by Summer Ballentine, AP
(Jefferson City) (AP) – Like most years, Missouri state lawmakers in the 2015 legislative session introduced a number of bills aimed at clamping down on ethics laws considered some of the loosest in the nation.
And like most years, despite months of discussions and assurances from legislative leaders who said this year would be different, plans fell apart in the last few weeks of session.
The breakdown of this year’s ethics proposals means Missouri for at least another year will remain the only state with the trio of unlimited campaign contributions, uncapped lobbyist gifts and no laws preventing lawmakers from leaving office and immediately becoming lobbyists. A bill passed by both chambers would have prevented lawmakers from entering lobbying right after leaving office in hopes of preventing legislators from using their position to later find a lucrative job, but senators and representatives couldn’t agree on a final version of the bill.
Lawmakers’ failure to pass ethics bills also comes as the Capitol is under increased scrutiny after the House ended the legislative session in scandal.
Work ground to a halt after former House Speaker John Diehl, of Town and Country, admitted to exchanging sexually suggestive text messages with a 19-year-old Capitol intern and resigned the last day of session May 15.
University of Missouri-St. Louis political scientist David Kimball said Diehl’s departure could add “more fuel to the fire, in terms of the public desire for some kind of change in behavior of the Legislature.”
“It’s kind of bad that here’s another challenge of an ethically challenged Legislature, and in all the mess here the Legislature couldn’t even pass some minimal ethics reforms,” Kimball said.
Republican Rep. Todd Richardson, of Poplar Bluff, was elected to replace Diehl as speaker. He has said he plans to ramp up the Legislature’s policies on interns and “focus on improving that public perception.”
Richardson said the House would again try to take up smaller, single-issue ethics measures and pass them early next session. That’s similar to the approach the House took this year, although the Senate focused on a single, large ethics bill that ultimately gained traction.
“It’s a bicameral legislature, and we have to move things through both chambers,” Richardson said. “We’ll be back working on ethics reform as one of the priorities early in session next year.”
The sticking point for the bill, Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard of Joplin said, was a $25 gift limit for lawmakers added to the bill by the House. Richard said some senators raised concerns that it could have spurred lobbyists to look for ways to continue lucrative gifting by skirting reporting laws, driving spending underground.
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who previously said he would support a citizen-led ballot initiative, said at his post-session news conference that legislation “is the simplest, easiest, most cost-effective way to the right policy.” Nixon said he will “try to work folks to make some progress” next year.
The bills’ deaths are “not surprising,” said Brad Ketcher, a veteran Democratic strategist who has helped craft a proposed 2016 ballot measure to limit campaign contributions and address other ethics concerns,
“If citizens care about ethics in campaign finance reform,” Ketcher said, “they shouldn’t expect the Legislature to police themselves.”
Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, of Missouri, also said in January that she plans to push a proposed 2016 Missouri ballot initiative that would limit campaign contributions and lobbyist gifts to Missouri legislators and other executive officials – an attempt, she said, at “cleaning up the embarrassment that we have when it comes to ethics.”
Three proposed ballot initiatives addressing lawmaker ethics have been filed so far, including two that would limit campaign contributions.
(Seymour) (AP) – A southwest Missouri couple has died after the Amish buggy they were riding in collided with a truck.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol says 67-year-old Leah Zook and 73-year-old Samuel Zook died in the crash, which occurred Friday afternoon five miles east of Seymour.
The patrol says the buggy pulled into the truck’s path.
by Andrew DeMillo, AP
(Little Rock) (AP) – A little over a month after wrapping up their regular session, Arkansas lawmakers are returning to the Capitol this week to take up an incentive package aimed at luring a major defense project to the state.
The House and Senate are set to convene Tuesday for the special session focused on the effort to help Lockheed Martin land the contract for its Camden facility. Aside from the proposed “super-project,” lawmakers are looking at moving up the state’s primary and changing its driving while intoxicated law to avoid a loss of federal highway funds.
