Category Archives: Issues

Ballot Issues for August Primary

A Closer Look At Missouri’s Ballot Issues

By Erica Smith, St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri’s Aug. 5 primary ballot includes several Constitutional amendments, but none has been as contentious as Amendment 7, the transportation tax proposal.

Amendment 7

The transportation tax amendment would impose a 0.75 percent increase on the state sales and use tax for up to 10 years to fund transportation projects. That tax is now 4.225 percent and is distributed into four funds: general revenue, conservation, education and parks. St. Louis Public Radio reporter Jason Rosenbaum recently answered five questions about the amendment.

Tom Shrout of Missourians for Better Transportation Solutions, which opposes the amendment, and Jewell Patek of Missourians for Better Transportation and Jobs, which supports it, joined us Thursday to discuss the amendment.

Supporters say the amendment is the best way to raise funds, at least $500 million a year, to pay for needed transportation improvements. Critics say there are better ways to raise the money, and say a sales tax hurts low-income people the most.

Missouri’s other amendments

Amendment 1: The right to farm amendment would guarantee Missouri farmers and ranchers the right to raise crops and livestock.

Supporters say it guarantees farmers can engage in their livelihood without too much interference from the government and animal-rights groups. Opponents say it will help large corporate farms and could block state and local laws on water and air pollution.

Amendment 5: The right to bear arms measure would establish an “unalienable right” to keep and bear arms, ammunition and accessories, while allowing the state to limit the possession of arms by convicted felons and the mentally ill.

Supporters say the amendment would strengthen the right to bear arms and would set a higher standard for gun laws. Opponents say it is redundant (the U.S. Constitution and the Missouri Constitution include the right to bear arms) and will make it more difficult to regulate guns and gun violence.

Amendment 8: If the veterans lottery ticket amendment is approved, the net proceeds from a special Missouri Lottery ticket would go to the state’s veterans’ commission capital improvement trust fund. Missouri has seven state veterans’ homes that provide long-term nursing care.

Supporters say the lottery sales will give Missouri veterans’ homes a dedicated source of funds. There is no active opposition, however, a state lawmaker criticized the proposal earlier this year, calling it an inefficient way to fund veterans’ needs.

Amendment 9: The Missouri Constitution already protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures of “papers, homes and effects,” and states that a search warrant requires probable cause and a description of the person, place or thing to be seized. The electronic protection amendment would add electronic data, like emails, texts and tweets, to the list of protected material. On June 25, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police cannot search information on a seized cellphone without a warrant; the Missouri amendment also would cover computers and laptops.

Supporters say the amendment is a logical update to the Constitution. Like Amendment 8, there is no active opposition, but a few House Democrats earlier this year voiced concerns over whether changing the Constitution was necessary in order to protect emails and other electronic data.

Chancellor Wrighton Says “No” to Demands of Wash U Students Against Peabody

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 12, 2014
Contact: Madeleine Balchan, mbalchan2@gmail.com, 937-360-6246
Chancellor Wrighton Says “No” to Demands of Wash U Students Against Peabody
Students Immediately Escalate Fight by Organizing ‘Alumni Against Peabody’
Five student representatives from Students Against Peabody met with Chancellor Wrighton this morning to begin negotiations on the students’ demands. The students are demanding: 1. Remove CEO Greg Boyce and Peabody from the Board of Trustees, and 2. The Chancellor must attend community-organized tours of Peabody extraction zones and issue a public statement about his experience.
The student representatives, Julia Ho, Jamal Sadrud-Din , Georgia McCandlish, Emily Alves, and Megan Odenthal, met with the Chancellor for about half an hour before walking out of the meeting. When asked if he has the power to take a stand on the University’s relationship with Peabody, Chancellor Wrighton said, “I could, but I won’t.”
“This meeting has shown us that the Chancellor has decided to side with Peabody Coal instead of the students of Washington University,“ said Julia Ho, a member of the negotiating team. “We know where he stands, and we know what we have to do to change his mind.”
Immediately after the negotiating team walked out of the meeting, Students Against Peabody began heightened pressure on Chancellor Wrighton. Mobilizing quickly, a group of 40 supporters walked to the Chancellor’s office in Brookings and delivered a letter from students and community members urging the Chancellor to honor student demands.
Local community supporters today included PJ Wilson, Director of Renew Missouri. Wilson said, “Standing with these students makes me proud to be a Missourian. Renew Missouri has been pro-renewable energy and anti-nothing. Until today. We have to stand up to fossil fuel companies.”
In addition, Students Against Peabody then commenced organizing alumni, many of whom are on campus this weekend for Alumni Weekend. Alumni are being urged to calling the Alumni Annual Fund office and state that they refuse to donate to Washington University until the demands of Students Against Peabody are met.
Students Against Peabody is in the fifth day of a sustained sit-in outside of Brookings Hall, the main administration building on Washington University’s campus. The students cite numerous reasons why the University should ends its relationship with Peabody, including Peabody’s contribution to global carbon emissions, participation in ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), marginalization of indigenous and rural communities in places including Black Mesa, Arizona and Rocky Branch, Illinois, and interference in democratic processes through their lawsuit against the local Take Back St. Louis ballot initiative.
Photos are attached.
Students are available to comment throughout the day.
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Mo. Senator is calling for the resignation of state education commissioner

