Thursday, December 06, 2007

Public Hearings Guide Senate Appropriations Planning

Pre-filed Bills are Numbered and Available to the Public

The Senate Appropriations Committee marked the official beginning to the budget-planning process this week by holding public hearings. In addition, this was the first week that the public was able to access numbered, pre-filed legislation.
The Senate Appropriations Committee, led by the newly appointed chairman Sen. Gary Nodler (R-Joplin), met on Monday (12/3) and Tuesday (12/4) in order to hear public testimony on appropriations concerns. Citizens from throughout Missouri came to Jefferson City to offer both praise and suggestions for the state’s spending plan. While this week marks the official beginning of the planning process, actual discussion and preparation for the Fiscal Year 2009 budget (which begins on July 1, 2008) began before the previous legislative session had even concluded. The public hearings, which were held in December instead of January to allow the testimony to better impact the committee’s planning, allow members of local communities the opportunity to explain their opinions on state spending.
The number of citizens offering testimony for the committee to consider was higher than in previous years. The two days of testimony were grouped based on the state agency, program, or issue that it would affect. On Monday, this included elementary and secondary education, higher education, corrections, and public safety. Tuesday’s testimony included health and senior services, social services, mental health, and agriculture. The committee received a variety of opinions that ranged from thanks for increased autism funding in FY 2008’s budget to ideas on how to improve the way mental health programs are funded in the future. Witnesses included veterans, teachers, parents, and business owners.
Public hearings are the first official step towards planning the FY 2009 budget. The process continues when the budget bills are proposed by the House Budget Committee and are approved by the full House before advancing to the Senate. The Senate Appropriations Committee works independently from the House to develop its own recommended spending plan. During the legislative session, the Senate Appropriations Committee amends the House budget plan to reflect the Senate spending plan. Once approved by the Senate, differences are ironed out through the conference committee process. Once the House and Senate agree on a final plan, it is sent to the governor. The General Assembly’s constitutional deadline for completion of the state operating budget is one week before the end of the legislative session.
This week also marked the first week that pre-filed legislation was available to the public. Senators began prefiling legislation on July 1st and can continue to file legislation until March 1st. Bills filed by senators include legislation addressing property tax practices, requiring universities to offer lower tuition to veterans, and creating a quality rating system for early childhood and before- and after- school programs.
The Second Regular Session of the 94th Missouri General Assembly will convene on January 9, 2008.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Transportation Funding Looms as Major Issue for Lawmakers

Missouri lawmakers are mulling over the latest report from the director of the Missouri Department of Transportation. The director is required by state law to submit an annual report to the Missouri General Assembly each November.
Director Pete Rahn says Missouri has gone from having the third worst pavement on major roads to the ninth best in the nation, with 74 percent of the state’s major roads in good condition. MoDOT’s annual report finds Missouri recorded the biggest drop in traffic-related fatalities of any state last year, while noting an increase in customer satisfaction with the agency from 75 percent in 2005 to 79 percent in 2006.
Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee and co-chairs the Joint Committee on Transportation Oversight, says MoDOT has done a lot of good things with the extra money the department received from Amendment Three, which voters approved in 2004.
“If you look at the work of MoDOT over the last three years since Amendment Three, there’s been a marked difference in Missouri’s roads,” Stouffer said. “We have improved safety – the guard cables have done a tremendous job of cutting down head-on collisions on the interstates while the rumble strips have reduced run-off accidents by 25 percent or more.”
Sen. Frank Barnitz, D-Lake Spring, agrees with Stouffer’s assessment.
“The public conversations I’ve had indicate people are very impressed with a lot of the projects that are going on - we’ve seen a lot of road improvements as well as bridge improvements,” Barnitz said.
Rahn, however, warns of a major funding shortfall by 2010 due to stagnant state and federal funding, and increases in construction, maintenance and fuel costs. He’s forecasting a drop in funding from $1.23 billion in 2008 to $569 million in 2010.
Sen. Barnitz says lawmakers need to spend some time explaining the projected funding shortfall to the citizens of Missouri.
“When Amendment Three was passed by voters, the conversation I had with a lot of my constituents is they thought they had voted to move money to MoDOT projects, and they didn’t understand that what they actually did was allowed for bonding to take place so these projects could go ahead,” Barnitz said. “So when 2010 comes and I go back to them and say we don’t have enough money to continue our highway program, I think it’s going to be kind of a hard sale.”
Sen. Stouffer says now is the time to begin looking for solutions to the projected shortfall.
“We’ve got to look at funding and come up with the best combination – we’ve got to do something to figure out how we’re going to fund our infrastructure,” Stouffer said. He says it’s too early in the process to outline specific proposals but says it’s important to get the conversation started.
Rahn says the drop in funding will make it difficult to maintain our highways, much less to address congestion, safety and economic development concerns. To view MoDOT’s annual report to the Joint Committee on Transportation Oversight, visit http://www.modot.mo.gov/newsandinfo/reports/2007AccountabilityReport/index.htm.
An audio version of this article is available at:
http://www.senate.mo.gov/05info/press-room/thisweek.html.
For more information about this and other legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Joint Committee on Tax Policy To Review Tax Credits And Property Taxes

The Joint Committee on Tax Policy will hold a public hearing Tuesday, November 13 in House Hearing Room 7 of the Capitol. The ten-member committee, evenly divided between Representatives and Senators, works to ensure Missouri’s taxes are simple, fair, neutral and transparent.
Committee member Brad Lager, R-Maryville, says a cornerstone of responsible government is making sure lawmakers are good stewards of taxpayer dollars. Lager says he does not believe in creating new government programs “just to hand out money,” and says the same philosophy should apply to tax credits. Lager says each tax credit approved by lawmakers is the same as creating a new government program that must be funded each year. However, he says unlike most government programs that are reviewed each year during the appropriations process, tax credits are only reviewed each six years.
Fellow committee member Joan Bray, D-St. Louis, says lawmakers are beginning to review the more than $500 million dollars in tax credits issued by the state. Bray says the Senate Appropriations Committee began to take a hard look at tax credits last year and refused to renew two of them, something she says has never happened.
Bray says tax credits are popular in Missouri because the state’s tax rate is among the lowest in the nation, meaning the state cannot afford to fund programs offered in other states. She says the Joint Committee on Tax Policy will pick up where the Appropriations Committee left off in reviewing the myriad tax credits and exemptions offered by the state.
The panel also plans to study the way property taxes are assessed and collected in Missouri. Both Bray and Lager say that when political subdivisions fail to rollback property tax levies after an increase in assessments, that amounts to a backdoor tax increase. The issue has exploded in the St. Louis area in recent years, and Lager says he’s beginning to hear similar complaints in his rural, northwestern Missouri district. Both Lager and Bray think lawmakers can come up with a plan to ensure taxpayers are treated fairly and equally across the state.
The Joint Committee on Tax Policy will meet at 10 a.m. in House Hearing Room 7 on Tuesday, November 13.
An audio version of this article is available at: http://www.senate.mo.gov/05info/press-room/Audio/2007/ThisWeek/thisweek110507.mp3
For more information about this and other legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.



