Apr 18

Economic Freedom or Exploitation of Missouri’s Poor? The Payday Loan Debate.

by Mike Ferguson

(St. Charles, MO) – Short term loans. Payday loans. Predatory lending.

What they are depends on how you view the unsecured, generally small-dollar loan businesses that number near 1,000 in the Show Me State.

For some Missourians, payday loans are the only resource to get cash when the money runs out and the bills are due. To others, they may be a last resort in an emergency. Candidly, they are also often the destination after poor financial decisions are made.

Whether the loan amount is fifty dollars or hundreds of dollars, the interest can be in the hundreds of percent and it compounds quickly when not paid off in a timely manner.

Payday lenders are staying busy in Missouri, making millions of loans in the state a year. A report released in 2013 found the average interest rate of payday loans was about 455%.

That’s got some Missouri activists asking for changes to the law. The effort underway now is focused on the State Capitol in hopes of getting the Legislature to crack down on these businesses.

Barb Paulus is with Metropolitan Congregations United, which is part of that lobby effort. She wants the state to model our laws after a federal one.

MWSnap169“The only reform that we think would represent true reform is to cap the interest rate at 36%, which is currently the cap that the US Congress passed in 2006 for members of the military.”

The law to which she’s referring limits what interest can be charged on short term loans to active duty military personnel.

State law currently requires a loan contract with all the terms disclosed to the borrower. Paulus says that’s still not enough protection.

“These are tough financial times. So if you’re desperate to pay a bill, you’re not necessarily going to read the fine print. Yeah, maybe that’s ‘shame on you’ but we think that, morally…if Congress thinks 36% is a reasonable cap for the military then it should be a reasonable cap for everyone.”

That pits the idea of protecting consumers from bad decisions against the idea of economic freedom.

David Stokes from the Show Me Institute doesn’t want the state government increasing rules just to keep people from making a bad deal.

MWSnap170“I’m a free adult. An educated adult. I can make these choices. I don’t need state representatives protecting me.”

Paulus believes there is a place for government to step in and limit what customers can borrow, even if lenders are willing to hand the money to them.

“I think we all have a moral responsibility and a responsibility for the common good to ensure that we don’t take advantage of people.

She says on “Missouri Viewpoints” that if the reform effort is not successful in the Legislature, the coalition working for the changes will consider trying to put the proposal on a statewide ballot in 2016.

On the web:

Metropolitan Congregations United: www.mcustl.com

The Show Me Institute: www.ShowMeInstitute.org

St. Louis Community Credit Union: https://www.stlouiscommunity.com/

Permanent link to this article: http://missouriviewpoints.com/economic-freedom-or-exploitation-of-missouris-poor-the-payday-loan-debate/

Apr 11

Immigration: Ideas For Reform and the Impact on Missouri

by Mike Ferguson

(St. Charles, MO) – What happens at America’s borders affects Missouri. The policy decisions about immigration made in Washington, DC also impact Missouri.

That’s the word from the Missourian who used to be in charge of enforcing America’s immigration laws.

Former INS Commissioner Gene McNary doesn’t just want reforms made on the nation’s immigration system, he wants a new discussion of the issue. To him, it’s not one issue, it’s two issues. McNary served in that role under President George H.W. Bush.

The first focuses on illegal immigrants who, in his words, “crash the border”, typically coming to the United States through the southwest border. The second deals with skilled and well-educated immigrants from all over the world who come to the US for higher education.

MWSnap167“I think that we need to make it easier for those who come here and we educate them and they graduate with an American degree. Those people, many of them are essential to our national interests. We want to keep them.”

Immigrants in the United States legally through a student visa typically need an employer to petition for them in order to get a green card, which allows the immigrant to stay and work. McNary thinks effective immigration reform should include allowing those with college degrees from the US to stay and work here.

Among the changes he’s suggesting is letting the immigrants petition directly for their work authorization.

McNary believes this change would benefit Missouri because of the increasing role technology companies have in the state’s economy. From financial services and food research in St. Louis to life sciences and medical technology in Kansas City, the demand for educated, skilled workers in technical fields is increasingly.

Among the criticisms of some immigration reform proposals is the belief that it allows too much competition with American workers for good jobs, especially in an economy that continues to struggle.

Keeping competition for jobs above-board is also part of the reforms McNary proposes. He thinks all employers should be required to check the legal status of workers before putting them on the payroll.

“E-verify really started twenty years ago when I was head of immigration. Now it’s been refined but it’s not mandatory but it works and should be made mandatory so an employer must check and verify that this employee they are about to hire is actually employment eligible.”

When it comes to those who enter the country illegally, that’s a different story in McNary’s view.

