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Morning headlines - Tuesday, July 3, 2012

(via Flickr/IndofunkSatish)

Nixon seeks permission to ease land restrictions during drought

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has asked the federal government to allow farmers to graze cattle on land that's been taken out of crop production as part of a federal conservation effort.

Farmers in the state have about 1.4 million acres of land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays them to plant other vegetation instead of cash crops like corn or soybeans. Livestock grazing is allowed on the land when there's a 40 percent shortage of hay and precipitation.

Drought conditions exist across most of the state, with extreme drought conditions in the Bootheel. The state is also about 48 percent short on supplies of hay.

And the extreme heat is starting to take a big toll on Missouri's corn and soybean crop, with nearly half of both reported to be in poor to very poor condition. The National Agriculture Statistics Service also says 97 percent of the state's topsoil is short or very short on moisture.

Belleville bans all fireworks

Belleville mayor Mark Eckert has issued an executive order banning the use of all fireworks in the city for at least two weeks.

The Belleville News-Democrat says firework use in the city was already limited to  sparklers, party poppers, snakes, and smoke devices. Eckert issued the executive order outlawing those devices last night, saying he wants to prevent accidental fires that could grow quickly in the extreme heat.

The drought conditions have prompted at least 19 municipalities in the bistate region to cancel or postpone displays.

Pay raises for Ill. state employees go to arbitrator

Amanda Vinicky contributed reporting from Springfield, Ill.

An Illinois judge has asked an independent arbitrator to determine whether or not 20,000 state employees will get the 5 percent pay raise frozen last year by Gov. Pat Quinn.

Quinn said the cancelations were necessary because the General Assembly did not appropriate enough money for the raises. But a spokesman for the state's largest public employees union, Anders Lindall, said Quinn could have found the money if he wanted.

"The administration has directed money to a number of other uses, some not necessarily in the budget," Lindall said. "If they have the money to do those things, they have the money to keep their contractual obligation."

The arbitrator will determine whether or not the state can afford the 5 percent increase.

Clerks seek to defend Ill. ban on gay marriage

Two county clerks in downstate Illinois are asking a judge for permission to defend the state’s gay marriage ban in court.

The conservative Thomas More Society filed the request late Friday on behalf of the clerks in Tazewell and Effingham counties.  A spokesman for the society says that as keepers of marriage licenses, the clerks have an interest in ensuring that the law is uniformly enforced

A group of 25 gay and lesbian couples sued in Cook County, claiming the ban is unconstitutional. Attorney general Lisa Madigan and the state’s attorney in Cook County have both refused to defend the law, saying they agree with the couples.


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Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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