by Dina Cappiello, AP
(Washington) (AP) – The Republican-controlled Senate on Thursday approved a bipartisan bill to construct the Keystone XL oil pipeline, defying a presidential veto threat and setting up the first of many battles with the White House over energy and the environment.
The 62-36 vote advanced a top priority of the newly empowered GOP, and marked the first time the Senate passed a bill authorizing the pipeline, despite numerous attempts to force President Barack Obama’s hand on the issue. Nine Democrats joined with 53 Republicans to back the measure.
This bill “is an important accomplishment for the country,” said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. “We are hoping the president upon reflection will agree to sign on to a bill that the State Department said could create up to 42,000 jobs and the State Department said creates little to no impact on the environment.”
Still the vote was short of the threshold needed to override a veto, and the legislation still must be reconciled with the version the House passed.
“We hope President Obama will now drop his threat to veto this common-sense bill that would strengthen our energy security and create thousands and thousands of new, good-paying American jobs,” said House Speaker John Boehner.
Most Democrats framed the bill as gift to a foreign oil company that would have little benefit for the American people, because much of the oil would be exported. They tried and failed to get amendments on the bill to construct the pipeline with U.S. steel, ban exports of the oil and the products refined from it, and protect water resources.
The Senate agreed to add an energy efficiency measure, and went on the record saying climate change was not a hoax and the oil sands should be subject to a tax that helps pay for oil spill cleanups. Oil sands are currently exempt.
“This bill is a disgrace,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the Senate environment committee. “We tried on our side to make this a better bill and they turned us away.”
TransCanada Corp., the pipeline’s developer, disputed the export argument Thursday, saying it didn’t make sense.
“Those who argue this pipeline is for export are not being factual,” said Russ Girling, president and chief executive officer of TransCanada. “It’s time to approve Keystone XL so we can transport Canadian and American oil to fuel the everyday lives of the American people.”
First proposed in 2008, the $8 billion pipeline project has been beset by delays in Nebraska over its route and at the White House, where the president has resisted prior efforts by Congress to force him to make a decision. In 2012, Obama rejected the project after Congress attached a measure to a payroll tax cut extension that gave him a deadline to make a decision. The pipeline’s developer, TransCanada Corp., then reapplied.
The 1,179-mile pipeline is proposed to go from Canada through Montana and South Dakota to Nebraska, where it would connect with existing pipelines to carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil a day to refineries along the Texas Gulf coast.
Obama has said he will not be forced to make a decision on the pipeline, which requires presidential approval because it crosses an international border, until the review process concludes. Federal agencies’ comments on whether the project is in the national interest are due Monday.
Environmental groups have called on Obama to reject the project outright, saying it would make it easier to tap a dirty source of energy that would exacerbate global warming. The State Department’s analysis, assuming higher oil prices, found that shipping it by pipelines to rail or tankers would be worse for the planet. It also concluded that the project, after construction, would create only 35 permanent jobs, a figure Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., compared to a fried chicken franchise.
“The facts are clear: the Keystone XL pipeline will only create 35 permanent jobs while dumping millions of tons of carbon pollution into the air and threatening waterways and communities across the Midwest,” said Tom Steyer, the investor and philanthropist who founded the NextGen Climate political action committee.
Supporters say the pipeline is a critical piece of infrastructure that will create thousands of jobs during construction and boost energy security by importing oil from a friendly neighbor.
“We urge the president to make the right decision and approve KXL because it is in this nation’s best interest,” said Jack Gerard, the president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute. “The fact is that if all other infrastructure projects are delayed like Keystone XL, we are years away from approving anything that could create jobs and enhance our energy security.”
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., a consistent supporter of the pipeline, and one of 9 Democrats to back the bill, said the pipeline had a “distorted position in the energy debate.”
“Keystone is first and foremost is an energy infrastructure project,” Heitkamp said in a call with reporters Thursday. “It has become something bigger than what it is.”
(West Plains) – Ozarks Medical Center and the OMC Foundation on Thursday unveiled a new fundraising initiative called “Nurturing Hope”, which looks to expand the OMC Cancer Treatment Center, located in the Shaw Medical Building in West Plains.