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Interim Committee Holds Field Hearings on Deputy Sheriffs’ Compensations

Last September, lawmakers on the Senate Interim Committee on Funding for County Sheriffs Offices met in a packed hearing room at the State Capitol in Jefferson City before county law enforcement officers from around the state. They heard testimony on the problem of low pay for many deputies in county sheriff departments. The response was so large that committee members decided a series of field hearings was necessary to gather more information on the issue.
This week, the committee met in Southeast Missouri’s Wayne County, part of the district of committee member Sen. Rob Mayer (R-Dexter). He says too many deputies have to work 50-60 hours a week as deputies and then take another part-time job just to make enough money for their families. Fellow committee member Sen. Ryan McKenna (D-Crystal City) says despite working the multiple jobs, many of those struggling deputies still have to go on food stamps and other public assistance.
Sen. McKenna says it’s really a matter of having the resources within those counties to pay decent wages. He says many of the poorer counties cannot afford a tax increase, and even if they could, there’s not enough of a tax base out there to make a hike worthwhile. Sen. Mayer suggests that the legislature could change the law to allow those sheriffs departments to charge more for some of the fees they can collect, such as the fees for serving people with court papers. Sen. McKenna agrees that would be a good way for counties to raise revenues without a tax increase, and he says the state needs to look at the number of under-funded or unfunded mandates it is putting on the local sheriffs, such as the holding of prisoners.
Both men expect the issue to be a hot one when the legislature comes back into session next year and hope they can convince their fellow lawmakers of the urgency in which it needs to be dealt.
An audio version of this article is available at: http://www.senate.mo.gov/05info/press-room/Audio/2007/ThisWeek/thisweek111207.mp3.
For more information about this and other legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Senate Interim Committees Begin to Wrap Up Work

Joint Education Committee Meets This Week

JEFFERSON CITY — Interim committees appointed by the Senate President Pro Tem typically must report their findings to the full Senate by the first week of the new year, so a number of committees that have been meeting during the summer and fall are trying to wrap up their work for the year.
For example, three subcommittees of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Autism, chaired by Sen. Scott T. Rupp, R-Wentzville, are meeting this week as the panel finalizes its report to the Senate. The 16-member Blue Ribbon Panel on Autism is comprised of lawmakers, parents, doctors, and health officials and is charged with determining the state of autism in Missouri. Panel members are looking at services, teaching, training and research and will make recommendations for improving the quality of life for those with autism and their families. The panel plans to issue a report to Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, by October 31st.
Next Tuesday, Oct. 30, the Senate Interim Committee on Funding for County Sheriff Offices will travel to Shelby County to meet local law enforcement officials at the Shelby County Courthouse. Sen. Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence, requested the committee meet in his district.
Sen. Gibbons created the interim committee to study current funding levels for county sheriff offices across Missouri. The five-member Senate Interim Committee on Funding for County Sheriff Offices is:
Ø Reviewing current court costs, fees and other funding mechanisms relating to the operation of law enforcement or civil justice-related activities of county Sheriff departments;
Ø Studying the current compensation formulas for deputy sheriffs in Missouri counties;
Ø Comparing compensation of deputy sheriffs across different county classifications in Missouri and neighboring states.
The bi-partisan panel will issue a report of their findings for any legislative action to the General Assembly no later than January 1st, 2008.

***

Also, the Joint Committee on Education holds a public hearing Wednesday, Oct. 24, in Senate Committee Hearing Room 1 to receive testimony from Rick Sullivan, CEO of the Special Administrative Board for the St. Louis Public Schools, on the board’s first 100 days.
Sullivan was appointed to the board by the governor and has yet to be confirmed by the state Senate. The Special Administrative Board took control of the school district after the district lost its accreditation June 15.

For more information on items mentioned here or other action in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Tom Dempsey Sworn In as 23rd District Senator

JEFFERSON CITY —Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, was sworn-in Wednesday (10/3) to fill the 23rd District Senate seat vacated by Chuck Gross. Gross resigned from the Missouri Senate at the end of the 2007 regular legislative session to take a position in St. Charles County government.
The 23rd Senate District covers the eastern part of St. Charles County. Senator Dempsey will serve the remainder of Gross’s Senate term, which expires in January of 2009. State law allows Sen. Dempsey to subsequently serve up to two full four-year Senate terms.
Senator Dempsey fills the only Senate vacancy in the 94th General Assembly. The regular session begins in January, but the swearing-in ceremony allows Sen. Dempsey to begin serving immediately. When asked about his priorities in the Senate, Sen. Dempsey stated that healthcare reform and immigration would be some of the issues he would like to address.
Previously a state representative, Sen. Dempsey vacated the House seat for the 18th District. The governor has yet to set the date for a special election to fill that open seat.
For more information about this event or legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov. -END

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Joint Committee on Tax Policy Meets in Kansas City

Senators Join Fellow Lawmakers to Discuss Missouri’s Tax Policies

JEFFERSON CITY — Members of the Joint Committee on Tax Policy met this week to discuss updates, review recommendations, and listen to testimony on Missouri’s current tax policies. The meeting, which took place in Kansas City, focused on a variety of tax credits and property tax practices throughout the state.
The Joint Committee on Tax Policy was established in 2004 to conduct a continuous study and analysis of current and proposed tax policy in Missouri with a special focus on fairness, economic impact, effectiveness, and burden on taxpayers. Since its inception, the committee has issued reports on property taxation and assessment, sales tax on services, income tax, sales and use tax, and tax credits. The committee continues to study these and other issues relating to taxes in the state.
This week, the committee reviewed tax credits for the use of wood energy, the production of charcoal, the recycling of flexible cellulose casings, and senior citizens’ property. The Missouri State Assessors Association and Missouri State Tax Commission also discussed property tax issues affecting the state and its citizens. A section for public testimony was included on the agenda so that citizens could express their views and concerns.
For more information about this and other legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.
-END-

Blue Ribbon Autism Panel to Hold Final Public Hearing

JEFFERSON CITY — The Blue Ribbon Panel on Autism, chaired by Sen. Scott T. Rupp, R-Wentzville, will hold its final public hearing Friday, September 28 in Kansas City. The hearing will be held in the Plaza Room of the Administrative Center on the UMKC campus from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The panel will hear expert testimony from insurance representatives, as well as specialists in reimbursement and executives from the Department of Mental Health. The public is invited to testify at the hearing from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The 16-member Blue Ribbon Panel on Autism is comprised of lawmakers, parents, doctors, and health officials and is charged with determining the state of autism in Missouri. Panel members have been looking at services, teaching, training and research and will make recommendations for improving the quality of life for those with autism and their families.
After completing the meetings, the panel will issue a report to Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, by October 31st.
Members of the public wishing to testify at Friday’s hearing should contact Sen. Rupp’s office at (573) 751-1282 or by email at mdestefano@senate.mo.gov to set up a time to testify.For more information about this event or legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Senators Appointed to Chronic Kidney Disease Task Force

JEFFERSON CITY — Two Missouri Senators were appointed to the Chronic Kidney Disease Taskforce this week, which was created through Senate Bill 577, an omnibus healthcare package that went into effect on August 28. Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons (R-Kirkwood) has appointed Sen. Jack Goodman (R-Mt. Vernon) and Sen. Harry Kennedy (D-St. Louis) to fulfill the Senate’s role on the committee.
The taskforce will consist of at least 17 members including lawmakers from both legislative bodies, physicians, healthcare providers, and patients. Additional members of the group can be selected by the chair, who will be chosen by the members of the taskforce.
The group will meet throughout the upcoming months in order to develop an educational plan for highlighting the advantages and methods of early screening for chronic kidney disease. The taskforce will also make recommendations on the implementation of a plan for early screening, diagnosis, and treatment for people in Missouri. A report containing any applicable information and recommendations will be submitted to the General Assembly by August 30, 2008.
Chronic kidney disease results in gradual loss of kidney function over time and can be caused by diabetes, high blood pressure, or a primary disease of the kidneys. Numbers of Americans suffering from chronic kidney disease are on the rise with 16.8 percent of all adults — one in six individuals— suffering from chronic kidney disease according to the Center for Disease Control. Approximately 67,000 people die each year because of kidney failure.
For more information about this and other legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Senate Committees Meet During Week of Veto Session

Discussions of Consumer Protections, Judicial Selection Process, and Sheriffs’ Compensation among Committee Topics

