Monday, March 26, 2007

Senators Approve Safety Enhancements at Health Facilities

Week 13 - Week of March 26 - 30, 2007

Jefferson City — State senators advanced several measures to the House this week, including a major initiative affecting homes for Missourians with disabilities.
The Senate approved legislation implementing several new safety requirements at health-care facilities. Under Senate Bill 3, nursing homes and other assisted living facilities are required to install fire alarm systems by August 2009. Most of these facilities would have to set up sprinkler systems by 2013. Loans from the state are available for qualifying homes.
Pressure for tighter safety regulations at assisted living facilities mounted after a Nov. 27, 2006, fire at a home for Missourians with mental disabilities killed 11 people. The fire, which occurred at the Anderson Guest House in Southwest Missouri, prompted the governor to order a review of state fire-safety laws.
SB 3 also revises state laws concerning mental health facilities in response to newspaper reports of abuse and neglect at public and private homes. Under the legislation, verified reports of abuse and neglect against mental health patients become public record, individuals convicted of “vulnerable person abuse” could face up to life in prison, and mandatory reporters who do not report abuse or neglect face stiffer penalties. The measure also creates a review panel to examine deaths of mental health patients and increases civil penalties for homes that do not correct problems cited by the Department of Mental Health.
An in-depth investigation by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published in June 2006 uncovered a number of deaths and injuries at mental health facilities from 2000 to 2005. The bill is on its way to the House.
Lawmakers also sent to the House legislation offering statutory protections to Missouri’s early intervention program for infants and toddlers with disabilities. Under SB 112, Missouri First Steps will not be affected by the Missouri Sunset Act, which terminates new programs after six years unless they are re-authorized. The legislation also removes references to the term “handicapped” in special education laws and replaces it with “developmentally delayed.”
Senators approved legislation creating a program to enhance training for future farmers. SB 417 creates the Farm Mentoring and Education Fund to provide educational training that will help Missourians plan for and establish farm enterprises. The Legislature is authorized to provide $99,000 to the fund each year.
The Senate Seniors, Families and Public Health Committee this week approved SB 305, creating the “Medical Imaging and Radiation Therapy Quality Assurance Act.” The act institutes licensing regulations for doctors who perform radiation therapy and medical-imaging procedures, such as X-rays and ultrasounds. A board established by the legislation would decide certification requirements, give licensing examinations and investigate complaints. The legislation is now on its way to debate by the full Senate.
Legislation making several changes to the St. Louis Public School District was heard by the Senate Education Committee. SB 690, the “Metropolitan School District Improvement Act,” gives bonuses to St. Louis teachers specializing in underserved subjects, such as math and special education, and to educators at schools showing the highest improvement rates. Teachers would also be required to test every five years in their content area. The legislation also lengthens the school day by 90 minutes and increases the year by 30 school days. It requires students to take benchmark tests and increases funding for after-school enrichment programs and early childhood learning. SB 690 also funds a Department of Social Services program to locate truant students and return them to school. Committee approval is required to send the bill to the floor.
The Senate judiciary committee this week heard testimony on legislation increasing the age by which individuals can be charged as minors in criminal cases. SB 414 changes the definition of “child” in criminal cases from individuals younger than age 17 to those younger than 18. Similar legislation has been introduced in the House.
Lawmakers debated on the floor a number of contentious measures that have not passed, including bills implementing tighter abortion restrictions and rescinding gambling loss limits.
Senators will reconvene at 2 p.m. Monday, April 2. The First Regular Session of the 94th Missouri General Assembly runs until Friday, May 18.
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Monday, March 19, 2007

Major Senate Bills Advance in First Half of Session

Week 12 - Week of March 19 - 23, 2007

Jefferson City — The Missouri Senate is adjourned and lawmakers are back in their districts this week for the annual spring recess. Senators have sent 102 measures to the House during the first half of session, including 99 bills and three concurrent resolutions. Two Senate measures have been sent to the governor to be signed into law.
Among the bills delivered to the governor is Senate Bill 284, which allows cable and telecommunications companies to receive statewide licenses to provide cable service. Currently, cable providers and telephone companies looking to enter the cable market must establish franchise agreements with local governments in order to provide service. Supporters say the measure will improve competition, resulting in lower prices for consumers.
The Legislature has also given final approval to SB 339, the Fairness in Public Construction Act. The legislation bars local governments from requiring contractors to enter “project labor agreements,” or PLAs, under which governments promise union working conditions in exchange for a pledge that workers will not strike or bargain for higher wages. Supporters of SB 339 say PLAs drive up the cost of public projects for taxpayers.
Senators have sent to the House legislation expanding Missouri’s No Call list to include residential cell phones, fax machines and text messaging. SB 49 also bans certain automated phone calls, or “robocalls,” which have become increasingly common in political campaigns. The measure requires all political phone calls to include a “paid for by” statement that identifies who funded the message. Approval by both chambers sends the measure to the governor.