“Those who came here and crashed the border, I don’t see any way that you can give them amnesty or a path to citizenship or anything else. Now, you might let them go back and then let them come in on a guest worker statute, which I’d be in favor of.”

The American Immigration Council estimates around 250,000 residents of Missouri are immigrants. Of those, the group says over 40% have become naturalized citizens. The group says illegal immigrants total around 55,000 in the state, according to recent studies.

Missouri-based immigration attorney Jalesia “Jasha” McQueen sees the same problems from the legal front lines. The immigration portion of her law practice primarily deals with legal immigrants.

MWSnap168“…there’s not enough of a conversation about legal immigration. There should be more of a conversation about that because what we’re asking people to do is to go through a system that’s broken.”

To McQueen. it’s not just about a legal immigrant wanting to stay and work in the United States, it’s about economic freedom. She says she sees the impact first-hand through her clients.

“I have several horror stories of people who are trying to stay here legally and already have a job. Employers spend thousands and thousands of dollars in trying to keep an employee and, somehow, the government has the right to tell an employer who they can and can’t hire.”

She says the discussion of legal immigration should also be about people as individuals.

“There is something very tragic about somebody who tries to stay here, spends thousands and thousands of dollars and then finds out at the end of the road, after they bought a house, after they had two children hereafter they saved for seven years that, all of a sudden, they have to leave because of a technicality in the petition.”

In other words, some immigrants earn the right to stay and others do not. McQueen, whose mother is an immigrant to the US, agrees with McNary when it comes to allowing those who came to the country illegally.

“If you break the laws, you have to understand that you broke them. Granting citizenship to somebody, to me, is very disrespectful in the eyes of the rest of the United States and to those who are trying to do it legally.”

On the web:

American Immigration Council’s Missouri Page: http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/just-facts/new-americans-missouri

Immigration Reform Proposals: www.FWD.us

Jalesia “Jasha” McQueen’s Law Firm: http://mcqueenawad.com/

Permanent link to this article: http://missouriviewpoints.com/immigration-ideas-for-reform-and-the-impact-on-missouri/

Apr 04

Travel At Home in Missouri This Year

by Mike Ferguson

(St. Charles, MO) – Old Man Winter has, hopefully, left town and Spring has sprung in Missouri.

While we shake off a few more cold mornings, we can look forward to summer. Believe it or not, the school year ends in about two months and that’s got many families considering options for weekend getaways and vacations.

When thinking of vacations, places like Florida and California often come to mind but a Missouri-based business hopes you’ll think about getting away closer to home.

In fact, Missouri Life magazine reaches thousands of readers every month with its pages full of stories and pictures of attractions, events, culture, history and innovation of the things that make Missouri, Missouri.

Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Danita Wood points out that discovering a part of the Show Me State isn’t just less expensive than a cross-country vacation, tourists are also important to the state no matter where they come from.

MWSnap166“They [tourists] provide all kinds of jobs. Summer employment for kids, teenagers, but also year round employment in so many of these places. Tourism, you know, is the second most important industry here in the state.”

According to Missouri’s Department of Economic Development, tourism supports about 280,000 jobs and has an $11 billion annual impact on the state.

While popular destinations in Missouri include the major metropolitan areas of Kansas City and St. Louis, Wood points out that lesser-known attractions around the state offer unique experiences, foods and cultural impacts.

Of course, sometimes the best vacation is getting away from attractions altogether. The Great Outdoors is at its best in Missouri.

Float trips on the Missouri River, the Lake of the Ozarks, many camping and fishing sites and miles of hiking and biking trails offer ways to get away and get outside, often far less expensively than booking a hotel room and buying tickets to shows, museums and festivals.

That’s not just a subjective brag, Wood points out.

“The state was named the best trails state in the country for hiking, biking, horseback riding.”

That designation came last year from AmericanTrails.org.

The bottom line when it comes to your travel plans has an impact on other bottom lines. Your families and that of your destination. That’s why Wood and other Missouri advocates hope you’ll consider hitting the road, destined for somewhere within our own borders.

It’s good for your bottom line because you’ll likely save money and still get a fun trip and it’s good for Missouri’s local communities.

On The Web:

Missouri Life Magazine: www.MissouriLife.com

Missouri Department of Tourism: www.VisitMO.com

American Trails Announcement of Missouri being the best trails state:

http://www.americantrails.org/awards/2013awards/state13.html

Permanent link to this article: http://missouriviewpoints.com/tight-budget-travel-at-home-in-missouri-this-year/

Mar 28

Missouri’s Military: Preparing For Local Needs and Preserving the Past

by Mike Ferguson

(St. Charles, MO) – The first severe storms of 2014 hit parts of Missouri on Thursday, providing a reminder of the preparations in place for disasters.

