Monday, April 26, 2010

Capitol Report for April 28th, 2010

Planning for Missouri’s Future

As we enter the final three weeks of the 2010 legislative session, the state budget continues to dominate the discussions in Jefferson City. The House and Senate have each passed their version of next years spending plan, and the budget conference committee is now working to address the differences. Although we are close to finalizing the FY2011 budget which has been plagued with revenue shortfalls and difficult decisions, we must not get so caught up in these challenges that we lose sight of future opportunities.

I have long advocated that our state government’s most important responsibility is funding the schools in our state. I also believe that our state government has a responsibility to ensure the safety of Missouri’s citizens, protect the most needy and vulnerable, and help build infrastructure for the good of the public. This infrastructure would include roads, bridges, water, sewers, and other vital systems necessary to foster economic health and prosperity. For example, without safe, reliable water resources we will not be successful in building or sustaining a strong economic climate, good paying jobs, or a high quality of life.

In coming years, the need for broadband and high speed internet services will be greater than ever. Although I do not believe the government should be building these backbone networks, I do believe that we need sound public policy that facilitates and optimizes the deployment of high-speed broadband communication systems much like the public policy set forth decades ago that determined every Missourian should have access to a landline telephone. Today, the exchange of information through broadband internet connections is changing the way people live and work. In order to be competitive in a global market and enable the best education, business, and healthcare delivery systems possible, it is more important than ever that these services be available to citizens throughout Missouri.

Cultivating and supporting a climate that facilitates the building of the infrastructure needed to support the growth and development of Missouri’s businesses while improving the lives of our citizens is a legitimate and responsible function of state government. I believe it is imperative to begin with a clear understanding of where we stand currently and where we want to be in the future. With federal stimulus dollars coming to states for the building of broadband communication networks, it is important that we identify our areas of need so that we are able to optimize the investments made with public dollars. Just as safe and reliable water is necessary to ensure future economic growth, I believe that affordable, reliable broadband communication is going to be a cornerstone of a strong economy and prosperous future.
As always, please feel free to call, email, or write with your ideas or concerns. The Capitol number is (573) 751-1415, my email is and my mailing address is Room 429, State Capitol Building, Jefferson City, MO 65101.

The Basics of Writing a Business Plan

Do you need cash to start or expand your business? Have you gone to the bank and been told you need a business plan to get a business loan? Are you unsure about what must go into a business plan or how to make it look professional?
Well, the University of Missouri Extension has a class which will show you how to put a business plan together. You will be shown the basic parts of a business plan and what a lending institution will be looking for in each of those sections. You will be shown how to make your business plan look professional, and how to avoid common mistakes when building your plan. Moreover, this seminar explains how your business plan can help you in the day-to-day operation of your business. As the name suggests, it is a PLAN for your business.
The cost for the three-hour session is $35, and will be held at the Holt County Extension Office(Courthouse Annex), 101 E. Missouri, Oregon, MO, on May 4th from 9 AM to 12 noon.
To register for “The Basics of Writing a Business Plan,” call The Holt County Extension Office at: (660) 446-3724.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Moment with Mike for April 28th, 2010

As the end of session approaches, the scramble to pass meaningful legislation continues. The efforts to create a balanced budget in this very difficult time hastens and deadlines become the major obstacle.

I have been working vigorously the past few months on a specific piece of legislation (HB 1473) regarding the Access Missouri Grant, which is a financial aid grant for students in higher education. Access Missouri is given to students based on their expected family contribution (EFC) when getting ready to begin any given school year. This is not a merit-based award like most scholarships in the state, which are awarded based on grades, activities, and so on. My goal in changing the laws regarding Access Missouri was to allow more students to actually have access to higher education, instead of letting a difficult financial situation keep them from a quality education. In this piece of legislation, the renewal grade point average (GPA) is lowered from a 2.5 to a 2.0 for a student’s first 60 hours of credit, and then jumping back to a 2.5 for the remainder of their time in an undergraduate institution. While those of us who fight for education daily want students to maintain the best grades possible, we also understand the difficulties many young people go through in their freshman and sophomore years of college. This legislation is estimated to help as many as 1700 Missouri students per year maintain this piece of their financial aid and continue their education.

