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Legislature Listens to Governor’s Budget Proposal

In recent years the governor has used his State of the State address to outline proposed spending plans that were simply unrealistic, if not impossible. Time and time again he has asked for spending that far exceeds our revenues, and each time the legislature has done the fiscally responsible thing by scaling back his proposals to craft a realistic, balanced budget.

The members of the House and Senate expected more of the same this year as the governor delivered his speech Wednesday night. Instead, we were pleasantly surprised as the governor outlined what many are calling a “modest” budget. I say modest because it contains only a handful of spending increases to the state budget that already exceeds $26 billion. It is a proposal that will give the legislature something to work with as we prepare the Fiscal Year 2016 spending plan in the months to come.

Some of the funding increases proposed by the governor include:

•             An additional $50 million in funding for our public K-12 schools throughout the state;

•             Another $5 million for the state’s Early Childhood Special Education program;

•             A $2 million increase for Project Lead the Way, which will be used to promote science, technology, engineering and math learning in an additional 350 elementary schools:

•             An increase of $12 million in performance-based funding for Missouri’s public colleges and universities;

•             A bump of $2 million for the Access Missouri Scholarship program and the A+ Scholarship program;

•             An increase of $2.4 million for blind pension payments

As you can see, he has prioritized education and aid to some of our state’s most vulnerable citizens. These are priorities that are shared by those of us in the legislature, which signals what I hope will be a more cooperative budget process going forward. I will do my best to keep you updated as the budget moves through the legislative process in the months ahead.

Governor Violates the Spirit of the Missouri Constitution

While my colleagues and I were mostly pleased with what we heard from the governor this week, we were not as happy to see him resort to some of his old tricks as he called for additional state spending outside his proposed budget. This may seem like an odd move to many, but it makes more sense when you realize it’s his attempt to operate around our constitution, and specifically the new provisions added by the recently-approved Amendment 10.

It was just a few months ago that voters came together to approve this change to our constitution that does two extremely important things. First, it allows the legislature to vote to force the governor to release funds he has withheld. This is an extremely important change that was necessary because the governor has a track record of restricting funds to vital programs like education even when the state has the money necessary to pay for them. Second, the change to the constitution prohibits the governor from basing his budget on legislation that has yet to pass the legislature.

It’s the second provision that the governor tried to work around this week as he proposed an additional $178 million in spending based on three different pieces of legislation passing. He did this not in his budget, but instead by a separate proclamation – which he believes is not a violation of Amendment 10. My colleagues and I in the legislature would argue differently as it is clear that he means for this additional spending to be part of his budget even if it isn’t contained in the budget itself.

The three pieces of legislation the governor has asked us to pass include Medicaid expansion, tax amnesty and reforms that will increase the collection of already-owed taxes.  The bulk of the additional funding would be generated by Medicaid expansion, which this legislative body has repeatedly said will be a non-starter unless any package discussed includes much-needed reforms to this broken system. Tax amnesty has also been considered by this legislature in the past, and actually passed and then vetoed by the governor. Bottom line, the governor’s additional spending requests outside of the budget are based on legislation that has very little chance of making it through the process.

House Speaker Diehl Outlines Legislative Priorities for 2015

Following the governor’s address, House Speaker John J. Diehl, Jr. provided his own vision for the direction our state should take in the months ahead. In his speech, the Speaker talked about the legislature working to keep government out of the way and out of the lives of Missourians so that they can achieve success and prosperity through their own hard work. As the Speaker said, “Each decision we make will emphasize the fact we believe government is at its best when it levels the playing field and then stays out of the way so individuals and businesses can grow and prosper through hard work and initiative.”

In regard to specific policy items, the Speaker laid out a few issue areas he wants us to focus on this year. These include:

•             Passing legislation to provide immediate options to the 62,000 Missouri children trapped in failing school districts. The Speaker said, “We must further expand their educational opportunities by providing more choice in the form of additional charter schools and we must take advantage of the technologies of the 21st century by providing virtual schools that will give our young people another vital option to obtain a quality education.”

