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Legislation That Matters

Even though it seems to have just started, session is nearly half over and there is still much work to be done.

Now that Senate Bill 460 has been second read, it was referred to the Governmental Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee which I chair.

Senate Bill 460, sponsored by Sen. Ryan Slivey, R-Kansas City, would bar the executive branch from issuing any new or existing bonds without approval of the Missouri Legislature or voters. Senate Bill 460 is aimed at reinforcing an important check on the executive branch’s funding authority.

This legislation was created for one main reason. The governor’s office put together a $1 billion stadium project in a bid to keep the St. Louis Rams from leaving the city; taxpayers would be responsible for about $400 million. When lawmakers voiced their concerns about the proposal, the executive branch announced it does not need legislative or public approval to issue bonds, based on an interpretation of a more than 20-year-old statute.

In the troubling economic times our state and the entire nation is facing, I am dismayed at the governor’s remarks and look forward to hearing this bill in committee and getting it moved farther along in the legislative process. This legislation is vital in ensuring our executive branch cannot and will not be able to make large financial decisions without the input from or consideration for the entire state.

This is not about professional sports teams and whether they should reside or remain in our state. Senator Silvey has impressed upon me that this legislation is about firmly establishing in law that the executive branch does not have the authority to put our state in debt without legislative or public approval. I agree with him. It is critical we immediately stop what could set a very dangerous precedent in this state.

Senate Bill 460 would confirm, by law, that the executive branch does not have the authority to extend existing bonds or issue new bonds, including bonds for the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority, without legislative or voter approval.

I am also interested in watching the progression of Senate Bill 110, which prohibits any member of the University of Missouri Board of Curators from voting to appoint, to hire, or employ in any way in any position in the university, any person who appointed him or her to the board. Any such vote taken by a curator will be null and void. Any curator who violates this prohibition will immediately forfeit their position. This legislation has already been heard in the House, and I am confident it will be passed this session.

As the weather begins to warm and you make your way to Jefferson City, be sure to stop by and say hello.

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.

Feb. 26, 2015

This Week at the Capitol

We already find ourselves in the last week of February! Spring is just around the corner. On Wednesday, Ripley County Extension Council members Tom Chaligoj and Jim Beal and 4-H Youth Specialist and County Program Director Steve Ivy stopped by to advocate for University of Missouri Extension programs; Jim Holder of Puxico was here on behalf of the Missouri Association of Nurse Anesthetists and Megan Bradshaw visited my office supporting the Occupational Therapy Association. It was great to see these constituents and I appreciate their support of their organizations and I enjoyed visiting with them.

House Approves School Transfer Bill (HB 42)

This week the House took action to address one of the most important issues we will discuss this year, or any year. Right now we have thousands of children in failing schools who are not receiving the educational experience they need and deserve. In an effort to give these young people the option to obtain a top notch education, we passed legislation this week that will modify our existing school transfer law to give students and parents more choices in regard to where they can go to school.

Our current transfer law has caused a great deal of hardship for schools in both failing districts, as well as those that neighbor these areas. The issue is that the failing districts have to pay the cost associated with students transferring to nearby districts, and also that schools receiving these kids may not have the classroom space or faculty to accommodate the influx of students. The issues that have arisen from the current law that was put in place in 1993 have emphasized the need for reforms that will put the interests of our young people first without bankrupting school districts that are struggling to stay afloat.

The bill passed this week represents a complex but common sense solution to this pressing problem. One of the key components of the bill would allow students in failing schools to move to better performing schools in their current district. The goal with this is to allow kids to stay closer to home while also keeping down costly transportation expenses. In the event space can’t be found in a good school in the district, students would be allowed to transfer to neighboring districts, or possibly attend a charter school or take advantage of a virtual school option.

These are just a few components to what is a complicated but crucial fix to the glaring problem we currently have with our student transfer law. We know going forward there will be a great deal of discussion with our counterparts from the Senate, who also approved their own version of a fix this week. While the scope of the bill may change as the session progresses, we know the underlying purpose will remain the same – to give the young people of our state a word class education that will prepare them for success as adults. I look forward to working with my colleagues to make sure we take an important step toward accomplishing that goal this year.

Improving Students’ Educational Opportunities

As has been reported, I have filed five bills relating to K-12 education. My purpose has been to refocus our educational conversations back on classrooms all across the state of Missouri.

