April 27, 2015

Missouri Senate sued over filming of hearings

The state Senate is the target of a lawsuit over access to its committee hearings.

The Senate Lounge; one of the places the Missouri Senate holds public hearings.  (photo courtesy; Missouri Senate Communications)

The Senate Lounge; one of the places the Missouri Senate holds public hearings. (photo courtesy; Missouri Senate Communications)

Liberal advocacy group Progress Missouri has filed a lawsuit against the state senate saying some senators who chair committees – it names Mike Kehoe, David Sater, and Mike Parson – have denied it permission to video record committee hearings.

Director Sean Nicholson says his group has been trying to work with the Senate on the issue for a couple of years.

“The sunshine law says that any member of the public has the right to record video or audio of public hearings of public bodies,” said Nicholson. “The Senate committees are some of those public bodies just like your city council or school board.”

Sater, a senator from Cassville, says he’s following the Senate’s rules, “Which states persons with cameras, flash cameras, lights, or other paraphernalia, may be allowed to use such devices at committee meetings with the permission of the chairman as long as they do not prove disruptive to the decorum of the committee.”

Nicholson says Progress Missouri hasn’t been the only entity told not to record in Senate committees.

“Senator Parson, a couple of weeks ago, said no video or still photos of any kind was allowed. There was a blanket denial for members of the press, members of the public, everyone. He threatened to kick people out of the hearing if they pulled out their I-phone just to take a snapshot of what was happening. We’ve seen press reports of KRCG cameras getting kicked out or not being allowed to take video,” said Nicholson.

Some senators say the chamber’s communications staff makes video and audio available to media outlets, but Nicholson says that doesn’t always happen.

“The Senate should be providing video and live streams of everything as a service, but they aren’t and they don’t have the staff or the technology to do that,” Nicholson argues.

In order to defend its position, the Senate must prove in court its rules are not a violation of the state’s open records and meetings law. Due to the open litigation, the Senate has declined comment but cites its rules giving committee chairmen power to allow or reject cameras.

The office of Attorney General Chris Koster says it will provide counsel to the Senate and “vigorously defend the legislature in this matter.”

Missouri lawmaker seeks to regulate ridesharing companies statewide

One Missouri lawmaker continues his push to create statewide regulations for ridesharing companies.

Representative Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City) Photo courtesy of House Communications

Representative Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City) Photo courtesy of House Communications

Last week, the Missouri House gave its initial approval to a bill that would limit the ability of cities to regulate app-based ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft.  Representative Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City) added an amendment to HB 781 to deal with the ride-sharing issues.

“They are required to ensure that their drivers have insurance, they’re required to have insurance for their drivers, they’re required to do background checks on their drivers and cannot hire felons, and the fees that they pay must be no higher than the fees that would be charged to a traditional cab company,” said Barnes.

Barnes said in St. Louis there is a regional taxi cab commission that has nine board members, four of which own or work for traditional taxi cab companies, and before a new competitor can operate in St. Louis, it must receive a certificate of necessity from that board.

“I don’t think new businesses like Uber that have creative and innovative business models ought to be forced to kiss the rings of members of a cab cabal who work to keep them out of competition,” said Barnes.

The bill would need another favorable vote to go to the Senate.  Another bill addressing the issue is awaiting debate by the full Senate.

Change to Missouri policy on assessing youth athlete concussions proposed

A mother who lost her son to a brain injury during a high school football game has spoken in support of a bill that would require an objective test to determine whether to pull an athlete out of a game or practice if a concussion is suspected. Currently, a youth athlete is removed from practice or a game immediately.

Chad Stover, 18 in the red jersey, shown in an earlier game this season against Cole Camp. (pgoto from Chad Stover Facebook page.

Chad Stover, 18 in the red jersey, in a game against Cole Camp. (photo from Chad Stover Facebook page.)

Amy Stover recalls the morning of her son Chad’s last game for Tipton High.

“Before he walked out the door that day he looked at me and said, ‘mom, I think we can do this. I think we can do this. This is going to be a great game. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.’ He gave it everything, and more,” said Stover.

Stover said when her son got on the school bus, she expected him to come home.