By JORDAN SHAPIRO  Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri — A Democratic lawmaker called on Missouri’s education commissioner Chris Nicastro to resign or be fired Tuesday, accusing Nicastro of being “less than truthful” about her involvement with a ballot measure that would end teacher tenure and require student performance to guide employment decisions.

Nicastro also has been criticized for the way she negotiated a contract with a consulting firm last year to improve the failing Kansas City schools. The bid went to a firm that was nearly three times as expensive as the closest competitor.

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a University City Democrat, introduced a non-binding measure Tuesday calling for Nicastro to resign or be fired by the State Education Board.

“Reports have indicated that the state education commissioner has engaged in blatantly unethical practices,” said Chappelle-Nadal. “She has misused her position, severely damaging both the reputation and effectiveness of the department.”

Nicastro responded by saying she was “committed to carrying on the work that we’re doing on behalf of kids in Missouri and that’s what I come to work every day to do, and that’s what I’ll keep doing.”

Nicastro has been under fire from Democratic lawmakers and teachers’ unions for her involvement for the ballot proposal that would end teacher tenure and require student performance to guide employment decisions. State email records show Nicastro met with an advocate of the ballot initiative in 2012, suggested specific wording and reviewed a final draft of the initiative before it was filed this March with the secretary of state’s office.

Nicastro insisted she took no position on the initiative but provided the group information just as she would with anyone proposing a change in state law.

Teachers were angered because the measure would have ended tenure protections for teachers and other certified school staff by limiting their contracts to three years. Starting in July 2015, all public school districts would need to use a staff evaluation that relies on “student performance data” to guide decisions on promoting, demoting, firing and paying personnel.

In Tuesday’s resolution, Chappelle-Nadal wrote that Nicastro’s advice to the sponsors of that initiative an example of “disregarding facts and truth in favor of political expediency.”

Nicastro has also been criticized for the way in which she negotiated a contract with a consulting firm last year to improve Kansas City schools. The state awarded the contract to Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust, or CEE-Trust, even though its bid was more costly than other submissions.

In a letter to the editor published by The Kansas City Star earlier this month, Nicastro defended her actions but said “perhaps the process could and should have been handled differently.”

“Even so, it doesn’t change the fact that the children and families in every community in the state deserve high quality schools. We need all voices to focus on that most essential issue.”

Nicastro was named education commissioner in 2009 and is the first woman to hold the position since the office was created in 1947.

New Anti-College Scholarship Program – Learn a Trade

I graduated from Iowa State University with a B.S. in Biology.  I worked for Pioneer Seed researching disease resistance in corn, then Asgrow Seeds (which was bought out by Monsanto) screening for genetic traits in soybeans, then Monsanto’s molecular breeding department (GMOs).  I changed directions after being laid off during one of Monsanto’s numerous reorganizations, and started my own business doing historical research.

But I’ve secretly always wanted to work with my hands.  During summers, I worked for a local shop planing lumber, cutting and gluing decorative woods, and sanding (I still have the scars on my hand from those evil orbital sanders) clipboards, trivets, napkin holders, and lazy susans.  I enjoyed changing my own oil in my 1991 Olds Cutlass Ciera (thanks Dad).  I’ve enjoyed the times when I’ve worked in the food service industry and the morning shift unloading and stocking the shelves at Target.  So this article piqued my interest.

Mike Rowe (of my family’s beloved show, Dirty Jobs fame) has started a scholarship program for high schoolers to learn a trade instead of going into traditional college.  Through his celebrity channels, he has launched an enormous campaign to highlight the importance of hard work and what it means for the American economy.

