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Archive for May, 2013

(Jefferson City) (AP) – Already leaning toward a veto, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon raised a new objection Thursday to an income-tax-cut bill passed by Missouri’s Republican-led Legislature – asserting it could result in a more than $200 million tax hike on prescription medications.

Nixon said his administration discovered the potential tax increase – an apparent technical mistake – as part of a routine but thorough review of legislation passed during the annual session that came to an official close Thursday.

“The out-of-pocket cost of prescription drugs, especially for those suffering from cancer, heart disease or other life-threatening conditions, already puts a strain on many Missouri families,” Nixon said in a written statement. “That is why it is so troubling that House Bill 253 would repeal Missouri’s long-standing sales tax exemption on prescription drugs.”

He added: “This is a tax increase that Missourians cannot afford and don’t deserve.”

Supporters of the legislation reacted to Nixon’s revelation with surprise and frustration.

Sen. Will Kraus, who was the main architect of the bill, said House sponsor Rep. T.J. Berry both said they never intended to repeal the existing tax exemption for prescription drugs and had no previous indication that the bill might do so. Kraus said the specific wording at issue actually was recommended by personnel in Nixon’s Department of Revenue.

“This is as much the governor’s slip up or mishap,” said Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit.

House Speaker Tim Jones said his staff had an email from the Revenue Department to legislative researchers suggesting the wording to which Nixon now objects.

“The governor really jumped the shark hard on this one,” said Jones, R-Eureka. “It’s pretty much his fault.”

But the Department of Revenue said Thursday that the wording it provided to legislative researchers would have protected the sales tax exemption.

Kraus, Jones and other bill backers suggested the governor should sign the bill into law and allow legislators to fix the error later – either in a September special session or during their 2014 regular session. They said there’s no need for immediate concern, because the changes to the prescription drug taxes wouldn’t take effect until 2015.

The legislation was a top priority this year for Republican lawmakers, who hold a supermajority in both the House and Senate.

The bill would phase-in a 50 percent deduction over five years for business income reported on individual income tax returns. It also would gradually cut Missouri’s corporate income tax rate nearly in half over and lower the top tax rate for individuals from 6 percent to 5.5 percent over the next decade. The rate reductions for corporate and individual taxes would take effect only if annual state revenues continue to grow by at least $100 million over their highest point in the preceding three years.

Legislative researchers had estimated that the measure would reduce Missouri’s potential revenues by about $700 million annually when fully implemented, but that analysis did not include the potential pharmaceutical tax increase. The governor had said previously that the lost revenues could jeopardize funding for essential state services such as public education and mental health care. He had indicated May 10 that he was likely to veto the legislation.

The newly revealed pharmaceutical tax could increase the likelihood that Nixon spikes the bill. The governor said Thursday that it’s “only one of many red flags that the ongoing assessment of this legislation has raised.”

“I think the governor is looking for any reason to veto the bill,” said Tracy King, the vice president for governmental affairs at the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. But “this obviously is a big deal – taking away that exemption for prescription drugs is not something the chamber supports.”

The Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Missouri both urged Nixon to sign the measure and let lawmakers correct the error later.

The prescription drug wording was included a lengthy section of the bill that would revise the wording of Missouri’s sales tax laws so that it can join a multi-state compact in which retailers voluntarily collect taxes on online sales. Nixon has supported Missouri’s participation in the streamlined sales tax initiative, which his budget office had projected to generate more than $10 million.

When drafting legislation, changes to Missouri laws are made by putting brackets around words and phrases to be deleted. In this particular case, the imposition of the pharmaceutical tax resulted from a misplaced bracket in the bill. The bracket was similarly misplaced in several other bills containing the streamlined sales tax wording, none of which ultimately passed.

Nixon’s assertion that the bill could result in a $200 million tax increase was based on a 2009 report by the University of Missouri that projected the state would forgo $206 million in general revenues in 2013 as a result of a 3 percent sales tax exemption on prescription drugs. The actual figure could be higher, because Missouri’s total sales tax is 4.225 percent. But actual figures are not available, said Nixon’s budget director, Linda Luebbering.

