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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.

(Little Rock) (AP) – Legislation detailing the nearly $5.2 billion budget for the coming year calls for boosting money for Arkansas schools, prisons and Medicaid while setting aside $4.3 million for a rainy day fund.

House and Senate leaders on Friday released the proposed Revenue Stabilization Act, the state budget bill that prioritizes spending based on expected revenue. A joint committee is expected to take up the measure next week as lawmakers near the end of this year’s session.

The proposal calls for a 1 percent funding cut to most other state agencies, while keeping higher education funding flat.

Legislative leaders say the proposal calls for cutting library, aging and community health center grants to pay for a proposal to restore a capital gains tax break that was scaled back earlier this year.

by Andrew DeMillo, AP

(Little Rock) (AP) – The Arkansas Senate has passed a bill aimed at preventing the government from infringing upon someone’s religious beliefs, a measure that critics say would be a blank check for businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

The bill approved by the Senate on a 24-7 vote Friday prohibits state and local government action that would substantially burden someone’s religious beliefs unless a “compelling” interest is proven. The measure heads for a final vote in the House, which approved an initial version of the bill.

Supporters of the bill say it merely mirrors a similar federal protection in place for more than 20 years, but opponents say it amounts to state-sanctioned discrimination on religious grounds.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he’ll sign the measure if it reaches his desk.

by David A. Lieb, AP

FILE - In this file campaign photo provided by Husch Blackwell LLP is Catherine Hanaway. Hanaway resumed her gubernatorial campaign Friday, March 27, 2015 after taking a monthlong hiatus because of the suicide of Republican rival Tom Schweich. She pledged that her consultants would no longer be involved in the type of negative attacks that had targeted Schweich. (AP Photo/Husch Blackwell LLP, File)

FILE – In this file campaign photo provided by Husch Blackwell LLP is Catherine Hanaway. Hanaway resumed her gubernatorial campaign Friday, March 27, 2015 after taking a monthlong hiatus because of the suicide of Republican rival Tom Schweich. She pledged that her consultants would no longer be involved in the type of negative attacks that had targeted Schweich. (AP Photo/Husch Blackwell LLP, File)

(Jefferson City) (AP) – Missouri gubernatorial candidate Catherine Hanaway resumed her campaign Friday after taking a monthlong hiatus because of the suicide of Republican rival Tom Schweich, and she pledged that her consultants would no longer be involved in the type of negative attacks that had targeted Schweich.

Hanaway suspended her campaign after Schweich fatally shot himself Feb. 26. She canceled three fundraisers and various speeches that had been scheduled at local Republican events.

But Hanaway re-engaged Friday, meeting with supporters in Springfield before she was to speak at a Republican Party event in Taney County, home of the country tourist destination of Branson. She also was to speak at Republican events this weekend in McDonald and Webster counties in southwest Missouri.

“There’s not ever going to be a time when we don’t remember and honor Tom’s service to the state, but the election is growing nearer every day and it’s time to get back out on the trail,” Hanaway told The Associated Press.

Schweich’s suicide, which occurred just a month after he entered the governor’s race, has rocked Missouri’s Republican Party as it prepares for an important 2016 election featuring races for president, Senate and governor.

Former Republican U.S. Sen. John Danforth, an Episcopal priest who was Schweich’s friend and political mentor, suggested during his funeral eulogy that Schweich had been driven to suicide by political bullying and a perceived anti-Semitic whispering campaign against him.

Just days before his death, Schweich was targeted by a radio ad that mocked his physical appearance and suggested he was a pawn of Democrats who would “quickly squash him like the little bug that he is” in a general election.

The ad was paid for by Citizens for Fairness in Missouri, an independent political action committee that had shared the same treasurer as Hanaway’s campaign and had ties to Axiom Strategies, a Kansas City consulting firm that is helping to run Hanaway’s campaign.

Hanaway said Friday that she didn’t know about the ad before it ran and that she wouldn’t have approved it. She said she spoke with Axiom’s founder, Jeff Roe, who has agreed not to engage in any independent efforts to influence the governor’s race.

“This is going to be a campaign about the positive vision for Missouri,” Hanaway said. “I’ve made it clear to everyone involved with the campaign … if I’m paying you, whether as a consultant or as an employee, we’re only going to have one entity putting messages out there. There aren’t going to be third-party committees that you’re involved with.”

