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The 2015 legislative session has progressed to “Spring Break,” and while the recent change in the weather is very accommodating to leisure, it will be an opportunity for your representative to “catch-up,” mixing work with a number of events and visits with constituents.

After re-reading my last Capitol Report which exclusively discussed the tragic events in/around Tyrone, I wanted to make sure that my comments (regarding the media coverage) were clearly understood. While the urban and national news crews descended on our area (almost instantaneously) to relay the story to their patrons, and in the same fashion as their arrival they left, chasing the next “big” story; while ultimately failing to capture the “complete” story. Credit should be given to our local outlets that detailed the initial events AND reported the story of a community coming together and rallying to support those affected through vigils, donations, prayer, and the “neighbor helping neighbor” way of life which we know as the rule, rather than the exception. Healing will remain a slow process, and we should continue praying for the families, law enforcement, and communities as we move ahead.

Executive Branch “Tantrum” -

At a recent “Listening Post” hosted at Fort Leonard Wood to discuss the proposed reduction of 5400+ personnel, I was joined by commissioners from Pulaski, Phelps, and Texas counties, approximately 70 fellow State Representatives, 23 State Senators, the Secretary of State, Attorney General, Governor Nixon, U.S. Representative Hartzler, U.S. Senators Blunt and McCaskill, and about 2,500 additional members of the community; all of which understand what Fort Leonard Wood means to our area locally and to our country from a national security perspective. This was one of the most impressive displays of broad-based support for any issue facing our state, with excellent points and numerous comparisons to other installations, showing the value at the local, state, and national level for keeping these jobs here at Fort Leonard Wood. At the start of the session, one of the points that I found most interesting was the “why” of these proposed reductions; reportedly as a result of “Sequestration,” (the agreement reached in an effort to reduce the Federal spending/debt, with automatic implementation in the event of inaction) but most notable to me is how/where this Administration is CHOOSING to cut costs. The overwhelming majority (of taxpayers/legislators alike) agree that the path of our Federal spending is on an unsustainable trajectory and should be reined in.

This is where the Executive Branch game (tantrum) begins; rather than identifying areas that are wasteful or are otherwise a poor value to the taxpayer, they propose cuts in areas (such as Fort Leonard Wood) that they are well aware will have very real and rippling affects in our lives and communities; and thus create a public outcry in opposition. Rather than reducing bloated government spending (in the many unwarranted areas that government has decided to involve itself), the only solution they deem reasonable is increasing taxes, which increases the load on an already over-burdened taxpayer. I find this both annoying and insulting, but this sort of a tantrum isn’t limited to the federal level.

Consider the parallel situation that we’re seeing play out in Missouri relative to transportation funding, and the recent “325 System Plan” proposed by MoDOT, with the recent public relations campaign that has ensued (who do you think is “footing the bill” for this also?). While this has been proposed under the guise of “reduced” funding available for transportation, this comes as the direct result of the voters rejecting Amendment #7 last August, which most will remember as the largest tax increase in Missouri history that would have predominantly created a third lane on each side of I-70 from St. Louis to Kansas City, while doing very little (if anything) to address infrastructure needs across out-state Missouri, and more specifically in our area. Regardless of whether it was due to the sheer size of the tax increase, the type of (sales) tax, the way that MoDOT spends its current dollars, or the intention to spend the majority of the money exclusively on I-70; for a variety of reasons, the voters said “NO.” Predictably and as a result, the Executive Branch tantrum has begun. The messaging campaign surrounding the “325 Plan” contains “TOUGH CHOICES” (all caps, for emphasis), bridge closures, and the threat that only 25% of Missouri’s roads will be maintained moving forward; each of which are intended to stir concern and influence public opinion to the point of finding the next proposal (tax increase) acceptable. While “Multimodal” spending represents a significant amount of their annual budget (bicycle signs, bicycle lanes/trails, sidewalks, light rail, etc.), there has been no interest or movement to reduce spending in these areas or to shift that funding to the focus of their 325 campaign (roads and bridges). What about the millions of taxpayer dollars that have been spent on “Habitat Mitigation Credits” (similar to and a derivative of “cap and trade”; a focus of my HB955, to be discussed in an upcoming report) or the lobbying/liaison staff funded with your tax dollars (who incidentally also advocate for more of those dollars)? The point is, rather than develop a reasonable plan by redirecting funding away from the numerous initiatives that aren’t a priority or benefit for most taxpayers, the false choice is provided – “more money, or else.”

In fairness, this situation hasn’t been created by our local MoDOT workers, the taxpayer, or the legislature. Previous MoDOT Directors/administrations/commissioners have essentially “borrowed [bonded]” the agency into this position (with the notes now becoming due), and the current administration should shoulder the responsibility for its “or else” tantrum response.

Budgets are a matter of priorities, with transportation and public defense being core governmental functions (that the majority want adequately funded). While it doesn’t seem to bother the Executive Branch (state or federal) to ask for more of your hard-earned dollars, at the very least they should be forthright on where our dollars are currently spent, (without tantrum style, “the sky is falling” messaging) which often doesn’t coincide with the service they are threatening to reduce/eliminate.

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.