Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How Do I Get My Hands on Some of That Stimulus Money?

I've had a lot of questions over the last few weeks about where you can go to submit or review proposals for federal stimulus dollars.

Last week, Governor Nixon rolled out a website where you can submit proposals and ask questions about the stimulus dollars. The Mid-America Regional Council also has a lot of good information about the stimulus package, including a call for transportation proposals.

I'm serving on the Senate Select Committee on Oversight of Federal Stimulus. We are currently holding several meetings a week in an attempt to answer a multitude of questions about where and how the money can be spent.

If you are interested in updates on federal stimulus dollars that will flow through the state legislature, please stop by my weekly meeting at Coffee Break, 5400 Troost Avenue, Friday morning from 9-10 AM.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Foster Care Education Bill of Rights

I have a hearing Tuesday morning in the Health, Mental Health, Seniors & Families committee for my Foster Care Education Bill of Rights legislation. SB96 would help create educational continuity for some of the most vulnerable kids in our state.

I successfully added similar language as an amendment to a larger education bill last year, but the bill got lost in the shuffle of the last day of session and was never perfected. For the last two years I've had opposition from the Missouri School Boards Association, but it looks like we've finally got a bill that everyone can live with.

As citizens of Missouri, we are the guardians for these kids. They are taken out of their parents' custody, mostly because of allegations of abuse and/or neglect, and it is our duty to make sure that all their needs are met -- including a quality education.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What a Long, Strange Week It's Been . . .

It's only Wednesday night, but this has been one of the longest, busiest weeks I've had in Jefferson City. Here's the mid-week recap:

HPV

We had a hearing for my HPV bill on Tuesday morning in the Health, Mental Health, Seniors & Families Committee. The hearing went well. This is the third time I've introduced the bill. The American Cancer Society, Siteman Cancer Center and the Missouri Family Network testified in favor of the bill. The Concerned Women for America (CWA) testified against the bill, which wasn't a surprise because they testify against most of my bills.

After the hearing the CWA woman stopped by my office and explained that she felt compelled personally to testify against the bill because she thinks HPV isn't a very big deal and she wishes I would focus my energy on issues that affect more people. I'll pass that along to the families of the 3,700 women who die every year from cervical cancer.

We will vote on the bill next Tuesday morning during the executive session of our committee hearing.

CWIP


Yesterday the Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy & the Environment Committee took nearly four hours of testimony on a bill that would repeal the CWIP law in Missouri. If this is the first you have heard of CWIP, you can check out a quick summary here.

The place was packed. It was standing room only. They set up a closed-circuit TV in the hall outside my office for those who could not fit in the hearing room. Most of the people inside were the bazillion lobbyists who have been hired to work both sides of this issue and tons of media people.

I was pleasantly surprised at the diversity and preparedness of the opposition. I heard the skids were greased and this thing was going to sail through the process. Clearly that will not be the case.

Opponents included huge corporations who are large utility ratepayers and do not want to see their energy costs go up; consumer protection advocates worried about individual ratepayers and the lack of consumer protection in the legislation; and environment groups concerned that a nuclear plant will end the pursuit of renewable energy options and better energy efficiency standards, as well as the dangers posed by nuclear waste.

Proponents stressed energy independence, economic stimulus and jobs creation. Based on the number of lobbyists who have been hired to work both sides of this issue, I have to admit that CWIP is already creating jobs in at least one sector of the economy.

My major takeaways from the hearing:

1) AmerenUE already has about $250 million invested in this plan. If this law passes, these preliminary costs can be passed on to the ratepayers, EVEN IF THE PLANT IS NEVER BUILT.

2) AmerenUE is soliciting partners to "own" the plant with them. KCP&L, municipal power companies, etc., will have the option to become a co-owner which means our rates will go up on this side the state, just like our friends and families across the state.

3) The proponents of the bill say they need the legislation because no bank will loan AmerenUE the money to build the plant. That's why they need the ratepayers to foot the bill. Let me get this straight -- they can't get the financing because the private market thinks it's too risky, so they are asking us to foot the bill?

Next week we will hear from the PSC. One question I have is why they voted (along party lines) NOT to do a rate impact analysis of the plan.

ODDS-N-ENDS

A bill severely restricting adult businesses and taking away local control of regulating those businesses was passed out of the Judiciary Committee Monday night.

I presented two bills for the city of Grandview in a committee hearing today.

The Senate finally confirmed Linda Martinez as Director of the Department of Economic Development.

We spent some time addressing the public defender crisis on the Senate floor this morning. I offered an amendment which was still pending when the bill was laid on the informal calendar this afternoon. We will probably get back to the bill next week.

Oh yeah, I also made a new friend.

If you are interested in a complete rundown of the the week's events, feel free to join me for coffee and conversation, this Friday, February 13, from 9-10 AM at Coffee Break, 5400 Troost Ave.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

CWIP Hearing Underway

House is packed. Haven't seen this much interest in anything in my
2.5 years in Jeff City.

Monday, February 9, 2009

HPV -- Third Time's a Charm!


When I first got elected I was told it takes about three years to pass a bill in Jefferson City. While that's not always the case (I've passed over a dozen bills during my first two years down here), I hope the rule of thumb is true for my HPV legislation.

