Oct 17

Election Preview: Missouri’s Amendment 10

Note: as we get closer to the November 4th General Election, we will be addressing some of the proposals voters will decide at the polls over the next few weeks. this week’s show is the first in a series of three programs focused on election issues.

by Mike Ferguson

(St. Charles, MO) – Election Day is just weeks away, are you ready?

This year, there is no major contest on the ballot for a statewide office. State Auditor Tom Schweich (R) faces no Democratic opposition but there are some important state constitutional amendment proposals voters will decide.

Among them: Amendment 10. If approved, it would make a big change to the rules when it comes to state government spending.

In recent years, Republicans in the State Legislature have accused Governor Jay Nixon of using his ability to withhold spending that has already been budgeted and approved in order to gain leverage on other political issues. Spending withholds are legal and have been used by governors from both parties for many years in Missouri.

As things stand now, when the Governor (regardless of party affiliation) withholds state funds already approved to be spent, he has the final say on the matter and may choose to release the funds at a later date – or not at all. If passed by voters, Amendment 10 would grant the State Legislature (regardless of which party has a majority in one or both chambers) the ability to vote on the withhold and force the release of the funds in question.MWSnap016

The proposal calls for a two-thirds majority vote to force the release of the spending, which would make the process basically the same as an override of a line item veto.

In this week’s program, Missouri Budget Project Director of Policy Jay Hardenbrook argues against the proposal while State Representative Todd Richardson (R) argues in favor of it.MWSnap015

Hardenbrook says, among other reasons, the Governor needs the ability to withhold funds because economic conditions can quickly change after the budget process is complete and sometimes revenues simply don’t meet expectations, creating a shortfall.

Richardson says those concerns are addressed in the proposal because it would also require budgeting based on current revenue streams, not based on projected revenue.

On the web:

Missouri Budget Project: www.MOBudget.org

Rep. Todd Richardson: www.RichardsonForMissouri.com

2014 Missouri Ballot Measures: http://www.sos.mo.gov/elections/2014ballot/

Permanent link to this article: http://missouriviewpoints.com/election-preview-missouris-amendment-10/

Oct 10

Government’s Role In Missourians’ Health

by Mike Ferguson

(St. Charles, MO) – It’s the premise of many political debates in Missouri right now: the question of what role, if any, should government have in our lives.

When it comes to health, that question ripples through discussions at the local, state and national level.

Despite resistance from lawmakers and a setback from voters, the American Cancer Society’s Missouri branch continues to push for increased regulations and higher taxes they say will save lives and save taxpayers money in the long run. The national organization recently graded all states on their tobacco-related laws, taxes and spending. According to them, Missouri flunked.

Stacy Reliford is part of the ACS Missouri Government Relations team and wants to see the law eliminate smoking from all workplaces, public or private. There’s no realistic chance of that happening on a statewide level right now in Missouri, but several cities have adopted smoking bans around the state. Reliford says that ground-up approach is part of a statewide strategy.MWSnap013

Critics say bans that affect private property, especially businesses that cater to adults like bars, some restaurants and casinos, violates the rights of customers and business owners to make private decisions. Reliford, in a “Missouri Viewpoints” interview, says the regulations are needed for two reasons: to reduce secondhand smoke for everyone and to protect employees. She says that in a tough economy, hourly workers often cannot “vote with their feet” and leave a job because it’s not easy to find work in many places.

The ACS also wants Missouri to increase taxes on tobacco products. That idea was rejected by voters in 2012 but Reliford is still hopeful that the rate will be increased, saying higher costs discourage people from smoking. She also believes the tax increase would be good for the state because smoking-related illnesses are a major impact on Medicaid spending.

While she says she understands the philosophical opposition to more laws and higher taxes, Reliford maintains that the ideas have a proven track record of improving public health.

A part of health care that people often overlook is oral care. The Missouri Coalition for Oral Health hopes Missourians will think of dental health and other parts of physical health together, as opposed to thinking they are unrelated.MWSnap014

Gary Harbison is the Coalition’s Executive Director and wants to increase the awareness of the importance of oral health.

There are public policy efforts for that, too. Among those are increasing Medicaid coverage for oral health needs, including for preventative treatments.

According to the Coalition’s policy position, “Covering routine, preventive oral health care and comprehensive dental treatment for MO HealthNet adults is cost-effective. This will also reduce the use of expensive emergency room and hospitalization services for untreated oral disease and disorders that could have been easily and better managed through routine dental care.

“Oral Health is a key part of overall health. Sound public policy in support of a system of care is needed to ensure that improvement in the oral health of Missourians is achieved and maintained over time.”