The Senate convened for a veto session this week, although most work on House Bill 327, the only bill vetoed by the governor, was completed during a special session in August. Since the constitution required the General Assembly to meet, lawmakers seized the opportunity to hold several interim, Senate, and joint committee meetings.
A veto session is constitutionally required to be held on the first Wednesday following the second Monday of September to discuss any bills returned by the governor. A two-thirds majority is required to overturn the governor’s veto. Last month, the General Assembly met in a special session in order to discuss an omnibus economic development package (HB 327) vetoed by the governor due to concerns over cost. The Legislature passed House Bill 1, a less expensive re-work of the vetoed bill, which has since been signed by the governor.
Lawmakers took advantage of the time in Jefferson City to meet in several interim committees. The Senate Committee of Rules Joint Rules, Resolutions, and Ethics met on Tuesday (9/11) to discuss the process in which Missouri’s Supreme Court judges are selected. Since the 1940s, judges in the state have been selected through the Missouri Plan—a selection process in which a commission of lawyers, citizens, and the chief justice selects candidates and the governor chooses between the candidates. The commission has recently come under scrutiny for the openness of the process. Discussion at Tuesday’s meeting included an explanation of the process, issues of openness during the selection process, and the possibility of changing or updating the plan. The committee meeting ended with the promise of further discussion of the issues at hand.
The Senate Interim Committee on Consumer and Financial Protection convened for the first time for an organizational meeting also on Tuesday (9/11). The five member panel will be examining opportunities for the Legislature to protect consumers from dishonesty and fraud. Issues being examined by the committee will include Stranger-Owned Life Insurance (STOLI) schemes that take advantage of seniors by promising “free life insurance,” mortgage fraud that employs dishonest real estate practices, and the practice of “naked short selling” where investors profit off of shares they have never possessed.
The five-member Senate Interim Committee on Funding for County Sheriff Offices met on Wednesday (9/12). The purpose of the committee is to review current court costs, fees and other funding mechanisms relating to the operation of law enforcement or civil justice-related activities of county sheriff departments. The committee has also been charged with studying the current compensation formulas for deputy sheriffs in Missouri counties and comparing compensation of deputy sheriffs across different county classifications in Missouri and neighboring states.
Interim committees are traditionally given a deadline to report any findings or suggested legislative action. Standing committees meet at the discretion of the chair throughout the year, but typically hold the bulk of committee meetings during the regular session.

Senate Convenes for Ceremonial Veto Session

JEFFERSON CITY — The Senate convened for a constitutionally required veto session today (9/12), although much of the work on House Bill 327, the only vetoed bill, was already completed during a special session last month. The governor vetoed the economic development package, and then called the Legislature into an extraordinary session to craft House Bill 1, a less expensive version of the measure.
The constitution requires the General Assembly to convene on the first Wednesday following the second Monday in September to discuss any bills that have been returned (vetoed). The governor has 45 days from the final day of session to veto, sign, or not sign a bill. During a veto session, both legislative bodies must have a two-thirds majority in order to overturn the governor’s veto.
In August, the General Assembly met for a special session to discuss the omnibus economic development package that included a cap increase for the Quality Jobs Act. The Legislature completed work on the bill, and it was signed by the governor, leaving little work to be completed during the veto session.
For more information about this event or legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

Senate Committee Discusses State Judicial Commission

JEFFERSON CITY — The Senate Committee on Rules, Joint Rules, Resolutions and Ethics met yesterday (9/11) to discuss the Judicial Appellate Commission. After the retirement of Supreme Court Judge Ronnie White, questions of openness and accountability arose as the commission went about selecting a state of replacements.
The committee meeting included testimony by Chief Justice Laura Denvir Stiff, a member of the commission, who gave a brief history of the Missouri Plan—the system used in the state to select Supreme Court and Appellate Court judges. In 1940, the plan was decided on by the voters, who found fault in the previous purely electoral system, as a non-partisan plan to select and appoint judges. The selection process includes the Judicial Appellate Commission, which is made up of lawyers from each of the state’s three regions, three citizens from those same regions, and the chief justice. The lawyers on the commission are selected by the Missouri Bar Association, and the citizens are appointed by the governor. The commission selects three candidates and the governor chooses from those candidates. The governor has the option to select none of the candidates, and then the final decision lies with the commission. The next general election following the judge’s selection is when a retention election is held—giving voters the chance to retain the judge based on his or her judicial record.
The commission has recently come under scrutiny for what some assert is a lack of openness during the selection process. Discussion during the committee meeting included explanation of the plan, issues of accountability during the selection process, and the possibility of changing or updating the plan. Those that defend the process argue that the judicial commission, since it is not a political body, is not subject to the Missouri Sunshine Law and that issues of personnel would not be open to the public in any situation. Detractors worry that the process has become too secretive, allowing politics to enter the system and limiting the number of qualified candidates the governor is able to choose from.
Senate Majority Floor Leader Charlie Shields (R-St. Joseph), chair of the committee, had requested the meeting with the members of the commission in order to ask questions about some of the assertions and to look into making improvements in the process. He concluded the meeting by saying that the committee would continue to examine the plan through further discussion.
For more information about this event or legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Special Session Bills Signed into Law

JEFFERSON CITY — The governor has signed into law the two bills that were the subjects of the recently-completed special legislative session. The legislature came back into special session on August 20th, 2007, to consider a new economic development bill and a measure to move forward the Missouri Department of Transportation’s plan to fix more than 800 of the worst bridges in the state. Lawmakers wrapped up their work on the bills last week.
House Bill 1 is an all-encompassing economic development measure brought about by the veto of HB 327, an economic development bill passed during the regular session. The governor had criticized HB 327 as having grown too large with an anticipated price tag of more than $200 million a year when it reached maturity in a few years and vetoed the bill. House and Senate members worked throughout the summer to craft this new HB 1 with a price tag closer to about $70 million a year. The new economic development measure will increase money to the Quality Jobs Program from $12 million to $40 million a year and authorize the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act, which gives a tax credit equal to 50 percent of the costs and 100 percent of the interest incurred for the acquisition of an eligible parcel of land. Eligible land is defined as a tract of at least 75 acres in an economically distressed area. The bill also includes $3 million in Qualified Beef Tax Credits, New Markets – Qualified Equity Investment Tax Credits of $15 million, and Film Production Tax Credits totaling $4.5 million a year.
The tragic bridge collapse in Minnesota was a large, driving factor behind House Bill 2, the measure that will change state laws regarding the bonding mechanism so the state transportation department can contract to have more than 800 of Missouri’s worst bridges fixed and keep them maintained for 25 years after that… although MoDOT officials and lawmakers are quick to point out that the plan has been in the works long before the tragedy in Minneapolis-St. Paul. The project’s total cost is expected to be between $400-600 million with no additional appropriations to pay that cost.
For more information about this event or legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

Rep. Tom Dempsey to Fill Senate Seat Vacated By Chuck Gross

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Representative Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, won a special election Tuesday to fill the 23rd District senate seat vacated by Chuck Gross. Gross resigned from the Missouri Senate at the end of the legislative session to take a position in St. Charles County government.
Dempsey prevailed by a 56-44 percent margin over Democrat Ed Applebaum of St. Peters in the Sept. 4th special election called by the governor to fill the 23rd District seat.
Dempsey most recently served the House as majority floor leader, as chairman of the House Ethics Committee and as vice chairman of the House Rules Committee.
The 23rd Senate District covers the eastern part of St. Charles County. Dempsey will serve the remainder of Gross’s Senate term, which expires in January of 2009. State law allows Dempsey to subsequently serve up to two full four-year Senate terms.
Dempsey’s election victory produces a vacancy in his 18th District House seat. The governor will set the date for a special election to fill that vacancy.
For more information about this event or legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Senate Completes Work on House Bills 1 and 2

Legislation Now Goes to Governor for Approval

Lawmakers have completed their work after passing two bills that address the issues the governor asked the Legislature to address in his call for the special session. Senators were at the Capitol late on Wednesday night completing their work on House Bills 1 and 2.
House Bill 1, an omnibus economic development package, was brought about by the veto of HB 327, an economic development bill passed during the regular session. Lawmakers worked throughout the summer to craft a new economic development bill with a price tag of approximately $70 million a year, deemed to be more fiscally palatable compared to the approximately $200 million cost of the vetoed HB 327.
House Bill 1 includes increases in the amount of credits available for businesses participating in the Quality Jobs Act. Qualifying businesses are those that provide jobs with pay above the county’s average wage and pay 50 percent of health insurance costs for employees. Similar cap increases are contained in the legislation for Enhanced Enterprise Zones — an area with the potential to create sustainable jobs. The legislation also includes provisions allowing the sale or resale of tickets at any price to sporting and entertainment events in Missouri, defining “Greenfield areas” as they relate to Tax Increment Financing, and extending the New Job Training program currently in use at many community colleges.
Two other elements of the legislation include the Qualified Beef Tax Credit Act, a tax credit for cattle farmers who finish their cattle in the state, and the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit, which provides credits for developers building on qualified distressed land in urban areas. Opponents of the bill argued that the latter tax credit was unfair to taxpayers in rural areas of the state. Supporters said that the legislation contained credits that will benefit businesses throughout the state and improve the economy of Missouri as a whole.
More than 800 bridges will be repaired or replaced under the Missouri Department of Transportation’s (MoDOT) Safe and Sound bridge program. The innovative program will take 5 years to make the repairs and then include another 25 years of maintenance. House Bill 2 makes this timeline possible by changing the bonding statutes for such an expansive project. The project’s estimated cost is $400-600 million and a pay-for-performance structure will protect the state’s investment in the project. Lawmakers have stressed that no additional appropriations will be needed to complete the work.
House Bills 1 and 2 have received approval from the General Assembly and will now move on to the governor for his signature. The emergency clause incorporated in HB 2 will make the law effective as soon as it receives the governor’s approval. House Bill 1 will be effective 90 days from the final day of session.
The Missouri Senate will reconvene on September 12 for veto session, expected this year to largely be ceremonial as the one bill vetoed by the governor (HB327) was revamped as noted above.