Another part of this legislation, which was added on the House floor, a bill originally introduced by Representative Kingery, equalizes the award amounts for students who attend either a public or private university. Presently private school attendees receive a larger award than public school attendees. It is important that students have the opportunity to attend the school of their choice and not be forced to make decisions based solely on the amount of their Access award. The passage of this bill is a culmination of much negotiation and collaboration with higher education institutions across the state and will make education more accessible for many students.

A different issue that was discussed extensively this week was the use of tax credits. While tax credits may be vital to our many economic development programs, if used excessively, can become detrimental as we are obligated to redeem millions of dollars per year using taxpayer dollars that could be supporting other programs. Maintaining a proper balance and providing those credits that stimulate business and create revenue for the state, while limiting the growth of credits that have ballooned in recent years, creates a major dilemma.

House Bill 1786, which passed out of the House last week, would provide tax credit incentives to those who attract major events to our state. This bill focuses on bringing new events to Missouri and is wisely crafted so that tax credits are not issued until the events have occurred. The House also passed HB 2252, which provides a tax credit for pregnancy resource centers in Missouri.

If you have questions, you may reach me at my Capitol number 573-751-9465, at the local district number, 660-582-4014, by email at or by mail at Room 114B State Capitol Building, Jefferson City, MO 65101.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Every Day is Earth Day For Cattle Farmers and Ranchers

In honor of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, American farmers and ranchers are celebrating the more than 40 ways raising cattle can contribute to environmental sustainability.

Dawn Thurnau from the Missouri Beef Industry Council says that over 86% of all cattle farmers and ranchers cite environmental stewardship and environmental resources as the most important elements of their success, and say they have embraced the values of Earth Day for generations.

“The steps that we take to improve the environment are not new. They’ve been around for many decades. As short-term tenants of the land, it’s our job to ensure it’s left in better shape for the next generation.”

Thurnau says that many aren’t aware of how cattle farming and ranching has evolved in their conservation practices over the years, or just how many people each farmer feeds.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is that beef farmers provide more people with nutritious beef products using fewer natural resources than ever before. Today’s American farmer feeds 144 people worldwide, and we’ll need to feed even more in the future.”

Thurnau goes on to describe the many environmental benefits of cattle farming and ranching.

“Pastures provide forage and habitat for numerous wildlife species, including 20 million deer, 500,000 antelope, 400,000 elk and 55,000 horses and burrows.”

She also says that farmers and ranchers who are landowners have restored or enhanced 445,000 acres and 885 river miles of habitat for fish and wildlife, and employ a variety of environmentally friendly practices.

“Farmers also do things like rotational grazing to make sure the grass stays fresh as long as possible. Of course, manure is the most natural form of fertilizer there is. These little practices that cattle farmers do every single day to protect the land, that’s what people talk about during Earth Day, but they don’t realize this is an everyday thing for cattle producers.”

If you would like to find beef recipes that are both tasty and healthy, visit the Missouri Beef Industry Council website at, or the national website at

Worth County FBLA Qualifies Nine

Members of the Worth County Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) Chapter recently attended the 2010 Missouri FBLA State Leadership Conference held on April 18th, 19th, and 20th in Columbia, Missouri. Over 2,750 members and advisers representing 426 chapters throughout Missouri met to participate in leadership and career workshops, and to compete in the state leadership awards program.

Worth County qualified nine for state and qualified in the following events:
Jordan Harding qualified in E-Business where he had to make a pretend website for Worth County High School’s 50th anniversary, the website had to have shopping cart capabilities and can be viewed at Jordan also qualified in Computer Applications where he was given two hours to produce business documents using word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, and database software. Jordan took 3rd in the State in E-Business and 4th in the state in Computer Applications. He barely missed qualifying for nationals in both.

Chelsea Ebrus qualified in Marketing. She had to take a one hour online test over marketing concepts. Chelsea placed 7th in the state, 7 points behind the state winner.

