Archive for the ‘Missouri Politics’ Category

Audit Shows Missouri Spending $385K Flying Commissioners to Meetings
January 26, 2015

(AP) – A state audit shows Missouri has spent $376,000 flying commissioners to meetings across the state.

A report released Monday by state Auditor Tom Schweich notes the state could have saved $294,000 reimbursing conservation and transportation commissioners for driving instead in 2012 and 2013.

The transportation and conservation departments responded in the audit that the flights are necessary to get commissioners to meetings in a timely manner.

The Department of Transportation plans to continue flying commissioners on state planes despite Schweich’s recommendation to drive.

The audit also notes the fleet of 19 planes is unnecessarily large and consequently is underused. The report notes Missouri’s six passenger planes on average were used to capacity only about 10 percent of the time they were available to fly.

Car Dealers Sue to Fight Electric Car Sales Tactic
January 23, 2015

(AP) — The Missouri Automobile Dealers Association is suing the state revenue department for allowing electric car maker Tesla Motors to sell directly to consumers rather than using a dealership as a middleman.

The car dealers, including Reuther Ford Inc. and Osage Industries Inc., filed a lawsuit Thursday in Cole County Circuit Court claiming the department violated state law by licensing the California-based manufacturer as a franchise.

Department of Revenue spokeswoman Michelle Gleba said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

Car manufacturers typically provide cars to a franchised dealership to sell, but the department in 2013 licensed Tesla to sell its vehicles in a University City facility.

The lawsuit filed this week claims the department “created a non-level playing field where one entity – Tesla – is subject to preferential treatment and all bona fide dealers are discriminated against.”

The suit claims no other car manufacturer in Missouri has those powers.

The traditional dealer-franchise model for selling new cars, the lawsuit states, protects the consumer by providing a local point for test drives and service.

But Tesla said buying directly from the company eliminates an unnecessary intermediary.

The lawsuit is an attempt to “create a distribution monopoly that will decrease competition, hurt consumer choice, and limit economic investment in Missouri,” said Diarmuid O’Connell, Tesla’s vice president of corporate and business development, in a written statement.

Tesla has come under fire before, both in Missouri and other states.

Lawmakers last year proposed failed legislation that would have banned Tesla from selling vehicles directly to consumers. The car maker has fought similar legislative battles in New Jersey, New York and Ohio.

Report: DOJ Ferguson Report Close, Officer Charges Not Likely
January 22, 2015

AP) – The FBI has completed its investigation into the police shooting of an unarmed, black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri, a U.S. official said Wednesday.

The Justice Department has not yet announced whether it will file a federal civil rights charge against former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. But officials and experts have said such a prosecution would be highly unlikely, in part because of the extraordinarily high legal standard federal prosecutors would need to meet.

The official was not authorized to discuss the case by name and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson declined to comment.

Wilson, who is white, was cleared in November by a state grand jury in the Aug. 9 death of Michael Brown, a shooting that touched off protests in the streets and became part of a national conversation about race relations and police departments that patrol minority neighborhoods. Attorney General Eric Holder visited Ferguson in the days after the shooting to try to calm tensions and to meet with Brown’s relatives and federal law enforcement.

Wilson, who shot Brown after a scuffle in the middle of a street, told the St. Louis County grand jury that spent months reviewing the case that he feared for his life during the confrontation and that Brown struck him in the face and reached for his gun. Some witnesses have said Brown had his hands up when Wilson shot him.

To mount a federal prosecution, the Justice Department would need to show that Wilson willfully deprived Brown of his civil rights. That standard, which means prosecutors must prove that an officer knowingly used more force than the law allowed, is challenging for the government to meet. Multiple high-profile police-involved deaths, including the 1999 shooting in New York City of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed West African immigrant have not resulted in federal charges.

Nixon’s SOTS: A call for “Healing & Hope”
January 22, 2015

(AP) – Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon implored lawmakers to embrace policies that “foster healing and hope” Wednesday as he delivered his first State of the State address since the unrest that erupted over the fatal police shooting of a black 18-year-old in Ferguson.

Nixon acknowledged that the death of Michael Brown – and the sometimes violent protests that ensued – had focused the eyes of the nation on Missouri during the past year, prompting discussions about “race and equality, education and economic opportunity, law enforcement and the courts.”

“The legacy of Ferguson will be determined by what we do next to foster healing and hope and the changes we make to strengthen all of our communities,” Nixon said in a nearly 50-minute speech to a joint session of the House and Senate.

The Democratic governor called for an update to Missouri’s law on the police use of deadly force as he outlined an agenda that also includes an increase in funding for public schools, albeit one that would still fall hundreds of millions short of what is considered a fully funded system. Nixon also advocated for the consideration of a gas tax hike or tolls for aging highways, stronger ethics laws and a renewed call to expand Medicaid eligibility to low-income adults.