One of my recently filed bills (HB 959) has come under fire by the liberal media (who obviously have not read the entire text of the legislation); criticizing my efforts to encourage educational opportunities to all students. HB 959 requires what is already in statute, in regards to their mandatory school attendance in public, private, parochial and/or home-schools and applies to all families regardless of their socio-economic classification. It simply adds one more tool (suspension of taxpayer-funded public benefits which are skyrocketing out of control) for truancy court judges. These judges already have the statutory authority to incarcerate and/or fine parents/guardians found guilty educational neglect.

Liberals constantly insist on more funding for tax-funded public benefits while attacking efforts to encourage students to take advantage of their educational opportunities. This then increases the need for additional educational funding; while at the same time undermines educational opportunities. This ensures a never-ending cycle of generational poverty.

This legislation would not affect free and reduced lunches for children at school or unemployment benefits earned by their parents or guardians.

I ask the question, “Who is actually ‘damaging’ and being ‘mean’ to the children?” I would conclude, that it is the liberals.

House Moves to Extend Big Government Get Off My Back Act (HB 32)

My colleagues and I took action this week to continue a program that has helped nearly 200 small businesses here in Missouri. The Big Government Get Off My Back Act has been in effect for several years now and has bolstered small business growth by providing a tax deduction to small employers who create good-paying jobs.

Specifically, the bill allows a $10,000 tax deduction for each full-time job a business with fewer than 50 employees creates that matches the county’s average wage. The act doubles the deduction for employers who offer new employee health insurance and pay at least 50 percent of the premiums. The provisions of the bill previously applied through 2014, but with the passage of HB 32 we would extend them through the 2019 tax year.

The bill now moves to the Senate where we hope our counterparts will take quick action to approve this measure that will help the many small employers who represent such a vital part of our state’s economic engine.

Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Receives House Approval (HB 130)

The House engaged in spirited debate this week as we considered a bill to put a prescription drug monitoring program in place. Missouri is the only state in the nation that does not have such a system in place already, and advocates for the issue say it is time to change that distinction.

The goal with the database is to provide doctors and pharmacies with a powerful tool to prevent the abuse of prescription medications, and to protect patients from having conflicting medications prescribed by the various physicians they may see. During discussion on the floor, one of my colleagues described how her sister passed away from an overdose that was the result of conflicting medications. It was a powerful and emotional reminder that such a program has the potential to save lives.

Those of my colleagues who took issue with the idea focused their comments solely on the need to protect the private information of Missouri citizens. They pointed to database breaches that have occurred with major companies as examples of cautionary tales for what could happen if Missouri has a central information storage bank for patients.

Despite some of the concerns raised, we approved the proposal and sent it to the Senate. We will now wait to see if the measure can gain traction in the other chamber. In past years similar measures have died in the Senate.

Requiring Additional Safety Standards for Clinics that Provide Abortions (HB 190)

The House also approved legislation this week designed to improve the safety at Missouri’s only clinic that provides abortions. The bill was filed by one of my colleagues who was concerned by a recent inspect that found multiple violations. While those issues were corrected, the concern is that the facility is not inspected frequently enough to ensure it is maintaining adequate health standards.

The bill we passed this week simply says the facility must be inspected no less than once per year. Currently, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is required to inspect ambulatory surgical centers only as it deems necessary. By requiring at least an annual inspection we hope to better protect the health and well-being of the women who use the Planned Parenthood facility in St. Louis.

House Approves Emergency Funding (HB 16)

Also this week, we approved legislation to ensure communities in our state ravaged by natural disasters will receive the funding they need to pay for storm shelters and repairs. To date we have seen $30 million in projects completed around the state, but the funds to reimburse these communities have been depleted. With the bill we passed this week, we have taken the first step toward releasing the funds necessary to help these communities to pay for their repair projects.

We have just learned of the news of the death of our State Auditor Thomas A. Schweich. My thoughts and prayers are with the Schweich family.

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 .

by Marie French, AP

(Jefferson City) (AP) – Republican lawmakers in Missouri’s Capitol often bristle at rules and requirements handed down from the federal government, saying they favor local authority in most matters.

However, several GOP-supported proposals this year aim to hand down similar mandates to cities and counties across the state.

Republican legislators say proposals that would block local authorities from pursuing business policies or banning plastic bags are essential to protecting conservative values and boosting the economy, even as critics line up to call such legislation disingenuous.

by Andrew DeMillo, AP

(Little Rock) (AP) – By letting a measure become law without his signature to prohibit local governments from expanding anti-discrimination protections, Gov. Asa Hutchinson is straddling the debate over a proposal being cast as endorsing bias against gays and lesbians.

He’s also tacitly acknowledging that Arkansas governors are easily outgunned in veto override fights with the state Legislature.