The following students also qualified by taking written tests. Lauren Null in Personal Finance, Wyatt McClain in Business Law, Carli Jackson in Introduction to Business Communications, and Sierra Grove in Business Procedures. They did not place in the top 10.

Ashley Reynolds, Delaney Davidson, and Brooke Gilland qualified in Emerging Business Issues. The team put together an affirmative and negative argument over whether the auto bailout money should have government accountability on how they used the money. The team had to prepare both sides of the argument and before presenting they drew for which side they would present to the judges. The team did not place in the top 8 of performance events.

The entire Worth County FBLA chapter was recognized with the “Reach Out and Care” award that was granted to chapters who had completed various community service projects.
Congratulations to all FBLA members who qualified and competed at the FBLA State Leadership Conference.

Spring Brings a Purple Haze

Spring Brings a Purple Haze
By Heather Benedict, Agronomy Specialist

The weather is finally cooperating. People all over Missouri are spending more time outdoors in their fields, yards or gardens. Something you may have noticed is a purple haze over parts of the landscape. This is due to one or several different weeds. Purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) and henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) are both low growing plants with tiny purple flowers.

Purple deadnettle, and henbit are winter annual type plants. This means they germinate in the fall or late winter. They generally bloom in the spring, produce seed and then the plants die. Both Purple deadnettle and henbit are in the mint family, so when crushed or mowed, they produce a slightly minty scent. Both types of weed have square stems. The difference between them is in the shape of the leaves. Henbit has rounded leaves and darker purple flowers. Purple deadnettle has pointed leaves and pale flowers. The top leaves of purple deadnettle can also be a purplish color.
In crop fields, these types of weeds are not very competitive for moisture or for nutrients. The crop that may be most affected by henbit is wheat. Researchers in Missouri have found that henbit in densities of 82 plants per square foot can result in yield reductions. However, densities of 18 plants per square foot do not show any yield reduction. The fact that henbit dies off quickly in the spring, has led researchers to look into using it as a ground cover for row crops. However, there is some concern with using henbit as a ground cover for soybeans as it is a host for the soybean cyst nematode. In order to decrease the damage to yield from the nematodes, a good rotation system should be used. In the rotation system, henbit is not a good option.

In pastures henbit is surprisingly digestible with relatively high protein values. Henbit has been shown to have protein values comparable to tall fescue. Henbit is also palatable for animals and can be used for grazing until later maturing species come on. The drawback to using henbit or even chickweed in a pasture system is that they are not high producing.

For home owners, these weeds can be a nuisance. They spread quickly and easily. Also, they are most noticeable in the spring when they are difficult to control. 2,4-D herbicides may be used to help control purple deadnettle and henbit, however that type of herbicide is volatile and can easily injure or kill, tomatoes, flowers, grapes, and other garden vegetables. Another option for control is to use a pre-emergent herbicide on the lawn in the fall.

Anhydrous fertilizer supplies stretched thin

As farmers pour into local co-ops and other fertilizer retailers to prepare for spring planting, many find long lines or shortages of the anhydrous ammonia they need for fields.

“Nobody had much of a chance to get work done last fall because harvest was late and wet, so pretty much it’s left all the anhydrous ammonia to go on this spring and caused a logistical nightmare,” said Bill Coen, vice president of plant foods and transportation for MFA, Inc. “Guys who have been in the business 40 years haven’t seen this type of spring unfold before where everyone’s running at once. It’s very unusual.”

University of Missouri Extension soil specialist Peter Scharf recommends that farmers not squander prime planting time to wait for anhydrous.

“I advise farmers to plant when conditions are right even if that means finding another way to get their nitrogen on,” Scharf said.

“Pre-emerge, post-emerge, sidedress, topdress, broadcasting, injected, dribbled—there are lots of ways to get it done that will work – and the plants aren’t picky about when they get it.

“Research suggests that as long as you get your nitrogen down before corn is three feet tall there is no average yield difference from getting it on before planting.”

MFA is not the only business dealing with anhydrous supply issues. Conditions across the Midwest seem to be the reason for the trouble for everyone.

