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Top Of The Morning News: March 14, 2015

Kansas City Fire Department

KCFD is changing its gas leaks policy, and a proposed one-cent sales tax to fund transportation advanced in the Missouri Senate.

Change in Kansas City Fire Gas Leak Policy

The Kansas City Missouri Fire Department is changing the way it deals with dangerous gas leaks, in reaction to the February explosion that killed a woman, injured sixteen other people and destroyed a restaurant on the Country Club Plaza.

Fire Chief Paul Berardi issued the changes that include sending a chief to the scene of natural gas leaks. Firefighters are to remain there until the scene is safe.  

Berardi said firefighters will consult with utility troubleshooters to decide if evacuations are warranted. The chief said the responding fire vehicle will carry gas monitoring equipment. 

In the February 19th explosion and fire, one pumper was sent, advising restaurant staff to turn off anything that might ignite a fire, consulted with Missouri Gas Energy crews and left after being told things were under control.  

Less than an hour later the building exploded.

Missouri Transportation Tax Bill Advances

The Missouri Senate has passed legislation that would create a one-cent sales tax to fund transportation needs.  But as Statehouse reporter Marshall Griffin tells us, there was plenty of opposition voiced before the vote was taken.

GOP Senator John Lamping of St. Louis County told colleagues on the floor that the measure, quote, “takes us down the wrong road toward bigger government and higher taxes,” and that special interests are behind the effort to get it approved. 

But President Pro-tem and fellow Republican Tom Dempsey strongly defended the proposal--“as you look at the state of Missouri on a map, we should be a hub for the movement of goods and services…but in order to do that, we have to have an infrastructure system that can accommodate that.”

The resolution now goes to the Missouri House, where Speaker Tim Jones has been skeptical about any proposal that includes a tax hike, even ones that require voter approval.

Bill To Aid National Guard Education

Members of the Missouri House Budget Committee are proposing a new fund to provide tuition assistance for National Guard members who are also enrolled in college. 

The move comes because the federal government has suspended federal tuition assistance for National Guard soldiers due to sequestration cuts. 

House Budget Chair Rick Stream says they’ve reallocated 1-point-5 million dollars in next year’s state budget to make up the difference--“while tuition assistance has not been a contractual requirement of the state or federal governments, it has been a longstanding educational benefit and recruiting tool upon which thousands of our Missouri National guardsmen have relied upon.”

Funding for the newly-named Show-Me Heroes Education Fund was taken from budget allocations for both Higher Education and MoDOT.

Public Employees Union Checkoff Ban Gains Support

The Kansas Senate has passed a bill barring public employee unions from deducting money from their members' paychecks for political purposes.

Currently, union members can have voluntary contributions automatically deducted from their paychecks to be used for political advocacy. Some supporters of the bill say it prevents union members' dues from going to candidates or causes they don't support, and it takes government out of the business of processing the contributions.

Greg Smith is a Republican from Overland Park. He says union members could still set up automatic payments through their bank for political purposes, “this doesn’t take anybody’s voice away. It doesn’t’ take anybody’s freedom away.’ 

But critics of the bill say union members already have to voluntarily join the union and agree to the deductions. Some opponents say the proposal is aimed at politically weakening unions and union members.

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