•             Approving reforms to our system of welfare so that it works as intended to keep people out of permanent poverty by putting them on the path toward stable employment in a job with family-supporting wages and benefits. Missouri currently ranks dead last among states when it comes to the number of welfare recipients who are on the path to stable employment. The Speaker wants us to work this year to change that disappointing number.

•             Focusing our efforts on the things we can do as a legislature to support and encourage entrepreneurship and investment in our small businesses so that they can grow and prosper. As Diehl said, “I’m a firm believer that government’s role isn’t to produce economic development but it is our duty to create the kind of level playing field that will allow employers and workers to succeed if they work hard enough”

•             Taking steps as a state to strike that balance that protect the rights of the individual without creating an environment that forces job creators and professionals to flee the state for a friendlier environment. Diehl noted that, “Missouri has labor policies, which more closely resemble the failed and antiquated economic models of the rustbelt. We must reform our systems to allow more freedom for workers and provide a more favorable environment for new, high-tech manufacturing.” He also pointed out that, “many of our neighboring states have fewer and more streamlined regulations. Moving forward, we must go down a path that keeps government out of the way of innovators and entrepreneurs and stresses the importance of allowing businesses to do what they do best, create jobs and produce economic prosperity.”

These are just a few of the issues the Speaker has asked us to consider and discuss this session. I look forward to working with him and my colleagues to find ways to make government smaller and more efficient while also developing policy solutions that will position Missourians for success through hard work and determination. As the Speaker said in his speech, “That means investing in families and young people rather than an ever-growing bureaucracy. It means empowering businesses and workers rather than government. And it means empowering people, not politicians.”

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 .

On Wednesday, the Missouri House of Representatives and Senate met in a joint session to receive the governor’s annual state of the state address. Each year, pursuant to the Missouri Constitution, the governor addresses the Legislature, mapping out his vision for the state’s future year.

While my colleagues and I were pleased with some of what we heard from the governor this week, we were not happy to see him resort to some of his old tricks as he called for additional state spending outside his proposed budget. This may seem like an odd move, but it makes more sense when you realize it is his attempt to operate around our constitution, and specifically the new provisions added by the recently-approved Amendment 10.

One of the provisions passed by the voters in Amendment 10 prohibits the governor from basing his budget on legislation that has yet to pass the legislature. The governor tried to work around this provision by proposing an additional $178 million in spending in a separate proclamation from his FY 2016 budget. This additional spending comes from money that would be made available only if additional legislation were passed by the Legislature.

The governor believes this is not a violation of Amendment 10. My colleagues and I in the Legislature would argue differently as it is clear that he means for this additional spending to be part of his budget even if it isn’t contained in the budget itself.

In addition to the governor’s state of the state, the Missouri House also took steps to keep the budget in check by refusing pay raises.

for Missouri elected officials. By a vote of 133-15 the House passed HCR 4 & 3. This piece of legislation disapproves the salary recommendations for elected officials by the Missouri Citizens’ Commission on Compensation for Elected Officials.

For those who don’t know, the Citizens’ Commission on Compensation for Elected Officials meets every two years, per our state constitution, to set the compensation for state officials. Once the commission makes its recommendation, it automatically goes into effect unless the Legislature rejects the proposal by February 1. It takes a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate to keep the increases from going into effect.

Because we firmly believe it is not appropriate to put more of your tax dollars in the pockets of elected officials, we have organized quickly this session to make one of our first actions on the floor. HCR 4 & 3 now move to the Senate where we expect our colleagues there to follow our lead by resoundingly approving them and saying no to more pay for elected officials.

Next week promises to be a busy week in the Missouri House. Committees have started to meet and discuss legislation which will soon make its way to the House floor for debate. As always, it is an honor to be your voice in the Missouri House.

(Bunker) (AP) – The Mine Safety and Health Administration is investigating the death of a miner in eastern Missouri.

The federal agency said Thursday that a 54-year-old worker died at the Fletcher Mine and Mill, a lead and zinc ore mine near Bunker in Reynolds County.