“Generally [field work] starts in the south – Texas and Oklahoma – and they will finish before we start, but this year we had the whole upper and lower Midwest dry up at the same time,” Coen said. “Once that started we ended up draining the supply in the state in a week’s time, where our terminals went through three to four weeks’ storage in a week’s time.”

Compounding the problem is transportation issues.

Coen explained that there are a limited number of anhydrous transfer trailers. Those typically travel from state to state servicing the needs of co-ops and distributors as the planting season progresses from south to north. Since Missouri fields didn’t dry up until about 10 days after neighboring states, the trucks weren’t available here to transport anhydrous from terminals near the Kansas/Missouri and Missouri/Illinois borders to local co-ops.

Coen noted that the problem may begin to lessen somewhat. He estimates that about half of farmers have applied nitrogen now.

Scharf advises that there are ways to get the nitrogen on fields other than anhydrous.

“Anhydrous is the cheapest nitrogen source and the most resistant to loss, but the slowest to apply,” he said. “Given how far behind we are in field operations, other sources that are faster to apply are a good choice this year.

“They’re a little more expensive, but less expensive than losing yield because you didn’t plant when there were ideal conditions.” Sidedress application of anhydrous later in the season is another way to deal with the current bottleneck. “It will probably be a lot easier to get in a few weeks.”

Scharf warned of problems with planting too soon after application. Ammonia is toxic to seeds, which can be a potential problem if they come in contact.

“Placing the anhydrous deep enough to prevent seed contact is more important than a time lag between application and planting,” said Scharf.

Another option is that farmers with RTK GPS systems can use the system to maintain a constant distance between the application track and the seed furrow.

As far as phosphorus and potassium fertilizer goes, Scharf said many fields are positioned well even if none are applied this spring.

“For people who have in the past had a regular nutrient program, their soil should have enough stored to supply what the crop needs,” Scharf said. “If they like a cushion they can double up next time they apply fertilizer.

“Farmers haven’t had to deal with this before and that’s been stressful, but there are ways to get around this predicament.”

Cut to the Chase for April 28th, 2010


By Blake Hurst

It was our first tractor with a cab, and I was driving – our first tractor with a radio, and I had it tuned to clear channel KWMT, blaring out country hits. Charlie Rich was my hero, and I was belting out “Behind Closed Doors" in a tuneless holler when I noticed a noise, sort of a clicking sound, followed by a wet thud.

Then, just as I got to the really neat part of the song, and had taken a deep breath so I could really belt out the part about closed doors, it occurred to me that the tractor was slowing down. Nope, it had plain stopped. Maybe I ought to push in the clutch. Well, there seems to be a little mud – I may be almost stuck. I'll put the power shift transmission in reverse, rev up my 135 horses and try it backwards. Whoops, maybe I should have lifted up the disk. Whoa, it doesn't lift up very well. I'll try going forward; and again. Backwards will surely work this time; almost had it. Why is Dad driving across the field so fast, waving his hat?

Well, it seems he wants to talk to me, "talk" being used in only the most general sense. Talk implies reasonable conversation, at a reasonable level, with reasoned discourse between two people. He talks, I talk. That was not what happened. I'm always willing, no eager, to tell my side of the story. This is sometimes a fault, as I soon learned, not the only lesson I would learn that day and the next.

He pointed out I was in the middle of a wet spot, one he had told me about. He went on to talk about life, and the futility of endeavoring to reverse an irreversible situation, of fighting unbeatable odds, of attempting to climb an unclimbable mountain, of trying again and again to reach a goal that can't be reached. A philosopher, my dad. I've left out some of the words he used, some I'd never heard him use before. I didn't even know he knew those words. I filed them away for further experimentation, preferably when my mother wasn't around.

We got another tractor and a chain. It had been a wet spring, and Dad had pulled out several stuck tractors, so many that the log chain was stiff and straight. We broke the chain. Then Dad said, "Get in the pickup, I'm taking you home." It was a very silent trip. I was not unpleased by this turn of events. I had school the next day, and by the time I got home, the tractor would surely be out of the mud, and maybe KWMT would play that song about Delta Dawn.