On the web:

American Cancer Society’s Missouri “Report Card”: http://www.acscan.org/content/report-cards/missouri/

Missouri Coalition for Oral Health: http://www.oralhealthmissouri.org

Permanent link to this article: http://missouriviewpoints.com/governments-role-in-missourians-health/

Oct 04

New Ideas In Education For Missouri

AT&T Missouri John Sondag explains why technology companies are worried about both the present and future workforce. He says the traditional college/university system is not adapting to the needs of the economy and, specifically, technology-based industries. As a result, numerous tech companies have cooperatively launched “nanodegree” programs that allow people to train for entry-level technical jobs online.MWSnap009

“Nanodegrees” are similar to certificate programs offered through a partnership between multiple technology companies and Udacity. Coursework completed through their program is not accepted at most traditional colleges and universities.

Udacity describes the process as “…accessible, affordable, interactive online courses that seek to empower our students to advance not just their education but their careers in technology. We develop courses together with leaders in the tech industry to provide the most relevant and cutting-edge tech education that bridges the gap between academia and the needs of the 21st century workforce.”

Many “nanodegrees” can be earned in under a year at a fraction of the cost of a degree or certificate program earned through more traditional schools.

Sondag explains the concerns tech companies have when planning for future staffing needs and why they are now looking to nontraditional education to fill those needs.

In addition to looking at technology education, this week’s “Missouri Viewpoints” also focuses on an effort to change how Missouri balances STEM (science technology engineering and mathematics) with traditional subjects.MWSnap012

Lucian Spataro, the CEO of the Joe Foss Institute, explains the reasoning for the “Civics Education Initiative” in Missouri. That would require all Missouri high school students to pass a civics test prior to graduation.

He explains why he feels that civics education, including government and history, is essential along with STEM courses. The “Civics Education Initiative” is being promoted to lawmakers in hopes of adding the statewide requirement. Spataro worries that a lack of civics education now could lead to a lack of qualified leaders for the states and for the nation as a whole in the next several years.MWSnap010

The test being proposed is similar to the one legal immigrants are required to pass in order to gain United States citizenship. During the interview, Spataro describes the difference in the rate American high school students pass that exam now and the rate legal immigrants pass it. The difference is significant.

On the web:

AT&T: www.ATT.com
Udacity: www.Udacity.com
Civics Education Initiative: www.CivicsEducationInitiative.org

Permanent link to this article: http://missouriviewpoints.com/new-ideas-in-education-for-missouri/

Sep 26

Free Speech and Honest Speech in Missouri

by Mike Ferguson

(St. Charles, MO) – The questions and controversies you’ve seen on the news may impact you, no matter where you live in the Show Me State.

The unrest in Ferguson, Missouri still leaves more challenges than answers over a month after the shooting death of Michael Brown. While the debate continues over the police tactics during the aftermath of the shooting, there’s another discussion emerging from the controversy: did police violate the First Amendment rights of protesters?

Constitutional Attorney Dave Roland of the Freedom Center of Missouri thinks police went too far in trying to keep order. Among his concerns is the efforts made to control where news media were allowed to be and to stop pictures and videos from being recorded. Some protesters and reporters on the scene say they were ordered by police to not use their cameras. That’s an order many defied.MWSnap007

“What police are generally permitted to do is to ask people who are actively interfering with a law enforcement effort to step out of the way. The police cannot say ‘turn off your cameras. We don’t want you filming this.’ That would be a gross invasion of the freedom of press, the freedom of speech and, unfortunately, we saw some of that.”

Roland, in an interview on “Missouri Viewpoints” discusses why he believes those – and other – actions by law enforcement need to be challenged. He also explains his view of the role civil disobedience has in situations like the one in Ferguson. During the discussion, Roland was careful to note that not all of the actions by those involved in the unrest are protected as free speech.

As an example, Roland notes that law enforcement has the right and duty to try to stop activities like looting, arson, vandalism and other violence, which also occurred in Ferguson.

Also, what happens when free speech, political speech is negative speech? A Missouri organization called F.A.C.T. Compass wants to offer a free market solution to what they say is a destructive part of our political process: misleading or otherwise negative campaign ads. Daniel Rubenstein explains the goals, the methods and the opportunity for you to get involved.

F.A.C.T. Compass wants to take a similar approach to campaign ads as the Better Business Bureau takes with commercial organizations.

Daniel Rubenstein wants their seal of approval to eventually send voters a message: that the claims in the ad have been researched and found to be both accurate and in context. He believes the public is ready to demand the end of negative attack ads and wants them replaced with verifiable, honest ones.MWSnap008

“We think that, from talking with a lot of people, they’d like to see that happen. I mean, everyone seems to be frustrated with the negative advertising in political campaigns. It’s ridiculous. They’re taking small slivers of truth and turning them into a dagger and they’re avoiding the real issues.

“It’s time to talk about what’s going on and what they stand for, not just throwing mud.”

Generally speaking, the process they hope to use is one where candidates open up their ads to a truth audit of sorts. A team, or more than one team, of F.A.C.T. Compass researchers will verify the technical accuracy of the claims. They will also, according to Rubenstein, consider the context of the claims being made, especially the ones attacking another opponent.

If the ad passes the review, it will be allowed to display the F.A.C.T. Compass seal.

