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Headline: Mo. lawmakers make contraception bill law in sole override vote [Entered: 09/13/2012]
By Wes Duplantier
Missouri employers and insurance companies now have a state legal claim to refuse to provide health insurance coverage for contraception.
Missouri lawmakers met Wednesday, Sept. 12, to override Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto. They passed legislation to allow employers and insurers to refuse to provide health insurance coverage of contraception, abortion and sterilization if such procedures violate the employer’s religious beliefs.
In an afternoon vote that lasted for several tense minutes, seven House Democrats broke with their party and with the governor to give Republicans the two-thirds majority they needed to overcome Nixon’s action and make the measure part of state law in a 109-45 vote — the bare minimum number required to approve the override motion.
The Republican-controlled Senate had also backed an override of the veto in a 26-6 vote earlier in the day. House Republicans broke into applause as the final vote was announced.
The bill was filed in response to a rule levied by the federal Department of Health and Human Services that requires employers and insurance companies to cover contraception at no additional cost to the employees.
Sponsoring Sen. John Lamping, along with several other conservatives, have argued for months that employers should not have to provide a benefit that contradicts their religious beliefs.
“This bill does not restrict access,” said Lamping, R-St. Louis County. “This bill makes clear that you can’t force someone who disagrees with you to pay for your services.”
Nixon vetoed the bill on July 12 and reaffirmed his stance against the bill.
“It’s a shame we are still debating access to birth control in 2012,” he said after the veto session.
Wednesday’s vote marks only the second time the Legislature has overridden Nixon. Lawmakers also successfully overcame his objections to pass redistricting maps last year, which were later challenged in the state’s courts. The override is the 24th since Missouri became a state.
The contraception bill became law immediately after lawmakers voted to override Nixon’s veto and has already drawn a legal challenge. The Greater Kansas City Coalition of Labor Union Women is seeking a preliminary injunction against the measure.
The labor union’s lawyer, Edward Keenan, said he’s prepared to take the law all the way to the state Supreme Court and said that it violates the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution. Keenan said he expects to be in a courtroom within the next few weeks.
* Get the print story[ http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/VETO0912.HTM ]
* Get the bill, SB 749 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUMt9&YEAR 12 ]
Headline: Lawmakers decline to override Nixon’s veto of car use tax [Entered: 09/12/2012]
By Jordan Shapiro and Wes Duplantier
When lawmakers met at their annual veto session Wednesday, Sept. 12, they declined to vote on overriding a veto from Gov. Jay Nixon of a car use tax.
The state Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the state cannot collect local sales taxes on vehicles purchased from out-of-state dealers or from other individuals. The state stopped collecting sales tax on such purchases in March.
Nixon vetoed this bill sponsored by Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, and actively campaigned against a possible override. He said the measure would have imposed a retroactive tax on over 122,000 Missourians who purchased cars after March 21.
Richard Sheets, the Deputy Director of the Missouri Municipal League, said Nixon’s veto could throw the finances of cities and counties statewide into uncertainty as they might have to wait months to put use taxes before their voters on local ballots, and even then the restoration of the revenue is not guaranteed.
The veto could cause city and county revenues to fall in their annual budgets, which are already battered by the economic downturn.
“It’s not realistic to think a lot of them are going to pass a use tax in the next election,” Sheets said.
Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, said they would not take up the measure if there were not enough votes in the House to achieve the two-thirds majority to override Nixon’s veto.
Jones suggested that Nixon call a special session and “show leadership” so lawmakers can address the use tax issue. Nixon rejected that idea.
“I don’t think I should ask the taxpayers to fund a special session to let the legislature come back and try to raise taxes,” Nixon said.
* Get the bill, HB 1329 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM29&YEAR 12 ]
Headline: Commission begins work on evaluating Missouri’s tax credit programs [Entered: 09/12/2012]
By Jordan Shapiro
A commission appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon began work Wednesday, Sept. 12, on evaluating and making recommendations to lawmakers on revising Missouri’s 61 tax credit programs.
In 2012 the state redeemed $629 million in tax credits, a record amount. Missouri redeemed more money in tax credits in 2012 than the entire Department of Corrections or the Department of Mental Health received for fiscal 2013.
Nixon said the “exponential growth” in tax credit redemptions was the impetus for the commission.
“Tax credits come at a price. Every dollar we spend on tax credits is a dollar we don’t have to spend on other critical priorities such as public schools and public safety,” Nixon said.
The commission is headed by former Senate Appropriations Chairman Chuck Gross, R-St. Charles, and Steve Stogel, President of the DFC Group in St. Louis.
The tax credit group first met in 2010 and submitted a report to lawmakers calling for reductions in historic preservation and low income housing programs, the state’s two largest tax credits. But lawmakers have been unable to pass the recommendations of the commission and scale back the state’s programs.
The commission must submit an updated report by Dec. 5.
Headline: Top Republicans join St. Louis City representatives to push for local control ballot measure. [Entered: 09/12/2012]
By Andrew Weil
Top Republican leaders joined Democratic St. Louis City lawmakers Wednesday, Sept. 12, to support the ballot measure giving St. Louis control of its police department.
Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, has led the effort in the legislature for “local control” and called the current governing system of the police force “antiquated.”
Nasheed was joined by Senate Majority Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, and Speaker Pro Tem Rep. Shane Schoeller, R-Willard, at the Sept. 12 news conference where both pledged support for the measure.
Since the Civil War era the St. Louis and Kansas City police departments have been under the control of boards whose members are appointed by the governor. Nasheed said allowing the city to run its own police department will save the state and the city money.
“The city of Saint Louis spends over $144 million on public safety, but guess what, we have no control over the police department. If we pay for it, we should control it,” Nasheed said.
The measure had been held up in the legislature as some lawmakers feared the change would negatively impact current police officers. Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, said at the news conference that lawmakers had “bent over backwards” to ensure that would not occur.
Voters will decide on Proposition A at the November general election.
* Get the local control ballot language [ http://sos.mo.gov/elections/2012ballot/ ]
Headline: Tim Jones elected Speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives
By Brendan Cullerton
Former Majority Floor leader Rep. Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, was elected Speaker of the Missouri House Wednesday, Sept. 12.
In a speech on the House floor, Jones urged house members to work together with senators and house members holding opposing viewpoints. Jones also hinted at a major priority for the next legislative session.
“We will work together with all sides of the aisle, and all facets of the equation to help our failing education bureaucracy,” Jones said.
Jones also said that he plans to improve Missouri’s economic state through tax relief and deregulating business.
His election comes roughly one month after former Speaker Steve Tilley resigned before his term expired to become a lobbyist.
Headline: Former Supreme Court Judge discusses flaws of Missouri’s criminal code [Entered: 09/13/2012]
By Lauren Bale
Former state Supreme Court Judge Michael Wolff said the two biggest problems with Missouri’s criminal code are it’s complexity and harsh punishments for non-violent offenders.
Wolff said the current code’s redundancy has caused a number of problems in the judicial system. For example, there are currently 27 ways to be charged with assault in Missouri, which creates confusion among law enforcement officials and the public.
“If you’re going to prohibit things, make things crimes, you have to tell people what it is,” Wolff said.
Wolff also said too much money is being spent sending criminals charged with drug use and possession crimes to jail, when rehab would be a cheaper way to address the problem.
“The people we send to prison should be the people we’re afraid of, not just the people we’re mad at,” Wolff said.
A joint legislative committee is meeting to discuss which changes should be made to the code. The committee is led by Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, and Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia. The committee will begin a series of public hearings starting on Sept. 18.
Headline: Missouri is not seeking a waiver for federal ethanol guidelines [Entered: 09/14/2012]
By Christine Roto
Despite the large number of livestock in Missouri that eat corn, the state is not one of the seven states that have petitioned for a waiver to the federal ethanol mandate.
As a severe drought continues to affect Midwest farmers, the nation’s corn crop yield could be as much as 60 percent below normal value this year. Every year, 35-40 percent of the corn crop is diverted to ethanol production, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The cost of corn has risen dramatically due to low production rates.
Except for certain circumstances, all gasoline offered in Missouri must contain 10 percent ethanol, according to the Missouri Renewable Fuel Standard Act passed in 2006. The exceptions include: premium gasoline, aviation fuel, E75-E85 fuel ethanol and when ethanol-blended gasoline is the same price or cheaper than un-blended gasoline.
A federal mandate passed in 2005 established requirements on the amount of ethanol that has to be blended each year. This year, 13.2 billion gallons of ethanol have to be blended into gasoline nationwide.
On Aug. 30, the Environmental Protection Agency began a 30-day open-comment period about the mandate. During the comment period, the public can give feedback on the possibility of granting waivers to ease the requirements for states claiming they cannot meet the demands of the mandate because of the drought.
Many livestock groups have been struggling from the mandate because the price of corn has risen so dramatically, according to the National Cattleman’s Beef Association’s website.
* Get the print story [ http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/ETHANOL.HTM ]
Headline: Missouri Chamber of Commerce endorses Dave Spence for governor [Entered: 09/14/2012]
By Jamie Ries
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce is endorsing Republican Dave Spence in his bid to unseat incumbent Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.
Citing Spence’s business background, Dan Mehan, president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, announced the organization is endorsing Spence.
Mehan said he thinks Spence is the best candidate for the job.
“That’s what we need right now. We need to show the world and the global economy that Missouri’s going to put on an aggressive push to be that place that employers are confident that they can expand their operation or locate in Missouri and that we’re going to be absolutely pro-jobs and pro-business and friendly to those entrepreneurs out there that are going to pull us out of a sluggish economy,” he said.
Nixon’s campaign manager said in an email that Nixon has helped make Missouri’s business climate one of the strongest in the nation since taking office.
Headline: The drought has Missouri cattle ranchers struggling to feed their livestock. [Entered: 09/11/2012]
By Katherine Kreider
Committee members heard a tearful testimony from cattle ranchers on Tuesday, Sept. 11, begging for aid from the drought to help keep their businesses alive.