Who knew people could go to work before the sun came up? Who knew you couldn't hear KWMT at 5:15 a.m.? Who knew you could dig out a stuck tractor with a spade? The tractor was buried to its axle, and I had to dig a trench in front of all four wheels. My friends were in bed. My brothers were in bed. My dad went back to the house for breakfast. No sounds except the birds, the suck of the spade, and the water running back into the hole I was digging.

Dad eventually came back, surveyed my work and told me to keep digging. Grandpa came to work, but not before stopping by the scene of what surely must have been cruelty to his oldest grandchild. No sympathy there. In fact, I'm not sure, but he may have been smiling as he left. Dad came back again, and I asked if we could hook the tractor on and try to pull it out. Nope, that wouldn't be possible. The hired hand showed up. I know he was smiling. Well, laughing, actually.

I've been stuck since then, but never so badly. Dad has philosophized since then, but never so loudly. Grandpa is gone, and I'd dig another tractor out of the mud if he could stop by just once more, even if it was to laugh at me. Family farms are businesses and homes, made up of land and tractors and sheds and animals, but to me, the most important part is the memories. I've avoided that wet spot for nearly 40 years, and I can still sing “Behind Closed Doors,” although you wouldn't want to hear it.

(Blake Hurst, of Westboro, Mo., is vice-president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization.)

House Leaders Point to Governor’s Inconsistencies on Tax Credits, Express Importance of Job Growth

by State Rep. Joe Smith (R-14)
This week, Republicans in the House expressed their (or “we expressed our”) concern with the Governor’s imitative to eliminate tax credits in Missouri. The Governor claimed that “every dollar that went to tax credits” could be a dollar spent on education. What the Governor didn’t mention, however, is that he has been pushing tax credits since he was elected into office. Last year, he took credit for the economic development bill that we passed through the House, and he flew around the state conducting ceremonial bill signings to promote the bill. What he also failed to mention, was that his budget for the 2011 fiscal year reduced education funding significantly.

By providing tax credit incentives for Missouri businesses, we put people to work and we are able to grow our state’s economy – which is needed now more than ever. More jobs mean people are buying homes and buying properties that fund education through property taxes and sales taxes. If we take tax credits away, as the Governor suggests, education will be negatively effected.

Many of us would welcome the Governor to look at the tax credit program and conduct a cost-benefit analysis and really research how we can improve the system. That way, we will have an in-depth perspective of good changes that could be made – but he has not offered any concrete suggestion. I am also interested to know why the Governor has been promoting tax credits relentlessly for the past year and a half. In fact, the only time he has ever visited the House floor during session was to lobby for our economic development bill which included tax credit incentives for businesses.

The Speaker has taken a firm stance against pushing the Governor’s hollow proposal to eliminate tax credits – especially since we are entering the last weeks of session. The House has been slow and steady, looking all recommendations, before we push any legislation through the process and we will handle tax credits the same way.

More morels than you can eat? Freeze the extras

Lucky mushroom hunters who have bagged more fungi than they can eat can freeze some for later, said a University of Missouri Extension nutrition specialist.

“It’s best to freeze the extras the same day you picked them, not several days later when you haven’t had time to use them,” said Janet Hackert.

First, you need to clean them. “Wild mushrooms tend to have lots of tiny insects in all those cracks and crevices,” she said.

To clean, rinse in salt water, changing the water several times to draw out the bugs. Remove clean mushrooms promptly; soaking mushrooms too long can dilute the flavor.

For freezing, use small to medium mushrooms. You can quarter, slice or leave them whole. Prepare mushrooms by blanching, steaming or sautéing to inactivate enzymes that can cause color and texture to deteriorate.

--To blanch, place mushrooms in boiling water mixed with either 1 teaspoon lemon juice or 1 1/2 teaspoons citric acid for each pint of water. Boil slices for 3 minutes, quarters and buttons for 3 1/2 minutes, and whole mushrooms for 5 minutes.

--To steam, first dip mushrooms for 5 minutes in water with the same proportion of lemon juice or citric acid as used for blanching. Steam pieces or whole mushrooms for the same amount of time you would blanch them.

--To sauté, heat small amounts in butter or oil until almost done.

After blanching, steaming or sautéing, immediately cool the mushrooms in ice water and drain well.

