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(Jefferson City) – Pedestrian casualties while trespassing on railroad tracks rose in Missouri in 2014.

There were 20 pedestrian casualties last year, which is up 25 percent from 2013. Collisions with vehicles at highway-rail grade crossings in Missouri remained the same in 2014 with 48 collisions and two fatalities.

“We are glad to see a low number of highway-rail grade crossing fatalities for a second consecutive year, but are concerned with the increase in trespassing casualties on railroad tracks and property in Missouri,” said Missouri Operation Lifesaver State Coordinator Rick Mooney. “Educating the public to reduce trespassing injuries and fatalities continues to be a challenge. The tracks are not a place to walk or play.”

Across the U.S., vehicle-train collisions and deaths at highway-rail grade crossings and from pedestrians trespassing on railroad tracks rose in 2014, while crossing-related injuries and rail trespass injuries were lower compared to 2013.

“These preliminary 2014 statistics show the continuing need to raise public awareness through our national ‘See Tracks? Think Train!’ campaign,” Mooney stated. “Operation Lifesaver, in partnership with the Missouri Department of Transportation, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, local law enforcement agencies, major freight railroads, and commuter and light rail systems, will be expanding the campaign and developing new educational materials to encourage Americans to make safe decisions around tracks and trains.”

(Mountain Home) – A Medicare presentation will be held at ASU-Mountain Home in April.

“Navigating the Medicare Maze” will be held Friday, April 3 from 1-2 PM at McMullin Lecture Hall in Dryer Hall. This presentation will review many of the commonly asked Medicare questions, including Medicare Enrollment, the various parts of Medicare, including Original Medicare (A&B), Medicare Advantage (Part C), Medicare Drug Plans (Part D) and Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap). The program will also cover Medicare Fraud, Premiums & Costs, and programs that help pay Medicare costs.

For more information, visit www.asumh.edu.

by Dmitry Lovetsky and Jim Heintz

The Soyuz-FG rocket booster with Soyuz TMA-16M space ship carrying a new crew to the International Space Station, ISS, blasts off at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Saturday, March 28, 2015. The Russian rocket carries U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly, Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka, and Mikhail Korniyenko,. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

The Soyuz-FG rocket booster with Soyuz TMA-16M space ship carrying a new crew to the International Space Station, ISS, blasts off at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Saturday, March 28, 2015. The Russian rocket carries U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly, Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka, and Mikhail Korniyenko,. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

(Baikonur, Kazakhstan) (AP) – Two Russians and an American floated into the International Space Station on Saturday, beginning what is to be a year away from Earth for two of them.

Mikhail Kornienko and Scott Kelly are to spend 342 days aboard the orbiting laboratory, about twice as long as a standard mission on the station. Russia’s Gennady Padalka is beginning a six-month stay.

The three astronauts entered the station about eight hours after launching from Russia’s manned space facility in Kazakhstan. They were embraced by American Terry Virts and Russia’s Anton Shkaplerov who along with Italian Samantha Cristoforetti have been aboard since late November.

The trip is NASA’s first attempt at a one-year spaceflight; four Russians have spent a year or more in space, all on the Soviet-built Mir space station.

The stay is aimed at measuring the effects of a prolonged period of weightlessness on the human body, a step toward possible missions to Mars or beyond.

Kelly’s identical twin Mark, a retired astronaut, agreed to take part in many of the same medical experiments as his orbiting sibling to help scientists see how a body in space compares with its genetic double on Earth. They are 51.

Kelly and Kornienko, 54, will remain on board until next March. During that time, they will undergo extensive medical experiments, and prepare the station for the anticipated 2017 arrival of new U.S. commercial crew capsules. That means a series of spacewalks for Kelly, which will be his first.

The two men also will oversee the comings and goings of numerous cargo ships, as well as other Russian-launched space crews and an expected September visit from singer Sarah Brightman on a “space tourist” trip.

Doctors are eager to learn what happens to Kelly and Kornienko once they surpass the usual six-month stay for space station residents.

Bones and muscles weaken in weightlessness, as does the immune system. Body fluids also shift into the head when gravity is absent, putting pressure on the brain and the eyes, impairing vision for some astronauts in space.

The yearlong stint will allow doctors to assess whether such conditions are aggravated by a long spell in space or whether they reach a point of stasis or even taper off.

As space officials look to longer missions, the International Space Station’s future appears ensured until at least 2024.