(St. Louis) (AP) – Pouring rain pelted much of the Midwest on Thursday, flooding rivers for a second time this season and leaving beleaguered residents and local officials fearing another onslaught of water.

And with more rain in the forecast, residents in towns along the swollen Mississippi and Missouri rivers can do little more than wait to see how bad it gets.

Both rivers were already flooding Thursday, as were many smaller waterways in Missouri, Iowa and Illinois. As much as 4 inches of rain were expected in parts of those states through Sunday.

The rain has already caused flash-flooding in Iowa, forcing water rescues – including a police officer swimming to rescue a man from his truck after it got caught in rising waters – and home evacuations. In parts of Missouri and Illinois that hadn’t yet dried out from April flooding, residents were preparing to erect sandbag walls to protect homes and businesses.

National Weather Service hydrologist Mark Fuchs said some towns along the Missouri and Mississippi could see river readings 10 feet above flood stage, which could threaten scattered homes, close roads and soak thousands of acres of farmland.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty,” Fuchs said. “There will be quite a bit of variability in what these thunderstorms drop.”

The uncertainty is growing tiresome for 54-year-old Greg Gibson, whose two-story home sits a few hundred feet from the Mississippi River in a rural area of Missouri’s Pike County, about 70 miles north of St. Louis.

The water that poured over a levee in April has never gone away. Since mid-April, Gibson’s land has been cut off from roads. He uses a small boat to get to his car, parked at a duck club about a five-minute boat ride away.

“It’s a pain,” Gibson said. “It’s worse when it’s storming, being on that boat with lightning.”

The first floor of Gibson’s home took in 11 inches of water in April. The home that he has lived in since 1986 previously flooded in 1993, 1995 and 2008.

“I would imagine we’ll have water again,” he acknowledged, but added that it’s worth bearing for the peace and beauty that surrounds his home.

“It’s a trade-off,” Gibson said.

Pike County Emergency Management director Richard Murry said his biggest concern is that the bridge spanning the Mississippi River will have to close in Louisiana, Mo., along the Illinois border. The bridge approach on the Illinois side becomes impassable when the river reaches 23 feet. The forecast calls for it to peak at 23.7 feet Sunday.

With the next nearest bridge being more than 35 miles away in Hannibal, Mo., “a two-mile commute becomes a 75-mile commute,” Murry said.

In Iowa, heavy rain on Wednesday sent tributaries of the Cedar River Iowa over the banks, causing significant flooding northeast of Des Moines. The small town of Dunkerton, Iowa, began voluntary evacuations around 5 a.m. Thursday, said Black Hawk County Emergency Management Coordinator Lorie Glover.

Meanwhile, about 20 homes near Hudson, Iowa, were isolated when Black Hawk Creek overflowed and surrounded them. The Cedar Falls Fire Department used boats to help evacuate all but five residents who insisted on staying, Glover said.

About 30 miles east of Des Moines, three officers jumped into 12 feet of water in the swollen Prairie Creek at about 2 a.m. Thursday to rescue a tractor-trailer driver trapped in the cab of his truck. Baxter police officer Joe Bartello swam through the front windshield to get to the driver, 70-year-old Dwayne Michael of Granger, Iowa. His condition wasn’t immediately known.

In Illinois, the biggest concern was in the Quincy area, said Patti Thompson of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. Prisoners were filling and piling sandbags Thursday at levees near Quincy, a town of about 40,000 residents.

John Simon, emergency management director for Adams County, Ill., said levees near Quincy were sound and a moderate flood should cause no problems. But Quincy has seen 13 inches of rain in the past two months.

With this week’s downpour and a long-range forecast for potentially more heavy rain next week, Simon couldn’t help but worry that a levee break could shut down some of the town’s biggest industrial employers.

“We’re one major rainstorm from an event like 2008 or 1993,” Simon said, referring to two of the biggest floods on record in Quincy. “Depending on what happens next week, it could really put us in a world of hurt.”

