MPANewsBook: Statehouse News for MPA Members
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Headline: A note from Phill [Entered: 09/07/2012]
I could not help myself. My column this week is too long — or, at least, exceeds the shorter length I had promised. It’s on the likely top issues facing Missouri that candidates are not discussing.
If you need to shorten it, feel free to cut one or two of the last two topics — tax credits and legislative reform. I left those in because I thought that at least for your own information, this column ought to be comprehensive.
Second, I want to give you a summary of the survey I sent out a few weeks ago. I was a bit disappointed at the response level. We got only a dozen — yet I know there are a lot more of you using our material.
There was not unanimity of agreement on any question, so what follows are generalizations for which, in every case, there were exceptions.
There was remarkable consistency in your ranking of importance of our services. For most, MPANews (the weekly news summary) was ranked as the most important, followed by my columns. I was surprised at how many put campaign profiles and campaign info. boxes at the bottom of the list.
As a result, I’m putting less emphasis on campaign coverage. Within a couple of weeks, we’ll start rolling out short profiles along with scaled-back info. boxes. But it won’t reflect the kind of effort we’ve done in the past.
There also was a high degree of consistency that the end of the week is the best time to ship out MPANews — with Friday the most popular. Almost all of you prefer we continue emailing. As I mentioned before, we’ve put an extra emphasis on updating MPANews on Monday because that’s the best day for some of you.
As for length, a few of you indicated my columns are too long and a couple judged MPANews too long. So, I’m trying to keep my columns short.
Based on your responses, I’m going to work on how I can make photos and graphics a higher priority. But it’s going to require a change our operation, altering our copy-production system and upgrading our camera equipment (it’s primitive). Right now, I fear we’re a bit set in our ways of our approach to coverage (myself included, probably the most “stuck in the mud”).
I was surprised at the number who indicated they were unaware of the various features on MDN’s website and would like more information. That’s the reason yesterday’s separate memo about MDN’s services. And in a few weeks, I’ll start a weekly email providing more details of MDN information resources. They’ll be updated versions of the descriptions we sent out three years ago.
Headline: Car taxes, contraception likely on tap for veto session [Entered: 09/07/2012]
By Wes Duplantier
Missouri lawmakers are set to take up at least two hotly debated issues when they convene for their veto session at noon on Wednesday, Sept. 12, just weeks before many of them are up for re-election.
Among the issues expected to come back before the legislature is a measure that would allow employers or insurers to refuse to provide coverage for birth control or abortions if such procedures are at odds with their religious beliefs. Coverage for sterilization procedures would also only be required if such operations are deemed medically necessary.
Sponsored by Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County, the bill was the response from conservatives in the state to a rule levied by the federal Department of Health and Human Services that required employers and insurance companies to cover contraception at no additional cost to the employees.
Nixon reaffirmed his opposition to the proposal when he spoke with reporters about week before lawmakers gather.
“This is a personal medical decision for a woman and her family, not something that should be dictated by an insurance company.” he said.
Also on tap for the session is a measure that supporters say “fixes” a state Supreme Court decision handed down earlier this year about the collection of local sales taxes on vehicles purchased at places other than Missouri car dealerships.
The court ruled that city and county sales taxes could not be collected on such purchases, a move that some lawmakers said could punch a hole in annual revenue for many rural counties that are already struggling in the sputtering economy. The state stopped collecting and remitting such taxes in March.
A measure sponsored by House Budget Chairman Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, would restore the old taxing system and would allow the taxes to be collected retroactively to March.
That position has drawn heavy criticism from Nixon in recent weeks, as he has said that it would be unfair to send vehicle owners a bill for a tax that was not in place when they made their purchase. He said the state Department of Revenue has told him that some 122,000 drivers statewide could owe taxes if his veto is overridden.
* Get the print story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/VETO12P.HTM]
* Get the contraception bill, SB 749 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUMt9&YEAR 12 ]
* Get the car sales tax bill, HB 1329 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM29&YEAR 12 ]
* See the full list of vetoed bills below.
Headline: Veto Session Preview [Entered: 08/31/2012]
By Jordan Shapiro
Lawmakers will gather in Jefferson City on Sept. 12 to decide whether to override the vetoes of Gov. Jay Nixon.
