Capitol Reports, October 12, 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:  St. Louis Public Schools see a turnaround, but it still might not be enough [Entered: 10/12/2012]

By Alexander Mallin

In less than a week, the State Education Board will decide whether the St. Louis Public School District is fit for gaining provisional accreditation.

The district lost accreditation in 2007, and a state board took control of operations.

The CEO of the state board, Richard Sullivan, said a long-range recovery plan was set up by the board in April of 2008 that outlined goals to reach the required academic standards set by the state.

“We spent a lot of time in town hall meetings and gathering people from the community just listening and getting feedback from the community,” Sullivan said. “By staying focused on the kids and focusing on the plan and working with our superintendent we have been able to make the progress we have made.”

The district will hear on Tuesday, Oct. 16, whether it is deemed fit for provisional accreditation by the state. The state standard for provisional accreditation is that a district must meet six out of the 14 standards required. The district met seven of those requirements after the 2011 academic year.

Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education spokeswoman Sarah Potter said the district still may not gain accreditation.

Potter said if the district regains provisional accreditation, it will be in uncharted territory. There are no set regulations as to whether or not the state-governing board will still be in power or return to the elected board.
“The department and the board have said that one year is not enough to change classification,” Potter said. “The Missouri School Improvement program moves on cycles, and they have been five-year cycles, so we have been looking at five years of data.”

Bill Haas, a member of the St. Louis Public Schools Elected School Board said this is a problem.

“If there are standards for when control of the district is taken away, there should be standards for when it is given back,” Haas said. “And there aren’t, it would appear.”

Whether or not the district gains provisional accreditation, Sullivan said the district has a great deal of work left to do.

“Our number one focus here is the kids,” Sullivan said. “I think we’ve been able to make the improvements we’ve made because of that fact and there are still lots of improvements that can and should be made in the classrooms.”

* Get the print story.[ http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/SLPS2.HTM ]

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Headline:  A former top aid to Missouri’s governor is among the nominees picked for Missouri’s highest court. [Entered: 10/10/2012]

By Matthew Patane

After a day of interviews and deliberations, Missouri’s Appellate Judicial Commission has selected three nominees to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court.

The nominees are:

– Michael W. Manners, a Jackson County Circuit Court judge.
– Stanley J. Wallach, an attorney with Wallach Law Firm in St. Louis.
– Paul C. Wilson, a member of Van Matre, Harrison, Hollis, Taylor and Bacon PC in Columbia.

Wilson had been a long-time aide to Gov. Jay Nixon as both attorney general and governor. Nixon appointed Wilson to fill a Cole County circuit court vacancy in 2010, but Wilson was subsequently defeated when he sought election to a full-term on the bench.

The nominating commission was tasked with picking a successor to state Supreme Court Judge William Ray Price Jr. following his retirement in August. Price had been on the court since 1992.

The commission selected the nominees from a list of 18 candidates, who applied to be considered for the vacancy. Gov. Jay Nixon now has 60 days to appoint one of the nominees to fill the seat, according to state law. If the governor does not appoint one of the nominees, the commission will choose one.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Teitelman currently chairs the commission, which includes three lawyers selected by the Missouri Bar and three non-lawyers appointed by the governor. The non-lawyers on the current commission include two who were appointed by Gov. Blunt and one who was appointed by Nixon.

* Get a profile on Paul Wilson [http://www.mdn.org/2009/STORIES/PWILSON.HTM].

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Headline:  Travelers at Lambert airport could see higher prices for parking beginning Nov. 1. [Entered: 10/09/2012]

By Eric Stoyanov

St. Louis Lambert airport is planning on doubling the price of parking in two public garages for the first two hours of a car’s stay. The price will increase from $2.50 to $5, and 24-hour parking will increase from $21 to $23.
Lambert airport spokesman Jeff Lea said the airport is running out of parking spots in garages because people are using the garages for picking people up instead of for long-term use.

“The demand is so great that we are restructuring some of our rates to be more competitive and offer more services for those who are going to park long-term,” Lea said.

