April 18, 2014

Senator wants lower tax, more consolidation in House 911 bill

The Chairman of the Senate Committee that has the House’s 911 funding legislation says there are some things that need to be shaken out in that bill before it can advance.

Photo courtesy of Senate Communications

Senator Brad Later (Photo courtesy; Senate Communications)

The proposal would let counties ask voters to establish a monthly fee of up to $1.50 no devices that can call 911 except for prepaid phones and service, which would be subject to a 3-percent sales tax.

Senator Brad Lager (R-Savannah) thinks those amounts are too high.

“Missouri would go from not having a 911 tax to being the highest in the country,” says Lager of the 3-percent rate. “I don’t think I’m comfortable with that move.” Lager isn’t sure what rate he thinks would be appropriate.

He also wants legislation to provide a financial incentive for call centers to consolidate.

“I have a couple in my district,” says Lager, “that are actually in, for all practical purposes, the same city block. Then a third one … like four blocks away. Taxpayers are having to fund every one of those.” Lager says taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for three call centers within four blocks of one another.

Representative Jeanie Lauer (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Jeanie Lauer (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House sponsor, Representative Jeanie Lauer (R-Blue Springs) says it is very difficult to mandate consolidation because of the differences among counties, but the bill does include one incentive.

Grants would be one of the things proceeds from the proposal would support, to pay for implementation of 911 service and other needs. Lauer says any counties who go to the pool for the grant money would have to have some plans for consolidation.

“It may be where they actually consolidate or it could just be where they go out for contract to another Public Safety Answering Point,” says Lauer.

Lager also dislikes that the legislation would allow a portion of the money it would generate to go to purposes other than 911, specifically poison control.

Both lawmakers are confident that a solution can be found by the end of session in a little more than a month.

The House legislation is HB 1573.

Charity fights pit state reps against one another

Two pairs of state representatives will pair off in fights later this month to raise money for the Children of Fallen Soldiers Relief Fund. The event is being dubbed the I-70 Grudge Match.

This poster promoting the "I-70 Grudge Match" includes a picture of Rep. English following a previous charity fight.  (Courtesy; the office of State Rep. Keith English)

This poster promoting the “I-70 Grudge Match” includes a picture of Rep. English following a previous charity fight. (Courtesy; the office of State Rep. Keith English)

The fights will pit Representative Brandon Ellington (D-Kansas City) against Representative Keith English (D-Florissant) and Representative Glen Kolkmeyer (R-Odessa) against Representative John Mayfield (D-Independence).

Promoter Brian Batton says English approached him about putting together a benefit event..

“He actually fought on one of my previous cards,” says Batton.

Though an e-mail promoting the fights refers to the “biggest boxing match” of the year, Batton can’t confirm whether the fights will be boxing or some other form of competition.  English has experience as a mixed martial arts fighter.

The event will be April 29 at 7:30 at the Capitol Plaza Convention Center. It will include other kickboxing and mixed martial arts matches, including between amateur fighters Skylar Belzer and Dallas Jennings and between Austin Broom and Brooks Ryan, with more to be scheduled.

Criminal Code path forward could hinge on federal transportation money concern

Whose version of criminal code legislation will advance could depend on how each might impact federal transportation money.

House and Senate lawmakers who have spent years working on an update of Missouri’s system of criminal laws and punishments must now decide which chambers’ version of that rewrite to go with.

Representative Judy Morgan (D-Kansas City) says one issue that must be considered was raised by the Transportation Department.

“What we found out in fiscal review,” says Morgan, “with the House bill we may be out of compliance with that mandatory minimum sentencing and it may cause us to lose $18-million in funds as a result of that.”

The sponsor of the House criminal code bill, Representative Stanley Cox (R-Sedalia), says he thought the issue had been resolved.

“We have distributed this and encouraged various state agencies,” he tells Morgan, “and really I thought that we had made MODOT happy, but we’ll certainly continue working on it.”

The sponsor of the Senate legislation, Senator Jolie Justus (D-Kansas City) says that issue has been dealt with in her chamber’s version.

“They brought that concern to us months ago. We fixed it months ago on the Senate side. It is not a problem.”

The Senate version of the bill is also smaller, having been reduced to about 700 pages while the House version is still around the 1000-mark.

