(Jefferson City) (AP) – An effort by Missouri lawmakers to create statewide regulations for ridesharing companies including Uber and Lyft has received initial approval in the House.
The House on Wednesday approved the measure on a voice vote. Opponents from Kansas City and St. Louis say it would remove cities’ ability to protect residents.
The measure would require background checks and insurance as well as a local license for the companies to operate. Supporters say it would ensure Uber and Lyft could operate in the state with some regulations.
Democratic Rep. Jon Carpenter of Kansas City says the proposal is an example of big business taking advantage of local government.
The measure would block more restrictive local regulation of the companies.
It needs final approval in the House before going to the Senate.
(Thayer) – Police in Thayer are looking for the public’s help in finding a man who robbed a bank Wednesday morning.
The robbery of the Great Southern Bank in Thayer took place around 8:35 AM, according to the FBI, who is now involved in the case. The suspect is described as a white male in his mid-20s, roughly 5’7″ and 160 pounds, with dark hair. The vehicle in question was described as a dark four-door Chevrolet Malibu Hatchback.
A news release from the FBI says the suspect approached a teller at the bank counter and handed the teller a note demanding cash. The teller complied and handed over an undisclosed amount of money. The suspect then fled the bank on foot, heading west. No weapons were displayed and no injuries were reported.
The FBI says Great Southern Bank is offering a $3000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspect.
Bank officials told Ozark Radio News that they are not commenting on the incident at this time.
Anyone with information on the robbery should call the Thayer Police Department at 417-264-3819, the Missouri Highway Patrol at 417-469-3121, the Federal Bureau of Investigation at 417-882-3303, or contact their local law enforcement agency.
by Marie French, AP
(Jefferson City) (AP) – Emergency 911 systems in Missouri would get a new funding stream under a measure that supporters said Wednesday is needed to enhance outdated services across the state.
The Missouri House voted 123-32 to pass a measure that would allow local governments to collect a monthly fee of up to $1.50 on devices capable of using 911, including cellphones, with voter approval. It also would impose a statewide 3 percent charge on sales of prepaid phones and create a state 911 board that would disburse the money.
“We’re the only state without this mechanism for funding,” said the measure’s sponsor, Rep. Jeanie Lauer, R-Blue Springs. “Our state needs to enhance its 911 services.”
The bill now goes to the Senate, where it has stalled in recent years.
Lauer said that as landline use declines, a new source of revenue is needed to fund 911 services that are paid for with landline fees or local sales taxes. She said some areas of the state don’t even have service, and others may not be able to receive emergency texts or to identify a cellphone’s location.
Counties or cities would need the 911 board’s approval to seek to impose a monthly fee on devices of more than $1. They also would have to provide information to justify the fee and develop plans to consolidate operations.
The 911 board would disburse the prepaid phone sales money in an effort to encourage consolidation, bring 911 services to areas that don’t have them and enable existing services to field emergency texts. A portion would also go to the poison control center.
(Jefferson City) (AP) – A state audit released Wednesday shows that Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has continued to use money meant for other agencies to pay for expensive in-state flights and staffing, despite lawmakers’ efforts to stop the practice.
If Nixon had not pulled money from other departments and delayed payments to a later fiscal year, the Democrat’s office would have exceeded its roughly $6.6 million budget by $1.9 million over the past three years, the audit found.
“If the rest of state government ran that way, we would be in deep trouble,” Deputy Auditor Harry Otto said.
Nixon said he hadn’t seen the audit’s findings but added that he doesn’t plan to change the way his office operates.
“The bottom line is we’re going to continue to make sure that we call on the resources of other departments when we need them, and we share the talents and skills of those other departments,” Nixon said.
The report comes amid budget negotiations for next fiscal year by frustrated lawmakers, who have questioned Nixon’s use of a state plane to fly across Missouri and have attempted to rein in the budget for his office.
Since 2012, the budgets passed by legislators have included wording restricting most state agencies from paying for travel and personnel expenses for the governor’s office and other statewide elected officials.
But the audit shows that Nixon’s administration has continued to do so.
The audit notes that the Revenue, Elementary and Secondary Education, and Health and Senior Services departments were among 14 agencies that paid the salaries of six members of governor’s staff.
In a written response included in the audit, Nixon’s office said it accounts for the costs in a way that properly reflects the work that is performed. Still, those employees work out of the governor’s office and are supervised by Nixon’s personnel.