A number of high-profile bills will be on the lawmakers’ slate. Overriding the governor’s veto requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the General Assembly. The current Republican-controlled legislature has already successfully overturned a Nixon veto when it passed the congressional redistricting maps in 2011.
Top priorities include bills dealing with contraception, use taxes on cars purchased outside the state and a bill allowing students to attend a different school district if it is closer to where they live.
The bills to be considered during the veto session are:
* SB 566 – Require a rabies vaccination for dogs and cats and authorizes veterinarians to destroy animals suspected of rabies. Nixon’s veto message concluded: “replacing a multidisciplinary team with a single decision-maker would place Missourians who may have been exposed to rabies at significant risk.”
[ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUMV6&YEAR 12 ]
* SB 569 – Remove the June and February election dates. Change the procedure for imposing a property tax. Nixon’s veto message concluded: the bill would “make the effectiveness of the property tax contingent on an event that can never occur.”
[ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUMV9&YEAR 12 ]
* SB 572 – Add occupational diseases to the worker’s comp system instead of allowing employees to sue in civil court. The Senate overrode Nixon’s veto on this bill during the legislative session, but the House did not. Nixon’s veto message charged that taking away the right for workers with these diseases to sue in civil court was “not acceptable.”
[ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUMW2&YEAR 12 ]
* SB 635 – An omnibus bill dealing with financial institutions, school funds, private roads, real estate appraisal, agricultural education programs, liens, and state purchasing preferences. Nixon’s veto message concluded that he had vetoed the bill because it contained too many unrelated provisions and violated a state constitutional requirement that bills can only have one subject.
[ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUMc5&YEAR 12 ]
* SB 749 – Let employers or health insurance companies refuse to provide coverage for contraception, abortion or sterilization if it violates their religious beliefs. Nixon’s veto message charged that the bill would allow “an insurance company to impose its will and deny inclusion of contraception coverage, even if that position is inconsistent with the rights and beliefs of the employee and employer.”
[ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUMt9&YEAR 12 ]
* SB 837 – Change the definition of “franchise” for disputes between alcohol wholesalers and suppliers. Nixon’s veto letter charged the measure “changes the substantive definition of a franchise — a change that appears inconsistent with the legislative intent of the existing law.”
[ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUM∞7&YEAR 12 ]
* HB 1219 – Change the standards in workplace discrimination lawsuits. Impose limits on awards and require proof that discrimination was a motivating factor. Nixon’s veto letter concluded the measure had several unacceptable provisions that would “undo decades of progress in Missouri.”
[ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM19&YEAR 12 ]
* HB 1250 – Remove the June election day. The law also moves the presidential primary to March and eliminates the February election day for all races except bonding issues. In his veto message, Nixon wrote that he objected to the bill because of unclear definitions in the measure’s language.
[ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM50&YEAR 12 ]
* HB 1329 – Allow the state to collect use taxes on cars bought from places other than Missouri car dealers. At news conferences, Nixon has said he vetoed the measure because it would impose a tax increase without voter approval. He also charged it would retroactively tax over 122,000 Missourians who purchased cars after March 21.
[ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM29&YEAR 12 ]
* HB 1758 – Allow biological parents to petition for visitation rights and custody for an adopted child. Nixon’s veto message concluded that any change to laws regarding parents and adopted children must be crafted “to prevent unintended outcomes and avoid disturbing the existing process.”
[ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM58&YEAR 12 ]
* HB 1789 – Allow a student to go to a school in a different school district as a result of “travel hardships.” Nixon’s veto letter claimed the measure violates Missouri’s Hancock Amendment, which prohibits state government from imposing new financial costs on local governments.
[ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM89&YEAR 12 ]
* HB 1900 – An omnibus bill regarding the executive branch reorganization, tax increment financing, annexation, workforce transition services for youth with disabilities, persons with mental disabilities, service dogs, employment security laws, accessible parking, the Brain Injury Fund, and employment disqualification lists for home care employees and establishes the Iran Energy Divestment Act. Nixon’s veto message charged the measure violated the state constitutional requirement that bills must not grow beyond their original purpose.
[ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM00&YEAR 12 ]
Headline: Gov. Nixon in hot water after audit reveals he shifted $1.7 million in office costs. [Entered: 09/05/2012]
By Jordan Shapiro
An audit released Wednesday (Sept. 5) repeated criticism of Gov. Jay Nixon for shifting his travel and staffing costs to other state agencies.