The recent storms were – thankfully – not as large or damaging as the ones that hit Joplin, St. Louis and Sedalia in recent years. Local emergency responders were able to handle the situations without calling in help from the state.

State officials and the National Guard are preparing year around for scenarios that include severe storms. Despite a multi-layered process used to deploy the Guard to disaster areas, that process is done quickly in emergencies.

On “Missouri Viewpoints”, National Guard Captain Wesley Dickman explains how a seemingly complicated process can be activated efficiently.

MWSnap164” Usually, those requests are being worked at multiple locations at the same time. When we know a request is being processed through SEMA (the State Emergency Management Agency), we go ahead and start getting clearance done at our level.

“We have several what we call con-ops, concept of the operations already designed for several disasters so we already know about what size of force we’re going to need for what type of disaster, what units are located where and how we can respond quickly.”

Ultimately, the Governor makes the decision to call the Guard in to help in a disaster area.

While helping in local disasters is not the primary job of the National Guard, it is among the most likely duties they will be called to do, so they train year around for those scenarios.

Even then, Dickman says, they remain in a supporting role when activated.

“We go to those communities and we assist where we’re needed. We don’t ever take charge of the scene.”

The Guard works closely with SEMA and with meteorologists around the state to anticipate weather-related emergencies that might result in a large-scale disaster.

While the Guard looks to the future and prepares, another project near Jefferson City looks to the past and preserves.

Construction of a 6,550 square foot building to house the Museum of Missouri Military History is underway and will be completed later this year. The museum currently resides in another building on the Ike Skelton Training Center but does not have enough room to display all the artifacts stored there now.

Museum Curator Charles Machon says those include items dating back prior to the Civil War.

MWSnap165“Going all the way back to the Mexican War, 1846 to 1848 on up to the present.”

Machon hopes the museum becomes a destination for more Missourians once the new building opens and what it offers for everyone whether they have military experience or not.

“[Visitors will] learn an appreciation for your military. To know the sacrifices that they went through and to just get a better understanding of it.”

On the web:

Missouri National Guard: www.MOGuard.com

Museum of Missouri Military History: http://www.moguard.com/moguard-museum-of-missouri-military-history.html

Veterans United: www.VU.com

Permanent link to this article: http://missouriviewpoints.com/missouris-military-preparing-for-local-needs-and-preserving-the-past/

Mar 21

The Missouri Media’s Take: Assessing The Legislature At Halftime

by Mike Ferguson

(St. Charles, MO) – Missouri’s lawmakers took this past week off in their annual Spring Break.

While there has certainly been some politicking happening, the break gives them, other elected officials and the media that covers the Capitol a breather. It also serves as the unofficial halftime of the Legislative Session.

As with halftime in sports, that means assessing what’s already happened and updating the playbook in preparation for the second half.

On this week’s “Missouri Viewpoints”, three of the state’s best known members of the media weigh in on what’s happened so far in 2014.

Jo Mannies from St. Louis Public Radio, Eli Yokley from PoliticMO.com and Duane Lester of The Missouri Torch bring three different perspectives from three different approaches to covering state government.

While Republicans have overwhelming numbers in both chambers, Yokley senses a lack of unity on at least one of the key issues GOP leadership hopes to pass this year.

“They’re having a hard time. The week before Spring Break, they caucused on ‘Right To Work’ and on some of these labor issues privately and they came out of that not really making any ground. They can’t really move on this.

“A lot of these priorities are being pushed by the Speaker (Rep. Tim Jones) who is looking at some of these statewide races or maybe a Senate campaign, and he’s really looking at the political options, trying to get some labor bills passed and the problem is his party is not with him yet. There’s a lot of Republicans in districts where they need support from labor groups and business groups alike in suburban St. Louis and Kansas City, in some of these moderate parts of the state where Republicans need support from the labor guys and they’re not ready to move on this ‘Right to Work’ yet.”

MOVP-mar17-14bMannies agrees that there is some conflict within the GOP on a few labor issues, but also thinks the political landscape looks good for Republicans in this election year.

“Generally, the Republicans have done a better job, as they usually do, coming up with a message. They’re all looking toward the November elections and that message is that there’s all this overreach, particularly at the federal level, because I think they see that as the best way to galvanize the public.

“The Democrats, as usual, haven’t really come up with a cohesive message yet to counter that. I think too often Democrats tend to look like deer in the headlights when some of this stuff is going on. They do need to come up with some sort of a more coordinated message going into the fall unless they’re prepared to get hammered again like they did in 2010.”