“Dirty Jobs” host Mike Rowe unveils anti-college scholarship program

Do you know a trade?  Would you want to change your path or learn new marketable skills?  Let me know what you think.  I’m keeping my options open.

Nixon Issues Executive Order on Same-Sex Tax Returns

via KMOX

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMOX) – Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced Thursday he will issue an executive order directing the state Department of Revenue to accept jointly-filed tax returns from same-sex couples married in other states.

“Missouri is one of a number of states whose tax code is directly tied to that of the federal government and under Missouri law, legally married couples who file joint federal tax returns with the IRS must also file joint state returns with our state Department of Revenue,” Nixon wrote in a statement.

“As a result, accepting the jointly-filed state tax returns of all legally-married couples who file federal returns is the only appropriate course of action, given Missouri statutes and the ruling by the U.S. Department of the Treasury.”

Nixon cites a U.S. Treasury Department and IRS ruling in August that married same-sex couples be treated as married for federal tax purposes, regardless of their residence.

The governor stressed in his news release that the executive only applies to taxes and “does not in any way authorize or sanction same-sex marriage in Missouri.”

LGBT activist group PROMO applauded the governor’s action Thursday, calling it a “consistent and pragmatic approach” to the federal rulings.

“We applaud the governor for giving clarity to same-sex couples and providing guidance on how we complete tax return information in the state of Missouri,” PROMO Executive Director A.J. Bockelman said in an emailed statement.

Missouri Speaker of the House Tim Jones, R-Eureka, criticized the governor’s decision Thursday, saying it “defies Missouri voters.”

Hawaii Governor Signs Marriage Equality Bill

via CBSnews

Hawaii became the fifteenth state to legalize same-sex marriage yesterday after Governor Neil Abercrombie signed a marriage equality bill into law. The bill “recognizes marriages between individuals of the same sex and extends to same-sex couples the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities of marriage that opposite-sex couples receive,” according to a press release from Governor Abercrombie…

Veolia caves to public protest

I know many of you have followed the Veolia issue for over a year – this seems like a success, right?  However, if I am reading this correctly, Veolia can become a subcontractor with MSD, who is now in charge of “analyzing” the City’s water department.  So stay tuned in!

via Stltoday

October 29, 2013 10:00 am  •  By Nicholas J.C. Pistor npistor@post-dispatch.com 314-436-2239

ST. LOUIS • A controversial contract proposal between the city’s water division and an international water consulting company died on Tuesday when the company dropped itself from consideration.

City Hall, led by Mayor Francis Slay, had said a $250,000 consulting contract with Veolia Water North America was necessary to help reduce costs and keep water rates down for city residents. But the process was colored by heated protests of the company’s environmental and business practices, with some residents worried the company would try to seize the city’s water and reduce its quality.

Slay’s staff on Tuesday told the aldermanic Ways and Means committee that the company had dropped itself from consideration for the contract.

“Veolia Water, the firm that was legitimately selected per ordinance, to help improve the Water Division’s level of efficiency, has decided our business is not worth it,” Mary Ellen Ponder, a representative of Slay, told the committee. “It is not worth the damage to their business. Veolia will not go forward with the contract they were legitimately awarded. Frankly, they can’t be blamed.”

At the time, the committee was discussing a bill by Alderman Terry Kennedy to strike the $250,000 from the Water Division’s budget in an effort to block Veolia.

Despite Veolia’s removal from consideration, the committee approved of the bill by a vote of 5-2.

“The fact of the matter is that Veolia has a terrible track record,” Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed said.

The decision was a major victory for a group called the Dump Veolia Coalition, which has protested the contract throughout the year.

“We applaud the Board of Aldermen for working to protect the public and for taking steps toward open government,” the group said in a statement. “Veolia’s interference in our political process in St. Louis is unacceptable.”

Veolia Water North America, based in Chicago, had spent considerable time and money on winning the contract, flying representatives here to appear before committee meetings and hiring local lobbyist and former Missouri Democratic Party Chairman John Temporiti, a former campaign manager to St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley.

Veolia didn’t respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

Slay is now asking the city to work with the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District to analyze the aging infrastructure and find ways to reduce costs in a water system designed for St. Louis when it had a significantly higher population and demand for the resource.

MSD said in a statement on Tuesday that it had reached a verbal agreement with the city to conduct an “operational efficiency review” of the city’s water division.

Previously, Slay had directed Comptroller Darlene Green to sign off on the Veolia expenditure, bypassing explicit approval from the city’s Board of Estimate and Apportionment, setting off a heated dispute over executive authority and the city’s approval process.