In a House Agriculture Policy Committee meeting, Missouri farmers addressed their grievances toward the recent drought.
The drought has caused hay prices in Missouri to skyrocket up to $85 per bale. Farmers complained that without the adequate amount of resources from local producers, cattle farmers will not be able to keep their cows healthy enough for sale.
Wendy Cantrell of the Miller County Regional Stockyard gave her testimony, informing the committee of the failing livestock business.
“Very few people know what you all are talking about, they just don’t have a clue,” Cantrell said. “They come in to me and they’re 60 years old and they have tears in their eyes and they say ‘I’ve gotta sell, I have no other choice, I’ve gotta sell.'”
Many legislators have been worried about the production of soybeans and corn due to the drought, focusing less attention on the business of selling livestock.
* Get the print story [ http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/AGPOLICY.HTM ]
Headline: Death penalty drug case tied up in Missouri courts [Entered: 09/13/2012]
By Katherine Kreider
Missouri continues to be the first and only state to discuss the use of propofol for executions.
While the case is being decided, the execution dates of 19 inmates have been delayed by the state Supreme Court. Lawyers filed briefs in the Cole County Circuit Court after a ruling from the state Supreme Court.
Supporters of the drug believe that the execution dates should be set promptly. Opponents argue that the use of propofol is a step backward in human rights.
The Missouri Department of Corrections switched to propofol after the manufacturer of the previous drugs used in lethal injections ceased making the drug.
Attorney General Chris Koster spoke out against the Supreme Court’s decision to delay executions pending further proceedings and hopes to settle the case as quickly as possible.
Headline: A Sad Time in Missouri’s Legislature [Entered: 09/14/2012]
By Phill Brooks
This year’s veto session was a sad time for me. It always is in even-numbered years.
That’s because it was the last time I’ll see some of the legislators I’ve covered for years.
For nearly one-quarter century, I’ve covered Democratic Sen. Tim Green. I’ve watched the St. Louis County electrician grow to become a leading budget expert in the legislature. In the House, he ended up chairing the Budget Committee. Yet, for all his power and seniority, Green remained humble.
Plain-speaking, blunt and with sharp political instincts, he has been a valuable source. His Senate seat is just across from my seat at the press table. So, he’d sometimes violate Senate rules by joking with me from his desk during Senate sessions.
Wednesday’s veto session may have been the last day I will see Tim Green. After 24 years in the legislature, term limits have forced him out of office.
I will miss him as I’ll miss Chuck Purgason. The rural southern Missouri Republican was one of the most unique characters I’ve covered in the legislature. Back when he started in the House, he made history by getting acceptance that his cowboy bolo tie met the House rules that require men to wear ties in the chamber.
Until Purgason, the only ties I had seen worn in the House or Senate were made of cloth, not cord.
Purgason is the guy who made national news when in the middle of his campaign for the U.S. Senate two years ago he bragged about abandoning his remarkably unusual wig. It was done, he wrote in his official announcement, as a demonstration of “transparency,” to assure voters that “nothing will be swept under the rug on my watch.”
If I remember correctly, he confessed to me it was done at his wife’s urging. He was a fun source to cover.
Purgason was one of the purist fiscal conservatives I’ve covered, at times reminding me of Barry Goldwater. Back when Matt Blunt called on legislators to scale back Medicaid coverage, Purgason expressed frustration that Blunt blamed it on budget problems instead of bragging about cutting welfare.
Part of what makes these statehouse source relationships unique is the close proximity we have with lawmakers during a legislative session of grueling and, at times, intense hours. There’s almost no way a legislator easily can avoid the media.
We’re in the middle of the legislative process to a degree I never sensed during my brief time covering the U.S. Congress for National Public Radio. Unlike the U.S. House and Senate, here in Missouri we have access to the side areas of the chambers.
And unlike Congress, state legislators are not insulated by near armies of staff. So, we get to know some of these folks we cover in the legislature almost as well as family.
The departing Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, Senate Democratic Leader Victor Callahan, House Democratic Leader Mike Talboy and the already-departed House Speaker Steve Tilley, are good examples of what is different between Congress and Missouri’s General Assembly.
They bent over backward to help reporters — always accessible and honest. There were times when, frankly, I was surprised at just how candid they would get about legislative struggles and battles. I will miss them too.
They help demonstrate how term limits have adversely affected the reporting efforts of statehouse reporters.
It takes years to develop these kinds of relationships. It takes time for a reporter to learn which politicians are consistently honest and which ones just try to manipulate us.
Likewise, it takes a news source time to develop trust in a reporter. It takes time to gain confidence that the reporter really is someone who will keep his word when a promise is made for information to be off-the-record.
As Missouri continues to move into an era of short-term, temporary legislators, I fear those kinds of relationships that I found so critical in covering this place for you will become less frequent.
I would be remiss, however, if I did not mention a positive effect of term limits. They also have sent home legislators who have proven to be ineffective or more interested in politics or personal gain than public policy.
[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.]