Hutchinson, a Republican, last week allowed a bill to become law that would prohibit cities and counties from expanding anti-discrimination protections beyond what’s already covered in state law. It’s a move that effectively bans local governments from adding protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity, which aren’t included in Arkansas’ civil rights protections.

“As governor, I recognize the desire to prevent burdensome regulations on businesses across the state,” Hutchinson said after the measure received final approval in the House last month. “However, I am concerned about the loss of local control. For that reason, I am allowing the bill to become law without my signature.”

With that decision, Hutchinson joined a long line of governors who have chosen Door No. 3 rather than risk a fight they are likely to lose. Under Arkansas’ constitution, a governor has five days to sign or veto legislation once it reaches his desk. If he does nothing, it becomes law without any action. If he vetoes it, legislators need only a simple majority to override him.

Letting the clock run out is a convenient way for governors to register objections to a measure without picking a fight with the Legislature. It’s an option former Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican, used multiple times throughout his 10½ years in office while facing a Legislature dominated by Democrats.

“It doesn’t help the legislative process to veto a bill just to have it overridden,” Huckabee said after not signing legislation that cleared the way for local voters to approve video poker and other electronic gambling at a Hot Springs horse track and a West Memphis dog track. It was among several bills related to gambling or drinking that the Southern Baptist preacher allowed into law.

Huckabee also allowed a tax increase to become law without his signature in response to the long-running Lake View school funding case, saying he believed lawmakers should have obtained more significant reforms in exchange for the hike.

Former Gov. Mike Beebe had planned to use the unsigned route in 2013 for a measure making the state’s concealed carry handgun permit list exempt from public records laws, but then-Lt. Gov. Mark Darr signed the bill into law when Beebe was out of state. The Republican’s decision to do so rankled the Democratic governor, who said he’d have trouble trusting Darr enough to leave the state again.

Hutchinson’s complaints about the limits on anti-discrimination ordinances infringing on local control echoed the complaints of Democrats, who accused Republicans backing the measure of hypocrisy after campaign rhetoric about fighting government overreach.

But what he was lacking was a division within his own party or the business community, which remained mostly silent on the measure before it arrived on his desk. Retail giant Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, issued a statement the day the measure became law saying it sent the wrong message about Arkansas.

“It was about an electoral base that was supportive of this and I think really the absence of any political cover for him to do something different,” said Jay Barth, a political science professor at Hendrix College in Conway.

Wal-Mart’s concerns about the law, and related criticism of a related “conscience protection” measure, may be offering Hutchinson some of that political cover now. The Republican governor said he had reservations about the proposal aimed at preventing state and local government from infringing on someone’s religious beliefs, and a day later the proposal failed before a Senate panel.

The bigger test may be how often Hutchinson may let measures go into law without his signature. It’s an approach that’s made more sense for governors dealing with a rival party controlling the Legislature, like Huckabee faced throughout his tenure and Beebe had in his final two years in office.

“I think Hutchinson is going to be disadvantaged in trying to distance himself from what a Republican legislature is pushing through,” said Hal Bass, a political science professor at Ouachita Baptist University.

The following column is from Rick Mansfield

This past week found us on “the Hill.” Site of some truly wonderful restaurants and shops, almost all of which are family owned. Many have been in existence for generations. One which we always visit is Viviano’s. Located on Shaw Avenue, just up the street from where we often eat lunch.

John Viviano arrived in St. Louis in 1926 and along with many other Italian immigrants worked downtown in a macaroni factory; married a first generation fellow Italian three years later. Started making bleach in his bathtub nights to sell to local businesses. Later began making cheeses at home to further support a growing family.

In 1950 opened the store that sixty five years later is being run by grandchildren. Specializes in Italian staples, many shipped directly from Italy. We always buy a few parcels of cheese and generally some olive oil; maybe some organic pasta and a bottle of wine for cooking. Perhaps a container of one of their olive salads; a bar of dark chocolate.

Good prices, great selection. We go for the atmosphere. The friendly service. The local residents that enjoy walking to a small grocer where everyone seems to know everyone. People who drop in to pick up something fresh for that night’s meal; others who shop for the week. Some who come cross-town to get those special ingredients for a special meal.

These trips help me enjoy the “now.” Makes me miss the “when.” When I could walk into Hamilton’s Grocery and order a fresh sliced pickle loaf and Longhorn cheese sandwich. Located on north Highway 19 in Shannon County, a business also started in the 1950’s. Pull an ice cold bottle of Mt. Dew from a soda cooler, pop the top on the built-in cap remover.