Also in the House is Senate legislation expanding the rights of Missourians to stop intruders. Under SB 62, known as the “Castle Doctrine,” Missourians who use deadly force against individuals unlawfully entering their home or vehicle are exempt from criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits. The House approved similar legislation earlier this year.
Senators have advanced to the House a Senate resolution asking voters to change the Missouri Constitution to overturn a court decision affecting sex offenders. Senate Joint Resolution 9 modifies a constitutional provision prohibiting state laws from applying retroactively. In June, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that because of the provision, sex offenders convicted prior to Jan. 1, 1995, do not have to be included in the statewide sex offender registry. That is the date Missouri began requiring registration.
House members are considering Senate legislation setting targets for the use of renewable energy sources by certain Missouri utility companies. SB 54, or the Green Power Initiative, sets goals for the use of renewable fuels, such as wind, solar, hydroelectric and biomass power, at 3 percent by 2012, 7 percent by 2015 and at least 10 percent by 2020.
Another Senate bill in the House implements state controls over when Missouri public schools can begin classes. SB 64 prohibits the school year from starting earlier than 10 days before Labor Day, the first Monday in September. To begin classes before that, school boards must hold public hearings and vote for an earlier date. Bill supporters say early start dates often lead to early dismissals due to the heat and humidity.
Senators also have approved restrictions on adult businesses. Under SB 129, sexually oriented businesses cannot advertise within one mile of Missouri highways. Businesses located within that distance are allowed to post two signs — one displaying basic information, such as hours of operation, and the other warning minors that the premises are off limits. The Legislature approved similar legislation in 2004; however, a federal appeals court ruled the law unconstitutional last year. SB 129, which also affects property rights, contains a severability clause, allowing individual provisions to be struck down without compromising the entire bill.
Senate legislation creating the crime of distribution of a controlled substance near a park is also in the House. SB 107 makes unlawfully distributing drugs within 2,000 feet of a public or private park a Class A felony.
The Faith-Based Organization Liaison Act has also been sent to the House. Under SB 46, regional employees of the Missouri Department of Social Services will serve as liaisons to faith-based organizations in those areas. Liaisons work with and promote faith-based groups that provide assistance to low-income Missourians. The legislation is designed to promote private services as an alternative to public assistance.

Lawmakers are slated to take up controversial legislation affecting large livestock operations. SB 364, which has seen significant debate within and outside of the Legislature, prohibits local governments from enacting health ordinances that restrict concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Instead, a statewide standard would be enforced. The legislation also protects farmers from nuisance lawsuits.
Debate over the issue touches on the future of agriculture in Missouri and state versus local controls on economic development. Supporters of the legislation say local health ordinances restrict the growth of farming operations, which they say is inevitable and necessary for farmers to continue making a living. Opponents say local control needs to be maintained so communities can restrict operations that could affect the health and well-being of residents.
The debate is underscored by continuing events in Arrow Rock, a small town and National Historic Landmark in west-central Missouri whose primary industry is tourism. Residents are concerned the odor from a 4,800-hog operation proposed for the area will affect local businesses and the environment. Developers say there are precautions in place minimizing the impact on the community.
A major public health-care plan is also scheduled for Senate debate in the coming weeks. SB 577 implements MO HealthNet in place of the state’s Medicaid system. The new program focuses on wellness and preventive care over more costly emergency care. It also emphasizes transparency and choice to produce more informed health-care consumers. Supporters of the measure say it is needed to create a more efficient health-care program. Opponents say it will mean fewer benefits for needy Missourians. The legislation is scheduled for a first-round vote. Once fully approved by the Senate, the measure would move on to the House.
The Senate Commerce, Energy and the Environment Committee has advanced legislation implementing the “hot-weather rule” in Missouri. SB 11 prohibits utility companies from disconnecting power to eligible households during extreme heat. Under the bill, natural gas and electrical utilities cannot cut off service to certain households from June 1 to Sept. 30 when the temperature is expected to top 88 degrees. Missouri currently has a law that prohibits utilities from turning off heating power during freezing temperatures. Homes that qualify for the “cold-weather rule” are eligible under SB 11.
Senate Education Committee members have approved a measure granting voting rights to students serving on the governing boards of several universities. Currently, the governing boards of the University of Missouri, Missouri State University, University of Central Missouri and Truman State University have nonvoting student members. SB 106 allows these members to vote on all but personnel matters between Aug. 28, 2007, and Aug. 28, 2011.
Senators will reconvene from the mid-session recess at 2 p.m. Monday, March 26. The First Regular Session of the 94th Missouri General Assembly runs until Friday, May 18.
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Monday, March 12, 2007