Tuesday morning I will present SB104 to the Health, Mental Health, Seniors & Families Committee. This is the third year in a row I have introduced this legislation, which would provide information about the HPV vaccine to parents of girls entering the 5th grade.

For the last two years I've successfully passed the bill out of the Senate, only to watch it fizzle out in the House. I'm hoping that an early committee hearing, coupled with a change in House leadership, will help the bill's chances this year.

HPV can be sexually transmitted and if left untreated can cause many health problems, from cervical cancer to genital warts. HPV infections can persist for many years and are common in both men and women. Approximately 80% of the adult population has a strain of HPV.

HPV is a known cause of cervical cancer and it is thought that the vaccine, coupled with regular pap tests, could virtually eliminate the cancer in a generation. Cervical cancer claims the lives of an estimated 3,700 American women every year and is the second most common cancer in women.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

CWIP

Until this year the bulk of my knowledge about nuclear power plants came from the Simpsons and Silkwood. As a new member of the Senate's Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy & the Environment Committee, I find myself in the middle of what may be the most contentious issue, other than the budget, to face the legislature this session -- CWIP -- Construction Work in Progress.

Right now utility companies cannot raise energy rates to pay for power plants under construction. Instead, the companies must wait until the plant is completed, then apply to the Public Service Commission (PSC) to raise rates to cover the cost of the plant construction. This law was approved by the people of the state of Missouri in 1976. Senate Bill 228, filed by Senator Delbert Scott (R-Lowry City), would repeal that law and allow AmerenUE to raise utility rates now to finance the construction of a new nuclear power plant in Callaway County.

AmerenUE says CWIP is necessary because there is a need for the increased energy capacity and they would not be able to get the financing without CWIP. Opponents say CWIP is unfair to ratepayers and environmentally unsound.

I've met with lobbyists on both sides of the issue. I'm doing my research and preparing for the upcoming hearing and inevitable debate on the Senate floor. I will provide updates as the session progresses.

In addition to reading this blog, you can keep track of CWIP and all the latest news in Jefferson City, on Facebook and Twitter, or you can always join me any Friday for coffee and conversation at Coffee Break (5400 Troost Ave).

Filibuster Update

Here's the scoop on today's filibuster of the appointment of Linda Martinez, Governor Nixon's nominee for Director of Economic Development.

There's also talk of trouble tomorrow when we vote to approve Margaret Donnelly, Nixon's nominee for Director of Health and Senior Services.

It's time to let Governor Nixon's staff to get to work and stop the political gamesmanship.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

ERA Redux

The Senate Rules Committee today heard testimony both for and against SCR 3, a resolution calling on the Missouri General Assembly to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

This is the third year in a row I have sponsored the resolution and I wish I could say I am surprised by the intense opposition, but not much surprises me anymore.

We didn't get enough notice for the hearing to get a large number of witnesses to testify in favor of the legislation. Fortunately, two brave women came to town to testify and I truly appreciate their support.

Although the ERA seems like a no-brainer for the majority of Americans, there were several people on hand to testify against the bill. These organizations all have full-time lobbyists in the capitol, so they were not affected by the short notice. The following groups testified against equal rights for women: Concerned Women for America, Missouri Family Network, Eagle Forum, Missouri RoundTable for Life, Missourians United for Life and Missouri Right to Life.

This is the same group of folks who testify against the ERA every year. They list a parade of horribles that will alledgedly occur if gender equality is added to the Constitution including legalized gay marriage, state-funded abortion and mandatory unisex bathrooms. This year their testimony was limited to the abortion issue, which in my opinion is completely unfounded. Missouri has gender equality in its Constitution and I haven't seen any lack of abortion regulations passed in this state.

The silliest line of questioning came from Senator Gary Nodler (R-Joplin) who asked whether ratifying the ERA would require the government to spend equal sums on money for ovarian cancer research in both women and men, even though men don't have ovaries. He asked the same question about women and testicular cancer. I provided an intelligent and accurate response regarding how a court would handle such an absurd case at which point he cut me off with a preposterous rant that started with a reference to the "pregnant man" and ended with the Senator bashing the competence and integrity of judges.

Despite all that, I felt good about today's hearing. I put forth a commonsense argument that the majority of Americans agree with. The opposition relied on their old standbys -- fear and hate -- and made no logical argument for defeating the resolution.

In the end I know the Senate will not pass the resolution. I will introduce it again next year and we will go through this circus again and again until we have a legislature that is committed to simple concepts like equality. It took 144 years to secure the right for women to vote. We've only been working on ratification of the ERA for 37 years. If we can't get it done, our daughters will pick up the fight when we are gone.

If you feel passionately about this issue, I would encourage you to contact the members of the Senate Rules Committee and urge them to pass the resolution out of committee, so we can have a full debate on the Senate floor.

Monday, February 2, 2009

ERA Hearing -- TUESDAY

I just received word that the Equal Rights Amendment resolution I filed will be heard in committee Tuesday (February 3). The hearing is before the Rules Committee at 1:00 PM in the Senate Lounge.

Yes, this is the same ERA that we've been trying to ratify since I was a baby. It's also the same ERA I've discussed on this blog. It's still alive and still relevant and I need your help to get this thing passed once and for all. If you happen to be in Jefferson City Tuesday, please stop by the hearing. If you are out of town, please contact the members of the Rules Committee and tell them you support equal rights for the women of Missouri. Your daughter will thank you for it.