Here’s a look at the top issues facing the Legislature during this week’s special session:
The top item on the agenda is Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s proposal to issue $87 million in bonds aimed at helping Lockheed Martin win the contract to produce a new line of tactical vehicles that will replace the Humvee. Most of the money would go toward equipment and infrastructure at the company’s Camden facility, and the bonds would only be issued if Lockheed wins the contract.
If approved by lawmakers, this will mark the second time the state has issued bonds under a 2004 constitutional amendment intended to help close the deal on major economic projects. Lawmakers two years ago approved $125 million in financing for a steel mill in east Arkansas under the same amendment.
Hutchinson’s office has said the bonds would be paid off by the state over 15 to 20 years, depending on the market. Legislative leaders say they expect widespread support for the bond package.
An effort to move up Arkansas’ primary as part of a regional nominating contest among southeastern states is being revived this session. Dubbed the “SEC primary,” the proposal would move Arkansas’ primary from May to March.
Unlike a proposal that stalled in the Legislature earlier this year, this would move all of the nominating contests and non-partisan judicial races – not just the presidential primary. It also includes a plan to move Arkansas’ legislative session next year from February to April.
Hutchinson is also asking lawmakers to approve his plan to merge some smaller agencies, a move that he says will save the state $10 to $12 million over the next five years by eliminating redundant positions.
Under the plan, the Department of Rural Services and the Science and Technology Authority will be merged into the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. Hutchinson is also calling for merging the Division of Land Survey into the Geographic Information Office and the Arkansas Building Authority into the Department of Finance and Administration.
Highway officials say a change in state law is needed after the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors must show intent in DWI cases, a ruling that they say could risk more than $50 million in federal transportation funding.
Highway officials say the court’s interpretation likely violates requirements the state has to meet in its DWI laws to receive some federal transportation funding. Lawmakers say the change would make it clear that DWI is a “strict scrutiny” offense, meaning prosecutors won’t have to show intent.
The session’s agenda also includes a handful of other non-controversial items. They include changing state law to align with potential changes in federal law regarding farm equipment traffic on a new section of interstate highway in northeast Arkansas.
Lawmakers are also expected to pass a resolution honoring Sonny Smith, a reserve deputy with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office who was fatally shot earlier this month while responding to a reported burglary.
by Marie French, AP
(Jefferson City) (AP) – Missouri lawmakers finished their annual session without action on transportation funding, a priority of Republican leaders and Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. But both sides say they will look to address any potential shortfalls next year.
The failure to act this session means Missouri stands to lose nearly $167 million in federal highway funds, because it won’t have enough money to match all of its available federal dollars. Every $4 federal dollars requires $1 in state funds. According to Missouri Department of Transportation projections, even if lawmakers propose and enact a fuel tax increase early next session, it would not be enough to achieve the full match.
“I think we have to act next year because I believe we needed to act this year. MoDOT simply does not have the revenue to take care of our transportation system,” Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said Friday. “Everybody’s got a reason as to why one revenue mechanism won’t work, and we don’t need critics – we need problem solvers.”
Unless collection of a higher gas tax begins in January 2016, the amount collected would not be enough to match all federal funds in 2017, according to MoDOT spokesman Bob Brendel. Lawmakers return in January.
MoDOT faces a steep drop-off in the state’s construction contract budget for roads and bridges – from $685 million this year to $325 million in fiscal year 2017. Officials have warned that Missouri will only be able to fully maintain one-quarter of the state’s 32,000-mile highway system while the rest of the system deteriorates.
Next year, a solution to the state’s transportation funding will be a top priority, said newly-elected House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff.
“We’ll be ready to come forward with solutions in January,” Richardson said on the final day of the legislative session.
Proposals to increase the state’s fuel tax faltered this year. A measure was rejected by a House committee and another failed to emerge from the Senate, despite top Republicans devoting significant time to the issue.
It ran into fierce opposition from conservative Republican senators opposed to an additional tax.
