Blunt signs military, mortgage fraud and tax credit bills

Thursday, June 12, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Gov. Matt Blunt signed bills Wednesday to help military children and spouses transition among schools, expand a tax incentive program for certain businesses and create the specific crime of mortgage fraud.

Blunt traveled throughout western Missouri with Rep. David Pearce signing bills in Warrensburg, Raymore and Belton. Pearce, R-Warrensburg, backed all three bills and is running for a state Senate seat that includes those three cities.

Under the military legislation, Missouri will join a multistate education compact; waive mandatory history and government courses if a student already has taken similar classes elsewhere; offer special considerations for students who have started kindergarten or first grade in their home states but don't meet Missouri's standards; and make it easier for the spouses of military personnel to be certified to teach.

The military compact would oversee the member states' education policies for enrollment, graduation and information-sharing. It's designed to make it easier for the families of active-duty military personnel who frequently move between states.

The compact will have the authority to trump state laws but not constitutional amendments, though it won't take effect until 10 states or U.S. territories agree to join.

Missouri joins Arizona, Connecticut, Kansas and Kentucky in entering the compact. Colorado and Florida have passed legislation that would make them members if it is signed by their governors.

Blunt said in a written statement that members of the military and their families deserve the state's gratitude.

"Students and parents will face less trauma and stress as they make the often difficult move from one school to another," Blunt said.

Blunt also signed legislation expanding a business incentive program.

The bill increases by $20 million -- to $60 million -- tax credits allowed under the Quality Jobs program for businesses that provide above-average wages and pay for their workers' health insurance.

But the Senate also added a provision that overrules a decision by State Treasurer Sarah Steelman to block ethanol and biodiesel plants from certain state incentives if even one investor is a lawmaker. Under the bill, those plants will be able to get state tax credits, exemptions and loans as long as public officials own less than 2 percent of the business.

Senators said Steelman had gone too far with her conflict-of-interest policies and was hurting innocent investors simply because a single public official also had invested in the company.

Steelman, a Republican candidate for governor, called the senators "cowards" and accused them of tacking on the provision late at night to protect their own interests.

A spokesman for Steelman's gubernatorial campaign said she still opposes allowing state incentives to go to companies with public officials as investors.

"She thinks that it is bad public policy," spokesman Spence Jackson said. "Lawmakers should not be able to enrich themselves off tax credits that they vote for and fund."

The third bill Blunt signed creates the specific crime of mortgage fraud. Under that legislation, real estate brokers, agents and appraisers can be fined or have their professional licenses revoked if they make false statements or fail to disclose material facts in their professional duties.

The bill allows for civil fines of up to $2,500 per violation and makes mortgage fraud a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison.

State appraisers and real estate commissions and the state finance division also will be able to investigate allegations of mortgage fraud and levy even higher fines -- up to $5,000 per violation.

Some House Democrats had criticized the bill, saying state lawmakers should have included more consumer protections for those with subprime loans who cannot afford them and face foreclosure.

Military bill is HB1678

Business incentives bill is HB2058

Mortgage fraud bill is HB2188

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