Senate Approves Bridge Building, Economic Development Bills

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Senate yesterday (8/29) approved two bills addressed by the governor in a call to special session. Debate went into the early morning hours as senators discussed House Bill 1, an economic development package, and House Bill 2, a measure designed to get the Missouri Department of Transportation’s (MoDOT) bridge repair started.
House Bill 1 is an omnibus economic development bill brought about by the veto of HB 327, an economic development bill passed during the regular session and vetoed by the governor due to concerns over cost. Lawmakers worked throughout the summer to craft a new economic development bill with a price tag of approximately $70 million a year, deemed to be more fiscally palatable compared to the approximately $200 million cost of the vetoed HB 327. House Bill 1 includes increases in the amount of credits available for businesses participating in the Quality Jobs Act. Qualifying businesses are those that provide jobs with pay above the county’s average wage and pay 50 percent of health insurance costs for employees. Similar cap increases are contained in the legislation for Enhanced Enterprise Zones — an area with the potential to create sustainable jobs.
The bill also includes provisions creating tax credits for companies redeveloping land in a qualified distressed area as a part of the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act, encouraging production companies to film in the state with Film Production Tax Credits, and providing Qualified Beef Tax Credits for ranchers selling finished beef cattle.
Bridges in Missouri will receive repairs and replacements sooner thanks to provisions in House Bill 2. The Safe and Sound bridge repair program, which will repair or replace more than 800 bridges in the state, was stalled by state bonding statutes. The tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis-St. Paul encouraged the legislature to act quickly on the project, which had been in the works long before the tragedy in Minnesota. House Bill 2 provides a new set of rules for projects of this magnitude and length of time by changing performance bonding laws so the transportation department can contract to have the bridges fixed over the next five years and maintained for another 25 years. The bridge project’s total cost is expected to be between $400-600 million, and lawmakers stress that the agency will need no additional appropriations to pay that cost.
The bridge bill now goes to the governor; the economic development bill has been approved by the House and now moves to the governor.
For more information about this event or legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

Senate’s School Funding Bill Upheld by Circuit Court

JEFFERSON CITY — A state circuit court judge yesterday (8/29) upheld the equity, adequacy and constitutionality of Missouri’s school funding “foundation formula,” which is used to appropriate state money to Missouri’s 524 public school districts.
The ruling came some three years after more than 200 of these districts together launched a suit against the state contesting how — and how much — state money flows to districts via the funding formula.
In 2005, after the suit was filed, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 287, revising the foundation formula to where it now keys off of the needs of a district’s students — rather then the old model based on the taxes a district’s properties could generate.
As now written, the formula applies a universal minimum per-pupil dollar figure and adjusts this base to account for aspects like each district’s property values and living costs. The revised foundation formula has an increase phase-in schedule that eventually infuses an added $800 million to schools each year. For this fiscal year (‘08), that increase is $132 million, bringing foundation formula funding to $7.8 billion since July of 2005.
The court case largely decided yesterday refuted suing district assertions that the plan fails to provide an adequate education or ensure that funds are distributed equally to school districts. The current school funding plan, ruled Cole County Judge Richard Callahan, follows “the constitutional scheme and is a reasonable attempt to meet” the state’s obligation to provide free public education.
Yet to be ruled on is whether the state is meeting an added constitutional requirement of expending at least 25 percent of its budget on public education, a point of contention resting on differing views on how budget numbers are evaluated.
For more information about this event or legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Senate Committees Move Special Session Bills on to Full Senate

JEFFERSON CITY — The two bills regarding the subjects of the special legislative session have been approved today by their respective committees and have been sent to the full State Senate for debate and possible votes. The Senate Economic Development, Tourism & Local Government Committee has approved House Bill 1, the omnibus economic development bill, while the Senate Transportation Committee has approved House Bill 2, a measure to move forward the Missouri Department of Transportation’s plan to fix more than 800 of the worst bridges in the state.
House Bill 1 is an all-encompassing economic development bill brought about by the veto of HB 327, an economic development bill passed during the regular session. In his veto message, the governor said HB 327 had grown too large with an anticipated price tag of more than $200 million a year when it reached maturity in a few years. Lawmakers worked throughout the summer to craft a new economic development bill with a price tag closer to about $70 million a year, which the governor has indicated is more tolerable for the state’s financial situation. Highlights of the new bill include an increase to money to the Quality Jobs Program from $12 million to $40 million a year and the authorization of the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act, which gives a tax credit equal to 50 percent of the costs and 100 percent of the interest incurred for the acquisition of an eligible parcel of land. Eligible land is defined as a tract of at least 75 acres in an economically distressed area. The bill also includes $3 million in Qualified Beef Tax Credits, New Markets – Qualified Equity Investment Tax Credits of $15 million, and Film Production Tax Credits totaling $4.5 million a year.
The tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis-St. Paul is part of the impetus behind HB 2, although MoDOT officials and lawmakers are quick to point out that the plan has been in the works long before the tragedy in Minnesota. House Bill 2 will change state laws regarding the bonding mechanism so the state transportation department can contract to have more than 800 of Missouri’s worst bridges fixed and keep them maintained for 25 years after that. The project’s total cost is expected to be between $400-600 million, and lawmakers stress that the agency will need no additional appropriations to pay that cost.
The full Senate is expected to consider both bills on Wednesday, August 29th. Both measures have already passed the House. Any differences from the two chambers’ versions will have to be worked out in a conference committee.
For more information about this event or legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Most Senate Bills Take Effect on Aug. 28

Healthcare Reform, Higher Education Package, and Tax Incentives Among New Laws

JEFFERSON CITY — Most of the legislation passed during the regular session that ended in May will take effect on August 28. Among the new laws becoming effective are senate bills making changes to heath care, higher education, and tax incentives.
Senate Bill 577 makes several reforms to Missouri’s state-sponsored medical insurance, now called MO HeathNet. The new program focuses on preventative measures, rather than the more expensive reactive care by encouraging patients to take steps toward a healthy lifestyle such as losing weight or quitting smoking. In order to better combat fraud in the system, the program asks providers to keep stricter records and creates protections for “whistleblowers.” Programs to benefit the working disabled and low-income women are also contained in the legislation.
An extensive higher education package will also go into effect on Aug. 28. Senate Bill 389 calls for several construction projects on Missouri’s college campuses with funds gained from the sale of some of the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority’s (MOHELA) assets. The bill also contains scholarship increases for the state’s community college, university, and private college students. Beginning in the 2008-2009 school year, schools will no longer be able to raise tuition higher than the rate of inflation set by the Consumer Price Index or they will risk losing up to 5 percent of their state appropriation for that year. The Coordinating Board for Higher Education will have greater authority to enforce this and other policies affecting state colleges and universities.
Missouri manufacturers and businesses will be able to apply for several tax credits that will be available when Senate Bill 30 goes into effect. The bill creates an exemption from state and local sales taxes for the cost of utilities, chemicals, machinery, equipment, and materials used while manufacturing a product. The bill contains similar provisions for radio or television broadcasting. Senate Bill 30 also expands eligibility for the Property Tax Credit Claim, also known as the “circuit breaker,” a program to make it easier for seniors and the disabled to afford their rent or property taxes.

