Dec 11, 2014 – Weekly Capitol Update

NIXON ASKS MoDOT TO EXPLORE TOLLS FOR INTERSTATE 70

Gov. Jay Nixon on Dec. 9 sent a letter to the Missouri State Highways and Transportation Commission asking it to provide his administration an analysis by the end of the month of the feasibility of using tolls to pay for the reconstruction of Interstate 70. Nixon’s request comes four months after Missouri voters by a wide margin rejected a proposed statewide sales tax hike that would have generated about $534 million a year for transportation improvements, including the rebuilding of I-70 between the St. Louis and Kansas City metro areas.

The Missouri Department of Transportation last floated the idea of using tolls to rebuild I-70 during the 2012 legislative session, but lawmakers showed little enthusiasm for the idea. Because the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in 1968 that the state constitution prohibits tolling on roads and bridges that are part of the state highway system and also bars using the state road fund to finance toll road construction, a voter-approved constitutional amendment likely would be needed. Missouri voters have twice rejected amendments authorizing toll roads, in 1970 and 1992.

 

STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION ANNOUNCES DESE FINALISTS

The Missouri State Board of Education on Dec. 8 announced the five finalists to replace Dr. Chris Nicastro as commissioner of education, the top administrator at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Nicastro is retiring at the end of 2014 following a five-year tenure that is recent years has been marked by controversy over her handling of various issues relating to unaccredited school districts.

The finalists are Terry Adams, a former superintendent at Rockwood and Wentzville; Branson Superintendent Douglas Hayter; Joplin Superintendent Charles Huff; Norman Ridder, interim superintendent of the Mehlville School District and a former Springfield superintendent; and Margaret Vandeven, deputy education commissioner at DESE. The state board expects to pick a new education commissioner in the coming weeks.

 

SEVEN STL COUNTY CITIES SUED OVER MUNICIPAL COURTS

Lawsuits have been filed against seven St. Louis County cities over claims that their municipal courts illegally charge defendants extra fees that aren’t authorized by state law, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on Dec. 10. The cities that have been sued are Beverly Hills, Ferguson, Fenton, Jennings, Pine Lawn, Wellston and Velda City. Similar lawsuits against additional cities are expected.

Alleged abuses by St. Louis County municipal courts are among the key grievances being raised by the ongoing protests resulting from the Aug. 9 shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown by white Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Critics say some municipal courts in the county routinely violate the constitutional rights of defendants and often impose excessive fees and fines.

 

MISSOURI EXECUTES RECORD 10TH INMATE OF YEAR

Missouri executed its 10th inmate of the year on in the early morning hours Dec. 10, breaking the state’s previous record of nine executions set in 1999. Paul Goodwin died by lethal injection for the 1998 murder of Joan Crotts, a 63-year-old woman whom Goodwin beat to death with a hammer in her St. Louis County home.

From October 2005 until November 2013, Missouri had a de facto moratorium on executions due to various legal challenges to the state’s lethal injection protocol. During that time, the state carried out just two death sentences, one in 2009 and another in 2011. While executions were largely on hold, the appeals of death row inmates continued to work their way through the legal system, leaving Missouri with a backlog inmates who are clear for execution dates.

The state has scheduled one execution a month since November 2013. During that time, 12 death sentences have been carried out and two delayed by court actions. According to The Associated Press, Missouri and Texas lead the nation in executions this year, with 10 each. Neither state has any more executions scheduled this year.