A House Democrat wants to be the leader of the state house minority next year. Bill Wise reports.
A House Democrat wants to be the leader of the state house minority next year. Bill Wise reports.
Some Missouri utility companies have aging infrastructure that needs to be replaced according to State Senator Ed Emery (R-Lamar). A Senate interim committee he’s chairing will begin soon to studing regulations and ratemaking of electric, water, sewer and gas utilities in other states.
“The natural gas industry has pipes in the ground that are decades old. We know that in the water industry, we have pipes in the ground that are over 100 years old. Some of it is still wooden pipe. There are a lot of possible infrastructure problems that lie around out there,” said Emery. “The question is how can we balance that infrastructure maintenance with the cost of energy and utilities, whether it’s water, natural gas, electricity or sewer? That’s the challenge.”
Upon review, the panel will make recommendations for legislation to deal with how utility companies are regulated and how they are allowed to charge consumers.
Some proposed regulation changes were offered this year, but didn’t make it through the Senate. Senator Gary Romine (R-Farmington) led filibusters to block the measures, saying they would have increased consumer rates and calling for more oversight of utility companies.
Emery says utility company profits don’t always accurately reflect the overall picture of utilities in Missouri.
“There are numbers that, if you just look at that number, they’re not fully reflective of what happens in the operational environment or what happens in the Wall Street environment when companies have to take on debt or are currently managing debt and how much that costs the customers,” said Emery.
Romine will be serving on the committee, along with Senators Ryan Silvey (R-Kansas City), Jason Holsman (D-Kansas City), Gina Walsh (D-St. Louis) and Jeanie Riddle (R-Mokane).
The committee must issue its recommendations by the end of the year.
A Senate interim committee will discuss Missouri utilities. Bill Wise reports.
Senator Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) wants military families to have the option to stay at their current base for up to an additional six months or move to their next assigned location early. The Senate’s defense budget proposal includes that provision, that Blunt helped craft.
“We would not have the strongest military in the world if not for the military families who serve alongside our service men and women. They share in every sacrifice and face every obstacle that comes with military life,” said Blunt.
He says moving from one post to another can be a tough financial transition.
“If you only have a month left in school and your family can stay there while the person serving in the military goes ahead to the next post and is responsible for their own housing during the time they’re there as a single-serving individual, often they’re going to find space available on the post itself for one person,” said Blunt.
Democrats hold a small minority in the Missouri House with 45 members, and in 66 of the chamber’s 163 districts no Democrats have filed to run. Republicans, with 117 members, have a supermajority and could maintain it with wins in at least 53 contested races. It needs to win only 16 to maintain a majority.
Being in a minority in a Missouri legislative chamber means it is more challenging to advance a legislative agenda. The challenges are only greater the smaller the minority is. Such has been the case, for example, for using federal tax dollars to expand Medicaid under Obamacare – a priority for Democrats in the past four legislative sessions that has gotten virtually no traction under Republican control.
Representative Jeremy LaFaver (D-Kansas City) could run for two more terms in the House, but he’s chosen not to seek another … at least for now. LaFaver says the main reason for that is he wants to spend more time with family, but he admits returning to Jefferson City would be more appealing if his party had more power.
“Anytime you make any decision you weigh pros and cons. One of the pros that doesn’t exist for me here is being a chairman of a committee and moving my legislative agenda forward a little further than I’ve been able to,” said LaFaver.
House Minority Leader Jake Hummel (D-St. Louis) is leaving the chamber because of term limits. He said it is very difficult for a party to recruit candidates to run for a chamber in which the that party holds a super minority.
“How many people want to come down here, even the ones that really feel like they can make a difference, and realize that they’re going to work extraordinarily hard to get here and lose a lot of votes and a lot of time,” said Hummel.
Hummel said it’s not impossible, though, for a minority – even a super minority – to advance an agenda and remain relevant. He and other Democrats also noted what they consider key victories for their party in the past two sessions, including the defeat of “right-to-work” legislation and bills they call “paycheck deception,” that would require annual permission from a public employee before union dues could be taken from his or her pay. Most notable, said Democrats, was the defeat this year of a proposal to ask voters whether the state Constitution should protect those who deny services in same-sex marriages from legal or civil penalties.
“Those are pretty monumental accomplishments for a super minority,” said Hummel. “With the numbers the way they are, who would have ever thought that was going to happen?”
Representative Mike Colona (D-St. Louis), who is also term limited out of the chamber, said the defeat of measures like SJR 39 – the same-sex marriage objector ballot proposal – should encourage more Democrats to run, but says the downfall of legislation his party opposes isn’t the only way to gauge its success.
“Something that’s hard to measure is the impact and influence we have on our friends in the majority party to moderate the things that come out of here,” said Colona. “We are very good at working with our friends in the majority to try and make sure that we have good public policy come out of here.”
House Assistant Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty (D-Kansas City) hopes to be the leader of the House Democrats next year. She said she wants that job despite the knowledge that her party could once again wield – at least on paper – very little power in the legislature.
“Because I’m committed to our priorities and our values. I don’t concede that Missouri is nearly as conservative as people think that it is,” said McCann-Beatty.
She’s also hopeful that her party can turn around its position in the Missouri legislature.