Constitutionally, bills that the governor does not veto are effective 90 days from the last day of the regular session unless an emergency clause is adopted. There are 55 such senate bills that will go into effect on August 28.

For more information about this and other legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit http://www.senate.mo.gov/. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

Senate Convenes for Special Session

Lawmakers returned to Jefferson City this week to begin a special session meant to address two issues. The gavel calling the Senate into an extraordinary session fell on Monday at 1 p.m.
During the regular session, which ended in May, the General Assembly passed an omnibus economic development package. House Bill 327, a bill created to increase caps on the Quality Jobs Act, passed the Senate and House, but was vetoed by the governor due to concerns over the cumulative cost of the various tax breaks contained in the bill. House Bill 1, a slimmed down version of HB 327, was introduced this week.House Bill 1 provides for a series of tax credits meant to stimulate economic development in the state. It includes increases in the amount of credits available for businesses participating in the Quality Jobs Act. Qualifying businesses are those that provide jobs with pay above the county’s overage wage and pay 50 percent of health insurance costs for employees. Similar cap increases are contained in HB 1 for Enhanced Enterprise Zones — an area with the potential to create sustainable jobs. The bill also includes provisions decriminalizing ticket scalping, creating tax credits for companies redeveloping land in a qualified distressed area, and providing tax credits for ranchers selling finished beef cattle. The legislation offers credits to film producers that choose Missouri as the location of their shoot, and extends a new job training program at community colleges. As it is now written, HB 1 is estimated to cost about $51 million in its first year and rise to $70 million when it reaches maturity.Supporters of the bill maintain that the tax credits will encourage job growth and stimulate Missouri’s economy. Detractors note that, while the bill’s cost is significantly less than $200 million called for in the earlier HB 327, the legislation is still overloaded with legislators’ favored projects.
House Bill 2 will allow the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) to get a jump start on an innovative plan to replace or repair more than 800 bridges in the state. The plan gives a single contractor five years to complete the repairs and replacements and then holds the contractor responsible for another 25 years of maintenance. The project, with an estimated cost of $400-600 million, is too large to conform to the state’s current performance bonding statutes. House Bill 2 will provide a new set of rules for projects of this magnitude and length of time. A pay-for-performance structure will protect the state’s investment in the project.
Both bills have passed the House and will be taken up by the full Senate when the body convenes at 1 p.m. on August 29.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Judicial Commission Invited to Meet With Senate Committee

JEFFERSON CITY — Senator Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, today extended an invitation to the members of the Appellate Judicial Commission to meet with the Senate Committee on Rules, Joint Rules, Resolutions and Ethics next month to discuss the process used to select candidates for the Missouri Supreme Court.
“As a member of the Commission you will have the opportunity to explain to the committee as well as other interested Missourians how the process was used to select the panel and why you believe the work of the Commission is not covered under the State’s open meetings law,” Shields wrote in a letter dated and sent to each commissioner today, August 23, 2007.
The seven-member Appellate Judicial Commission is comprised of four lawyers including Supreme Court Chief Justice Laura Denvir Stith and three commissioners appointed by governors. The commission met earlier this summer without publicly posting the times or locations of their meetings, which Shields contends violates state “Sunshine” laws.
“Missourians deserve openness, accountability and transparency, not secret meetings that the public is not notified about,” Shields wrote. “The citizens of our state deserve an open process in the selection of unelected Supreme Court Justices.”
Shields invited each member of the commission to appear before the Senate committee, which he chairs, on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2007. The committee hearing is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.
For more information about this event or legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.
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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Senate Interim Committee Formed to Protect Consumers

JEFFERSON CITY—Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, this week created a five-member Senate Interim Committee on Consumer and Financial Protection. The committee will be examining opportunities for the Legislature to protect consumers from dishonesty and fraud.
The committee is charged with examining ways to prevent consumer fraud in investing, real estate, and insurance. Examples of issues being examined by the committee will include Stranger-Owned Life Insurance (STOLI) schemes that take advantage of seniors by promising “free life insurance,” mortgage fraud that employs dishonest real estate practices, and the practice of “naked short selling” where investors profit off of shares they have never possessed. The committee will hear from experts on these and other matters to make legislative recommendations to the General Assembly by Jan. 31, 2008.
The bipartisan committee will include Senators Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, (Chair); Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City; Carl Vogel, R-Jefferson City; Joan Bray, D-St. Louis; and Victor Callahan, D-Independence.
For more information about the committee or legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit http://www.senate.mo.gov/. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Special Session Officially Called For August 20th; Majority of Senate’s Work Expected Week of August 27th

JEFFERSON CITY — The governor has officially called lawmakers back into special session this coming Monday, August 20th at 1:00 p.m. to consider legislation to speed up the Missouri Department of Transportation’s Safe and Sound Bridge Improvement Plan, a strategy to fix 800 of Missouri’s worst bridges and keep them maintained for 25 years after, and to work out a new economic development bill and funding. The recent tragedy of the bridge collapse in Minnesota and the veto of House Bill 327, an omnibus economic development bill, have precipitated the call.
While the official start of the session is set for Monday with all Senators and Representatives asked to be present, the bulk of the Senate’s work won’t begin until a week later. The Senate will have two technical sessions that only a few senators would need to attend next week. On Monday, August 27th, the Senate will hold hearings on the bills considered by the House, and debate before the full Senate is expected on August 29th.
The special session call asks lawmakers to consider amending statutes to authorize the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission to use a “design-build-finance-maintain” method for the Safe and Sound Bridge Program and to permit the commission to change and enforce a bid or proposed bond to finance and move forward the program.
The original economic development bill, House Bill 327, was vetoed by the governor because he said it had grown out of control to an estimated $200 million a year in tax breaks and incentives. State Senators have been working throughout the summer with their colleagues in the House to craft a compromise that will include about $51 million in tax breaks in its first year, rising to about $70 million by the time it hits maturity.
For more information about this event or legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Senators Prepare to Come Back Into Session

JEFFERSON CITY — Lawmakers will come back to Jefferson City on August 20th as part of a special legislative session. The governor is calling the session to speed up the fixing of the state’s bridges and to address issues with a new economic development bill and funding. The recent tragedy of the bridge collapse in Minnesota and the veto of House Bill 327, an omnibus economic development bill, have precipitated the call.
The collapse of the Minneapolis-St. Paul bridge last week has prompted the Missouri Department of Transportation to re-examine other bridges of similar designs in this state to make sure there are no problems. In addition, MoDOT has been working to implement the Safe and Sound Bridge Improvement Program to fix about 800 of the worst bridges in Missouri in the next few years. Transportation officials say the amount of funding to fix roads and bridges in Missouri drops off dramatically from about $1.2 billion a year now, to just $569 million in 2010. Legislation to be worked on in the special session will allow contractors to access bonds needed to move the project forward.
In his veto message, the governor said HB 327 had grown out of control to an estimated $200 million a year in tax breaks and incentives — too much, in his opinion, for state coffers to support. State Senators have been working throughout the summer with their colleagues in the House to craft a compromise that will include about $51 million in tax breaks in its first year, rising to about $70 million by the time it hits maturity.For more information about this event or legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Transportation Panel Considers Options