Rubenstein says everyone who joins the research teams will go through an assessment to identify their political leanings and teams will be put together that balances viewpoints. The audit-like process, research and approval will not be an endorsement of any candidate or party. It will only indicate that the claims have been verified as not misleading.

On the web:

Freedom Center of Missouri: www.MOFreedom.org

F.A.C.T. Compass: http://factcompass.com/

Permanent link to this article: http://missouriviewpoints.com/free-speech-and-honest-speech-in-missouri/

Sep 19

Veto Session 2014: What Does It Mean To Missouri?

by Mike Ferguson

(St. Charles, MO) – What happens when the relationships between the people in government break down? That’s what some politicians on both sides of the aisle say is happening in our state government right now.

It’s nothing new to hear Republicans complain about Democrats and vice versa. Right now, though, both sides say there is another divide. Democratic State Representative Vicki Englund (St. Louis County) explains.MWSnap004

“I think what we’re looking at is relationships between the Legislature and the Governor’s office that have been less than stellar. I think we’re looking at relationships between the Senate and the House that have been less than stellar. I think what we have here is just a very political process over the budget.”

Speaker of the House Tim Jones (R) has more confidence in the relationship between the House and the Senate but he agrees with Englund when it comes to the situation between the Legislature and the Governor. He also believes every Missourian should be concerned about it as well.

“It means that we start experiencing what they are in [Washington] D.C., which is complete gridlock and I can tell you that the only reason we are experiencing that here is because Jay Nixon is governing differently than he did his first four years.”

At issue is how state government spends your money. With votes from both parties, lawmakers overrode spending line item vetoes 47 times this month.

Still, the Governor’s decision to withhold millions in spending that was approved by the Legislature is not setting well with many lawmakers, according to Englund.

“It’s just kind of anyone’s bet why decisions are made. I don’t think we really know what the Governor’s priorities are. We just know that funding is released whenever it’s released.”

Jones agrees with Englund on that point.

“The media, at least in the headlines, did not properly dissect the issue and didn’t explain what it was truly about. What the overrides on the spending items were about were priorities. This money has already been ‘spent’. It’s already been appropriated in the budget.”

The Speaker believes the communication breakdown may be the result of political decisions.MWSnap006

“Democrats and Republicans agreed. We passed a true balanced budget. It was $300 million less than what the Governor originally asked for but he got mad at us for a number of reasons.”

Among those, according to Jones, is the override of an income tax cut the Governor vetoes earlier this year.

While members of the two parties still disagree on many things, Jones says they overcame differences to get the job done when it came time to decide the state’s spending plan for the year.

“You ended up with a veto session where Republicans and Democrats joined together to put that money back into the categories that we felt deserved the priority. What were those priorities? We focused on seniors, children, the mentally disabled, veterans…there was no pork.”

That’s not happening when it comes to legislators and the Governor working together. At least that’s the accusation from some lawmakers, both Republican and Democratic. To Representative Englund, the solution is less political and more personal.

“We need to do what I believe we in the House of Representatives have done and that’s start talking to each other. I feel as though we’re not even having those conversations started.

“It’s one thing to have a conversation with someone and, at the end of the day, disagree but when you’re not having those conversations it’s very difficult to support any program or support any strategy that someone – at the last minute – asks for your support about.”

With two years left in Nixon’s term, Englund still hopes the working relationships in Jefferson City will improve.

“I think the opportunity is there. Whether or not he seizes it, that’s up to him.”

On the web:

Vicki Englund: http://www.vickienglund.com/

Tim Jones: http://timwjones.com/

Permanent link to this article: http://missouriviewpoints.com/veto-session-2014-what-does-it-mean-to-missouri/

Sep 18

Are There “Two Missouris”?

By Mike Ferguson

(St. Charles, MO) – Election Day always has an impact on Missourians.

Some are happy that their candidate or cause won and others are unhappy with the election results. With some exceptions, there tends to be a pattern in the Show Me State’s voting. While it can be classified as “red” or “blue” regarding the selection of state lawmakers, there’s also a pattern when it comes to some issues.

It’s not necessarily Republican versus Democrat, it’s urban Missouri versus rural Missouri. Urban areas tend to vote more Democratic and in favor of issues like gun control and animal rights. Rural areas are often more Republican, sharply oppose gun control proposals and support agriculture issues that sometimes conflict with the efforts of animal rights groups.

Some political and media observers go as far as to refer to “two Missouris” – where people in the same state are worlds apart in terms of priorities, values, culture and politics.

Do we live in “Two Missouris”? This week, a media panel of Jo Mannies (St. Louis Public Radio), Scott Faughn (The Missouri Times) and Eli Yokely (PoliticMO.com and the Joplin Globe) discuss what they see as dividing Missouri and what can unite Missourians.

On the web:

St. Louis Public Radio: http://news.stlpublicradio.org/

The Missouri Times: http://themissouritimes.com/

PoliticMO: http://politicmo.com/

Permanent link to this article: http://missouriviewpoints.com/are-there-two-missouris/

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