Lea also said the airport understands the difficult financial times.

“We were very mindful to be cost competitive with many of the different services that are around the airport and especially when it relates to parking because we know that money is tight with our customers,” Lea said.

The Airport Commission delayed a vote on the new rates in a meeting Wednesday, Oct. 10.

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Headline:  Columbia lawmakers working on bonding bill for 2013 legislative session [Entered: 10/11/2012]

By Nick Thompson

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, and Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, are working on a bonding bill for the 2013 legislative session that would ask voters to pass the largest state bond issue in 30 years.

The two lawmakers said the nearly $1 billion bond issue would make improvements on university campuses, mental health facilities, the state Capitol building and state infrastructure.

Kelly said this is the fifth consecutive year he will push for a bonding bill. He said the state needs to take advantage of the current low interest rates, low construction costs and the state’s AAA credit rating to make capital improvements.

If passed, the bill would be named the Fifth State Building Bond. Kelly said he hopes the bill is passed early in the session so it can appear on the April ballot. If voters were to approve the bill, it would be the largest state bond issue since the Third State Building Bond, which was issued in 1982 and worth $600 million.

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Headline:  State auditor releases audit of Missouri State Public Defender [Entered: 10/11/2012]

By Taylor Beck

State Auditor Tom Schweich released an audit of the Missouri State Public Defender this week, which said the system is suffering from a case overload.

The public defender system has been seeking relief from the number of cases it receives each year, according to a press release from that office. The audit shows the caseloads have increased 70 percent since 1990, but staffing has only increased by 58 percent in the same amount of time.

In a statement Missouri State Public Defender Director Cat Kelly said she disagrees with the report’s summary. But, in a later interview, Kelly said the audit is helping the system determine the best way to measure its overload.

“I don’t think there is any question that we are overloaded,” Kelly said.

She said while the audit clearly shows the problems of trying to precisely measure the issue of too many cases and too few lawyers, the summary skips over the issues and “paints with too broad of a brush.”

The audit revealed the public defender system lacked the information necessary to determine the amount of staff hours needed per caseload.

The audit also shows the public defender spends about $1.7 million a year on employee travel without taking measures to cut costs and increase employee productivity.

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Headline:  Joplin State rep: FEMA trailer rent could be too high for poor families [Entered: 10/10/2012]

By Wes Duplantier

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said this week that it will keep emergency trailers in Joplin to shelter people whose homes were destroyed by the tornado that ripped through the city last May.

But starting in December, there will be one key change — those trailers won’t be free anymore.

The federal government will begin charging rent — $595 per month for a 2-bedroom unit and $757 per month for a 3-bedroom unit, according to FEMA officials.

At least one Joplin lawmaker, Rep. Bill White, said that could present a big problem for many of the families still living in the trailers 18 months after the disaster. White said many of those families are low-income and cannot afford to pay fair market prices for housing, which is why they’re still living in the government trailers.

“If they could shoulder a $600-per-month rent bill, there are already places they could go,” besides the trailers, White said.

FEMA spokesman Michael Cappannari said the rates are based on a formula from another federal agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development. That formula is intended to find the “fair market” price of houses or apartments of a certain size in a certain geographical area.

“It’s something that we use across the country,” Cappannari said from the agency’s Kansas City office. “We’ll see what happens in the coming days and weeks based on appeals that we get.”

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

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Headline:  Missouri has one less congressional district because of illegal immigration. [Entered: 10/09/2012]

By Sherman Fabes

November’s election is the state’s first since losing a congressional district and according to a state official it’s because of illegal immigrants Missouri will now have one less representative in Washington.

Congressional districts are based on the most recent census and the census does not ask about immigration status.

“It’s fairly safe to say that Missouri has fewer or a smaller percentage of illegal immigrants then some other states such as Texas or California. And so Missouri is competing against states that have illegal immigrants when it comes to distribution of seats within the U.S. House of Representatives,” said Missouri State Demographer Matt Hesser.