JEFFERSON CITY — The Joint Committee on Transportation Oversight met Tuesday at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Jefferson City to discuss funding options for transportation infrastructure in Missouri. The meeting featured presentations by MoDOT Director Pete Rahn and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation David Horner.
The meeting was billed as the 2007 Transportation Funding Summit, and attendees reviewed what other states are doing regarding transportation infrastructure funding.
“Today we want to take a look at where Missouri is as far as funding for transportation is concerned, then we want to go to a national panel that will help us learn what’s coming down from the federal level, and hear what other states are doing and how other people are addressing the issue,” said Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, co-chair of the Joint Committee.
The other co-chair of the Joint Committee is Rep. Neal St. Onge, R-Ellisville.
“The needs are very real for Missouri and soon to be very serious,” St. Onge said. “I think we have about 300 people in the room and there’s probably 300 different solutions in the room. The ultimate goal that we have is to come together with a solution that will be put before the people that benefits all of Missouri.”
MoDOT Director Pete Rahn told the panel the state faces a “perfect storm” in transportation funding, a storm caused by lower state revenue, increasing construction costs and fewer federal dollars. Rahn told the Joint Committee about several options for raising revenue, including a proposal to increase taxes. Rahn noted that Missouri voters would have to approve any revenue-boosting proposal.
The committee is required by statute to meet at least twice a year, and the agenda must include but may not be limited to the following:
(1) Presentation of a prioritized plan for all modes of transportation;
(2) Discussion of department efficiencies and expenditure of cost- savings within the department;
(3) Presentation of a status report on department of transportation revenues and expenditures, including a detailed summary of projects funded by new state revenue as provided in paragraph (a) of subdivision (1) of subsection 3 of this section;
(4) Review of any report from the joint committee inspector general; and
(5) Implementation of any actions as may be deemed necessary by the committee as authorized by law.
Sen. Stouffer, co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation Oversight, also serves as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. Other senators serving on the Joint Committee include Scott Rupp, R-Wentzville, John Griesheimer, R-Washington, Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, Frank Barnitz, D-Lake Spring, Joan Bray, D-St. Louis, and Rita Days, D-St. Louis.
For more information about this event or legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Transportation Panel to Meet

JEFFERSON CITY — The Joint Committee on Transportation Oversight will meet Tuesday, July 31 at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Jefferson City. The meeting will feature presentations by MoDOT Director Pete Rahn and Assistant Secretary of Transportation Tyler Duvall.
The meeting is being billed as the 2007 Transportation Funding Summit, and attendees will review what other states are doing regarding transportation infrastructure funding.
The committee is required by statute to meet at least twice a year, and the agenda must include but may not be limited to the following:
(1) Presentation of a prioritized plan for all modes of transportation;
(2) Discussion of department efficiencies and expenditure of cost- savings within the department;
(3) Presentation of a status report on department of transportation revenues and expenditures, including a detailed summary of projects funded by new state revenue as provided in paragraph (a) of subdivision (1) of subsection 3 of this section;
(4) Review of any report from the joint committee inspector general; and
(5) Implementation of any actions as may be deemed necessary by the committee as authorized by law.
Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, is co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation Oversight. Stouffer also serves as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. Other senators serving on the Joint Committee include Scott Rupp, R-Wentzville, John Griesheimer, R-Washington, Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, Frank Barnitz, D-Lake Spring, Joan Bray, D-St. Louis, and Rita Days, D-St. Louis.
The Joint Committee on Transportation Oversight will meet Tuesday, July 31st at 10 a.m.
For more information about this event or legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Senate Interim Committee to Review Funding for County Sheriff Offices

JEFFERSON CITY — Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, has created an interim committee to study current funding levels for county sheriff offices across Missouri. The five-member Senate Interim Committee on Funding for County Sheriff Offices will:
Ø Review current court costs, fees and other funding mechanisms relating to the operation of law enforcement or civil justice-related activities of county Sheriff departments;
Ø Study the current compensation formulas for deputy sheriffs in Missouri counties;
Ø Compare compensation of deputy sheriffs across different county classifications in Missouri and neighboring states.
Sen. John Griesheimer, R-Washington, has been named chairman of the interim committee.
“Our county sheriffs and their deputies play a crucial role in law enforcement in this state, particularly in rural areas of Missouri,” Sen. Griesheimer said. “We will help make sure they are fairly compensated for the job they do to make sure they continue to have the people and equipment to keep everyone safe.”
Other members of the interim committee include Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter; Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau; Sen. Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence; and Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Crystal City. The bi-partisan panel will issue a report of their findings for any legislative action to the General Assembly no later than January 1st, 2008.
For more information about this and other legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

Flurry of Senate Bill Signings

JEFFERSON CITY — More than a third of all the senate bills approved by the legislature this year were signed by the governor on the next to last day that he could affix his signature to a bill. Under the state constitution, the governor has 45 days from the official last day of the 94th General Assembly’s First Regular Session to either sign a bill, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature. The last 21 of the 57 senate bills that received the governor’s approval did so on July 13th. Some of the highlights included reforms to the state’s mental health system, unemployment compensation for veterans, and making more severe the punishment for dealing drugs in and around state parks.
Senate Bill 3 reforms Missouri’s mental health system and was a priority for sponsor Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons (R-Kirkwood). The new law is aimed at better protecting the safety and quality of life of Missouri’s most vulnerable citizens served by both private and state-run care centers. The comprehensive measure requires reviews of all suspicious deaths, published reports of abuse and neglect, and creates the crime of vulnerable person abuse. The measure also stiffens the penalties for community providers who don’t correct problems cited in their facilities by upping the daily fine from $100 to $10,000.
Sen. Victor Callahan’s (D-Independence) SB 433 also received the governor’s signature. Last year, the legislature approved and the governor signed protections that ensure War on Terror veterans have their jobs and full benefits waiting for them after they return from service. Senate Bill 433 strengthens that law, increasing penalties for employers who fail to comply with the law from $25,000 to $35,000. It is seen as a deterrent to any employer who would consider violating those job protections for veterans.
Senate Bill 198, sponsored by Sen. Rob Mayer (R-Dexter) became law after the governor signed it. The new law makes it a crime to distribute controlled substances near a park. Drug pushers who try to deal heroin, cocaine, LSD, amphetamines, or methamphetamines within a thousand feet of a park would be charged with a Class A felony. The measure is seen as a way help clean up areas intended to cater to families looking to get away from it all.

All three of these measures take effect on August 28th, 2007.
For more information about this and other legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Bill Creating Protections for Crime Victims Signed into Law

JEFFERSON CITY — Senate President Pro Tem Sen. Michael Gibbons, Gov. Matt Blunt, and other state legislators traveled to Columbia Thursday (July 12) for the signing of House Bill 583. The bill, which Sen. Gibbons made a priority in the Senate over the past session, protects the rights of victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child exploitation.
Experts estimate that only 1 out of 10 sexual assaults are reported and only half of domestic abuse cases are reported. House Bill 583 has been hailed as a way to encourage victims of violent crimes to report the incidents through increased confidentiality and protections.
The bill includes provisions requiring the Department of Health and Senior Services to pay for examinations for victims of sexual offenses and the State Highway Patrol to distribute free evidence collection kits to medical providers. Rape crisis centers must maintain the confidentiality of their victims and cannot release information relating to the identity of the victims. Law enforcement agencies will not be able to subject victims of sexual assault to polygraph tests.
Domestic assault victims will see greater punishments for offenders under the new law. Those convicted of domestic assault with prior offenses will be charged with a Class A felony. Previously, the offense was a Class B felony. In addition, the legislation establishes the “Address Confidentiality Program,” under which victims’ addresses are made secret. The Missouri Secretary of State’s office coordinates the program and forwards mail to the proper address for victims who fear releasing their address.
Child pornography victims will be able to sue for mental or physical injury. Victims will have the opportunity to bring their abusers to civil court by the age of 31 or within three years after the injury is discovered, whichever is later.
The bill will go into effect on August 28, 2007.
For more information about this and other legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Senate Bill Signings Continue

Bills Modifying Special Education, Expanding Renewable Energy And Helping Victims of Theft Among Those Signed