Discuss the upcoming hay season with Mr. Hamilton. R Q. He would go on to teach me the majority of what I would come to know about haying. Maybe speak with Mrs. Hamilton about some poem or play she’d read recently; be instructed on the proper behavior of a gentleman. Catch up with a fellow neighbor about current goings on.

When as a young man logging, we could pull an old Chevy single-axle log truck into the driveway of Buford Lewis’ grocery store located just north of the gravel road that took us to a tract of timber on Bay Branch. Joke with the owner about the “weight of his thumbs” when he’d weigh up our lunchmeat and cheese on his scale.

When as a kid I could pull both red and black licorice from candy jars at the Bryan’s Ozark Country Store at the intersection of Highway 19 and D. I could marvel at the beauty of the owner’s artwork and then wander outside and sit on the top rail of his corral while deciding which flavor to eat first. If the store was not busy, the “cowboy artist” might wander out and join me. Regale me with exploits of when he worked on ranches out west. Another business opened in the 1950’s. Another no longer in operation; kept alive still in memories and photographs.

For people in Winona it was Saad’s; Dent Countians had Thomas Market. Yates’ IGA in downtown Ellington. J.U. Boyd’s in Eminence—where you could buy anything from Mercury outboards to McCullough chain saws.

Changing patterns of commerce; competition from monstrous conglomerates. Stores close. Regardless of the reasons, I feel our lives are lessened when we lose such “mom and pop” operations. We should treasure, and support, those we have left. Thanks for joining us!

(Rolla) (AP) – Police say a Greyhound bus crashed into the rear of a tractor-trailer in snowy weather on Interstate 44 in Missouri, setting off a chain of accidents involving dozens of vehicles. At least 11 people were sent to a hospital with minor to moderate injuries.

Sgt. Cody Fulkerson, a spokesman for the Missouri State Police, says no one was killed when between 25 and 35 vehicles crashed into each other Saturday. Police closed the westbound interstate near Rolla, Missouri. A hazardous materials team was cleaning up a small leak of a flammable liquid from a tractor-trailer.

Fulkerson says police have been working on well over 100 accidents because of the weather. Earlier in the day, two people were killed in a multiple vehicle crash further south in Laclede County.

Aldridge (provided

Joseph Aldridge (provided)

(Houston) – The Texas County Sheriff’s Office has identified the final three victims in the murders that occurred earlier this week in Tyrone.

A news release from the Texas County Sheriff’s Office states that the final victims were 68-year-old Darrell Shriver, his son, 46-year-old Carey Shriver, and Carey’s wife, 44-year-old Valeria Shriver.

The Shrivers were among the seven people killed Thursday night by 36-year-old Joseph Aldridge in the small Texas County community of Tyrone.

An unidentified 67-year-old woman remains hospitalized.

Previously identified victims were 52-year-old Garold Aldridge, 47-year-old Julie Aldridge, 50-year-old Harold Aldridge, and 48-year-old Janell Aldridge, all of whom are related to the killer. Their funeral services are pending care of Elliott-Gentry-Carder Funeral Home.

Police say that late Thursday night, Joseph Alridge shot and killed seven people before driving to Shannon County and killing himself. A motive has not been determined.

The Texas County Sheriff’s Office and the Missouri State Highway Patrol are working together on the investigation.

(Little Rock) (AP) – The Arkansas Legislature has given final approval to adding drones to the state’s voyeurism law.

By a 27-1 vote, the Senate approved a bill to add unmanned aerial vehicles and aircraft to a state law barring viewing, photographing or recording in public what is underneath someone’s clothing. It would also add drones to the law prohibiting viewing someone for the purpose of sexual gratification in a private place where the person has a reasonable expectation to be nude or partially nude.

The measure now heads to Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

The bill is a scaled back attempt to limit the use of unmanned aerial aircraft by Republican Rep. Justin Harris, who had originally proposed making it illegal to use a drone to fly above private property and take pictures without permission.

(Little Rock) (AP) – The Arkansas Supreme Court says a lawsuit against tobacco giant Philip Morris USA can proceed under class-action status.

The lawsuit seeks refunds on every pack of Marlboro Lights sold in Arkansas from 1971 to 2010. The plaintiffs claim Philip Morris, which is part of the Altria Group, deceived smokers about health risks.

The justices’ 6-1 decision was released Thursday.

The company wants each case considered separately, saying some smokers bought the cigarettes for their taste, packaging or brand reputation – not for claims they had lower tar and nicotine.

