determine if their process is consistent,” asked committee chairman Rep. Sue Allen, R-St. Louis County. “If anyone who loses a bid comes back there could potentially be 183 lawsuits or more.”

Barnes said he expects Barragan-Scott to appear at a committee meeting in the future, but he added that the House will consider using a subpoena if she does not.

“Representative Barnes indicated that the expectation is that the director will show up to one of our meetings,” Allen said. “However, the Speaker of the House has the power to subpoena someone, so that should happen.”

The committee had not scheduled another hearing as of Friday, Nov. 16.

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Headline:  Missouri sees six percent jump in international enrollment [Entered: 11/14/2012]

By Alexander Mallin

A surge in Chinese students is driving an increase in the overall number of international students attending colleges and universities in Missouri and across the country, according to a new study.

The survey, conducted by the Washington-based Institute of International Education, showed that Missouri ranks 13th in the number of enrolled international students with 16,061. That number represents a six percent increase from 2011, which mirrored the national growth rate.

Peggy Blumenthal, a spokeswoman for the institute, said many of the international students think a United States-based education will better prepare them for jobs in a globalized economy.

“They think it’s worth the investment,” Blumenthal said. “The kind of training they’re going to get here in the states is going to give them a better chance at a really good career back in China or here in the states or wherever around the world that they decide to go.”

More than 200,000 Chinese students came to the U.S. for a college education last year, as did about 100,000 Indian students.

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Headline:  Election Consequences for Missouri [Entered: 11/16/2012]

By Phill Brooks

Missouri’s Senate may be on the verge of an historic change.

And if so, it likely can be attributed to one of the softest-spoken legislative leaders I’ve covered in all my decades watching over the Missouri General Assembly.

It is easy to underestimate Ron Richard. The Joplin Republican Senator is a man of few words. He rarely speaks or debates in the chamber. And when he does speak, it’s almost always in a calm, soft voice.

Despite that unassuming style, Richard enjoys a tremendous loyalty among his colleagues who have made him one of the most influential legislative leaders in recent years.

After serving two years as speaker of the Missouri House, Richard moved to the Senate. And now, after just two years in the Senate, his Republican colleagues have elected him to be the majority floor leader.

It’s the fastest rise to leadership in the two chambers that I’ve ever seen. And a large factor involves the genuine friendships that Richard has developed with his colleagues. It’s hard not to like Ron Richard.

But it’s more than just words. Ten of the eleven Republicans elected to the Senate this year got, in total, more than $90,000 in contributions from Richard’s campaign committee.

At the same time as Richard’s election as the majority floor leader, Senate Republicans also are beginning a process similar to the House of using closed-door caucuses to develop a more unified, cohesive party approach to state issues.

And just before their caucus, the Republican House Speaker’s office announced he had been invited to the caucus to “discuss the common ground between the two chambers.”

These are two chambers that in the past two years have devolved into name calling against each other.

I think Richard is a player in this change.

A year or so ago, Richard’s successor as House speaker, Steve Tilley, advised me to keep an eye on Richard. Tilley predicted Richard’s rapid rise to power in the Senate and the corresponding adoption of House tactics to ensure greater legislative efficiency and party unity.

Tilley gave credit to term limits that led to the recent large influx of House members into the Senate. When the 2013 legislative session convenes, nearly one-half of the Senate Republicans will have been members of the House when Ron Richard was speaker.

In the House, things get done quickly. Filibusters do not stop votes. Weekly closed-door caucuses assure party unity. If there’s a difference among Republican members, it’s resolved in private. Extended debate on the House floor easily can be ended by a simple, quick vote.

What a difference to the Senate of recent years where Republicans filibustered their own party members’ bills and openly attacked their leadership.

It’s far too early to determine if a single November closed-door caucus to develop a Senate Republican agenda is the beginning of a new approach in the Senate.

But the foundation has been laid for fundamental change in Missouri’s Senate to address the frustration House members have voiced about the internal disputes among Senate Republicans stalling legislative action on major issues.

Now, however, a lot of former Republican House members are senators and in positions to make changes in the Senate — and more than a few can thank Richard for contributions to their campaigns.

If there is a policy consequence from what I am sensing, I think it will be a possible end to the House-Senate gridlock over tax breaks for developers and business expansion.

Richard is one of the legislature’s leading advocates for economic development and preserving tax credits. As speaker in 2010, he vowed that no cut in tax credits would reach the governor’s desk that year.

At the same time he takes on leadership in the Senate, several of the leading Senate critics of expanded business tax breaks have been term-limited out of office.

I should note that a couple of my colleagues have reported a quite different factor in Richard’s selection — that it was a reaction against ties Richard’s opponent has with Tilley, who has become a registered lobbyist.

Maybe they’re right. But I have a sense that Richard’s rise to a Senate leader signals the potential for some major changes coming from your Missouri General Assembly.

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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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