“I think we are working on a plan to change that and do some early recruiting as move forward and by 2020 [I hope we] have moved these numbers some,” said McCann-Beatty.
A series of severe storm systems this week continue to move through Missouri, prompting Governor Jay Nixon (D) to declare a state of emergency. More flooding is expected, especially in areas where levees may be overtopped in west-central Missouri. Since Tuesday, storms in Missouri have caused high winds, heavy rains, flooding and flash flooding, and additional rain is predicted tonight and tomorrow for much of the state.
“Areas along the Missouri River and its tributaries in west-central Missouri are of particular concern because more rain could cause some levees to overtop,” Nixon said. “State emergency management personnel will continue to work with local officials and law enforcement to assess and closely monitor the risk to the levees, and take appropriate action if needed.”
The State Emergency Operations Center has been actively monitoring the storm system, and Nixon has been receiving updates from his emergency management team to assess the current weather situation and address local needs. The team includes senior officials from the Missouri Department of Public Safety, Missouri National Guard, Missouri State Highway Patrol and the State Emergency Management Agency. The Missouri State Emergency Operations Plan also has been activated, allowing state agencies to coordinate directly with local jurisdictions to provide emergency services.
Residents of flood-affected areas of Missouri are urged to pay close attention to weather warnings and follow the safety instructions of local officials as the potential for additional dangerous flooding continues. Missourians, especially motorists, are encouraged to remember these important safety tips on flooding and high water:
*Do not walk through moving water. Six inches of moving water can make you fall. If you have to walk in water, walk where the water is not moving. Use a stick to check the firmness of the ground in front of you.
*Do not drive into flooded areas. If floodwaters rise around your car, abandon the car and move to higher ground if you can do so safely. You and the vehicle can be quickly swept away. Six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars, causing loss of control and possible stalling.
*A foot of water will float many vehicles. Two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles, including sport utility vehicles and pick-ups. Even if the water appears shallow enough to cross, don’t try it. Water hides dips in the road. Worse yet, there may be no road at all under the water. Flooding can scour away the entire road surface and a significant amount of ground beneath.
Missourians who need disaster information, shelter information, and referrals are urged to call 211. The 211 service is now available throughout Missouri.
For information for your area, tune in to your Missourinet affiliate station and visit these Weather Service office websites.
For more information on road closures, visit the Missouri Department of Transportation’s traveler information map.
The state veterans home in Mexico is receiving funding to help replace the facility. More than 5,000 patients will have their debt forgiven by an embattled Missouri non-profit hospital. Alisa Nelson reports.
The Missouri Housing Development Commission (MHDC) has approved two measures that strengthen protections for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) families and individuals. The Commission voted unanimously to amend the Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP) to bolster equal treatment when offering housing opportunities and employing contractors. It was amended to specifically prohibit discrimination against individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in addition to other protected attributes such as race, age and disability.
“At a time when the basic civil rights of individuals are being attacked across the country, it is important for Missouri to send a clear message that we are fully committed to fair and equal access to housing projects,” said State Treasurer Clint Zweifel.
The Commission includes the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, State Treasurer, Attorney General and six persons appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate.
The second measure expands equal protection for individuals based on gender identity in MHDC’s “Standards of Conduct,” which apply to employees, clients and any entity that does business with the Commission. Sexual orientation has been protected in the Standards of Conduct since 2009.
“Even in 2016, Missourians can still be denied housing or evicted simply because they are gay or transgender,” said PROMO Executive Director Steph Perkins. “We are grateful to the Missouri Housing Development Commission for adding protections for LGBT renters and contractors. Through these simple steps, many Missourians will have access to housing without the fear or reality of discrimination, regardless of who they are or who they love.”
In its April meeting, MHDC approved the Standards of Conduct revision and gave initial support to the revised QAP. Following a public comment period, the QAP revisions won final approval at today’s meeting. The changes are consistent with Housing and Urban Development federal standards; they are effective immediately.
The MHDC administers, and provides financing for, the construction of affordable housing. The Commission also provides funding for home loans to qualified, first-time buyers through a network of certified, private mortgage lenders. Mortgage financing is facilitated through the sale of mortgage-backed securities and through the sale of tax-exempt bonds that the Commission is authorized to issue.
The state Veteran’s Commission and the possibility of a new Veteran’s Home in Mexico, MO. Bill Wise reports.
An investigation of a Missouri non-profit hospital has led to debt forgiveness for 5,070 patients totaling $16.9 million. U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) says Mosaic Life-Care had been aggressively suing low-income patients who couldn’t pay their hospital bills.
“Non-profit hospitals should not be in the business of aggressively suing their patients. As recipients of tax exempt status, these hospitals have a heightened duty to assist patients in qualifying for financial assistance,” said Grassley. “Now a lesson to all 535 members of Congress that I want to point out. This is why oversight is so important. That is why I take my oversight responsibilities as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee so seriously. Results matter.”
Mosaic will also hire additional staff to help low-income people seeking financial assistance, will no longer charge interest on accounts until final judgment, and will extend its billing cycle.
“News reports further indicated that many of these patients qualified for financial assistance and were wrongly placed in collections,” said Grassley.
Grassley initially wrote to Mosaic in January 2015 after information surfaced about the organization’s legal practices.