JEFFERSON CITY — Governor Matt Blunt signed a number of Senate bills into law this week, including legislation to encourage power companies to increase their use of renewable sources of energy in power generation.
Senate Bill 54, sponsored by Sen. Chris Koster (R-Cass), creates the Green Power Initiative, which encourages electric companies to make good-faith efforts toward meeting the following renewable energy targets:
• 4% of total retail electric sales come from certain renewable energy technologies by 2012;
• 8% of total retail electric sales come from certain renewable energy technologies by 2015; and
• 11% of total retail electric sales come from certain renewable energy technologies by 2020.
Electricity generation from renewable sources prior to August 28, 2007, may be counted toward the targets, provided they continue to be used.
The act establishes reporting requirements until 2022. Electric companies are required to report every two years on their progress toward meeting the targets. The PSC is required to report every two years on the progress made by electric companies and give recommendations for legislative action. The director of the Department of Economic Development shall report every two years on the impact of this progress on the state economy and the director of the Department of Natural Resources shall report every two years on the environmental impact of this progress.
Senate Bill 112, sponsored by Sen. Scott Rupp (R-Wentzville), modifies provisions relating to special education in Missouri. The act provides that the Missouri Sunset Act shall not apply to the early intervention program for infants and toddlers with disabilities (the First Steps program).
Also, subject to appropriations, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education shall implement a pilot program requiring the department to implement a pilot program allowing the Regional Interagency Coordinating Council (RICC) of the Greater St. Louis single point of entry (SPOE) to hire a part-time child-find coordinator to conduct the child-find requirements of the First Steps program. The part-time child-find coordinator shall be hired, selected, and employed by the RICC of the Greater St. Louis SPOE by July 1, 2008. By September 1, 2010, the Greater St. Louis SPOE shall conduct a study on the effect of hiring the child-find coordinator and submit the study to the Department, the State Interagency Coordinating Council and the General Assembly.
This act establishes the "Part C Early Intervention Pilot Program Fund" for implementing the pilot program. The provisions of the pilot program shall expire on September 1, 2011.
This act also combines references to the term "handicapped" in the special education statute with the "children with disabilities" to mean children under the age of twenty-one years who have not completed an approved high school program and who, because of mental, physical or emotional learning problems, require special education services.
Senate Bill 384, sponsored by Senate Minority Floor Leader Maida Coleman (D-St. Louis), easing the procedure for obtaining free replacements of stolen license plate tabs from the Department of Revenue. Under current law, a person replacing stolen license plate tabs may receive two sets of two license plate tabs for free if the person submits a police report with the application. This act, for replacing stolen license plate tabs issued prior to January 1, 2009, allows a notarized affidavit to suffice instead of a police report. Police reports will again be required for replacing stolen license plate tabs issued on or after January 1, 2009.
This act also provides that license plates may be encased in transparent covers so long as the plates are plainly visible and their reflective qualities are not impaired.
Senate Bill 302, sponsored by Sen. John Loudon (R-Chesterfield), modifies the definition of commercial real estate by excluding real estate on which no buildings or structures are located and explicitly provides that commercial real estate shall include any unimproved real estate of any zoning classification, other than agricultural or horticultural real estate, being purchased for development or subdivision.
The act provides that the six month statute of limitations for filing a lien shall apply to the labor portion involved with the use of rental equipment while the 60 day time-frame shall apply to the rental equipment value. The act also provides that the five-day written notice of using rental equipment shall not apply to the labor provided by the persons using the rental equipment.
For more information about this and other legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

More Senate Bills Signed Into Law

Senate’s Priorities of Protecting and Educating Children, Providing Educational Opportunities for the Hearing Impaired, and Conducting Children’s Eye Exams Among Those Signed

JEFFERSON CITY — More legislation sponsored by several different senators has gained the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s signatures this week. Senate Bill 16, SB 64, SB 84, and House Bill 181 – which contains some key senatorial provisions - will take effect on August 28th, 2007.
Senate Bill 16, sponsored by Sen. Delbert Scott (R-Lowry City), requires comprehensive eye examinations for children entering kindergarten or first grade. It also requires vision screenings for students beginning first and third grades. Sen. Scott has a personal connection to this measure as he had a lazy eye that went undiagnosed as a child, which has led to a lifetime of wearing glasses for him.
Senate Bill 64 was signed into law by Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder, who was acting in Gov. Matt Blunt’s place while the governor was on a trade mission to France. SB 64 was sponsored by Sen. Jack Goodman (R-Mount Vernon) and was born after the devastating winter storms that shut down many Missouri schools this past winter. It authorizes school districts to set their school opening dates up to a certain date prior to Labor Day and provides for exemptions on make-up days due to inclement weather.
Senate Bill 84, sponsored by Sen. Norma Champion (R-Springfield), changes the law to make Amber Alerts only for children under the age of 18 while creating an advisory system to aid in the identification and location of missing endangered adults. Under the new law, a “missing endangered person” is defined as someone whose whereabouts are unknown and who is physically or mentally disabled, missing under circumstances that indicate that person might be in danger, and/or missing under involuntary or unknown circumstances. SB 84 also includes provisions that will include Missouri in interstate compacts with other states dealing with fleeing juveniles and interstate adoptions.
House Bill 181 contains some key provisions of a bill sponsored by Sen. Scott T. Rupp (R-Wentzville) that would require closed or open captioning be used for electronic video instructional materials in any educational institution starting in 2008.
For more information about this and other legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.
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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Corrections Committee, Autism Panel to Hold Hearings

The Joint Committee on Corrections holds a hearing Wednesday, June 27 at 1 p.m. in House Hearing Room 1. The panel will elect officers and hear a presentation from officials with the Missouri Department of Corrections.
A spokesman for the Department of Corrections says officials likely will discuss death penalty protocols the department has developed in the wake of the court-ordered suspension of the death penalty in Missouri. Last year a federal judge ordered the state to reform its protocols and to retain a doctor with expertise in anesthesia, though the state has been unable to find a doctor willing to serve. Earlier this month, a federal appeals court in St. Louis ruled the state’s method of execution - lethal injection – did not constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Days later, the state attorney general asked the state supreme court to set execution dates for 10 condemned inmates.
The Blue Ribbon Panel on Autism holds the first in a series of five meetings next week. Sen. Scott T. Rupp, R-Wentzville, will chair the 16-member committee consisting of lawmakers, parents, doctors and health officials that is charged with determining the state of autism in Missouri. Panel members will look at services, teaching, training and research and then make recommendations for improving the quality of life for those with autism and their families. Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, created the Blue Ribbon Panel on Autism to guide lawmakers during the Second Regular Session of the 94th Missouri General Assembly, which convenes in January.
The first meeting of the panel will be held at the State Capitol in the Senate Lounge on Friday, June 29th from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. This gathering will organize the group, and there will be testimony from experts in the field as well as opportunities for the public to testify.
For more information about this and other legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.



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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Recent Senate Bill Signings

Five Senate Bills Gain Governor’s Signature

New Laws Include Measures Dealing with Tax Cuts, State Agency Designations, Law Enforcement, Long-term Care, and a Commission Makeup

JEFFERSON CITY — Several key pieces of legislation sponsored by a variety of State Senators will become law now that Governor Blunt has signed those bills. Senate Bill 30, SB 162, SB 352, SB 397, and SB 420 all gained the governor’s signature yesterday (June 13th).
Senate Bill 30, sponsored by Sen. Gary Nodler (R-Joplin), creates several tax cuts and exemptions for businesses in Missouri, encouraging economic growth throughout the state. It expands tax exemptions for common carriers to cover those who only conduct business within the state. SB 30 will also give tax credits for homes inherited by a person whose spouse was a public safety officer killed in the line of duty. State and local sales tax exemptions for expenditures on utilities, chemicals, machinery, and equipment will apply to television or radio broadcasting and mineral recovery operations.
Senate Bill 162, sponsored by Sen. Carl Vogel (R-Jefferson City), modifies the definition of "state agency", as it pertains to income tax set offs. This would include housing authorities as defined under Missouri’s "Housing Authorities Law."
Senate Bill 352 was sponsored by Sen. Dan Clemens (R-Marshfield). It deals with law enforcement issues. This new law will add vehicles driven by law enforcement agents of the Department of Conservation to the list of vehicles considered "emergency vehicles." SB 352 is designed to give those agents greater ability to pursue and apprehend suspects of crime, as well as elevating conservation agents’ lines of duty to more equal that of other law enforcement officials.
Senate Bill 397, sponsored by Sen. Bill Stouffer (R-Napton), modifies provisions relating to applications for long-term care facilities by no longer requiring either affidavits under oath or certified copies of a specified document. Applicants will be able to attest by signature that the statements in the specified documents are true and correct.
Senate Bill 420, sponsored by Sen. Michael Gibbons (R-Kirkwood), makes changes to the possible political makeup of the Clean Water Commission. It provides that no more than four, rather than the current three, members of that commission may be from the same political party.
The effective date of all of these bills is August 28, 2007.
For more information about this and other legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit http://www.senate.mo.gov/. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.
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Thursday, June 07, 2007

