Friday, March 24, 2006

Senate Advances High-Priority Bills in First Half of Session

Funeral protests, emissions inspections and sex offenders are addressed


Jefferson City — The Missouri Senate stood in recess this week as senators remained in their districts for the mid-session break. This year has proved less busy than 2005 — the Senate has passed 70 bills to the House, rather than the 93 measures approved in the first half of last year’s active session. However, 23 bills in the Senate have received first-round approval and now await a final vote, and two Senate joint resolutions have been reported from committee. One Senate bill has been signed into law by the governor.

Members of both chambers have approved legislation prohibiting funeral protests during certain times. Senate Bill 578 prohibits funeral protests within one hour prior to and one hour after the completion of funerals in Missouri. The legislation is largely a response to protests held at military funerals by a Kansas church, whose members say military deaths are due to God’s dissatisfaction with U.S. tolerance of homosexuals. The bill contains an emergency clause, so it went into effect immediately upon the governor’s signature.

The Senate has approved a bill originally designed to modify the state’s emissions-inspection program, but now the measure also includes an amendment ending the state’s vehicle-safety inspection program. SB 583 decentralizes the emissions-testing program, which applies to residents of the St. Louis metropolitan area, and loosens emissions restrictions on some vehicles. Instead of the specialized emissions-testing stations now in place, certified motor-vehicle repair workers at private repair shops would be able to perform emissions tests.

The safety-inspection amendment does raise questions about other parts of the bill. Certain exemptions to emissions inspections for newer vehicles rely on information gathered in safety inspections. Bills approved by the Senate have been moved to the House.

A bill making several changes to Missouri law concerning sex offenders also has received Senate approval. Senate Bill 588 strengthens penalties against sex offenders in Missouri by implementing stricter mandatory-minimum-sentencing guidelines and imposing mandatory life sentences against certain repeat offenders. The omnibus legislation also requires lifetime electronic supervision of certain sexual predators, establishes a toll-free hotline to report sexual abuse, and allows probation and parole officers to have access to registered sex offenders’ personal computers to look for evidence of child pornography.

The Senate also approved legislation setting targets for the use of renewable energy sources by certain Missouri utility companies. SB 915 directs Missouri’s four investor-owned electric utilities to utilize wind, solar, hydroelectric and biomass power. The legislation sets goals for renewable energy use at 3 percent by 2012, 7 percent by 2015 and at least 10 percent by 2020. The targets do not apply to municipal or cooperative utilities. The Missouri Public Service Commission is responsible for overseeing and reporting the utilities’ progress.

Legislation modifying Missouri election campaign laws also has been approved. SB 1254 prohibits lobbyists from paying for entertainment, lodging or travel for lawmakers or their staffs without prior approval from the House or Senate administration committees. The legislation also bars lawmakers and candidates from raising campaign funds during the legislative session, which runs from January to May.

An amendment to the legislation ends spending limits on contributions to individual candidates’ campaign committees and imposes new spending restrictions for House and Senate district committees. Under current law, individual contributions are capped at $325 for House candidates, $650 for Senate candidates and $1,275 for statewide candidates. However, there are no caps on donations to political party committees, which can contribute to candidates 10 times as much as can individuals. Supporters of the amendment say that under the current system there is no way to tell how much individual contributors are giving to candidates.

Senators also have given final approval to legislation implementing various requirements designed to protect children riding in motor vehicles. SB 916 requires children to be restrained by passenger-restraint systems, booster seats or safety belts, depending on the children’s age, height and weight. The bill sets guidelines for children who fit a variety of characteristics and imposes fines depending on which provisions are violated.

Several high-priority bills are still being considered in the Senate.

A measure requiring Missourians to submit a government-issued photographic identification card in order to vote has seen much debate but not a Senate vote. SB 1014 prohibits potential voters from using paychecks, utility bills or bank statements as valid identification. The bill also requires the state to issue photo IDs to all citizens unable to obtain them for financial reasons. SB 1014 exempts from the photo-ID requirement voters with disabilities who have completed an authorized affidavit.

Supporters of the legislation say it is needed to reduce voter fraud in Missouri and are working to see that it is implemented this year if it passes. Opponents say it presents an unnecessary hassle and will discourage people from voting. They want a provision included that will put off the photo-ID requirement until 2008 so voters have time to learn about it.

Senators have received the 13 House bills that make up the budget for the 2007 fiscal year. House Bills 1001 through 1013 contain the 2007 budget, which is approximately $21 billion. Funding Missouri’s new foundation formula for public schools, providing more money for health care, and passing a proposed 4-percent pay raise for state workers have been major issues in the 2007 budget picture.

The Missouri Senate will reconvene on Monday, March 27. The Second Regular Session of the 93rd Missouri General Assembly runs through Friday, May 12.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Bill Changing Lobbyist and Campaign Laws Approved by Senate

Legislation designed to improve public access to information

The Missouri Senate this week gave final approval to legislation revising regulations on lobbyist gifts and campaign contributions to state lawmakers.

SB 1254 prohibits lobbyists from paying for entertainment, lodging or travel for lawmakers or their staffs without prior approval from House or Senate administration committees. The bill also ends the proliferation of small caucuses consisting of at least 10 General Assembly members. These caucuses currently do not have to report lobbyist expenses because of the number of legislators in attendance.

Regarding campaign contributions, SB 1254 requires candidates to file full disclosure reports every month instead of four times a year, which is the current law. In the final weeks leading up to elections, candidates will have to file campaign funding reports every day.