The audit released by State Auditor Tom Schweich, a Republican, shows the governor billed other state agencies $1.7 million for his travel and employees since he took office in Jan. 2009 and up to June 2011. The money is outside the $5.5 million the governor’s office spent in fiscal 2011 for its operating cost.
Schweich said the charges to other state departments showed the governor was trying to “circumvent the appropriations process.”
Since taking office, Nixon has spent 334 days traveling on the taxpayer-funded state plane, and 96 percent of those trips were billed to other state departments, according to the audit. Nixon billed state agencies $546,000 for travel during his tenure. Overall, Nixon has spent $565,000 on travel up to June 2011.
Schweich said this was not a situation unique to this governor, but the spending had “escalated.”
Nixon’s office refused comment and deferred to its official responses in the audit. In the report, Nixon’s office said the practice of billing to other state agencies “accounts for its (the governor’s office) operational costs in a manner that properly reflects the nature of the work performed.”
The audit calls Nixon’s responses in the report “non-responsive.”
* Get the print story [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/NAUDIT.HTM]
* Get the governor’s flights (up to December 2010) [ http://mdn.org/2011/DATA/FLIGHTS.HTM ]
* Get the audit [http://auditor.mo.gov/Press/2012-95.pdf]
Headline: Gov. Jay Nixon refuses to take a stand on increasing the state’s cigarette tax [Entered: 09/04/2012]
By Stacey Kafka
On Tuesday, Sept. 4, when asked about increasing the state’s cigarette tax, Nixon said he would not take a side on the issue.
“I don’t expect to be active in any way with that campaign and we’ll await the verdict of Missourians this fall,” Nixon said.
In November, voters will decide on raising the state’s cigarette tax from 17 cents per pack to 90 cents. Currently, Missouri’s cigarette tax is the lowest in the country. Other Democrats, including Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia are supporting the ballot measure.
“It’ll (cigarette tax) still be among the lowest… It’s the lowest in the nation now, and it will still be among the lowest in the nation,” Kelly said.
The measure was also endorsed by the state Coordinating Board for Higher Education.
If voters approve the measure the revenue from the increased tax will be divided among K-12 and higher education and smoking abstinence programs.
Headline: Minimum wage and payday loan initiatives fail to make November ballot. [Entered: 09/04/2012]
By Lauren Bale
Two Missouri groups dropped their lawsuit against Secretary of State Robin Carnahan Monday, Sept. 3, ending bids to put increasing the minimum wage and restrictions on payday loans on the November ballot.
Missourians for Responsible Lending and Give Missourians a Raise filed the lawsuit to challenge Carnahan’s ruling that the measures didn’t have enough signatures to appear on the ballot.
Sean Soendker Nicholson, the spokesman for both groups, said the lawsuit was filed because the groups had more than enough signatures.
“We believed, and still believe frankly, that we submitted more than enough ballot signatures to be on the ballot for November,” he said.
Despite the setback, Nicholson says the groups will continue to fight and will hopefully get the initiatives on the ballot next election.
Headline: Drought continues to have unwanted effects on ethanol, gas and winemakers [Entered: 09/06/2012]
By Christine Roto and Eric Stoyanov
The severe drought continues to cause the price of ethanol to rise due to low corn production rates.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal government mandates that 35 to 40 percent of corn crop be diverted to ethanol production. In 2012, the government has required 13.2 billion gallons of ethanol to be blended into gasoline across the country.
The Environmental Protection Agency is considering the possibility of granting waivers to the mandate. A month-long comment period began on Aug. 30, and the EPA will decide by Nov. 12 if any waivers should be granted.
The production of ethanol also puts a strain on the price of gasoline. Matt Merritt, the public relations manager at POET Biorefining, said ethanol is an important component of the price of gasoline right now.
“Across the nation (ethanol) is 10 percent of the gasoline supply and we all know what happens when even a small percentage of the gas supply from any area gets affected,” Merritt said.
The summer’s drought is also bittersweet for Missouri winemakers.
The arid weather is helping to keep the fruit clean and the berries are smaller, which helps with sweetness. But, winemakers are unsure if the vines will last through the winter season due to a lack of nutrients. Also, total yields are less than previous years.
“In a wet year, in a humid climate such as ours, you have to deal with a lot of pressure from fungal diseases and there was absolutely no fungal disease anywhere this year since it was so hot and dry,” said Stone Hill Winery Vice President Jon Held.
