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(Little Rock) (AP) – Lawmakers have advanced Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s plan to continue Arkansas’ compromise Medicaid expansion through 2016, rejecting an effort to abolish the program later this year.

The Senate Public Health Committee on Wednesday endorsed legislation that would create a task force to look at alternatives to the “private option” as well as longer-term Medicaid reforms.

The Joint Budget Committee also advanced a funding bill that will reauthorize the program for another year.

Under the private option, Arkansas is using federal funds to purchase private insurance for the poor. Hutchinson, a Republican, proposed the task force last week as he called on lawmakers to continue the program.

The committee rejected on a 3-3 vote a competing proposal calling for an end to the private option on Dec. 31.

(Van Buren) – Former Riverways Chief Ranger Larry Johnson has been selected to serve as the Acting Superintendent at Ozark National Scenic Riverways, following the retirement of Bill Black on January 3.

Johnson is a 32-year veteran of the National Park Service (NPS) and has served as Superintendent of Jewel Cave National Monument in South Dakota since July, 2010. He recently completed a 14-month detail to Badlands National Park as Deputy Superintendent. He has also previously been District Ranger and SCUBA Diving Officer at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, where he earned the Midwest Region’s Safety Achievement Award. As a Sub-District Ranger at Yellowstone National Park he was commended for helping to save four lives in a boating accident on Lewis Lake. While District Ranger and park pilot trainee at Voyageurs National Park, he was honored with the Midwest Region’s Harry Yount Award for excellence as a park ranger.

He then moved into management, with Chief Ranger positions at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Ozark National Scenic Riverways, and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. He also served a brief Chief Ranger detail at Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (the St. Louis Arch) and a six-month detail to Badlands as Deputy Superintendent.

Johnson returned to the Riverways on January 16 and will serve as the Acting Superintendent for up to 120 days, while a new permanent superintendent is sought.

Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich announces his candidacy for governor Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015, in St. Louis. The announcement sets up a potential high-profile Republican primary next year against former Missouri House Speaker and U.S. attorney Catherine Hanaway. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich announces his candidacy for governor Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015, in St. Louis. The announcement sets up a potential high-profile Republican primary next year against former Missouri House Speaker and U.S. attorney Catherine Hanaway. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

(St. Louis) (AP) – Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich launched his gubernatorial campaign aggressively Wednesday, accusing his Republican primary rival of being “bought and paid for” by a wealthy donor and questioning the ethics of his potential Democratic opponent.

Schweich’s long-expected entrance into the 2016 governor’s race came in a speech at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where he denounced “rampant corruption” at the Capitol and laid out an agenda for new ethics laws, “responsible tax cuts” and incentives for the consolidation of public school districts.

Much of Schweich’s criticism was targeted at Republican Catherine Hanaway, a former Missouri House speaker and U.S. attorney who declared her candidacy a year ago. But Schweich also poked at Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster, who has been campaigning for governor for nearly two years.

The governor’s office will be open because Democratic incumbent Jay Nixon is prohibited by term limits from seeking re-election.

Schweich, 54, of Clayton, has served as auditor since 2011 and was elected to another four-year term last November. He can run for governor without giving up his current job.

Rep. Shawn Rhoads

Rep. Shawn Rhoads

(Jefferson City) – 154th District State Representative Shawn Rhoads (R-West Plains) spoke with Ozark Radio News and said that he is hoping to work on bringing jobs to West Plains and Willow Springs this coming session:

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Thursday is the 12th day of the 2015 session in the Missouri House.

Officer Pearson

Officer Aaron Pearson

(Springfield) (AP) – An officer who was shot while on the job earlier this week has “career-ending injuries,” the Springfield police chief said.

Chief Paul Williams said in a statement Wednesday that Officer Aaron Pearson’s injuries included ones to his brain that will require long-term rehabilitation and care.

Joshua Lee Hagood, 32, was charged Wednesday with first-degree assault on a law enforcement officer, armed criminal action and unlawful possession of a firearm in connection with the shooting, the Springfield News-Leader.

He’s accused of shooting Pearson with a stolen gun early Monday and is being held in the Greene County Jail without bond. It wasn’t immediately clear whether he had an attorney.

(West Plains) – The Howell Valley R-1 Board of Education will hold a special meeting Friday, January 30 in the Title I classroom starting at noon.

The meeting will be on the topic of bids for internet firewall and wifi services.

No other items are on the agenda.

(Jefferson City) – Missouri senators debated the first measure of the 2015 legislative session when they discussed Senate Bill 12 on Monday. The bill would modify provisions relating to agriculture. Senator Brian Munzlinger (R-Williamstown) sponsors the measure and told his colleagues the proposal is nearly identical to a bill lawmakers passed last year:

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During debate, Sen. Jill Schupp (D-Creve Coeur) tells the sponsor she has some concerns about his legislation. Senate Bill 12 has received preliminary approval from Missouri senators and still needs another vote before it could move to the Missouri House of Representatives for similar consideration:

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On Tuesday the Missouri Senate Seniors, Families and Children Committee heard Senate Bill 82. Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal (D-University City) sponsors the measure, which would require long-term care facilities to be encouraged to institute policies facilitating familial involvement in the well-being and support of its residents:

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Senator David Sater (R-Cassville) is the committee chair. He tells the sponsor, as a pharmacist, he supports the proposal. Senate Bill 82 awaits final committee action:

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This is the second week of the 2015 session in Missouri.

(Jefferson City) (AP) – The Missouri House is putting an end to committee meetings at country clubs and restaurants.

House Speaker John Diehl said Wednesday that, effective immediately, all House committee meetings will be held at the Capitol.

That decision comes a day after the House Telecommunications Committee held a meeting at the Jefferson City Country Club, where lawmakers heard a presentation and ate a meal provided by the Missouri Telecommunications Industry Association.

A similar meeting of the House Utility Infrastructure Committee was scheduled for Wednesday evening at the country club.

But Diehl, a Republican, said that meeting would instead be held at the Capitol, without a lobbyist-supplied meal.

Minority Leader Jacob Hummel says that’s a good first step, and that Democrats support a bill that would ban such off-site meetings during the session.

(Little Rock) (AP) – A bid to end Arkansas’ practice of commemorating Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. on the same day has failed.

The House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday rejected the proposal, which would have removed Lee from the state holiday honoring King. The proposal failed on a voice vote.

Arkansas is one of three states to jointly celebrate the two on the third Monday in January.

The proposal called for designating Nov. 30 as “Patrick Cleburne – Robert E. Lee Southern Heritage Day,” a state memorial day but not a legal holiday. It would have repealed a state law declaring June 3 as a state memorial day in honor of former Confederacy President Jefferson Davis’ birthday.

(Willow Springs) – City officials in Willow Springs have decided to not fix the coin-operated water dispenser.

City Administrator Bob Pollard told the council at their January 21 meeting that the dispenser has been out of service for about seven months now, and that it would cost anywhere from $3500 to $5500 to repair the machine, and roughly $1000 to fix the wall.

Pollard stated that since the dispenser has been down for so long most of the customers have since started using the rural water dispenser, which is operational throughout the week. He also let council know that the dispenser took in about $1,000 annually but was costing more in repairs, and was in constant need of repair.