First Meeting of Senate-Initiated Autism Panel Set for June

JEFFERSON CITY — A new Blue Ribbon Panel on Autism will gather in a series of five meetings this summer across the state. Sen. Scott T. Rupp, R-Wentzville, will chair the 16-member committee consisting of lawmakers, parents, doctors and health officials that is charged with determining the state of autism in Missouri. Panel members will look at services, teaching, training and research and then make recommendations for improving the quality of life for those with autism and their families. Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, created the Blue Ribbon Panel on Autism to guide lawmakers during the Second Regular Session of the 94th Missouri General Assembly, which convenes in January.
The first meeting of the panel will be held at the State Capitol in the Senate Lounge on Friday, June 29th from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. This gathering will organize the group, and there will be testimony from experts in the field as well as opportunities for the public to testify. Additional meetings will provide more opportunities for public testimony and are tentatively scheduled as follows:
Ø July 20 – Cape Girardeau
Ø August 10 – Springfield
Ø August 31 – St. Louis
Ø September 21 – Kansas City.
After completing the meetings, the panel will issue a report to Sen. Gibbons by October 31st, 2007.
For more information about this and other topics related to the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

Senate Says Goodbye to Sen. Gross

Architect of State Budget Wraps Up 15 years of Service to the State

JEFFERSON CITY — After a 15-year career in the State House and Senate, Sen. Chuck Gross (R-St. Charles) has resigned from the state legislature’s upper chamber. Sen. Gross was first elected to the House in 1992, where he served until 2000 when he won a seat for the State Senate’s 23rd District. He’s leaving the Senate to become the St. Charles County director of administration.
Among his numerous committee assignments, Sen. Gross has served on the Senate Appropriations Committee since he arrived in the upper chamber in 2001. By 2003 he was elevated to Vice Chair of the committee and has served as the Chair for the last three years. His leadership on the budget work has produced spending plans the last three years that ended years of turmoil and garnered him praise from leaders and members from both sides of the political aisle.
“We are so far gone now from the days when even though we said we had a certain number of dollars coming in, the fact is everybody knew that some of those expectations were not going to materialize,” Sen. Gross said during a post-budget news conference. “(Now) We don’t need to worry whether gimmicks are going to allow us to somehow escape and not force the governor to withhold or cut part of the budget.”
On the Senate floor, President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons talked about choosing to make Sen. Gross Appropriations chair, “I think that of any decision I’ve had to make in this position, that one was right.”
“Until (Sen. Gross) took the chair, the Senate didn’t listen to the public on the budget,” said fellow Senate Appropriations Committee member Sen. Joan Bray (D-St. Louis). “We have public hearings because of (him).”
Assistant Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Graham (D-Columbia) speaking from the floor said, “I know we’re not supposed to call people “gentlemen” in this body (a term reserved for members of the House), but I can’t think of a better term.”
Besides his work on the budget, Sen. Gross has been a tireless lawmaker serving on more than 100 committees since he started in the House in 1993 and filing more than 300 pieces of legislation during his time at the State Capitol.
Sen. Gross is a native of St. Charles, Missouri and is married to Leslie Ann (Goralczyk) Gross. They have two daughters, Megan and Madelyn.
For more information about this and other legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.
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Friday, May 25, 2007

Bills Clear Final Legislative Hurdle

105 Bills Create MO HealthNet, Improve Patient Safety, Protect Crime Victims,
Set Aside More Education Money, and Reduce Taxes


JEFFERSON CITY — A flurry of activity last week that saw lawmakers and their staff rush from the two chambers, to hearing rooms, to their offices, and back to the House and Senate chambers for last-minute votes and debates has given way to calmer hallways this week. But important work still needed to be finished as Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons and Speaker of the House Rod Jetton affixed their signatures to 54 Senate and 51 House bills, today (May 25th), sending them on to the governor.
Among these are two priority initiatives advanced by Senator Gibbons: SB 3, improving safeguards for mental health care facilities and clients; and SB 429/HB 583, strengthening protections and expanding resources for victims of domestic violence and sexual assaults.
Several other bills such as the governor’s Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative were already given to Governor Matt Blunt and have received his stamp of approval. Other important measures including the much-needed, sweeping reforms of the state’s Medicaid system, now known as MO HealthNet, House Bill 444 – the elimination of state taxes on some Social Security benefits and non-private pensions, and the 13 bills that comprise the $21.5 billion budget await his signature. Constitutionally, Governor Blunt will have until July 14th to decide if he will sign or veto bills. Any bill he does not sign automatically becomes law after that date.
Lawmakers are expected to come back to the Capitol for the September veto session with some speculation there could be a special session in the works to fix an issue with emergency workers’ overtime pay. The next regular session of the 94th General Assembly starts on Wednesday, January 9th, 2008.
In the interim, legislators will have a chance to get back to their districts and meet with their constituents to hear their priorities to bring back to Jefferson City next year.
For more information about this and other legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Lawmakers Approve MO HealthNet, Castle Doctrine in Final Week

General Column - Week of May 14 - 18, 2007

Fifty Seven Senate Bills Become Law

During the final week of session, legislators worked quickly to complete several key legislative issues. The deadline for completing legislation was 6 p.m. on Friday, May 18.
A late night of negotiations and a morning of debate led to the passage of Senate Bill 577, which changes the name of Missouri’s state sponsored healthcare to MO HealthNet. The new plan focuses on proactive care rather than reactive treatment. The bill also includes provisions to prevent and punish fraud in the healthcare program and asks healthcare providers to keep records tracking accountability.
The state’s Ticket to Work Program will continue under the bill, allowing disabled workers to qualify for MO HealthNet benefits and raising provider reimbursements. The bill also expands coverage for women’s health services, allowing more women to qualify for cancer screenings and counseling for family planning issues. The legislation will now move on to the governor’s desk.
Senate Bill 62, which went to the governor this week, overturns a number of court decisions that require Missourians to retreat or await physical aggression before using deadly force against intruders in their homes or vehicles. Also called the Castle Doctrine, the legislation prevents frivolous lawsuits against those that use force in their defense.
The bill also repeals the requirement that Missouri residents must get permits from their local sheriff before buying a handgun. Other provisions in SB 62 include allowing people who have law enforcement training to skip weapons handling courses in order to get a concealed weapon permit, allowing law enforcement departments to sell confiscated weapons, and putting mental health information in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to determine eligibility to buy guns.
Legislation creating renewable energy targets for electric companies received approval from both the House and Senate. Under SB54, electric companies will need to make a “good faith effort” to ensure a percentage of their retail electric sales come from renewable energy technology. The legislation creates benchmarks of 4 percent by 2012, 8 percent by 2015, and 11 percent by 2020. The Public Service Commission will measure the progress of electric companies and will report the progress every two years.
The bill also allows for yard waste to be disposed of in bioreactor landfills— environmentally friendly landfills engineered to quickly break down waste. The gases created by the breakdown of the yard waste will be used as an alternative energy source. The Missouri Ethanol and Other Renewable Fuel Sources Commission will receive the more streamlined name of the Missouri Alternative Fuels Commission under the new law. The goals of the commission are to promote and educate the public on alternative fuels. The legislation also requires 70 percent of state fleet vehicles to be flexible fuel vehicles.
Another new law created this week will strengthen penalties for those selling controlled substances in or around parks. SB 198 makes it a Class A felony to distribute controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a public or state park. Fishing, hunting, trapping or retrieving wildlife on private land without permission has become a Class B misdemeanor under the new law. Individuals could also loose fishing or hunting licenses for a year in such instances.
Senate Bill 384 makes it easier to get replacements for stolen license place tabs. The bill, which went to the governor this week, changes the regulations in order to receive free plates after an individual reports their license plates stolen. Under the new law, in order to receive two free tabs from the Department of Revenue, one only needs to provide a notarized affidavit. License plates issued after January 1, 2009, would need to provide a police report as well as the affidavit.
Last minute efforts to finish work on several other high profile bills succeeded. House Joint Resolution 7, which turns the issue of having English as the official language for state proceedings over to the voters, and HB 1055, an omnibus abortion package were both completed Friday afternoon.
Friday marked the final day of the First Regular Session of the 94th Missouri General Assembly. In 2007, 710 bills were introduced in the Senate, and 57 were passed by both chambers. Four of those bills have been signed by the governor. Lawmakers convene again in 2008 for the Second Regular Session of the 94th Missouri General Assembly.


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