(Tulsa) (AP) – At least two tornadoes touched down in Oklahoma and two more hit Arkansas on Thursday as a powerful storm system moved through the middle of the country, injuring at least nine people.

The National Weather Service reported two tornadoes on the ground near Perkins and Ripley in north central Oklahoma and another west of Oden, Ark. Another was reported in the Tulsa area late Thursday.

All nine of the injured were in Arkansas; two of the injuries were attributed to a lightning strike in Rogers. Lightning was also believed to have started a fire that destroyed two floors of a condominium building in northwestern Indiana.

Some trees, homes and power lines were damaged in Arkansas, and the National Weather Service confirmed that tornadoes touched down in Montgomery County and in Clark County. Emergency Management spokesman Tommy Jackson said first responders had trouble reaching a destroyed home where one person was hurt because a number of trees were blocking the road.

In Oklahoma, Perkins Emergency Management Director Travis Majors said there were no injuries or damage there. Ripley, about 10 miles east of Perkins, did not seem to have significant damage. The Payne County emergency management director did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Storms also caused problems in the western Iowa town of Onawa, damaging buildings, breaking windows, tearing awnings and blowing down trees and a stoplight. National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Fobert told the Sioux City Journal that the damage apparently was caused by a thunderstorm, not a tornado.

Thursday’s tornadoes were much less dangerous than the EF5 storm that struck Moore, Okla., on May 20 and killed 24 along its 17-mile path. The U.S. averages more than 1,200 tornadoes a year, but top-of-the-scale storms like the one in Moore – with winds over 200 mph – happen only about once per year. The tornado last week was the nation’s first EF5 since 2011.

Some strong winds blew through Moore, in suburban Oklahoma City, on Thursday, but the weather didn’t cause significant problems for crews cleaning up from last week’s tornado.

This spring’s tornado season got a late start, with unusually cool weather keeping funnel clouds at bay until mid-May. The season usually starts in March and then ramps up for the next couple of months.

The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., warned that there was a moderate risk of severe weather Thursday over much of eastern and central Oklahoma, with storms also possible in the rest of the central United States from Texas to Wisconsin. Flooding is also a concern in parts of Missouri, Iowa and Illinois through Sunday.

In addition to tornadoes, the storms were bringing rain and hail.

“Right now we’ve been getting a few thunderstorms, but they’re very severe supercell thunderstorms,” said Michael Scotten, a meteorologist with the National Weather Services. “The whole storm rotates, and they produce on occasion some tornadoes and heavy hail.”

The severe weather threat led organizers to postpone the start of the outdoor Wakarusa Music Festival near Ozark, Ark., which will feature Widespread Panic, The Black Crowes and the rapper Snoop Lion (formerly known as Snoop Dogg). An estimated 15,000 sought shelter from lightning and wind Thursday, according to the Times Record newspaper of Fort Smith, Ark.

Of the 60 EF5 tornadoes since 1950, Oklahoma and Alabama have been struck the most, seven times each. More than half of these top-of-the-scale twisters have occurred in just five states: Alabama, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

(Little Rock) (AP) – The state Supreme Court says the Arkansas Lottery Commission can’t be sued by a businessman who said he owns the name of the lottery.

Justices on Thursday reversed a lower court’s ruling that said the lawsuit against the lottery commission isn’t barred under the sovereign immunity doctrine, which prohibits lawsuits against the state. A Pulaski County judge last year denied a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

In a split decision Thursday, the high court dismissed the lawsuit, saying that the lottery commission is entitled to sovereign immunity.

Alpha Marketing says it owned the trademarks for the terms “Arkansas Lottery,” ”Arkansas Lotto” and “Lottery Arkansas” long before the state began selling lottery tickets in 2009. Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2008 creating the games to fund college scholarships.

(Jefferson City) – Ed Hassinger, St. Louis District Engineer for the past 12 years, was named the Missouri Department of Transportation’s Chief Engineer by MoDOT Director Dave Nichols on Thursday.

Hassinger, 51, fills the position that has been vacant since March, when Nichols moved up from chief engineer to director. Hassinger has 29 years of experience with MoDOT in a variety of roles.