Last year, as tensions between Russia and the United States grew amid the dispute over Russia’s role in Ukraine, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin had said Moscow aimed to exit the project in 2020.

But Russian space agency director Igor Komarov told a post-launch news conference in Baikonur that his agency and NASA have agreed to continue using the station until 2024.

In addition, “Roscosmos and NASA will work on a program for a future orbiting station. We will think about discuss joint projects,” he said. Just last month, Roscosmos said it foresaw creating a Russian station for use after 2024.

NASA has never flown anyone longer than seven consecutive months. The Russians hold the world record of 14 months in space, set by Valery Polyakov aboard the former Mir space station in 1994-95. Several other Russians spent between eight and 12 months at Mir. All but one of those long-timers are still alive.

A year in space will carry not only physical challenges, but emotional ones as well.

A day before the launch, Kornienko said he would long for the sights of nature. Even on his mission in 2010, which was half as long, he said he had asked to be sent a calendar with photos of rivers and woods.

Kelly said he thought one of the biggest challenges would be to pace himself mentally so he could remain energetic during the year aboard the laboratory.

But he joked that he wouldn’t miss his sibling.

“I’ve gone longer without seeing him, and it was great,” he said.

by Rick Callahan, AP

A window sticker on a downtown Indianapolis business, Wednesday, March 25, 2015, shows its objection to the Religious Freedom bill passed by the Indiana legislature. Organizers of a major gamers' convention and a large church gathering say they're considering moving events from Indianapolis over a bill that critics say could legalize discrimination against gays. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

A window sticker on a downtown Indianapolis business, Wednesday, March 25, 2015, shows its objection to the Religious Freedom bill passed by the Indiana legislature. Organizers of a major gamers’ convention and a large church gathering say they’re considering moving events from Indianapolis over a bill that critics say could legalize discrimination against gays. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

(Indianapolis) (AP) – Hundreds of people are gathered outside of Indiana Statehouse to rally against the state’s new law that opponents say could sanction discrimination against gay people.

Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill Thursday prohibiting state laws that “substantially burden” a person’s ability to follow his or her religious beliefs. The definition of “person” includes religious institutions, businesses and associations.

The law’s supporters say it will keep the government from compelling people to provide services they find objectionable on religious grounds.

Saturday’s crowd chanted “Pence must go” and held signs reading “I’m pretty sure God doesn’t hate anyone” and “No hate in our state.”

Indiana’s law has been widely criticized by businesses and organizations around the country.

Sixteen states have introduced similar legislation, which is patterned after a federal act.

by Steve Karnowski, AP

(Minneapolis) (AP) – A second Minnesota turkey farm has been struck by a form of bird flu that’s deadly to poultry and will lose 66,000 birds, state and federal officials said Friday.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the virus hit a flock of 22,000 turkeys at a commercial farm in Lac qui Parle County of western Minnesota. It was the state’s second confirmation of the highly pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza strain, which was confirmed at a Pope County turkey farm about three weeks ago.

That was the first detection of H5N2 in the Mississippi Flyway, a major bird migration route, and the same strain also has been confirmed in commercial and backyard flocks in Arkansas, Missouri and Kansas in the past three weeks. The same strain also has turned up in several western states in the Pacific Flyway.

State Veterinarian Bill Hartmann said there’s no apparent connection between the two Minnesota farms, which he said are far apart and owned by different companies. While officials don’t know how either operation became infected, he said they don’t think it spread farm-to-farm.

State Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger said no humans are known to have been infected with H5N2 in the U.S. While people who handle infected birds can be at risk, he said none who had contact with the Pope County turkeys became sick. Ten workers at the Lac qui Parle County farm will be monitored for the next 10 days.

“Our food system is safe, food is safe, and there’s no public health risk,” Ehlinger said.

But state Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson said the new outbreak is another blow to poultry exports from Minnesota, the nation’s top turkey producing state. More than 40 countries banned poultry imports from Minnesota after the first outbreak. Frederickson said Mexico had relaxed its controls in recent days but is now expected to fully re-impose them.

The new outbreak quickly killed all 22,000 of the 12-week-old turkeys in the affected barn, Hartman said. The 44,000 birds in the other two barns on the farm appear healthy but will be killed as a precaution and kept out of the food supply, he said.

Following standard protocols, the farm was quarantined and a surveillance zone was declared for a 10-kilometer radius around the farm. That zone extends into South Dakota, so Minnesota officials are working with their counterparts there on the response, Hartman said. He also said it’s fortunate that there are no other commercial poultry operations within that zone, only backyard flocks.