The audit called the office’s written responses “generally nonresponsive.”
The exception to the spending restrictions is the Department of Public Safety, which can foot the bill if Nixon needs transportation in the event of a statewide emergency. That department paid roughly $120,000 for flights that many times included only the governor, his family and staff and were intended for bill signings and economic development announcements, in addition to disaster assessments and emergency preparedness, the audit found.
Lawmakers again this year have proposed including provisions in the budget for next fiscal year that would strip money from Nixon’s office and cut funds for travel to stop him from using taxpayer dollars for flights. That budget plan has not yet been finalized.
Other findings from the audit show Nixon’s staff booked out-of-state flights and hotel rooms that were needlessly expensive, were granted raises above what most state employees received and that the office spent $1,300 for staff to attend a one-day float trip with Nixon and his family in 2011.
by Marie French, AP
(Jefferson City) (AP) – Public access to video from police cameras in Missouri would be restricted under a measure that’s part of the legislative response to the events surrounding the fatal shooting of an 18-year-old by a police officer in Ferguson.
The Missouri House gave initial approval Wednesday to a bill that would exempt police body or dashboard camera footage from the state’s open-records laws. Supporters say they want to balance privacy concerns of individuals with the public’s right to know.
“This really protects the citizens of Missouri,” said Rep. Shawn Rhoads, R-West Plains. “The judge will be given this information… It takes the decision out of the police; it takes the decision out of elected officials.”
Opponents said setting such strict limitation on public access to video footage would hinder people seeking justice in alleged cases of police misconduct and harm efforts to build trust between law enforcement and the public.
“We should work on the privacy concerns, but to give a broad shield against video and audio recordings is wrong,” said Rep. Brandon Ellington, D-Kansas City.
Activists have rallied around efforts encouraging police departments across the country to use body cameras to record interactions with the public after last year’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown. There was no video of that shooting.
But Missouri lawmakers are reluctant to require police cameras because the state constitution prohibits unfunded mandates. The measure also specifically prohibits the state from requiring law enforcement agencies to use body cameras.
The legislation would allow agencies to block access to footage and require court action to override that decision. Nothing in the measure would prohibit a law enforcement agency from releasing a video to the public without a court order.
Certain people would have a greater chance at accessing the videos. Anyone shown in a video, a relative, attorney or someone whose property is involved in an incident would be able to request access to the footage, and the police department would have to respond within 30 days or file with the court to continue to restrict access. Currently, the state’s Sunshine Law treats open investigation reports the same way.
Anyone, including media outlets, would be able to appeal directly to the courts for access to the footage. The judge would weigh the benefit to that person or the public against the harm to the public, persons identified in the video and law enforcement. The court would be able to set limits on the disclosure of the video.
The measure faces another vote in the House before going to the Senate. Gov. Jay Nixon declined to take a position on whether footage should be an open or closed record when asked by reporters about the issue earlier this year.
(Jefferson City) (AP) – Missouri’s deputy state auditor says he and another official will lose their jobs once a new auditor takes office next week.
Deputy Auditor Harry Otto said Wednesday that he and chief of staff Trish Vincent will be replaced when Nicole Galloway is sworn-in.
Galloway was picked by fellow Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon as a permanent replacement to former Republican Auditor Tom Schweich (shwyk). Schweich fatally shot himself Feb. 26.
Schweich’s spokesman Spence Jackson killed himself a month later. Police investigating his death say he left a hand-written note expressing concern about potentially becoming unemployed.
Otto says those are the only two planned staffing changes so far. He says most of the employees likely will remain.
(St. Louis) (AP) – St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay is seeking a special committee to consider whether the city’s Confederate Memorial should be moved out of Forest Park.
The memorial honoring soldiers and sailors of the Confederate states has stood in the park for a century, a gift from the Daughters of the Confederacy of St. Louis. Some say it is offensive but others say it’s a nod to history.
KSDK-TV reports that Slay announced on his blog that he is asking the Missouri History Museum, Forest Park Forever and the Incarnate Word Foundation to assemble a committee. The committee will decide whether to move the memorial or to add to the inscription to better describe the realities of slavery.
(Jefferson City) (AP) – A Missouri lawmaker has proposed that the state partner with a private company to make Interstate 70 a toll road.