OMC Foundation Director Ward Franz spoke with Ozark Radio News and said that the current center has run out of space:
The $2.4 million project will also include an expanded and upgraded chemotherapy suite:
The expanded center will also house the 4D Oncology CT device, a cutting edge device that treats tumors in unique ways:
The OMC Foundation is seeking $1.2 million to finish the project, with the hospital committing $1 million to the project. Franz says that the fundraiser will be a huge undertaking that will have long-term consequences for West Plains and the surrounding area:
Franz added that the Foundation is now accepting donations for the expansion, and naming opportunities are available. For more information call the OMC Foundation at 417-853-5200, or visit the OMC Foundation in the Parkway Center in West Plains.
(Little Rock) (AP) – The Arkansas House has approved Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s proposal to cut income taxes for the middle class by $102 million a year and repeal part of a 2013 capital gains tax break.
By a 95-2 vote, the House approved the proposal to cut income taxes by 1 percent for those making between $21,000 and $75,000 a year. The proposal heads back to the Senate for a final vote.
Hutchinson, a Republican who was sworn in earlier this month, campaigned on the tax cut proposal and called it his priority this session. The measure calls for repealing a portion of a tax cut on capital gains lawmakers approved two years ago.
A House panel this week scaled back the bill, which initially called for a full repeal of the tax break.
(Springfield) (AP) – The man charged with shooting and seriously wounding a Springfield police officer pleaded not guilty during his first court appearance.
During a hearing Thursday, a Greene County judge ordered 32-year-old Joshua Hagood held without bond on charges of felony assault on an officer, armed criminal action, felon in possession of a firearm, and receiving stolen property.
Hagood is accused of shooting officer Aaron Pearson in the head Monday morning while Pearson and two other officers were checking suspicious activity. Hagood was arrested several hours later in a used car lot about 200 yards from the shooting scene.
Chief Paul Williams said in a statement Wednesday that Pearson’s injuries are “career-ending” and will require long-term rehabilitation and care.
A public defender will be appointed for Hagood.
by Summer Ballentine, AP
(Jefferson City) (AP) – Missouri lawmakers and statewide elected officials will not be getting a raise next fiscal year after state senators successfully blocked a proposed pay increase Thursday.
The House had voted overwhelmingly against the pay raises last week, but some Senate Democrats had filibustered Wednesday as a means of allowing the increase to take effect.
State Sen. Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph said Wednesday that he didn’t want to waste more time because Democrats had promised another filibuster. But on Thursday, minority Senate Democrats backed down after Schaaf threatened a rare legislative procedure that would have clamped down another attempt at preventing a vote, and the raises died in a 31-3 vote.
The Republicans’ show of power comes weeks into a legislative session marked by some of the party’s largest majorities, which could make it easier for the GOP to push legislation through the chambers without needing concessions.
Republican Sen. Mike Kehoe, who was one of four Republicans and one Democrat who joined Schaaf in threatening to end a filibuster, said it’s early in the session to be pulling a move more commonly used when compromise seems unlikely. But the Jefferson City lawmaker also criticized Democrats for attempting to prevent a vote, an effort typically used as leverage by the minority party.
“The people who really want the raise can decide to do the right thing and sit down and allow it to come to a vote,” Kehoe said.
At issue was a proposal for $4,000 more a year over two years for lawmakers and an 8 percent raise for statewide officials in fiscal years 2016 and 2017.The governor, who currently is paid $133,821 a year, would make about $156,088 a year under those recommendations.
Critics had questioned taking more money when no plans are in place to raise state employee pay next year and since Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon has withheld roughly $700 million for other programs.
“It would be outrageous for me to stand here and say we should take a pay increase when we’re not funding those things,” Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Columbia Republican, said before voting to forego a pay increase. He also joined Schaaf in his efforts.
The last time legislators and executive-branch officials got a raise was the 2009 fiscal year. The state constitution was amended in 1994 to relieve lawmakers of the politically sticky issue of setting their own salaries, but some remarked even failing to stop an increase could reflect poorly on them.
Democratic senators Maria Chappelle-Nadal of University City, Minority Leader Joe Keaveny of St. Louis and Kiki Curls of Kansas City were the only ones who voted Thursday to allow the increase.
Chappelle-Nadal led efforts in support of higher pay and said the current $35,915 a year isn’t enough to compensate lawmakers for their work. She raised concerns that the pay might prevent potential low-income candidates from running for office.