Senate Bills Sent to the Governor

Week 11 - Week of March 12 - 16, 2007

Jefferson City —In the final week before the Missouri Senate broke for a weeklong spring recess, lawmakers have approved the first Senate bills sent to the governor this year.
Senate Bill 284 allows cable and telecommunications companies to receive statewide licenses to provide cable service. Currently, cable providers and telephone companies looking to enter the cable market must establish franchise agreements with local governments in order to provide service. Similar legislation introduced last session did not pass. However, lawmakers were able to reach a compromise earlier this year. The legislation will become law with the governor’s signature. Proponents say the measure will improve competition and lower prices for consumers.
The Legislature has also given final approval to a measure affecting public construction projects and labor unions. SB 339, entitled the Fairness in Public Construction Act, bars state and local governments from requiring construction companies to enter into agreements with labor unions to win public works contracts. Currently, governments can require “project labor agreements,” or PLAs, under which governments promise union working conditions for contractors in exchange for a pledge that workers will not strike or bargain for higher wages. Supporters of SB 339 say PLAs drive up the cost of public construction projects by reducing competition.
The Senate has sent to the House legislation implementing the Green Power Initiative, which sets targets for the use of renewable energy sources by certain Missouri utility companies. SB 54 sets goals for the use of renewable fuels, such as wind, solar, hydroelectric and biomass power, at 3 percent by 2012, 7 percent by 2015 and at least 10 percent by 2020. The Missouri Public Service Commission is responsible for overseeing and reporting the utilities’ progress. House approval returns the bill to the Senate. Once the two bodies agree on the language of the legislation, it will then be sent to the governor.
Also sent to the House was legislation implementing state controls over when Missouri public schools can begin classes. SB 64 prohibits the school year from starting earlier than 10 days before Labor Day, the first Monday in September. To begin classes before that, school boards must hold public hearings and vote for an earlier date. Bill supporters say early start dates often lead to early dismissals due to the heat and humidity.
The Senate also has voted to cancel Missouri’s State of Transportation address. SB 139 repeals the speech delivered each year by the transportation director to the Legislature. The address is required by a 2003 law implemented due to frustrations with the transportation department’s performance. Because of personnel changes and funding increases, many lawmakers consider the department improved and the address no longer necessary. The annual speech is set to expire after next year; SB 139 would cancel the 2008 address.
Senators gave first-round approval to a resolution asking voters to change the Missouri Constitution to overturn a court decision affecting sex offenders. Senate Joint Resolution 9 would modify a constitutional provision prohibiting state laws from applying retroactively. In June, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that because of the constitutional provision, sex offenders convicted prior to Jan. 1, 1995, do not have to be included in the statewide sex offender registry. That is the date Missouri began requiring registration. Final Senate approval sends the measure to the House.
The Senate Health and Mental Health Committee has advanced a health-care initiative that has been a top priority of the governor and leading lawmakers. SB 577 implements MO HealthNet in place of the state’s Medicaid system. The new program focuses on wellness and preventive care over more costly emergency care. It also emphasizes transparency and choice to produce more informed health-care consumers. Supporters of the measure say it is needed to create a more efficient health-care program. Opponents say it will mean fewer benefits for needy Missourians. The legislation is scheduled for a first-round vote.
After lengthy debate this week, including a filibuster lasting through Monday night, lawmakers were unable to come to a compromise on a plan to sell off student loans to pay for construction projects on Missouri college campuses. The proposal, labeled the Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative and included in SB 389, calls for the sale of assets from the quasi-governmental Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, or MOHELA, to raise $335 million for the construction of campus facilities.
The plan has taken several forms since it was originally introduced in early 2006, but the current opposition focuses on the repeal of several life sciences projects included in the original draft. The projects were stripped after several influential interest groups expressed concern over the possibility that the buildings could house embryonic stem cell research, which they deem unethical.
In spite of repealing the life sciences projects and including in the bill provisions prohibiting such research at MOHELA-funded facilities, the groups continue to oppose the plan. However, removing the projects has elicited strong resistance from lawmakers who support life sciences research and whose districts would host the buildings stripped from the bill. Because of this sticking point, opponents are refusing to allow the plan to come to a vote.
Nearly lost in the parliamentarian jousting over the MOHELA asset transfer is another controversial provision in the legislation affecting higher education funding. SB 389 includes language penalizing public institutions that raise tuition higher than the rate of inflation. Colleges and universities that fail to meet the standard could lose 5 percent of their state funding. SB 389 supporters have vowed to bring up the legislation again later this year.
The Missouri Senate has adjourned for the annual spring recess. Senators will reconvene at 2 p.m. Monday, March 26. The First Regular Session of the 94th Missouri General Assembly runs until Friday, May 18.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