Philip Morris also said courts elsewhere have rejected class-action status for similar claims.

The size of the class isn’t known, but Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox warned in 2013 that it could be in the millions.

Sgt. Jeff Kinder of the Missouri State Highway Patrol addresses a news conference at the Texas County Justice Center in Houston, Mo., Friday, Feb. 27, 2015.  Authorities say multiple people were shot to death and one was wounded in attacks in a small southeastern Missouri town, and the suspected gunman was found dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. (AP Photo/Houston Herald, Jeff McNiell)

Sgt. Jeff Kinder of the Missouri State Highway Patrol addresses a news conference at the Texas County Justice Center in Houston, Mo., Friday, Feb. 27, 2015. Authorities say multiple people were shot to death and one was wounded in attacks in a small southeastern Missouri town, and the suspected gunman was found dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. (AP Photo/Houston Herald, Jeff McNiell)

by Jim Salter, AP

(Tyrone) (AP) – Residents in a remote area of southern Missouri are trying to come to grips with what could cause a man to kill seven people, including four of his own relatives, in a nighttime shooting spree that spanned four homes.

The shooter, identified by authorities as 36-year-old Joseph Jesse Aldridge, used a .45-caliber handgun to kill two people each at three homes, one person at another, and then himself, in a reign of violence that began late Thursday night. All of the victims lived in or near the tiny, unincorporated town of Tyrone in the rolling hills of Missouri’s Ozarks region, about 40 miles from the Arkansas border. All of the victims were adults.

Texas County Sheriff James Sigman said people generally have felt safe in small towns like Tyrone.

“Start locking your doors,” the sheriff said. “The world’s changing.

The motive for the shooting was still under investigation Friday. The few people in town willing to talk about it knew little about Aldridge, described as somewhat reclusive in an otherwise tight-knit area. Some said they’d seen him around and talked to him, but not enough to form an opinion.

Bud Goodman, 71, of nearby Houston, grew up in Tyrone. He knew all of the victims but little about Aldridge.

“I just don’t know what he was doing,” Goodman said.

Police are still trying to figure that out, too. Around 10:15 p.m. Thursday, a 15-year-old girl, wearing only a nightgown and no shoes in near-zero temperatures and with cuts on her legs from running through thickets and hardened snow, pounded on a neighbor’s door.

“She was crying so hard,” the neighbor, who declined to be identified out of concern for his safety, said. “I finally got out of her, `My mom and dad have been shot.’”

The girl called 911 from the neighbor’s home. Sigman said that as officers responded to that call, they received word of another shooting.

The victims at both addresses were related to each other, and to Aldridge. Authorities identified them as two couples, Garold Dee Aldridge, 52, and his wife, Julie Ann, 47; and Harold Wayne Aldridge, 50, and his wife, Janell Arlisa, 48. Both men were cousins of Joseph Aldridge, according to Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Jeff Kinder.

At some point over the next few hours, Joseph Aldridge killed two more men and another woman at two different locations, Sigman said, and injured another woman. Names of those victims, and details about the woman’s injuries, were not released.

The case took another strange twist when authorities went to the home that Joseph Aldridge shared with his 74-year-old mother, Alice. She was found dead at the home, but apparently of natural causes, authorities said. An autopsy was planned to determine if her death was related to the shooting spree.

She had been under a doctor’s care and appeared to have been dead at least 24 hours, Texas County Coroner Tom Whittaker told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Whittaker speculated that the son “came home and found her deceased and then for whatever reason went on a rampage and started killing people.”

Sigman said many of the residents of Tyrone are Aldridges. Police, worried that other relatives might be targeted, reached out to all of them, along with family members in other towns, while they searched for Joseph Aldridge in the early hours of Friday. Sigman said he was confident there were no more victims.

Authorities also alerted everyone else in town about the gunman. Jerry Logsdon, who lives near two of the shooting scenes, was awakened by state troopers at 3:30 a.m. “I thought they were going to tell me my cattle escaped,” he said. “They said, `There’s been a shooting.’”

Around 5:30 a.m. Friday, in neighboring Shannon County, some 25 miles from Tyrone, Joseph Aldridge was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted wound inside a GMC pickup. Sigman said the truck was running and in the middle of a two-lane highway.

Around town, Aldridge was described as a recluse, and it was unclear what, if anything, he did for a living.

Vernetta Lucille Swartz, 76, Joseph Aldridge’s aunt, lives in Hesperia, Calif., but said the family is grief-stricken.

“Two of my nephews and wives were shot, and I guess another nephew was the shooter,” she said.