House approves ‘Pop Tart’ bill to protect kids pretending to have weapons in school

A bill has been sent to the state Senate that is meant to protect children simulating a weapon during play at school from criminal or civil penalties, fines or other punishments.

Representative Mike Kelley (R-Lamar) calls it the “Pop Tart” bill, stemming from an incident last year in a school.

“A child was eating a pop tart, and the shape of his Pop Tart happened to resemble a gun,” Kelley explains, “and that child was disciplined and suspended from school for having a pop tart that happened to be shaped like a firearm.”

The bill raised concerns among some Democrats, including Genise Montecillo (St. Louis), who challenged his contention that the legislation represented a “common sense” policy. She says it goes against other state laws.

“These are the procedures that school districts put in place as part of the Safe School Act to keep schools safe,” Montecillo told Kelly. “You’ve got a provision in here that children can have toy guns in school and there’s no punishment if they violate school policy for toy guns.”

Kelley stressed to Montecillo that the bill would allow guns only up to 2 inches in size.

“I don’t care what size it is,” she told him.

Kelley assured Representative Stacey Newman (D-St. Louis) that the legislation would not take local districts’ power to set policy and make decisions about what would and would not be allowed.

“I just want to make suer that local school districts can make their own policies that will negate this,” Newman told Kelley.

“They definitely can, ma’am,” Kelly told Newman.

The proposal went to the Senate on a 110-39 vote.

Senate budget committee criticized for pulling money for child abuse investigators

Governor Jay Nixon (D) is lending his voice to those concerned about the removal from the budget of $4.6-million for the state Children’s Division by the Senate budget committee.

Advocates for children and prevention of abuse say the money would have supported efforts to retain investigators in the division and allow for more expedient response to reports of abuse. They say high turnover and low numbers among investigators as well as slow response has resulted in a backlog of abuse reports and some causes going uninvestigated.

The items eliminated included more than $2.2-million for the Children’s Division Career Ladder including the creation of two new levels of caseworkers, more than $1.5-million for a “mobility project,” involving the use of I-Pads and WiFi for investigators to be able to respond to and deal with reports more quickly and $828-thousand for student loan forgiveness for new investigators.

The Governor included those amounts in his budget proposal and House budget makers kept it in theirs, but this week the Senate budget committee removed it.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) says the career ladder increase would have gone above-and-beyond an overall 1-percent increase in pay for state employees that is included in the FY-15 budget proposal. 

Schaefer acknowledges the argument that the state needs to do more to retain child welfare investigators, but says, “This late in the process with that coming up when it did I think that would be difficult … pay increases for employees and additional things for employees that are presented to us as an incentive to give to those employees, those are intriguing ideas but I think we need a little more information on that.”

The Senate committee did not remove $347-thousand dollars for secondary trauma and child abuse training.  “Our concern is making sure we’re getting money on the ground for services,” says Schaefer. 

The removal of that money disappointed Emily Van Schenkhof, Deputy Director of Missouri Kids First. She says it would allow Missouri to do a better job of investigating reports of child abuse.

“These increases in Children’s Division are vitally important for the safety of Missouri’s children and for us to make positive steps forward in improving our response to investigating.”

Chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee for Health, Mental Health and Social Services, Sue Allen (R-Town and Country), says she will fight to restore the funding for the I-Pads and WiFi for investigators.

“Possibly, maybe there is a level of looking at either the loan forgiveness or the career ladder,” says Allen. “We probably can’t do it all, but we kind of prioritize and figure out which things we can do now, and then maybe we put the next things on the burner for next year.”

Told of Schaefer’s concerns with the budget items, Governor Nixon was asked what his message to Schaefer would be.

“Follow the House position and have a little discussion in your committee on stuff this important,” answers Nixon. “The House had interim committees about it. We all have. Everybody here is well aware of the challenges that are faced, the difficult situations that occur in the Children’s Division and are aware that we worked hard with a number of policy makers as well as folks in the legislature to come up with a solid set of recommendations.”

Once the Senate budget committee completes its work on the proposed budget, the full Senate will vote on the proposal and then conferees chose in the House and the Senate will meet to work out differences between the two chambers’ proposals. A budget plan must be sent to the Governor by 6 p.m. May 9.