Slay had put the issue on hold in February when he failed to find a majority for approval. Slay had brought it before the board in February because the expenditure wasn’t included in that year’s budget.

Expenditures are approved by the city’s three-person Board of Estimate and Apportionment, made up of the mayor, the comptroller and the board of aldermen president.

But Slay brought the issue directly to Green earlier this month and asked for her signature, saying that the $250,000 was a line item in the overall budget approved by the Board of Aldermen, thus not requiring the board’s approval.

Drones over St. Louis

I’m really uncomfortable with this – what do you think?

via the StL Beacon

 Chief details police plans for drones over St. Louis

By Jo Mannies, Beacon political reporter

11:38 pm on Wed, 10.09.13

His timeline may be delayed a bit, but St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson is optimistic that within 18 months, his department will have its first drone to police the skies.  Dotson’s initial plan calls for a small one – 25 pounds or so, and the size of a small table – that would be armed with camera and fly as high as 400 feet in the air.  If the drone performs as hoped, more will follow.

Such a drone could track stolen cars threading their way through city side streets, check for potential evil-doers in Busch Stadium, and help “apprehend felons who flee from us, and do so safely,’’ the chief said.

And while St. Louis area residents are mulling over the idea, Dotson offered a bit of assurance to wary members of the audience at Wednesday night’s latest Holden Policy Forum at Webster University. “You are never going to see a predator drone that has missiles and shoots at people,’’ the chief said.   Any St. Louis drones also would be used solely outdoors, in “the public space,’’ he added. Not peering through windows or flying into homes.  Dotson’s plan also calls for a “real time information center,’’ where personnel would operate and oversee the drones, as well as the cameras increasingly posted around the city.

His chief message, though, centers on versatility, safety – and cost.  Dotson already has applied for approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, and has the funding lined up for the first drone, which is estimated to cost around $30,000-$60,000.  That compares to a typical cost of a helicopter that’s “$1.6 million, not including night vision, not including the optics’’ nor the cost of the two pilots.

The city of St. Louis jointly operates a law-enforcement helicopter service with St. Louis and St. Charles counties, the chief said.  “Drones allow us to operate less expensively, and safer and keep officers out of harm’s way,’’ Dotson said.  Among other things, the chief said that drones could end the dangerous high-speed chases between police and suspects that can end in deadly crashes.

The forum audience appeared split, with some concerned about privacy while others seemed receptive to the chief’s arguments. Dotson said he’s used to it, and hearing from all sides as he travels around the city – and the region – to explain what any city-owned drones would, and would not, do.  The cities who already have drones, or are considering them, he said, include New York, Miami, Dallas and Memphis.

Although he didn’t come out and say it, Dotson’s unspoken message is that drones soon will be policing urban skies around the country. Whether the public has misgivings or not.  But he emphasized that St. Louis was being careful: “We’re actually stepping into this very softly.”

 

Obamacare Cheat Sheet

H/T to Laura Keller for posting this on facebook.  It’s a really good, non-partisan primer on the Affordable Care Act:

via CnnMoney

Many insurance regulations and taxes are already in effect, but the big push begins Oct. 1.

The goal of the Affordable Care Act is to provide affordable coverage for tens of millions of uninsured Americans, provide more comprehensive coverage, and to ultimately reduce costs.

We won’t know whether it hits those goals for some time, but here’s how it could affect you now.

The first thing you need to know

Most Americans must have health insurance by March 31, 2014. A lot of people will keep getting it through work, but for everyone else, states will offer an “exchange” where people can purchase insurance from competing insurance companies.

Enrollment begins Oct. 1, and coverage begins Jan. 1.

How the exchanges will work

Plans will be grouped by tier — platinum, gold, silver, and bronze. The average cost for a silver plan will be $328 per month, but the government will kick in subsidies for those in need.

How the subsidies will work

The federal government will provide subsidies to those who earn 400% of the federal poverty level — $94,200 for a family of four, or $45,960 for a single person.

You will pay what you owe; the government will pay the insurer the subsidy directly.

Will costs go up or down? It depends

Policies are required to have more comprehensive coverage, including mental health and maternity care, and there could be more sick people covered because of Obamacare regulations. Those forces would push insurance rates higher.

But more healthy people will sign up and there will be more competition among insurers, elements that should help lower costs.

Sick and the elderly may pay less

Insurers can’t penalize you for any underlying health problems (except your smoking habit), so you may save if you had been paying more because of a medical condition.