Scientists consider wild migratory waterfowl to be a natural reservoir for avian influenza. While they don’t generally get sick from flu viruses, they can spread them through their droppings. But there’s disagreement over whether to blame them for the virus’ arrival in Minnesota.

Lou Cornicelli, wildlife research manager for the state Department of Natural Resources, said that there was little open water near the Pope County farm and only a handful of resident wild ducks. He said his researchers took 148 environmental samples but found no H5N2.

“The direct waterfowl link in Minnesota doesn’t add up,” Cornicelli said.

But Hartman wasn’t ready to discount waterfowl as the source.

“What we have agreed on is the source of this is unknown,” he said.

by Summer Ballentine, AP

In this photo made Friday, March 27, 2015, an employee demonstrates for a photograph the pouring of a growler of beer at Schlafly Tap Room in St. Louis. A bill is moving through the Missouri Legislature that would allow the sale of jugs of beer, known as growlers, at convenience and grocery stores.  Currently the jugs, which are usually filled with craft brews so beer lovers can drink the fresh beverages at home, are only found at breweries and some bars. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

In this photo made Friday, March 27, 2015, an employee demonstrates for a photograph the pouring of a growler of beer at Schlafly Tap Room in St. Louis. A bill is moving through the Missouri Legislature that would allow the sale of jugs of beer, known as growlers, at convenience and grocery stores. Currently the jugs, which are usually filled with craft brews so beer lovers can drink the fresh beverages at home, are only found at breweries and some bars. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

(Jefferson City) (AP) – Missouri beer lovers could get their fill of rich milk stouts and hoppy pale ales on draft at convenience and grocery stores under proposals brewing in the state Legislature.

The two measures, one that stalled in the Senate and another that passed the House earlier this month, would allow stores that sell packaged beer to add to their wares growlers – take-home jugs of draft beer. Currently, growlers are only available at breweries and some bars.

The perk, House bill sponsor and home brewer Republican Rep. Robert Cornejo says, is for drinkers who want to enjoy their favorite beer at home instead of journeying to a brewery. Growlers also could give people easier access to special beers that aren’t bottled or canned by smaller brewing operations, he said.

Stores in the 35 states that allow retailers other than breweries or restaurants to sell growlers typically opt for the 64-ounce size, which fills about 4-5 glasses. The Missouri bills would allow growlers up to 128 ounces, though Ronald Leone, the executive director of Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, predicts a “fairly limited” number of convenience stores would take advantage of that option.

Craft beer sales rose roughly 18 percent in 2014 in the U.S., while overall beer sales increased only .5 percent, according to chief economist Bart Watson of the Brewers Association, a Colorado-based trade group that represents most of the nation’s 3,200 breweries.

An alternative to the large-scale brewery that started in St. Louis, craft brews have become increasingly popular and often have unique flavors, from fruits to hot peppers.

“You have considerable interest in both non-American light lager beer styles and the idea of locally brewed beer,” said St. Louis-based Schlafly Beer co-founder Dan Kopman, who also is president of the Missouri Small Brewers Guild. “It’s a significant growth area for the national economy, and that has trickled down to our state.”

Missouri had 49 breweries that produced almost 300,000 barrels of beer a year in 2013.

Similar measures to expand use of growlers in Missouri have failed in past sessions, in part due to quality concerns from brewers. But Cornejo, a Republican from St. Peters, said new regulations on how to clean filling equipment and a requirement that stores only fill growlers as requested have garnered support from some hesitant brewers.

Stu Burkemper, the “chief beer guy” for Columbia’s Rockbridge Brewing Co., also said requiring a tamper-proof seal on the growlers could prevent buyers from drinking them on the way home.

No one spoke against the House measure during a February public hearing, and Cornejo said chances of the bill passing are “better than 50/50″ this year.

(Cape Girardeau) (AP) – Several churches in Missouri have received threatening letters after the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to approve same-sex marriage.

The Southeast Missourian reports that Westminster and First Presbyterian churches in Cape Girardeau and First Presbyterian in Jackson and Perryville received letters warning that any church that accepts same-sex marriage “should be burned to the ground.”

Cpt. Darin Hickey of the Cape Girardeau Police Department said they would increase patrols of any church or major building that could face a threat.