The legislation also requires all campaign funding reports to be filed electronically so they will be more quickly available to the public on the Missouri Ethics Commission Web site. Also under the bill, lawmakers and candidates are prohibited from raising campaign funds during the legislative session, which runs from January to May.

An amendment to the legislation ends spending limits on contributions to individual candidates’ campaign committees and imposes new spending restrictions for House and Senate district committees. Under current law, individual contributions are capped at $325 for House candidates, $650 for Senate candidates and $1,275 for statewide candidates. However, there are no caps on donations to political party committees, which can contribute to candidates 10 times as much as can individuals. Supporters of the amendment say it offers the public a better picture of who is receiving contributions from whom.

For more information about the Missouri Senate, visit http://www.senate.mo.gov/. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

General Column - Week of 3/13



Lawmakers Approve Bill Regulating Lobbyist Gifts and Campaign Contributions

Supporters say bill will offer more transparency to the public


Jefferson City — Two measures this week sparked significant debate by senators. The Senate approved legislation revising regulations on lobbyist gifts and campaign contributions to state lawmakers. And for the second straight week a bill modifying state election regulations incited debate, but not a vote.

Legislation modifying Missouri election campaign laws this week received final approval. SB 1254 prohibits lobbyists from paying for entertainment, lodging or travel for lawmakers or their staffs without prior approval from House and Senate administration committees. The legislation also bars lawmakers and candidates from raising campaign funds during the legislative session, which runs from January to May.

An amendment to the legislation ends spending limits on contributions to individual candidates’ campaign committees and imposes new spending restrictions for House and Senate district committees. Under current law, individual contributions are capped at $325 for House candidates, $650 for Senate candidates and $1,275 for statewide candidates. However, there are no caps on donations to political party committees, which can contribute to candidates 10 times as much as can individuals. Supporters of the amendment say it offers the public a better picture of who is receiving contributions from whom. SB 1254 has been sent to the House.

For the second week in a row, legislation slated for an initial vote saw heated debate by lawmakers but was not voted on. Senate Bill 1014 requires voters to submit a government-issued photographic identification card in order to vote. SB 1014 prohibits potential voters from using paychecks, utility bills or bank statements as valid identification. Under the bill, the state is required to issue photo IDs to all citizens unable to obtain them. SB 1014 exempts from the photo-ID requirement voters with disabilities who have completed an authorized affidavit.
Supporters of the legislation say it is needed to reduce voter fraud in Missouri and are pressing for the plan to be implemented this year, if passed. Opponents say it is a hassle that will unfairly discourage people from voting. They want a provision included that will put off the photo-ID requirement until 2008 so voters have time to learn about it.

Lawmakers this week also gave final approval to legislation implementing a series of requirements designed to protect children riding in motor vehicles. SB 916 requires children to be restrained by passenger-restraint systems, booster seats or safety belts, depending on the children’s age, height and weight. The bill sets guidelines for children who fit a variety of characteristics and imposes fines depending on which provisions are violated. Final approval sends the bill to the House.

A bill setting health and safety guidelines for assisted-living facilities also received final approval. SB 616 defines “assisted-living facilities” as providers of 24-hour care to residents. The legislation requires these facilities to meet several guidelines contained in the bill before the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services will license them. Under the bill, assisted-living facilities cannot admit individuals who require hospitalization or skilled nursing or are bed-bound. They cannot admit individuals who could be dangerous to other residents, and they must have a staff large enough and skilled enough to provide 24-hour care. The legislation also requires assisted-living facilities to develop written plans for what to do in emergencies.

Legislation approved by the Senate Aging, Families, Mental and Public Health Committee requires health clubs to have on site at least one automated defibrillator, a machine that works to restart the human heart during cardiac arrest. SB 625 also requires health clubs to have on duty at least one employee trained to use the device during all hours of operation. Committee approval sends the bill to the Senate floor.

The aging and health committee also approved legislation enacting the Medical Imaging and Radiation Therapy Quality Assurance Act. SB 897 requires anyone administering medical-imaging and radiation-therapy procedures to be licensed by the Medical Imaging and Radiation Therapy Board of Examiners, which is created by the bill. The bill sets education and experience requirements for applicants to be licensed as radiographers, radiation therapists, nuclear-medicine technologists and dental radiographers.

The Senate Transportation Committee this week approved a bill requiring motor vehicle buyers to submit proof of insurance to dealers before they can receive temporary license plates. SB 759 delineates which documents are acceptable, including insurance identification cards, the declaration pages of insurance policies and certificates of financial responsibility, among others.

A bill exempting pension and retirement income from state income taxes was approved by the Senate Ways and Means Committee. SB 682 applies to taxpayers ages 65 and older. It phases in the exemption over four years to an eventual $6,000 deduction.

The Senate Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee approved a measure allowing culinary students to taste, but not consume, certain alcoholic beverages that are part of class curriculum. SB 725 allows culinary students who are age 18 or older to taste beer, wine and other beverages as part of the required curriculum.

The Senate is in the process of receiving from the House 13 bills making up the Fiscal Year 2007 budget. House Bills 1001 through 1013 contain the state budget, which totals an estimated $20 billion. Highlighting the budget bills are funds for Missouri’s new foundation formula for K-12 education, which passed in 2005, and a proposed 4-percent pay raise for state workers.

The Missouri Senate has adjourned for a spring recess and will reconvene on Monday, March 27. The Second Regular Session of the 93rd Missouri General Assembly runs through Friday, May 12.


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