Nixon also threw his weight behind a Senate measure that gained narrow initial approval but never came up for a final vote. It would have increased the tax on diesel fuel by 3.5 cents and on other gas by 1.5 cents per gallon from the current 17 cents.
The increase would have taken effect Jan. 1 and brought in about $55 million for the state’s highway fund in fiscal year 2017. That would have been enough to match all federal funds in 2017 but would have fallen short in subsequent years.
The measure would have also created a board to look into tolling along Interstate 70. Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, pushed that provision but still opposed the tax increase without voter approval.
Supporters of the fuel tax acknowledge putting it on the ballot would likely doom the proposal. Missouri voters last year rejected a three-quarter cent sales tax increase for transportation funding.
Nixon, who opposed the sales tax, said paying for Missouri’s roads and bridges through user fees is appropriate, noting the state’s fuel tax had not increased in nearly two decades.
“I think everybody understands we’ve got issues to deal with by 2017,” Nixon said. “It’s one of those issues we’ll continue to work with folks but it certainly hasn’t gotten off my to-do list.”
(West Plains) – Lance Parker, Dixon, and Shelby Harris, West Plains, received the Outstanding Student Ambassador Awards at Missouri State University-West Plains’ annual Celebration of Leaders student awards ceremony April 16 at the West Plains Civic Center.
The award recognizes Student Ambassadors who display professionalism, have the greatest desire to increase the quality of the university, work diligently to exceed required time and academic commitments, and have a genuine love for the institution, award officials said.
Student Ambassadors serve as part of a public recruitment team through the admissions office.
(West Plains) – Emily Yeager, Dora, received the Community Service Award during Missouri State University-West Plains’ annual Celebration of Leaders student awards ceremony April 16 at the West Plains Civic Center.
The award recognizes students who make the greatest contribution to campus efforts by volunteering their time to serve significant campus interests that improve the quality of life and uphold values consistent with the betterment of campus life.
She received her award from Assistant Professor of Mathematics Jay Towell.
How the Mighty Have Fallen
Last Friday, May 15, was a day of mixed emotions. Being the last day of the General Assembly’s regular session, I customarily offer a quote from the wise Mark Twain, who penned this trustworthy saying, “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.” To you citizens and me, this is a sigh of relief. Also on this day, Speaker John Diehl, on the unveiling of private behavior unbecoming of his position, decided to publicly admit his fault, ask for forgiveness, and immediately resign as Missouri’s chief policy maker. His plan, now, is to return home and remodel a House far more important than our chamber. Our neighbor, Todd Richardson of Popular Bluff, with a heavy heart, was sworn-in just after Diehl’s departure to continue to lead the House forward, and to rebuild the office.
Last, and definitely not least, May 15, statutorily, “shall be known and designated as ‘Missouri’s Peace Officers Memorial Day’. It shall be a day on which to commemorate the sacrifices of the federal, state, county and municipal peace officers who have been killed or disabled in the performance of their duties.” (RSMo 9.120) With the gravity of this day’s events, and leading into Memorial Day, a scripture gave me pause to ponder and pray. As David lamented, “…How the Mighty have fallen…” (2 Samuel 1:19), I pray for you citizens, our state leaders, and our guardians of liberty and order.
Memorial Day is for Honoring, Remembering
Memorial Day is often called and thought of as the unofficial start to summer. However, Memorial Day is not about barbecues and lounging by the pool, it is about honoring the sacrifices brave men and women have made in the name of freedom.
As a veteran myself I always appreciate the messages and thanks on Veteran’s Day; however, Memorial Day has a special reverence. These are the brave soldiers who never returned home to hug their family. These fine citizens we honor and remember today are the elite, the best of the best. They paid the ultimate price to ensure you and I had the freedoms we so enjoy.
I have long enjoyed this poem and feel it sums up what a veteran is and what they do for each of us:
“It is the veteran,
Not the preacher,
Who has given us freedom of religion.
It is the veteran,
Not the reporter,
Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the veteran,
Not the poet,
Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the veteran,
Not the campus organizer,
Who has given us freedom to assemble.