The Rev. Kim L. Nelson, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Cape Girardeau, said that the church’s constitution was changed after much debate throughout the church hierarchy.

“This wasn’t pushed down from above. We have a very representative form of government” in which clergy and lay people have equal representation when voting, Nelson said.

Nelson informed his congregation about the letter, but “did not want to make a big deal about” it.

“I would love — if this person wanted to have a conversation and be reasonable and not threatening — I would love to have a conversation with them,” Nelson said.

The Rev. Grant F.C. Gillard, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, is not making a big deal out of the threat, and will not be taking any extra precautions. However, he will address the letter with his congregation.

The new Presbyterian policy on same-sex marriage will go into effect next June.

The 2015 legislative session has progressed to “Spring Break,” and while the recent change in the weather is very accommodating to leisure, it will be an opportunity for your representative to “catch-up,” mixing work with a number of events and visits with constituents.

After re-reading my last Capitol Report which exclusively discussed the tragic events in/around Tyrone, I wanted to make sure that my comments (regarding the media coverage) were clearly understood. While the urban and national news crews descended on our area (almost instantaneously) to relay the story to their patrons, and in the same fashion as their arrival they left, chasing the next “big” story; while ultimately failing to capture the “complete” story. Credit should be given to our local outlets that detailed the initial events AND reported the story of a community coming together and rallying to support those affected through vigils, donations, prayer, and the “neighbor helping neighbor” way of life which we know as the rule, rather than the exception. Healing will remain a slow process, and we should continue praying for the families, law enforcement, and communities as we move ahead.

Executive Branch “Tantrum” -

At a recent “Listening Post” hosted at Fort Leonard Wood to discuss the proposed reduction of 5400+ personnel, I was joined by commissioners from Pulaski, Phelps, and Texas counties, approximately 70 fellow State Representatives, 23 State Senators, the Secretary of State, Attorney General, Governor Nixon, U.S. Representative Hartzler, U.S. Senators Blunt and McCaskill, and about 2,500 additional members of the community; all of which understand what Fort Leonard Wood means to our area locally and to our country from a national security perspective. This was one of the most impressive displays of broad-based support for any issue facing our state, with excellent points and numerous comparisons to other installations, showing the value at the local, state, and national level for keeping these jobs here at Fort Leonard Wood. At the start of the session, one of the points that I found most interesting was the “why” of these proposed reductions; reportedly as a result of “Sequestration,” (the agreement reached in an effort to reduce the Federal spending/debt, with automatic implementation in the event of inaction) but most notable to me is how/where this Administration is CHOOSING to cut costs. The overwhelming majority (of taxpayers/legislators alike) agree that the path of our Federal spending is on an unsustainable trajectory and should be reined in.

This is where the Executive Branch game (tantrum) begins; rather than identifying areas that are wasteful or are otherwise a poor value to the taxpayer, they propose cuts in areas (such as Fort Leonard Wood) that they are well aware will have very real and rippling affects in our lives and communities; and thus create a public outcry in opposition. Rather than reducing bloated government spending (in the many unwarranted areas that government has decided to involve itself), the only solution they deem reasonable is increasing taxes, which increases the load on an already over-burdened taxpayer. I find this both annoying and insulting, but this sort of a tantrum isn’t limited to the federal level.

Consider the parallel situation that we’re seeing play out in Missouri relative to transportation funding, and the recent “325 System Plan” proposed by MoDOT, with the recent public relations campaign that has ensued (who do you think is “footing the bill” for this also?). While this has been proposed under the guise of “reduced” funding available for transportation, this comes as the direct result of the voters rejecting Amendment #7 last August, which most will remember as the largest tax increase in Missouri history that would have predominantly created a third lane on each side of I-70 from St. Louis to Kansas City, while doing very little (if anything) to address infrastructure needs across out-state Missouri, and more specifically in our area. Regardless of whether it was due to the sheer size of the tax increase, the type of (sales) tax, the way that MoDOT spends its current dollars, or the intention to spend the majority of the money exclusively on I-70; for a variety of reasons, the voters said “NO.” Predictably and as a result, the Executive Branch tantrum has begun. The messaging campaign surrounding the “325 Plan” contains “TOUGH CHOICES” (all caps, for emphasis), bridge closures, and the threat that only 25% of Missouri’s roads will be maintained moving forward; each of which are intended to stir concern and influence public opinion to the point of finding the next proposal (tax increase) acceptable. While “Multimodal” spending represents a significant amount of their annual budget (bicycle signs, bicycle lanes/trails, sidewalks, light rail, etc.), there has been no interest or movement to reduce spending in these areas or to shift that funding to the focus of their 325 campaign (roads and bridges). What about the millions of taxpayer dollars that have been spent on “Habitat Mitigation Credits” (similar to and a derivative of “cap and trade”; a focus of my HB955, to be discussed in an upcoming report) or the lobbying/liaison staff funded with your tax dollars (who incidentally also advocate for more of those dollars)? The point is, rather than develop a reasonable plan by redirecting funding away from the numerous initiatives that aren’t a priority or benefit for most taxpayers, the false choice is provided – “more money, or else.”