Republican Sen. Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph told a Senate panel on Tuesday that the plan could help pay for needed repairs and improvements to I-70.
Missouri officials have warned that an impending dip in transportation funding will mean only about a quarter of the state’s roads and bridges will be fully maintained.
Another proposed solution to pay for road repairs stalled last week in the Senate.
That bill would have increased the current 17 cent fuel tax by 2 cents, but it stalled during debate following criticism from conservative Republicans opposed to a tax increase.
Schaaf’s bill needs committee approval before it can be debated by the full Senate.
by Steve Karnowski, AP
(Minneapolis) (AP) – The U.S. Department of Agriculture is working on a vaccine to counter a deadly strain of bird flu, as losses to poultry producers mount.
A pure “seed strain” would target the H5N2 virus – which has already cost Midwest turkey and chicken producers more than 6.7 million birds since early March – as well as some other highly pathogenic viruses in the H5 family that have been detected in other parts of North America. If the USDA decides the vaccine is necessary to stop avian influenza, it will provide that seed strain to drug manufacturers.
The process, though, is fraught with questions about which birds would get the vaccine, how it might affect exports and whether it would be effective against the rapidly spreading strain.
WHY PRODUCERS WANT A VACCINE
USDA officials have said the H5N2 virus could be a problem for the poultry industry for several years. The virus had already killed or led authorities to order the culling of nearly 2.3 million turkeys before it was confirmed Monday at an Iowa egg-laying operation with 3.8 million hens. And on Tuesday, four more turkey farms with more than 425,000 birds were added to the list.
The virus could reappear this fall when the wild waterfowl that are believed to carry it fly south for the winter. Another concern is that it could spread to big poultry-producing states in the East.
While government agencies and producers would much rather see tight biosecurity and other current strategies succeed, they want to have another tool available, said Dr. T.J. Myers, an associate deputy administrator for veterinary services with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
WHERE THE VACCINE STANDS
The USDA’s Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory in Athens, Georgia, is developing the seed strain, which is essentially a pure virus sample that could be the foundation for producing an effective vaccine. The center’s director, Dr. David Swayne, said it has already gone through a couple of rounds of lab testing, and that animal experiments will begin in early May to determine whether it’s an effective strain to use. If those tests are successful and the USDA decides to put a vaccine into production, it would turn to the private sector for production.
WHAT IT WOULD COST?
Dr. John Clifford, the USDA’s chief veterinary officer, said it’s not clear how much a vaccine would add to the cost of producing birds, but doesn’t expect it would be much. It might be used mainly on the more expensive birds, such as those used for breeding, he said.
For turkey producers, the price of the vaccine could be minor compared to the cost of losing entire flocks, according to Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association and the Chicken and Egg Association of Minnesota. But a vaccine might be too expensive for the broiler chicken industry, where profits per bird are small.
WHY THE USDA MIGHT DECIDE AGAINST A VACCINE
Introducing a vaccine raises a lot of questions, Myers said, including which poultry would get it, in what kind of settings, whether it would be effective in stopping the disease and potential negative effects on poultry exports.
James Sumner, president of the Georgia-based USA Poultry and Egg Export Council, said some countries might regard vaccine use as a reason to bar imports from the U.S. The vaccine could mask any viruses that poultry are carrying, because tests for the disease look for antibodies – the same antibodies that vaccines trigger a body to produce, he said.
Dr. Kyoungjin Yoon, an avian influenza expert at Iowa State University, said human experience shows flu vaccines don’t always match well with viruses in circulation. Vaccine-induced immunity could also slow the detection of outbreaks, Yoon said. One of the main symptoms is that flocks start dying off quickly.
Associated Press reporter David Pitt in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.
(Little Rock) (AP) – Arkansas lawmakers have voted to require a $5 fee be charged to drivers each time they take the written examination for their license.
The bill passed the Senate on a 25-2 vote Wednesday shortly before lawmakers formally adjourned and would change current state law, which only requires the fee be charged for the first three times the written exam is taken. The measure now heading to Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s desk would require the fee also be charged for each subsequent test.
Supporters of the proposal said it would help address a high failure rate on driver’s license exams. Arkansas State Police estimate about 43,000 written tests were administered at no charge last year. The legislation approved Wednesday is expected to raise an additional $215,000 annually for state police.