You can freeze them plain or breaded. Breadings include flour, a mixture of corn and flour, and breadcrumbs. Eggs, milk or water work well as liquids for the coating to stick to. Freeze breaded mushrooms in a single layer on a cookie sheet before bagging.

Place mushrooms in an airtight container, leaving a half inch of space at the top.

“For best flavor, use within one to two months,” Hackert said.

For more information about freezing, see the MU Extension publication “Quality for Keeps: Freezing Unusual Fruits and Vegetables” (GH1507), available for purchase or free download at

Know your mushrooms

Experts urge mushroom hunters to thoroughly familiarize themselves with edible mushroom species and any poisonous lookalikes. For pictures and descriptions of edible mushroom species, see

Friday, April 23, 2010

Senate moves forward with bill to cut in-home care

The Missouri Senate advanced a bill April 19 that would reduce in-home services for those on the state's Medicaid program, over the objections of some Senators who said it would cut benefits without saving money. Legislative staff estimated the bill, as written, would save the state $11 million in 2011. Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, who sponsored the bill, said this would be achieved in part by reducing reimbursements to those on Medicaid and allowing the state to privatize its assessments of who is eligible for in-home health care. Currently, the state's health department is responsible for all assessments. But Sen. Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence, said he questioned whether the move would save the state money. He added that privatizing in-home assessments would be damaging to a state workforce that he said is already underpaid and under appreciated.

Senators Pledge Not to Place Secret Holds on Legislation or Nominees

Following several days of heated floor debate on the issue, U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Mark Warner (D-VA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and a group of senators are sending a letter to Senate leadership pushing to change the way the Senate does business by putting an end to rules that allow members to secretly block legislation and nominations.

Watch Claire speaking on the floor about the letter

McCaskill, Warner and Whitehouse, along with at least 18 of their colleagues, are pledging to not place ‘secret holds’ and are calling upon Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to end the practice and force senators to give a public explanation of why they are blocking a certain piece of legislation or a nomination. Despite measures passed as part of sweeping ethics reform legislation in 2007 to require senators who want to place a hold on bills and nominations to be transparent about their objections, senators continue to circumvent the rules and file anonymous holds.

“While we deeply respect and appreciate the importance of tradition in this institution, we believe the practice of the secret hold has no rightful place in the Senate or in an open and transparent democracy. When a member of the Senate wishes to hold legislation or a nomination, that Senator owes to this body and, more importantly, to the American public a full explanation,” the letter reads.

They are now asking their colleagues to join them in their pledge by opening up the letter to all Democratic and Republican senators for signature.

The discussion of secret holds arose because approximately 80 nominations are being blocked anonymously and without explanation. These nominees are largely non-controversial and were voted out of committee without opposition. On Tuesday of this week, McCaskill and Whitehouse called up dozens of nominees for consideration; Republicans objected repeatedly. Today’s letter reaffirms the senators’ commitment to ending the practice of secret holds and encourages colleagues to follow the spirit of ethics reform.

The full text of the letter is below.

Dear Leader Reid and Leader McConnell,

We the undersigned Senators hereby pledge that we will not place secret holds on legislation or nominations.

We further call upon you to bring an end to the practice of permitting secret “holds” on legislation and nominations for those Senators who are unprepared to make the same pledge. While we deeply respect and appreciate the importance of tradition in this institution, we believe the practice of the secret hold has no rightful place in the Senate or in an open and transparent democracy. When a member of the Senate wishes to hold legislation or a nomination, that Senator owes to this body and, more importantly, to the American public a full explanation. The Senate endorsed this principle in Section 512 of S.1, passed by a vote of 96-2 on January 18, 2007.

As you know, S.1 has failed in practice to end the use of secret holds. We, therefore, urge you to promptly consider further changes to the Senate rules in order to bring a clear and definitive end to secret holds on legislation or a nomination. We stand ready to work with you on such a rule change, as long advocated for by Senators Wyden and Grassley, the leaders of a decade-long effort to eliminate secret holds in the Senate. We applaud their work and believe it must now be pursued to its conclusion.