But Chappelle-Nadal also said before the final vote that the ability to work across the aisle and foster bipartisan debate was more important. She did not attempt to stall a vote again Thursday, the last day the Senate was scheduled to meet before the raises were set to take effect.
“I hope we can engage before an issue gets to this point,” Chappelle-Nadal said.
(Little Rock) (AP) – A House panel has rejected an attempt to repeal Arkansas’ compromise Medicaid expansion later this year.
The proposal to end Arkansas’ “private option” on Dec. 31 failed Thursday before the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on an 8-10 vote. The private option uses federal money to purchase private insurance for the poor.
Opponents expressed concerns about the impact of Republican Rep. Donnie Copeland’s proposal.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has called on lawmakers to continue the private option through 2016 while a task force looks at longer-term reforms. The Senate earlier Thursday approved the task force bill and legislation reauthorizing the private option another year.
Copeland says his bill would have saved the state money. He said he plans to tweak the proposal and run it again.
(Little Rock) (AP) – The Arkansas Senate has approved legislation barring the state from requiring licenses from yoga teacher training schools and several other instructor training programs.
By a 34-0 vote, the Senate approved a measure barring the state Board of Private Career Education from regulating yoga schools. The bill also bars the board from requiring licenses for programs that offer “avocational or recreational” or teacher instruction for dance, music, horseback riding or sewing.
Yoga schools objected last year after the board said they would be required to be licensed. The proposal by Democratic Sen. Uvalde Lindsey of Fayetteville now heads to the House for a vote.
(Maryville) (AP) – A white northwest Missouri man is charged with felony assault after he allegedly confronted a black waitress as she served him breakfast.
Nodaway County Prosecuting Attorney Robert Rice announced Wednesday that he charged 65-year-old Tommy Dean Gaa, of Maryville, with felony assault motivated by discrimination.
The Maryville Daily Forum reports Gaa is accused of confronting the waitress on Sunday and grabbing her arm, causing bruising. A probable cause statement says Gaa said “I have a place I would like to take you where I hung your grandpa” and used racial slurs.
Gaa was released from the Nodaway County Jail on $4,900 bond. Online records don’t indicate if he has an attorney.
Rice says the comments were bad enough but Gaa crossed the line when he grabbed the waitress.
(West Plains) – Five people have been charged in connection with a robbery incident that occurred earlier this month in West Plains.
18-year-old Jordan Montgomery, 19-year-old Devon Bush, 19-year-old Alexander Smith, and 19-year-old Aaron Downer, all of West Plains, were all charged Wednesday with 2nd degree robbery, a felony.
Court documents in the case state that on January 24, 21-year-old Rachel Loo of West Plains called the police to report the theft of $400. After police began to interview Montgomery, who was at the home during the robbery, police say they learned that the four conspired to steal roughly an ounce of marijuana from Loo by staging a robbery at her home in Breckenridge Apartments. The documents state that the Smith came into her home to purchase marijuana, and shortly after, Downer entered the home with a BB gun and stole the marijuana, with Montgomery pretending that the robbery was real. The four then left the home and reportedly split the marijuana four ways.
Smith reportedly told police that they decided to steal just the marijuana because they thought Loo wouldn’t call the police to report the stolen drugs. In a later interview, Loo reportedly told police that she reported the theft because she didn’t know what to do and she “wanted them to get what was coming to them”.
Loo was later charged with distribution of a controlled substance.
At report time, the four men were held on $15,000 bond each, which was posted, while Loo was held on $10,000 bond.
(West Plains) – The Howell County Commission held a budget hearing Wednesday afternoon and approved the 2015 budget.
Presiding commissioner Mark Collins spoke with Ozark Radio News and talked about the $9.24 million budget for 2015, and one of the major projects for the county:
Collins also talked about the $2.6 million road and bridge budget, and one of the county’s bigger bridge projects scheduled for this year:
He added that it’s extremely hard to keep up with county roads on such a limited budget:
He also talked about the law enforcement budget, which is at $2.4 million for 2015:
Collins attributed the fiscal responsibility and good numbers to great county employees who work hard to make every cent count:
The budget also has almost $3 million for general revenue and expenditures. County clerk Dennis VonAllmen says people who are interested are invited to look at the full budget, which is available for viewing during normal business hours at the Howell County Office Building, in the former Bank of America building on Court Square in downtown West Plains.