Texas gained four congressional seats, giving it 36 House members for the upcoming election cycle, while California remained level with 53 districts after the 2010 census.

The Center for Immigration Studies reports there were about 10 million illegal immigrants counted in the 2010 census.

“A state like California has one, two, maybe three extra congressional districts because of the illegal immigrants who sent their census forms back. And a state like Missouri, which doesn’t have a lot of illegal immigrants, may lose a congressional seat because of it or maybe also an electoral vote in the time of the presidential election,” said Steven Camarota, Director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

* Get the latest census data from Missouri here. [http://oa.mo.gov/bp/2010CensusData.htm]

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Headline:  Gov. Jay Nixon awarded eight public safety officers with the state’s highest honor. [Entered: 10/11/2012]

By Jamie Ries

Eight public safety officers from across Missouri were awarded the Missouri Medal of Valor for demonstrating courage and risking their lives to save others.

St. Louis Police Officer Daryl Hall is the first officer to receive the award posthumously. Hall was killed in April by gunshots outside a downtown nightclub in St. Louis.

Another recipient of the award is medic Joseph Heath of the St. John’s Ambulance Service in Springfield. Heath risked his life to save two young girls from a house fire in January.

He said he is grateful for the award because there are officers who save lives all across Missouri who do not get the same acknowledgment.

The other award recipients are Thomas R. Bacon, Jr., James C. Cooksey Jr., Robert C. Siscel, Christopher J. Suchanek, Jeffrey S. Elliot and Curtis B. Bohanan II.

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Headline:  State funding for Nixon’s “Campus Innovation Program” still blurred to many campuses across Missouri. [Entered: 10/09/2012]

By Jamie Ries

Gov. Jay Nixon’s plans to reduce the time it takes to earn a college degree and save money in higher education are still a work in progress.

Nixon announced on Feb. 16 that the University of Central Missouri would train students for career opportunities in high-demand fields and cut the time it takes to earn a college degree.

He later announced on Aug. 1 the same goals with Missouri Western University.

The Economic Development of St. Charles President Greg Prestemon said the state funds are taking a lot longer than federal funds because every campus involved in the program is not familiar with how they operate.

Prestemon said he does not know details of the funding, including when and how the funds will be implemented.

University of Central Missouri President Chuck Ambrose said there has been more value added to his campus because of the grants. Ambrose said although the grants are a “mess in process,” they will eventually get sorted out and programs will be launched on nine campuses across Missouri.

Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said in an e-mail that he does not have any level of detail on implementing the funding.

Repeated phone calls to Nixon’s office were not returned.

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Headline:  Political phone calls show no signs of going away in Missouri [Entered: 10/10/2012]

By Brendan Cullerton

Election season tends to bring political phone calls telling people why or why not to vote for a particular candidate.

Missouri lawmakers have attempted to regulate these calls for years, but the state House of Representatives has recently blocked regulation.

This year, Missouri law has expanded the telemarketing no-call list to include cell phones. Traditionally, that particular legislation also included regulations on political calls, but when both chambers approved the measure this year it included no such regulation.

“We’ve tried to add cell phones to the no call list for the last three to five years. Unfortunately, every year those (cell phones and political calls) were added together, the bill did not make it. So in order to get cell phones on the no call list, we de-coupled them,” said Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit.

Now, although Missouri enjoys a cellular no-call list, political calls are exempt from the law.

Sen. Scott Rupp, R-Wentzville, was pessimistic about a future addition of political calls to the list.

“I think it did become more difficult now that other pieces have passed, and this is the only one left sitting out there,” Rupp said.

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Headline:  Silver Haired Legislature approves senior-related issues to bring before state lawmakers [Entered: 10/11/2012]

By Christine Roto

The Silver-Haired Legislature met at the state Capitol Thursday, Oct. 11, to discuss plans submitted by seniors throughout the state.

The legislature is a group of Missouri citizens over 60 composed of representatives and senators from 10 geographic areas in Missouri. The Senate and House meet to adopt proposals that they will present next year to the General Assembly.