Nixon’s proposed $26 billion budget for the 2016 fiscal year would keep spending relatively flat compared with the current year, a carryover effect from revenues that fell significantly short of expectations last year. He also asked lawmakers to approve $353 million of repairs and renovations at the Capitol, college campuses, state parks and office buildings under a bonding plan that legislators previously authorized.

Nixon has been criticized by some for his handling of the response to Brown’s shooting – first for not acting quickly enough to quell tensions between protesters and heavily armored police in August, and later for not preemptively deploying the National Guard to troubled spots in Ferguson when a grand jury decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson was announced in November.

During his remarks Wednesday related to Ferguson, Nixon said there often is “too much fear and too little trust.”

“Some folks feel they have to choose sides: Them or us. Teens or cops. Black or white,” Nixon said. He added: “The truth is real and lasting change is only possible when we stand together.”

As a first step, Nixon encouraged lawmakers to “reform municipal courts,” something Republicans also have embraced, in response to complaints from Ferguson protesters and other St. Louis-area residents about cities that derive a large percentage of their revenues from traffic tickets.

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey said he also agrees with Nixon that Missouri needs to update its deadly force laws to be brought in line with U.S. Supreme Court precedent. The court had ruled in a Tennessee case a couple of decades ago that deadly force cannot be used against an apparently unarmed fleeing suspect who poses no serious danger to police or others.

Nixon said officials must recruit and train police who reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. And he implored lawmakers to “support policies that foster racial understanding,” create economic opportunity and strengthen failing schools.

Many of his suggestions received more applause from Democrats than from Republicans. But GOP lawmakers joined in a standing ovation when Nixon said he was proud of law enforcement officers.

House Speaker John Diehl, who delivered a Republican response speech, accused Nixon of poor leadership during the Ferguson events and pledged that legislators would investigate why the National Guard was not used in Ferguson on the night of the grand jury decision.

“Our governor failed to communicate his polices and fulfill his promises, and Missourians paid the price as Ferguson was looted and destroyed,” Diehl said.

Diehl said the Republican agenda includes removing “those who are capable of earning a living wage” from Missouri’s welfare rolls. He also pledged that lawmakers would pass a bill expanding the availability of charter schools and online schools for students in public schools lacking state accreditation.

Nixon’s budget plan includes a $50 million increase in basic aid for public schools. He said that could be boosted by an additional $79 million if legislators pass several measures to generate revenues, including expanding Medicaid eligibility under the terms of President Barack Obama’s health care law. But such proposals have failed in past years, and Republican legislators appear unlikely to pass them this session.

To fully fund Missouri’s school formula in 2016 would require a $482 million increase to the nearly $3.2 billion in basic aid that schools are due to receive this year.

Some education groups said a $50 million increase wouldn’t be enough to avoid cuts in certain school districts.

“This is going to create problems for our schools. … It could mean teacher layoffs,” said Mike Wood, the government relations director for the Missouri State Teachers Association.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said he would support an additional $100 million funding increase for public schools.

But House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Flanigan said he has no target yet for how much money he hopes to provide to schools. He said next year’s budget likely will be lean.

“New spending is going to be tough,” Flanigan, R-Carthage, said.

Nixon Expected to Call for More School Money in Wednesday Night ‘ State of the State’ Speech
January 21, 2015

(AP) — Democratic Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon plans to call for increased education funding and bipartisan cooperation as he delivers his annual State of the State address to a Legislature dominated by Republicans.

The governor will outline his budget priorities Wednesday as part of his seventh annual state speech to a joint session of the House and Senate, which has some of its largest GOP ranks in decades.

Nixon already has discussed one part of his agenda – a bonding plan for repairs and renovations at public colleges, universities and state facilities such as the Capitol. Ahead of the speech, his office said Nixon also plans to seek increased funding for all levels of education and will call for additional spending on things “that will create jobs and grow the economy.”

Bipartisan cooperation will be essential if Nixon wants to accomplish anything on his agenda. That’s because Republicans hold a 117-45 advantage over Democrats in the House and a 25-9 Senate majority – both greater than the two-thirds majority required to override gubernatorial vetoes. Last September, some Democrats joined with Republicans to override Nixon’s vetoes on 47 budget items and 11 other bills, including measures cutting income taxes and lengthening the state’s abortion-waiting period.

The governor and lawmakers alike have expressed a desire to boost education funding, but state spending on Missouri’s K-12 schools remains well short of what’s called for under a 2005 law. Schools are expected to get nearly $3.2 billion in basic aid this year. That would have to rise by $482 million – or 15 percent- if they were to be fully funded during the 2016 budget that takes effect July 1.

Nixon has not said how much of a funding increase he will propose for schools.

Missouri’s public colleges and universities are seeking a 5 percent increase in basic state aid, according to requests submitted to Nixon’s budget office by the state Department of Higher Education.

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