It is the veteran,
Not the lawyer,
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the veteran,
Not the politician,
Who has given us the right to vote.
It is the veteran,
Who Salutes the Flag,
It is the veteran,
Who serves Under the Flag.”
I do hope you will take a moment to remember and honor those who have so selflessly given their lives for us, not only this Memorial Day weekend, but every day.
As always, I appreciate it when groups from around Missouri and from our community back home come to visit me at the Capitol. If you would like to arrange a time to come and visit me in Jefferson City, or if you ever have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact my Capitol office at (573) 751-1882.
(Branson) (AP) – A big sinkhole discovered Friday near the driving range of a southwest Missouri golf course is attracting the attention of geological experts.
The hole, which is 80 feet wide and 35 feet deep in some places, was created by two separate sinkholes that formed near the entrance to Top of the Rock golf course near the resort town of Branson, Martin MacDonald, conservation director for Bass Pro Shops, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
The Jack Nicklaus-designed par-3 course is part of the Bass Pro Shops-owned Big Cedar Lodge complex and hosted a Champions Tour event last month. The sinkhole isn’t near the main course and won’t affect play, MacDonald said.
Geologists say such sinkholes are fairly common in the Ozarks because of its karst topography, a feature in which water is constantly circulating through bedrock below the ground. That’s why the region has so many sinkholes and caves, including Lost Canyon Cave, an attraction at the Big Cedar complex, MacDonald said.
The initial focus Friday was ensuring the safety of the public and facilities, none of which were in danger, geological engineer Gary Pendergrass said. Next week, engineers will conduct a more in-depth investigation to determine the best way to replace the 7,000 cubic feet of material displaced by the hole, he said.
But before the hole is filled, it will be explored if there’s anything to learn about karst topography.
“From the Top of the Rock perspective, it’s not what you want to have,” MacDonald said. “But we’ll see if we’ve got anything unique down there.”
Doug Gouzie, associate professor of geology and sinkhole expert at Missouri State University, told the Springfield News-Leader that the sinkhole could have been caused by an undiscovered cave and that recent heavy rains likely played a huge role.
(Houston) – In a special recognition event for all the nurses and certified nurse assistants (CNAs) that work at Texas County Memorial Hospital, a nurse and a CNA were chosen for special honors.
Texas County Memorial Hospital has named Melanie Evans of Houston as the 2015 TCMH Nurses of the Year and Modena Jones of Mountain Grove as the 2015 TCMH CNA of the Year.
Evans, a registered nurse at TCMH Hospice of Care, has been employed by the hospital for eight years.
Owens explained that Evans works about four days a week for Hospice of Care and is scheduled weekly to work as a nurse in another TCMH department.
Evans is also one of few nurses at TCMH that has peripherally inserted catheter (PIC) line certification. Certain patients receive a PIC line because they require long-time intravenous (IV) usage or they cannot receive a regular IV.
Jones is a certified nurse assistant in the TCMH medical surgical department, and she has worked at TCMH for 10 years. Sawyer described Jones as a well-rounded CNA that provides “great customer service and gets done every job that needs to be done”.
The nurse and CNA of the year received $250 cash, a plaque, an engraved crystal trophy and fresh flowers.
Eighteen nurses and 5 CNAs from nursing departments throughout TCMH were nominees for the annual nursing awards. TCMH nurses and CNAs were nominated by hospital managers, physicians and fellow staff members for the annual TCMH Nurse of the Year and TCMH CNA of the Year awards. The TCMH nurse managers chose Evans and Jones as the 2015 nursing honorees.
TCMH also recognized each nominee with a framed certificate.
Also during the week, a mandatory nursing skills lab was provided for the nursing staff. Eleven stations provided education—some of which was hands on—on topics such as foley catheter care, patient safety, customer service, wound care and pharmacology.
Scrubs and Beyond of St. Louis came to TCMH to allow nurses and other employees the opportunity to shop for uniforms during the day.