Axiom Strategies Vice President Travis Smith confirmed Friday that an Axiom-owned affiliate produced the ad targeting Schweich. He said Axiom will continue to work as a consultant for Hanaway, adding that she “made it crystal clear that we are to have no involvement with any other committee that participates in the gubernatorial campaign.”

Smith said Axiom also had paid Republican consultant John Hancock to conduct opposition research on behalf of Hanaway against likely Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Attorney General Chris Koster. Hancock said he did the work in 2013, before Hanaway officially entered the race and long before Hancock was elected Missouri Republican Party chairman on Feb. 21.

Just minutes before his death, Schweich told an AP reporter that he wanted to go public with allegations that Hancock had told Republican donors last year that Schweich was Jewish. Schweich, who was Christian but had Jewish ancestry, said he believed the comments were part of an anti-Semitic whispering campaign against him.

Only one Republican donor has publicly come forward to say he heard Hancock say such a thing, and that it was during a meeting last September. Hancock has said he has no specific recollection of making such remarks but it’s possible, because he mistakenly believed Schweich was Jewish until Schweich told him otherwise in November.

(Little Rock) (AP) – The Arkansas House has advanced a bill to allow the entertainment restaurant Dave & Buster’s to move to the state where it began.

Lawmakers voted 73-0 Friday to change the way the state regulates coin-operated games. Arkansas currently restricts the value of prizes in single-play games to $5 or less. In games where players can accumulate multiple winning tickets, the prize value is restricted to $12.50.

The restaurant chain has prizes valued at around $500.

Dave & Buster’s founders met in the 1970s while operating separate businesses in Little Rock. Sponsor Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson says the restaurant would be located near a Bass Pro Shop in southwest Little Rock.

No one spoke against the bill, which now heads to the Senate.

(Little Rock) (AP) – Arkansas has cleared the way for Republican U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton to run for re-election and president in five years, even though the freshman senator hasn’t expressed any interest in a White House bid.

A spokesman said Friday Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law legislation that would allow U.S. Senate and congressional candidates to simultaneously run for president or vice president. Republican Bart Hester, who proposed the law change, has said he introduced it with Cotton in mind.

Cotton was elected to the Senate last year and would be up for re-election in 2020. He hasn’t even floated the possibility of running for president and hasn’t commented on the proposal.

The proposal follows efforts in Kentucky to allow U.S. Sen. Rand Paul to run for re-election and president next year.

(Ferguson) (AP) – Ferguson residents who met with a panel of Justice Department officials and investigators have given mixed reviews to the DOJ report critical of the town’s police department and municipal court.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that more than 200 people attended the meeting Thursdsay night. It was not open to the media.

Some assailed the Justice Department, saying the federal government and the media had tarnished Ferguson’s reputation across the world. Others lauded the report for pointing out flaws that can now be corrected.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss what next steps should be taken to correct problems cited by the report released earlier this month. The report found widespread racial bias and profiling in the police department, and a profit-driven municipal court system.

Eric (ORN)

Eric Scott speaking during the Monday event. (ORN)

(Willow Springs) – Two candidates are running for the Ward I alderman position in the city of Willow Springs this year, and both spoke at the candidate forum held at the Willow Springs Senior Center this past Monday on a variety of topics.

Challenger Eric Scott opened his time speaking by being honest and communicating with voters, saying that it’s something that is needed in city government:

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Incumbent alderman and former school district superintendent Bill Myers also spoke on a number of topics, including economic growth and creating reasons for people to work and live in Willow Springs:

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Bill Myers (ORN)

Bill Myers (ORN)

One of the topics addressed by all of the candidates was city beautification and the removal of junk and trash on problem properties in the city. Myers says that beautification starts as a point of pride, and he hopes to help improve that in city residents:

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The winner of the Ward I position will serve a two-year term.

Also running for a two-year term in Ward II is Danny Bradley, who is unopposed in the April election. He was not at the candidate forum on Monday.

(Jefferson City) (AP) – Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is touting the state’s central location and AAA credit rating during a trade mission to Italy, Germany and Spain.

Nixon said during a call Wednesday from Munich he hopes the trip will help persuade greater investment from German automobile manufacturers, such as BMW.

The Missouri entourage includes Republican House Speaker John Diehl and Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, as well as Democratic lawmakers and economic development leaders.

The group has met with Italian cement producer Buzzi Unicem and the German chemical company BASF, among others. Both have Missouri plants.

Travel expenses were paid for by the Hawthorn Foundation, a nonprofit economic development group.

The trip follows a trade mission led by First Lady Georganne Nixon earlier this month to Cuba to promote Missouri agriculture.