The mine is operated by the Doe Run Co., which identified the worker as John Hoodenpyle Sr. Company spokeswoman Tammy Stankey says the miner died after rocks fell on the cab of his equipment as he was removing loose material from the roof of the mine. No other employees were injured.

Stankey said the company was “saddened by the tragic loss.” The company says underground operations at the mine will remain suspended until the Mine Safety and Health Administration signs off on work resuming.

Outgoing chamber chair Joann Strosnider, right, with incoming chair Ron Grennan (ORN)

Outgoing chamber chair Joann Strosnider, right, with incoming chair Ron Grennan (ORN)

(West Plains) – The Greater West Plains Area Chamber of Commerce held their annual banquet and awards ceremony on Thursday at the West Plains Civic Center Exhibit Hall.

Outgoing chamber chairman Joann Strosnider was recognized for her leadership in the past year, and Ron Grennan was recognized as the incoming chairman.

Perennial Energy was named the Chamber Business of the Year. Perennial Energy is a design and manufacturing company specializing in biogas processing systems and equipment. The company began in West Plains in the 1970′s, and now have 11 projects in seven countries around the world.

The Lifetime Achievement Award was given to West Plains Mayor Jack Pahlmann, who has served the city since arriving in West Plains in 1976. Prior to being mayor, Pahlmann was elected to the city council in 2000. He is also a supporter of a wide variety of groups, including the West Plains Optimist Club, Rotary, Elks, the United Way, and others. Pahlmann also helped coordinate the city’s Veterans Committee.

West Plains Mayor Jack Pahlmann, left, with his Lifetime Achievement award. At right is presenter Josh Cotter. (ORN)

West Plains Mayor Jack Pahlmann, left, with his Lifetime Achievement award. At right is presenter Josh Cotter. (ORN)

The South Central Child Advocacy Center was named the Civic Group of the Year. The center services Douglas, Howell, Oregon, Ozark, Texas, Wright and a portion of Shannon counties and helps law enforcement investigate abuse and neglect, and creates an enviroment that helps children open up and discuss painful abusive situations, and provides basic medical services. The center sees an average of 25 children each month.

Also honored this year was Kelly Dame, who was named Educator of the Year. Dame has worked in the West Plains School District for almost 43 years, turning the West Plains Choir into a world-renouned and recognized institution.

A special category this year was the Special Chairman’s Award, which was last given in 2011, and is occasionally given to recognize a group that doesn’t fit into a traditional category, but has greatly served the community in the past year. Ozark Action received the award for their assistance in the community, serving over 4000 individuals through programs like Head Start, energy assistance, weatherization services, rent assistance, educational and workforce skills for teens and adults, and more.

Sheri Joliff was named the Citizen of the Year. With her is incoming chamber chair Ron Grennan. (ORN)

Sherri Joliff was named the Citizen of the Year. With her is incoming chamber chair Ron Grennan. (ORN)

The Customer Service Award, which recognizes outstanding business etiquette and customer service, went to Westlake ACE Hardware.

David Gohn was recognized as the Humanitarian of the Year. Gohn has chaired a number of civic groups in West Plains including the Industrial Development Corporation and the Rotary Club, and worked to get other operations, such as the Samaritan Outreach Center and the West Plains Christian Clinic, up and running. Gohn is also a staunch supporter of the West Plains School District and MSU-West Plains.

Also honored at the event was Deanna McNew, who was named the Volunteer of the Year for her commitment to the West Plains Chamber of Commerce.

The 2014 Citizen of the Year is Sherri Joliff, who helps volunteer at a number of locations including the Boys and Girls Club and the Salvation Army, as well as the Ozarks Food Harvest Mobile Food Pantry.

