(Jefferson City) (AP) – Facing criticism about apparent conflicts of interest, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said Wednesday that he will no longer accept gifts from lobbyists or campaign contributions from anyone with litigation involving his office.
The move follows an October New York Times report alleging Koster and attorneys general across the country were influenced by lobbyist perks and campaign donations as they negotiated legal settlements with companies. Koster has said the newspaper’s report distorts how his office dealt with companies.
“Transparency is the best way to erase any potential perception of a conflict,” Koster said in a statement Wednesday.
Koster said he won’t take campaign money from companies, individuals, lobbyists, attorneys and their law firms representing entities that are involved with lawsuit involving Koster’s office. He said the self-imposed ban would extend to 90 days after the litigation has been resolved.
Koster said he also won’t take campaign contributions from employees in his office and pledged not to accept any gifts from registered lobbyists.
He suggested legislators should approve similar campaign donation restrictions for state and local candidates, and added that campaign donor cards will include a disclaimer that donors must sign saying they comply with the new policy.
In one example cited by the newspaper, Koster received $13,500 in campaign contributions from a law firm representing Pfizer and $20,000 directly from the drugmaker. He later met with lobbyists and spoke to political action committees while the company was under investigation by his office.
Koster ultimately negotiated for Pfizer to pay Missouri $750,000 in a legal settlement over the marketing practices of some drugs. Some other states took part in a joint investigation and were able to receive more than $1 million from Pfizer.
Republican House Speaker Tim Jones created a committee of lawmakers earlier this month to review the allegations against Koster, a Democrat.
(Little Rock) (AP) – Arkansas Gov.-elect Asa Hutchinson is asking the directors of three agencies to continue in their current roles when he takes office in January.
Hutchinson announced Wednesday that he’s asking Arkansas Crime Information Center Director Jay Winters; Arkansas State Crime Lab Director Kermit Channell; and Disability Determination for Social Security Administration Director Arthur Boutiette to remain.
Hutchinson said each of the three have agreed to continue as directors of their agencies.
(St. Louis) (AP) – Country singer Hunter Hayes has cancelled a Thursday concert at Saint Louis University over concerns about possible unrest in the city as a grand jury prepares to conclude its inquiry into the fatal Ferguson police shooting.
A statement posted Wednesday on the Chaifetz Arena website attributes the cancellation to Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s decision this week to declare a state of emergency in advance of the jury decision.
The declaration preceded an imminent announcement by St. Louis County’s prosecutor of the jury’s decision on whether Ferguson officer Darren Wilson should face criminal charges in the early August shooting death of Michael Brown.
The cancellation announcement notes that Hunter plans to return to St. Louis in 2015 for another concert at an unspecified location.
(Jefferson City) (AP) – A state board has approved a $2 million grant to help fund Missouri job-training efforts that have been scaled back because of a state budget freeze.
The money approved Tuesday by the Missouri Development Finance Board will go to a state program that helps pay for customized training for businesses.
The Missouri Works jobs training program was budgeted to get $14 million this year. Gov. Jay Nixon froze all but $2 million of that because of concerns about the state’s finances.
The Department of Economic Development cut its average training assistance in half to less than $20,000 per project, and it’s funding just 112 of the 437 companies that applied.
The additional $2 million grant could provide funding for at least some of those other companies.
(Springfield) (AP) – Married same-sex couples will be eligible for health benefits from the Springfield school district, starting Dec. 1.
The school board on Tuesday approved an amendment to the district’s health plan to include same-sex couples who are married in any state that legally recognizes their marriages.
The Springfield News-Leader reports it is unclear how many additional people would be covered by the change. The district’s self-insured health plan covers about 6,000 people.
The change comes as Missouri’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage is being challenged in court. District officials say several large employers in the city and state are expanding benefits to same-sex couples, partly to attract top employees.
The change is also expected to impact on other employment policies, such as sick days and family medical leave.
(Mountain View) – A teenager who went missing from Mountain View earlier this month has been found in Florida, and a man is being held in connection with his disappearance.
15-year-old Tyler Houck was found safe at a residence in Tampa, Florida around 8:30 AM Tuesday morning. Mountain View Police Chief Jamie Perkins says that Tyler was transported for questioning by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department and is awaiting arrangements for transportation back to Mountain View.
Houck was reported missing from Mountain View on Friday, November 7.
46-year-old Stephen Underwood was also taken into custody by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department and is currently being held with charges related to the disappearance of Tyler. Charges include traveling to meet a minor after using a computer, interference with custody, and seven counts of lewd or lascivious battery, according to the county sheriff’s office website. Underwood is being held on $62,000 bond.
Perkins adds that more charges are expected to come down in Mountain View once reports are released from Florida.
“I would like to thank the press and everyone who helped spread the word related to Tyler’s disappearance. With the information gathered from the public it helped us locate Tyler. Tyler is now safe and secure and will be arriving home soon.”
Mountain View Police Chief Jamie Perkins confirmed to Ozark Radio News Tuesday morning that 15-year-old Tyler Houck was located in the state of Florida earlier this week.
Houck was reported missing on Friday, November 7. Agencies involved in the search included the Mountain View Police Department, the Howell County Sheriff’s Office, and the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
(Little Rock) (AP) – Arkansas’ highest court and a federal judge are preparing to hear arguments this week over the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, a decade after the state’s voters approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
Attorneys for the state and a group of gay couples are scheduled to appear before the Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday morning, as justices weigh whether to uphold a Pulaski County judge’s ruling against the ban. Hours later, the same attorneys will be making similar arguments before a federal judge in a separate lawsuit.
Same-sex couples can marry in 32 states, parts of Kansas and Missouri, and Washington, D.C.
(Jefferson City) (AP) – Missouri’s unemployment has dropped slightly to its lowest rate since June 2008.
The state Department of Economic Development released data Tuesday showing the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped from 6.3 percent in September to 5.9 percent in October.
Seasonally adjusted nonfarm employment grew by 2,400 jobs in October and the financial sector employed 1,500 additional people.
Missouri has added more than 48,000 nonfarm jobs in the past year.
The 3 million seasonally adjusted civilian labor force grew by more than 10,000 people in October. The labor force counts people with jobs and those who are on unemployment but looking for work.
(Jefferson City) (AP) – Missouri U.S. senators say they’re disappointed legislation to complete the Keystone XL Pipeline has failed.
Tuesday’s vote fell one short of the 60 needed to prevent a filibuster in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate.
Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill has long supported the legislation along with Republican Sen. Roy Blunt despite opposition from some members her party.
The two senators say the pipeline will create jobs and business opportunities, as well as boost energy security.
Democrats pushed against the bill because of environmental concerns.
Keystone would pipe oil from Canada through the U.S. to the Gulf of Mexico, but would not cross Missouri’s borders. Republicans are expected to reintroduce a version of the bill when they gain control of the Senate next session. McCaskill says she’ll continue to support the pipeline.
(Cabool) – Classes in Cabool have been cancelled Thursday as the school district takes time to honor a student killed in a motor vehicle accident on Sunday.
District representatives told Ozark Radio News Tuesday that there will be no classes Thursday in honor of 15-year-old Alex Grueter, who was among two killed in a two-vehicle accident that happened about 5 miles north of Cabool this past Sunday.
A third grade concert planned for Thursday night will be rescheduled, and the fall high school athletic banquet has been moved to 6 PM Friday.
Greuter’s funeral will be Thursday at 11 AM at the Elliott-Gentry Carder Funeral Home chapel, 527 Cedar Ave., Cabool.