In fairness, this situation hasn’t been created by our local MoDOT workers, the taxpayer, or the legislature. Previous MoDOT Directors/administrations/commissioners have essentially “borrowed [bonded]” the agency into this position (with the notes now becoming due), and the current administration should shoulder the responsibility for its “or else” tantrum response.

Budgets are a matter of priorities, with transportation and public defense being core governmental functions (that the majority want adequately funded). While it doesn’t seem to bother the Executive Branch (state or federal) to ask for more of your hard-earned dollars, at the very least they should be forthright on where our dollars are currently spent, (without tantrum style, “the sky is falling” messaging) which often doesn’t coincide with the service they are threatening to reduce/eliminate.

This Week at the Capitol — Spring as sprung!  The daffodils and tulip trees are blooming around the Capitol.  The Missouri House is on its annual Spring Break this week as members have returned home to their districts for a few days to reconnect with their constituents and recharge their batteries for the final weeks of session. The House had an incredibly busy first half of the legislative session as members approved more than 90 bills that now await approval in the Senate.

Combating Human Trafficking — Action has been taken to address a gap in current law that allows dangerous sex traffickers to advertise in the state without fear of criminal charges. HB 152 passed by the House would add the advertising of sexual acts with a minor to Missouri’s existing law against sex trafficking.  Modeled after the congressional SAVE Act, this bill would give law enforcement and prosecutors a powerful tool to target and shut down trafficking websites and protect innocent children from harm.

Childproof Packaging for Liquid Nicotine in e-cigarettes — HB 531 would require that the refillable containers for liquid nicotine be sold in child-safe packaging as dangerous “liquid nicotine” is being used in e-cigarettes.  The sponsor of the bill pointed to cases where a child has died from accidentally ingesting the dangerous liquids since they are often flavored as candy or fruit.  By putting new safety standards in place, the members of the House hope to prevent such a tragedy from occurring in Missouri.

Amber Alert System Improvements — HB 635 would improve the state’s Amber Alert System that is used when a child goes missing.  The bill would improve the integration of the Amber Alert System with the MO Uniform Law Enforcement System so that the process is more streamlined and can be more quickly announced. Following the death of a missing child in Springfield, it became increasingly apparent a decreased amount of time was needed in order to help prevent something similar from happening to other innocent young people in our state.  Known as “Hailey’s Law,” it is in memoriam of 10-year old Hailey Owens who was abducted while walking home from a friend’s house in February of last year.

As always, it is an honor to serve the good folks of the 153rd District. If you would like to discuss any issue, please call 573-751-1066 or you can e-mail me at steve.cookson@house.mo.gov .

(West Plains) – A meeting concerning a proposed tax increase to pay for a high school facility in the Richards School District will be held in West Plains on Monday.

Pete Waddell, who is with the group “Patrons for Real Choice”, which is campaigning against the tax levy increase, spoke with Ozark Radio News and told us that people on both sides of the issue are welcome to speak:

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The April 7 ballot initiative proposes to increase the property tax levy in the Richards District by 68 cents per $100 of assessed valuation for 20 years to pay for the construction of a high school facility across the street from the current school. The district says the levy will pay for the construction of the building, while the money saved on tuition costs for students going to other area high schools will help pay for new teachers and upkeep at the facility.

Those against the measure cite funding and taxation concerns with the proposed project, and say the proposal, if approved, will remove the freedom that Richards patrons currently have in sending their child to an area high school, such as West Plains, Willow Springs or Dora. Currently, Missouri law allows people living in a school district that does not have a high school to send their child to a nearby high school facility, with that student receiving an education via tuition paid by the home school district.

More information on the proposal can be found at www.westplainsnorthhigh.com. You can also visit www.patronsforrealchoice.com for more information on the group against the proposal.