Lester reports that, regardless of the unified message the media and public may be hearing, Republican leaders still have a challenge on their hands when it comes to maintaining party unity through the rest of the session.

“I speak to a lot of Republicans when I’m down at the state house and I can tell you there is a lot of friction. There are some very powerful words that are being used to describe fellow Republicans.”

The impact that friction will have on issues including the proposal to expand Medicaid coverage in the state, the so-called “Right To Work” and “Paycheck Protection” labor policy reforms and other high profile bills remains to be seen.

In 2013, state Republicans were unable to hold their ranks together during the veto session and failed to override Governor Nixon’s rejection of some key GOP priorities, including a sweeping tax cut plan.

In political terms, the Republicans have veto-proof majorities in both chambers. In reality, the party has not been able to count on keeping those majorities’ votes on the same page at crucial moments. With an election year at hand, the impact of those crucial legislative moments can have ripple effects on their efforts to hold their seats – and the balance of power in the Legislature.

On the web:
St. Louis Public Radio (news page): http://news.stlpublicradio.org/

PoliticMO: www.PoliticMO.com

The Missouri Torch: http://themissouritorch.com/

Permanent link to this article: http://missouriviewpoints.com/the-missouri-medias-take-assessing-the-legislature-at-halftime/

Mar 14

Protecting Children: SIDS And Other Dangers

by Mike Ferguson

(St. Charles, MO) – It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. Walking in to check on your newborn and finding them not breathing.

It happens around 100 times every year in Missouri and no one knows exactly why.

SIDS – Sudden Infant Death Syndrome – strikes without warning and without discrimination.

Lori Behrens is with Missouri-based SIDS Resources, Inc. She says there’s no warning and no way to predict it but researchers are learning more about it.

MWSnap162“What most doctors believe is that it’s, if you will, the perfect storm. It’s the combination of a critical development period – that first six months of life when the baby is growing and maturing very rapidly. A lot of changes are going on in the baby’s body physically and neurologically.

“And then you combine that with some other kind of vulnerability. Maybe the baby was premature, low birth weight, something like that.”

The advancements in the study of SIDS that have been made indicate that there are some risk factors that can be controlled. While they don’t guarantee safety from SIDS, they could reduce the chance of it happening.

The main risk factor is how and where the child sleeps. Behrens calls the recommendations the “ABC’s” of sleeping for an infant.

A: Alone. While many new parents want to hold their child at night or hope for a closer bond by sharing a bed, infants should sleep by themselves.

B: Back. Infants should sleep on their backs.

C: Crib. Infants should sleep in something made specifically for them, like a crib. In addition to reducing the risk of SIDS, this also reduced the risk of accidental suffocation from pillows, getting wrapped in an adult blanket or even from a parent’s hand, arm or entire body.

Since the medical field began recommending this approach, Behrens says the numbers are improving when it comes to SIDS.

“Since the original ‘back to sleep’ recommendation in 1994, we saw a 50% decrease in SIDS rates in the decade of the 1990′s.”

Those rates have generally held steady since then.

The window if danger of SIDS is relatively short, so vigilance from parents, babysitters, nannies and nursery workers is crucial.

Missouri is finally getting a break from winter and with the warmer weather comes outdoor fun, spring cleaning and additional dangers for children.

Of course, not all dangers can be eliminated because kids will be kids.

Cathy Hogan works with Cardinal Glennon Hospital in St. Louis and also with Safe Kids Worldwide. She has a few reminders for parents to reduce some injury risks.

MWSnap163While falls are one of the most common reasons for injuries to children, she says accidental poisonings happen more than you may realize and the dangers are often from unexpected things.

“One of the most dangerous things we can have in the house is a purse because we come in the house, we set the purse down and we throw our keys in it and we throw our cell phone in it and we leave it open.

“There’s a lot of things in there that kids can get in to, whether it be your bottle of aspirin or Advil or your Visine or choking hazards.”

Other safety precautions that adults often overlook include locking up cleaning supplies, especially if they are stored under sinks or on the floor in closets where children can reach them.

Hogan also suggests having a medical or law enforcement professional check your car seats. She estimates that 95% of the car seats checked by Cardinal Glennon staff are installed improperly.

Car seats should be used until children are at least eight years old and/or 4’9″ tall, according to current recommendations.

Most hospitals around the state have child safety resources available at no cost.
On the web:

SIDS Resources, Inc.: http://www.sidsresources.org/

Safe Kids Worldwide: http://www.safekids.org/

Permanent link to this article: http://missouriviewpoints.com/protecting-children-sids-and-other-dangers/

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