Perennial Energy was named the Business of the Year. (ORN Photo)

Perennial Energy was named the Business of the Year. (ORN Photo)

Ozark Action was given the Special Chairman's Award for their work in the community in 2014. (ORN)

Ozark Action was given the Special Chairman’s Award for their work in the community in 2014. (ORN)

David Gohn was named the Volunteer of the Year. His son, David M. Gohn, accepted on his father's behalf from presenter Ken Joplin. (ORN)

David Gohn was named the Volunteer of the Year. His son, David M. Gohn, accepted on his father’s behalf from presenter Ken Joplin. (ORN)

The South Central Child Advocacy Center was named the Civic Group of the Year. (ORN)

The South Central Child Advocacy Center was named the Civic Group of the Year. (ORN)

Volunteer of the Year Deanna McNew with 2013 Volunteer of the Year Jack Bates. (ORN)

Volunteer of the Year Deanna McNew with 2013 Volunteer of the Year Jack Bates. (ORN)

Educator of the Year Kelly Dame with school district superintendent Dr. John Mulford. (ORN)

Educator of the Year Kelly Dame with school district superintendent Dr. John Mulford. (ORN)

(West Plains) – The West Plains School Board has voted unanimously to extend the contract of superintendent Dr. John Mulford through June 2018.

This decision came as part of the West Plains School Board’s annual review of the superintendent, and was announced Thursday. Dr. Mulford is completing his second year as superintendent and has received high praise from the school board regarding his contribution to the district and the community. Currently, the district is conducting a survey of residents to find out their priorities and hopes for the school district in the future.

2,500 students attend schools in the West Plains School District. More information about the district and its individual schools can be found at www.zizzers.org.

(ORN Photo)

(ORN Photo)

(West Plains) – A fire inside of a control room at Ozarks Medical Center in West Plains forced the evacuation of the hospital’s new emergency department on Thursday.

Public relations coordinator Shandi Brinkman told Ozark Radio News that the fire, which occurred around 3 PM Thursday, was located inside of a computer room near the emergency department, but outside of the main hospital building. A power supply unit is blamed for the fire, however the exact cause is unknown. Brinkman added that beyond that, there is no major damage to the building or any departments, and no injuries occurred.

The fire was contained shortly afterward by the West Plains Fire Department, however, the emergency department was evacuated due to smoke. Patients in the ED were taken to the outpatient surgery area, while non-emergencies were taken to the OMC Urgent Care Clinic.

At this time, there is no word on the final cost of the damage.

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(provided)

(West Plains) – An administrative assistant at Landmark Bank in West Plains has claimed a $100,000 prize she won on a Missouri Lottery scratch-off ticket.

32-year-old Maylee Maffei purchased the $5 “$100,000 Safe Cracker” ticket at the Casey’s General Store on Gibson Ave in West Plains.

She says plans for the money include paying off student loans, getting out of debt, and starting a college fund for her kids.

She also plans to “pay it forward” by donating some of the money to charity.

(Mountain View) – The city of Mountain View will begin removing brush and tree limbs for residents this coming Monday.

Residents are urged to have all brush and tree limbs placed parallel to the curb before 8 AM on Monday, January 26. Limbs and brush should be no longer than 4 feet in length, and must be free of trash and debris. The street department will begin removal on one side of town until all brush and limbs are picked up. There is a limit of one load per household. For each additional load, the resident must pay a $50 fee at city hall before removal.

For more information, call Mountain View City Hall at 417-934-2601.

(West Plains) – To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the Annual West Plains Public Library Foundation Chili Cook-Off is offering special musical entertainment to go along with its chili competition on Saturday, January 31, from 4-7 PM at the West Plains Civic Center.

This year’s event will feature entertainment by The Mojo Kings. Tickets are $5 in advance or $7 at the door. Advance tickets may be purchased at the West Plains Public Library or from a Library Foundation Board member.

Sponsors for this year’s Chili Cook Off are the Ozark Radio Network, Great Rivers Distributing, Burton Creek Medical Complex, West Plains Bank & Trust Co., Ozarks Medical Center, Legacy Wood Products, Community First Banking Co., Paul Kimberling and Mark Lewis of Edward Jones, and Caterpillar, Inc.

(West Plains) – West Plains City Clerk Mallory Hawkins says that the city is attempting to address a minor problem, and she urges people to make sure their homes are easily identifiable:

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For more information, contact West Plains City Hall at 417-256-7176.