The Silver-Haired Senate and House met separately to vote on the 18-25 bills proposed. On Friday, Oct. 12, the two chambers met to pick the five most important bills to present to the General Assembly during its 2013 legislative session.

Mary Lou Brennan, the Senate Majority Leader, has been part of the legislature for 15 years. She said there is often not much controversy because all members are focused on the quality of life for seniors in the state. Brennan said if there is controversy, it is usually if they should recommend cutting taxes.

Brennan said her goal is provide a meal service for seniors.

“Meals have always been my number one priority as is to most people because it is so important,” she said. “In the home delivered meals, many people have no touch with outside world other than home delivery.”

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Headline:  Capitol Perspectives: The Influence of Money [Entered: 10/12/2012]

By Phill Brooks

One of my reporters after reading the first draft of this column warned me that the subject of campaign finances “is not exactly an exciting topic.”

I fear he has a point. Too often campaign finance stories do seem to be limited to numbing numbers with little relationship to the issues that actually effect or are of interest to Missourians.

It was not always that way.

One of the more interesting campaign finance stories I remember arose in 1992. It was the evening of the deadline for candidates to file their final disclosure reports before the November election.

This was an era before the Web or digital filings. So, we had to scan through the printed reports hours after the sun had set.

Despite the absence of computer-based databases, what a great story we were able to produce. We found that abortion-rights groups were among the largest contributors to Democrat Mel Carnahan.

It turned out to be a story of long-term significance. After his election, Carnahan’s abortion-rights stance and his efforts to get state family planning funds to Planned Parenthood became a dominant issue in his administration.

Two decades later, however, the challenges we face in delivering meaningful campaign finance stories are far greater. While digital technology might make it seem easier to evaluate these reports, there’s another side.

The growth in the amounts of money being pumped into campaigns is staggering — not just in the dollars, but also in the number of groups kicking in what you or I would consider near fortunes.

And it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to determine motivations behind these contributions.

Unlike 1992 when the abortion-rights groups contributing to Carnahan were obvious, contributions now often are funneled through groups with names that give you little sense as to their objectives. Even worse, some of those groups do not have to disclose the sources of their contributions.

Compounding the problem is the growth of non-Missouri “super PACs” that produce attack ads against Missouri candidates with money that never shows up in state campaign finance disclosure reports.

We are well past the era in which I could run my finger down the column of Mel Carnahan’s campaign contributors and quickly produce a meaningful story for you.

A complicating factor is that some of these special interests have so much money that they spread their seeds as broadly as possible — contributing to candidates on both sides.

For these types of groups, the objective is not just to get a favored candidate elected. It’s also to have an access card of showing support to whomever gets elected. There’s no danger of angering a candidate for not contributing if you give to all!

The late Sen. Norman Merrill taught me that lesson in the mid 1980s.

He had sponsored a bill pushed by the trucking industry to allow bigger trucks on Missouri’s highways. Despite strong opposition from consumer advocates, it enjoyed widespread support in the legislature.

Smelling a story, I decided to see if there might be a connection with campaign contributions. Sure enough, the trucking industry had contributed to all but one of those in the Senate supporting the bill.

Great story, you would think. But, I also discovered that almost everyone who voted against the bill also got contributions from the industry. The seed had been spread, widely.

As for that one supporter who did not get any trucking money, it was Merrill himself. When I asked him about it, Merrill said he asked the industry to refrain from giving him contributions to avoid any story suggesting a conflict of interest.

But then Merill, with a smile on his face, confessed. He’d gotten an equivalent amount from a company that would enjoy a major financial benefit from bigger trucks. But it was a company that did not have any obvious connection to the trucking industry, but it would enjoy the benefits of the bigger trucks.

This growth in the role of special interest funding poses a fascinating question. Is the expanding financial dominance of special interests expanding their influence over government? Or, are the financial seeds of special interests being spread so widely as to be neutralizing?

I hope for the latter, but I fear it’s the former.

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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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