Headline: New state law streamlines transfer process for Missouri college students [Entered: 09/04/2012]
By Nick Thompson
A new state law could make it easier for Missouri students like Brad Jacobsen to transfer their credits to other public universities in the state.
Jacobsen lost seven credit hours when he transferred from St. Charles Community College to the University of Missouri-Columbia last year.
He said the community college credits, which carry a price tag of $90 per credit hour for a student from St. Charles County, and $135 for a student who comes from elsewhere in the state, were classes he would not have taken if he knew they would not be applicable to a four-year degree later.
“I don’t think any state school would have taken them (the credits),” he said. “It seemed like it was so the school could get more money out of it, they were blow-off type courses.”
The new law to help future students like Jacobsen went into effect in August. It requires the state Coordinating Board for Higher Education to create a core course list of at least 25 courses that are accepted at all of the state’s public universities. The board and the schools must work together to develop the list by July 1, 2014.
Rusty Hollins, the assistant commissioner for the Department of Higher Education, said the list will help streamline course requirements. He said that the department will likely add more than the minimum of 25 courses required by the law.
“We will work with the institutions and primarily the faculty to identify courses that are effectively equivalent in terms of content and more importantly, student learning outcomes,” Hollins said. “We have a lot of confidence that there are more than 25 courses out there.”
* Get the print story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/COURSE.HTM]
* Get the bill, HB 1042 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM42&YEAR 12 ]
Headline: Lawmakers are not planning to override a veto of rabies legislation [Entered: 09/07/2012]
By Alexander Mallin
Missouri will continue to be one of five states without mandatory rabies vaccines as state lawmakers are not planning to override a veto on rabies legislation.
On July 7, Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the measure, which would have required cat and dog owners to provide proof of a rabies vaccination in the event their pet bites someone. In the event documentation is not provided, this bill would have required owners to surrender the animal to either a veterinarian or proper authorities.
In Nixon’s veto letter, he said the legislation could put Missourians at risk for rabies by taking the power of the decision-making process away from local law enforcement, health care officials and health care providers and placing it solely in the hands of a veterinarian.
“Replacing a multidisciplinary team with a single decision-maker would place Missourians who may have been exposed to rabies at significant risk,” Nixon said in the letter.
Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, a veterinarian, sponsored the legislation. He said he will not pursue overriding the veto, in part because he doesn’t believe the House has the two-thirds majority necessary to override.
* Get the print story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/RABIES2.HTM]
* Get the bill, SB 566 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUMV6&YEAR 12 ]
Headline: Public Service Commission approves decrease of fuel adjustment charge rates [Entered: 09/06/2012]
By Taylor Beck
Ameren Missouri customers will see a slight decrease in their fuel adjustment charge rate effective Sept. 24.
The rate is used to cover fuel purchasing costs needed for power plant operations. The average customer will save 21 cents on their monthly fuel adjustment charge. The average fuel adjustment cost was $3.17 a month, but will be $2.96 a month once the rate decrease goes into effect.
The rate change is based on fuel costs and the amount of out-of-state profits Ameren receives. If fuel costs decrease or Ameren’s out-of-state profits increase, the rate decreases.
Warren Wood, Ameren’s vice president of Regulatory Affairs, said both were a factor in this month’s rate reduction.
Ameren had to file a request with the commission in order to reduce the rate. The request was approved on Tuesday, Sept. 4.
Headline: Missouri’s Criminal Code could be updated for the first time in 30 years [Entered: 09/06/2012]
By Lauren Bale
The Missouri Bar has spent the last four years studying the current Criminal Code and will recommend changes in public meetings, beginning next week with a panel of state lawmakers.
One of the committee’s plans is to reduce sentences for first-time non-violent offenders.
The committee is led by Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, and Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia.
The panel will meet for the first time Tuesday, Sept. 11, at the Capitol.
Headline: Override of student transfer bill not likely [Entered: 09/05/2012]
By Brendan Cullerton
A measure to allow students in three Missouri school districts to transfer to another school if it is closer to their home was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon and is unlikely to be overridden by lawmakers.
The bill’s sponsor Rep. Rodney Schad, R-Versailles, said he does not plan to press to override the veto and described the lack of necessary votes as “tragic.”