Hassinger, a native of Columbia and a 1983 graduate of the University of Missouri with a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering, began his MoDOT career as a design engineer in the Bridge Division. He’s also worked as a traffic engineer, bridge maintenance engineer, assistant district engineer in the St. Louis District, and spent one year as the District Engineer in the Northeast District in Hannibal.

Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission Chairman Joe Carmichael said, “Ed Hassinger has been a most-valued member of the MoDOT family for many years and the Commission has tremendous respect for what he has accomplished in St. Louis. We look forward to working even closer with him to develop Missouri’s transportation priorities for the future.”

In the St. Louis District, Hassinger has led nearly 800 employees in the planning, design, construction and maintenance of 6,000 miles of roads in Franklin, Jefferson, St. Charles and St. Louis Counties and the City of St. Louis. He is a registered professional engineer (P.E.) in the state of Missouri.

(Mountain Home) – A Baxter County sex offender was arrested this morning for failing to comply with the sex offender registration requirements.

26-year-old Chad Vincent Douglas, a Level 3 sex offender, turned himself into the sheriff’s office on an outstanding bench warrant that was issued March 28 of this year for Failure to Register.

At the time of his booking today, Douglas gave authorities an address on Gray Street in Mountain Home, but confirmation on this information is still pending.

The Baxter County Sheriff’s Office obtained the bench warrant after they confirmed that Douglas was not living at the address he had reported on Boland Drive in the Henderson area.

Investigators learned from a neighbor on March 21, that Douglas had not been living at that address for the past month.

Douglas is being held in lieu of a $15,000 bond, and will appear in Circuit Court on June 20.

(Dexter) (AP) – A southeast Missouri county has agreed to pay $50,000 to the owners of a convenience store to settle a lawsuit over a raid that confiscated what authorities called synthetic drugs.

The store, Tootie’s 225 in Dexter, sued Stoddard County, its sheriff and prosecuting attorney over the July 2011 raid. Tootie’s 225 was among six convenience stores targeted in an investigation of synthetic drugs.

The Dexter Daily Statesman reports that three of the other stores previously settled similar lawsuits for amounts ranging from $15,000 to $30,000. The suits contended violation of the stores’ constitutional rights.

Prosecutor Russ Oliver says the suit with Tootie’s 225 was settled to avoid the legal costs of a trial.

(Little Rock) (AP) – A tentative trial date has been set in a lawsuit challenging a new Arkansas law that bans most abortions 12 weeks into a pregnancy.

An initial scheduling order filed Wednesday sets the proposed trial date for March 17.

The date comes in a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the Center for Reproductive Rights brought on behalf of 2 Little Rock abortion providers. A federal judge has blocked the law’s enforcement while it’s being challenged in court.

Arkansas’ Republican-led Legislature enacted the 12-week ban in March when it overrode a veto from Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe.

Beebe and other opponents of the ban say it violates the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion until a fetus could viably survive outside the womb.

(St. Peters) (AP) – A man is facing charges after allegedly breaking into a St. Charles County home while naked.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that 24-year-old Joseph Michael Mahoney of Lake St. Louis is charged with sexual misconduct, property damage and burglary.

Authorities say a man who lives at a home near St. Peters was awakened about 4:30 a.m. Wednesday by someone beating on his bedroom door. The man picked up a shotgun and opened the door, confronting a naked intruder. The man kept the suspect at bay until St. Charles County deputies arrived.

Lt. Craig McGuire says the deputies found the suspect sitting on the floor, mumbling incoherently and with an odor of alcohol on his breath.

(Jefferson City) (AP) – Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster plans to hold a summit meeting on urban violence later this year.

The attorney general’s office says the conference gathering is tentatively set for September.

Koster, a Democrat, won a second term as attorney general last November.

He said during his campaign that he was considering setting up a task force on urban crime and another to evaluate Missouri’s annual report on traffic stops by law enforcement.

Koster previously created special panels on auto service contracts and domestic violence.