“Castle Doctrine” Legislation Sent to the House

Week 10 - Week of March 5 - 9, 2007
Jefferson City — The Missouri Senate advanced a variety of measures this week, including legislation affecting gun rights, renewable fuels and K-12 education. Meanwhile, Senate committees debated several high-profile bills.
Lawmakers sent to the House legislation expanding the rights of Missourians to kill intruders. Under SB 62, known as the “Castle Doctrine,” Missourians who use deadly force against individuals unlawfully entering their home or vehicle are exempt from criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits. The House approved similar legislation earlier this year.
The Senate gave first-round approval to the Green Power Initiative, which sets targets for the use of renewable energy sources by certain Missouri utility companies. Senate Bill 54 sets goals for the use of renewable fuels, such as wind, solar, hydroelectric and biomass power, at 3 percent by 2012, 7 percent by 2015 and at least 10 percent by 2020. The Missouri Public Service Commission is responsible for overseeing and reporting the utilities’ progress. A final vote sends the bill to the House.
Legislation implementing state controls over when Missouri public schools can begin classes also received initial approval. SB 64 prohibits the school year from beginning earlier than 10 days before Labor Day, which falls on the first Monday in September. To begin classes before that, school boards must hold public hearings and vote for an earlier date. Supporters say early start dates require students to attend classes during uncomfortable heat and often lead to early dismissals due to the weather. Opponents say the legislation undermines local control over education.
Lawmakers also approved legislation allowing every child enrolled in kindergarten or first grade to receive a comprehensive vision examination. Under SB 16, all Missouri public school districts must conduct eye screenings for students before they complete the first and third grades. Screening results would then be kept by the state.
The Senate Education Committee has approved legislation giving students serving on the governing boards of several universities the right to vote on issues before the panels. Currently, the governing boards of the University of Missouri, Missouri State University, University of Central Missouri and Truman State University have nonvoting student members. SB 106 allows these members to vote on all but personnel matters between Aug. 28, 2007, and Aug. 28, 2011. The legislation is set for debate by the full Senate.
Education members also debated legislation implementing in Missouri a program similar to the federal Teach for America plan. SB 443 creates the Missouri Teaching Fellows Program, which offers students incentives to pursue a career in education in Missouri’s low-income communities. Under the plan, qualifying students who agree to teach at struggling school districts are eligible for up to $5,000 per year to pay back student loans. According to its Web site, Teach for America has attracted more than 17,000 teachers to low-income communities in its 16 years. Committee approval is required to send the bill to the Senate floor.
The Senate Health and Mental Health Committee this week heard testimony on legislation implementing a major health-care initiative. SB 577 reforms Missouri’s public health-care assistance program, to be known as MO HealthNet. The new program, introduced during the governor’s State of the State Address, focuses on wellness and preventive care over more costly emergency care. It also emphasizes transparency and choice to produce more informed health-care consumers. The plan will replace Missouri’s Medicaid program, which expires in 2008. Supporters of the measure say it is needed to create a more efficient health-care program. Opponents say it will mean fewer benefits for needy Missourians.
The Senate Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee debated legislation that has become controversial in the wake of sexual harassment charges at the Missouri Department of Agriculture. SB 532 modifies the standard for determining discrimination at the workplace. Whereas current law defines discriminatory employment practices as “unfair treatment based on” race, sex, religion and other factors, the new legislation requires firing or disciplinary action before discrimination can be proved. In addition, SB 532 prohibits punitive damage awards against public entities.
Critics charge that the bill would allow sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination so long as adverse action is not taken. Proponents of the bill say it has been filed in response to recent court rulings supporting more discrimination lawsuits and allowing punitive damage claims against both supervisors and employers. They also point to federal laws protecting public entities from punitive damages.
The judiciary committee also debated legislation eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for all but dangerous felons. Under SB 468, felons must serve sentences imposed by judges, but the Missouri Board of Probation and Parole can review punishments and release prisoners early. The board will also review the sentences of those punished under current guidelines.
Committee members also heard testimony on SB 338, which allows licensed attorneys to provide uncompensated legal services for needy individuals. Similar legislation has been filed in the House.
Legislation changing state policy on when students can drop out of high school was debated this week by the Senate Education Committee. SB 243 raises the dropout age from 16 to 17 in an effort to lower dropout rates. Missouri is one of 26 states with the dropout age at 16; the others have it at 17 or 18. Supporters of raising the dropout age say it offers an additional incentive for students to stay in school and earn their diploma, which would benefit individual students and the Missouri workforce as a whole. However, skeptics point out that the policy could result in discipline problems, with students unable to drop out simply behaving badly in order to be expelled.
The Missouri Senate will reconvene at 4 p.m. Monday, March 12. Lawmakers will begin spring recess upon adjournment Thursday, March 15, and will reconvene Monday, March 26. The First Regular Session of the 94th Missouri General Assembly runs until Friday, May 18.

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