“My intention for the bill was to help all kids that are forced to ride a school bus for three hours a day,” Schad said.
The bill only applied to the districts of St. Albans, St. Elizabeth and Gravois Mills.
“I think most of the education community that had concern, it lies more in the fact that we’re developing a bill to address three particular communities in the entire state,” said Gravois Mills superintendent Joyce Ryerson.
Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis, opposed the bill and said the plan would pull too many resources from surrounding areas and would not be good for state education as a whole.
Headline: Capitol Perspectives: Campaign Rhetoric versus Government Issues [Entered: 09/07/2012]
By: Phill Brooks
Nearly every election season, I am surprised at the disconnect between what politicians are debating versus the real issues that have been at the center of attention for government leaders.
Even issues that had dominated the legislative session just a few months earlier usually appear forgotten when the campaign season begins.
In this column, I’ve decided to forgo my regular theme of historical perspectives in order to highlight the top issues in Missouri’s state government that likely will be at the forefront of attention for the next few years.
Education: The state’s formula for allocating state funds among Missouri’s public schools is broken.
The formula is based on an assumption that the legislature will appropriate a minimum amount of funds. But for the last couple of years, the state has not been able to meet that required amount. And so, the Education Department has had to create its own formula without any clear legal authority about dividing up the pie between rich and poor school districts.
Compounding the funding issue is the loss of accreditation for the school districts in Missouri’s two largest metropolitan cities.
Transportation: The state’s highway funding problems go back years. A few years ago, maintenance problems became so severe the Transportation Department borrowed a bundle of money for improvements.
But in a remarkable show of candor, the Transportation Department director at the time, Pete Rahn, later acknowledged his department did not have enough money to maintain the repairs and improvements those bonds had funded.
One solution proposed by the Transportation Department is to convert much of Interstate 70 between St. Louis and Kansas City into a toll road. The department’s approach might not even require voter approval, just the legislature’s.
Should Missourians face tolls without voter approval? If not tolls, what should the state be doing to deal with the growing traffic on the interstates? I’ve not heard much debate on those issues this campaign season.
Criminal Sentencing: With little fanfare, at least so far, there’s been a quiet effort to lay the groundwork for a major reorganization of sentencing standards for Missouri criminals. The legislature created a joint committee on sentencing that has just announced an exhaustive set of hearings.
One proposal has been to lower sentences for first-time, non-violent offenders. Another has been to ease mandatory-minimum sentences that are locking away increasing numbers of persons with no hope of ever getting released.
One of the major goals is to cut the rising costs of Missouri’s prison system.
Health Care: Unless the new federal health care law is repealed, Missouri will face a couple of politically difficult questions. One will be whether to expand Medicaid to cover lower-income Missourians who will be required to purchase health insurance but may not be able to afford it.
The second question will be whether Missouri wants to create it’s own health insurance exchange. That’s a Web-based service for providing consumer-friendly information on health insurance plans. If the state does not operate an exchange, the federal government will impose its own on Missouri.
Tax Credits: Tax credits for real estate developers, business expansion, special interests and various other activities dominated both this year’s regular legislative session as well as the failed special session in 2011.
Remember debate on business tax breaks during the “China Hub” special session. I’ve not heard that term used in any of the campaigns.
The governor recently reappointed his commission on cutting back tax credits that cost the state well more than $600 million each year, but the issue has yet to catch on as a campaign issue.
Legislative Reform: As you’ve read from my previous columns, legislative term limits have had a debilitating effect on Missouri’s General Assembly. Yet, I’ve not read of any major candidate proposing a solution. Nor do I hear much discussion from the candidates on how to deal with the growing influence of well-financed special interests nor on how to bridge the widening partisan gap in both Missouri’s legislature and in Congress.
From my perspective, these are among some of the most important issues your government leaders will face in 2013, and beyond. Yet, I’m not very optimistic you’ll hear much from our candidates on these issues.
Is it because the nature of campaigns has changed? Is it because we reporters have changed how we cover campaigns? Is it because Missouri voters expect less from political campaigns? Is it because many of these issues are politically dangerous?
I’m not sure why. But, as a broadcast reporter, I must confess that I suspect a contributing factor is the growing importance of TV and video advertising in political campaigns. It is a format that more readily lends itself to pretty pictures of limited substance.
[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 (Missouri Digital News) 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.]