The Brain Injury Association of Missouri is opposed to the bill.  Executive Director Maureen Cunningham told lawmakers, “It is a medical decision reserved for physicians, athletic trainers and other healthcare professionals. When a concussion is suspected, protect the child. Take them out,” said Cunningham. “Don’t let them say ‘I’m okay.’ Every concussion can lead to another concussion. With every concussion, you are at greater risk of secondary concussions. With every one, the symptoms can get worse.”

The King-Devick test was one mentioned by some supporters and considered by them to be an objective test that can be conducted on the sidelines by a coach or parent. The test is similar to a flash card system. A baseline for measurement would be conducted annually.

Cunningham argues that it would not be a fair assessment for children with learning or developmental disabilities.

Missouri Legislature sends $26-billion budget proposal to Governor

A $26-billion proposal for how the state should spend money for the year starting July 1 is on the governor’s desk.

Senate Leader Tom Dempsey is happy with the result.

House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Flanigan (left) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer.  (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Flanigan (left) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer. (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“You look at what we fund to determine our priorities, and when I look at the budget I see almost $100-million in new education funding. $84-million in K-12 and [$12-million] more for the A-plus scholarship program,” Dempsey told reporters Thursday.

The state’s formula for K-12 education funding remains $442-million underfunded.

Budget Chairman Kurt Schaefer’s plan to step what he says is an ever-growing percentage of the budget going to social programs was changed, but he says what was passed is a start.

“It’s 32-percent growth since 2009, and at the same time three-percent growth for higher-education and eight-percent growth for K-12,” said Schaefer. He and House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Flanigan say the amount of money that goes to those programs should be closely studied before the next legislative session.

The legislature’s plan also includes an expansion of managed care for 200,000 parents and children, shifting them from Medicaid to privatized care.

Some state lawmakers objected to the removal of language from the proposed budget meant to prevent the extension of existing bond debt to pay for a new NFL stadium in St. Louis, without a vote of the people.

A couple of those lawmakers blame House Speaker John Diehl (R-Town and Country) for wanting it out, but he says his position on the stadium issue hasn’t changed: “That any new sports facility is subject to a vote by the voters of St. Louis City and St. Louis County, and the governor should come to the General Assembly for any authorization of debt.”

The budget has been sent to Governor Nixon two weeks early. Republican lawmakers believe Nixon will have to act on the budget quickly enough that they will have time to consider overriding any vetoes he might make before the session ends May 15. Schaefer additionally believes the Constitution requires only a simple majority vote of the legislature to overturn a veto during the session, as opposed to the two-thirds majority normally needed.

Governor Nixon says he will review the proposal.

Missouri legislature proposes limits on medical malpractice awards

The Missouri legislature has sent Governor Jay Nixon a bill to limit awards for pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases.

Representative Eric Burlison (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Eric Burlison (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

It would cap awards that aren’t compensation for lost wages, medical costs or other quantifiable economic losses at $400,000. In cases defined by the bill as “catastrophic,” including paralysis, loss of vision or brain damage, the limit would be $700,000.

It would also extend the existing limit on non economic damages in wrongful death cases from $350,000 to $700,000, and all the caps would increase by 1.7-percent annually.

Supporters say the plan will keep liability insurance costs lower for doctors, meaning more will come to or remain in Missouri to practice. Opponents say caps will keep some patients from receiving a just award and allow doctors who harm patients to remain in practice.

House sponsor Eric Burlison (R-Springfield) said he would like the bill to have gone further.

“It’s disappointing that we’re not moving in a more competitive direction,” said Burlison. “We have states like Kansas and other states who, their caps are set at $250,000 and if you’re a practicing physician and you’re looking at where you’re going to go, if you’re in the Kansas City area you may still look at the State of Kansas. So while this is not really addressing that competitive situation, at least it’s better than the current status quo, which is that [doctors] … are open to all kinds of risk at this moment, because there are no caps.”

The state Supreme Court struck down caps on such damages in 2012.

The legislation received strong bipartisan support, clearing the state Senate 28-2 and the House 125-27.

The legislation is SB 239.