Your choice of a doctor may be limited

To compete, plans may limit you to one-third to one-half of the doctors and hospitals you might have today.

Who will pay a penalty

If you haven’t bought insurance by March 31, 2014, a penalty might be added to your tax bill: the greater of $95 per adult or 1% of household income in 2014, climbing to $695 per adult or 2.5% of income by 2016.

But some people will be exempt: people who would have to pay more than 8% of their income for health insurance and poor adults who live in states that aren’t expanding Medicaid.

How Medicare is affected

Anyone on Medicare can ignore the fuss.

Impact on work plans

Employers are pulling back on benefits and they are blaming Obamacare. But companies have been shifting more of the burden to workers for years.

Meanwhile, the exchanges could provide peace of mind those worried about losing their job. After a layoff, you can usually stay on your company plan for 18 months through COBRA, but that coverage is pricey because you usually have to pick up the entire tab of roughly $16,000 a year.

Impact on small businesses

Companies with 50-plus full-time employees must start offering them health insurance or face stiff penalties. The employer mandate had been set to kick in January 2014, but was pushed back a year.

A 30-hour work week counts as full-time under Obamacare, so some started cutting worker hours to avoid the mandate.

The new law’s rules don’t apply to the vast majority of small businesses. As of 2010, 97% of small businesses have fewer than 50 employees.

A huge majority of those with more than 50 employees already offer benefits. But they could still be affected if their insurance isn’t good enough or sufficiently cheap under new Obamacare rules.

Social Assistance resources

I don’t know why it took me this long to organize all these phone numbers into one place – when people call me for help or ask me who to call for this and that, I looked up the resource each time.  It’s important to know how to help those in our community and how to direct questions.  I’m glad that I am looked upon as a resource and will strive to be so continually.  Please look over this list and add any other resources as you see fit –  I know it isn’t comprehensive.  I appreciate your help.

Rental Assistance

http://www.rentalassistance.us/ci/mo-st_louis

Food Assistance

http://www.homelessshelterdirectory.org/cgi-bin/id/cityfoodbanks.cgi?city=St.Louis&state=MO

Free Rehab centers

http://www.freerehabcenters.org/city/mo-saint_louis

Homeless shelters and services

http://www.homelessshelterdirectory.org/cgi-bin/id/city.cgi?city=St.Louis&state=MO

Programs and services for health care

http://www.dss.mo.gov/pr_health.htm

SNAP application

http://www.dss.mo.gov/fsd/fstamp/

Dept of Social Services resource list

http://www.dss.mo.gov/famhelp.htm

Society of St. Vincent De Paul of St. Louis – They run several different programs for people in need. Call the organization at (314) 531-2183. Find help with:

Car repairs – They partner with local garages to fix a car if it is needed for work or medical reasons.

Free medications – If you can’t afford to pay for your prescription or do not have health insurance, receive a voucher for free medications.

Legal counseling – They can arrange for qualified individuals to get free legal advice. Learn more.

Also receive access to food, clothing, and other emergency aid.

Social workers can also help people apply for other financial aid. Some of it is directly offered by the charity, and other resources are provided from referrals. Continue Saint Louis St. Vincent assistance programs.

Legal Services of Eastern Missouri – Lawyers from this organization provide free legal assistance to the low-income and others in 21 counties of eastern Missouri, including Adair, Macon, Scotland, Clark, Marion, Shelby, Franklin, Monroe, St. Charles, Jefferson, Montgomery, St. Louis, Know, Pike, Lewis, Ralls, Warren, Lincoln, Washington, and Schuyler. Their main offices are in Hannibal and St. Louis. Dial (800) 444-0514 to apply.

Heat-Up St. Louis – This particular program may be able to provide energy and heating bill assistance grants ranging from $100 to $600 to low income and other qualified applicants. Heat-Up St. Louis Inc. is an all-volunteer, regional charity that focuses on helping the disabled, low income, and elderly individuals and families with paying their delinquent energy bills. Help is available both in St. Louis and throughout the following counties. Call the agencies below for more information or to apply for help.

St. Louis City – Call the St. Vincent DePaul 314-531-7837,

Domestic Violence

Lydia’ House
[www.lydiashouse.org]Redevelopment Opportunities for Women
[www.row-stl.org]St. Martha’s Hall
[www.saintmarthas.org]Women’s Safe House
[www.twsh.org]YWCA [www.ywcastlouis.org]

St Louis City resources

http://stlouis-mo.gov/government/departments/human-services/homeless-services/continuum-of-care/Continuum-Services.cfm