Again, in making this request, we pledge that we will not place secret holds on legislation or a nomination.


Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO)

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

Senator Mark Warner (D-VA)

Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD)

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

Senator Bob Casey (D-PA)

Senator Jim Webb (D-VA)

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)

Senator Jon Tester (D-MT)

Senator Mark Udall (D-CO)

Senator Tom Udall (D-NM)

Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)

Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC)

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR)

Senator Mark Begich (D-AK)

Senator Roland Burris (D-IL)

Senator Ted Kaufman (D-DE)

Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO)

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)

Senator Al Franken (D-MN)

Cc: Senator Charles Schumer, Chairman, Senate Committee on Rules
Senator Robert Bennett, Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Rules
Senator Ron Wyden
Senator Charles Grassley

As Nixon and education leaders push for tax credit reform; House Speaker says no

The Missouri Speaker of the House said he's not letting any tax credit reform bill get past his desk. Speaker Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said making drastic changes in the last three weeks of the legislative session would send too many shock waves. "We're going to have certainty (for businesses), and I'm going to make sure we have certainty," Richard said, saying "I know more about economic development than all of you guys in here put together and probably the governor, and I'm telling you that I will do economic development (and) what's best for Missouri." The announcement came after a press conference where the governor and education leaders pushed for tax credit reform, saying tax credits have ballooned 86 percent over the last decade. Gov. Jay Nixon specifically targeted the Historic Tax Credit Program and low income housing credits. He said Missouri has given out double in historic tax credits than Virginia and double what California gives in low income housing credits. "Every dollar we spend on tax credits is a dollar that isn't available for education," Nixon said.

Rep. Casey Guernsey's Capitol Report for April 28th, 2010

Tax Credit for Pregnancy Resource Centers

This week the Missouri House gave approval to HB 2252, which provides a continuation of the successful tax credit program for pregnancy resource centers in our state. As someone who is strongly pro-life, I believe we should have no abortions in our state. One way to reduce abortions is to help our pregnancy resource centers. These centers provide resources and education to women who are expectant mothers or recently had a baby and who have no other support network available. These women and their children deserve and need a helping hand. These resource centers provide advice on child-rearing, job training, maternity and baby clothes, and referrals for medical care, all at no cost.

HB 2252 reauthorizes this tax credit so Missourians can choose to support them when they file their income tax returns and that will go to support these centers. It is also important to note these centers are run by the private market, not the government. Part of being pro-life is supporting and protecting those who cannot protect themselves. Missouri's pregnancy resource centers are an excellent and cost effective way to do so.

Public Prayer Amendment

I was also supportive of an initial approval to HJR 62 this week. This proposed constitutional amendment guarantees a person's right to worship and pray on public property without the fear of intimidation. This is already allowed and protected in the US Constitution, but amazingly enough people are continually challenging this freedom in court. The purpose of this amendment is to make it perfectly clear that in Missouri we can freely pray in public without fear of legal repercussions.

The lack of education on this issue is especially important in regard to Missouri school children. Many students do not understand their rights and often feel intimidated to not show their faith at school out of fear. HJR 62 makes it clear to all students they are allowed to pray and are free to do so without fear. To help make this clear, this amendment also requires public schools receiving state funds to prominently display the Bill of Rights of the Constitution.

No one in America should ever feel any pressure or intimidation for expressing their religious beliefs. Freedom of Religion was one of the primary precepts on which this nation was founded. The Missouri House just took another step forward to ensure our freedom of religion is further protected from any infringement.

Equalization of Access Missouri Scholarship passed by House

Missouri college students in private schools will lose nearly half of the money they can receive in a state need-based scholarship under a bill passed by the House. Under the legislation, students in four-year schools would receive up to $2,850 through the program whether they attend a public or private institution. Two-year community college students would receive up to $1,300. The bill covers lower-income students who qualify under federal income standards. Currently, private school students that qualify get up to $4,600, while those who attend four-year public schools can receive up to $2,150. Two-year community college students currently receive up to $1,000 under the program. The bill also would allow students to renew their Access Missouri scholarship if they held a grade point average at 2.0 or above. Currently, students must maintain at least a 2.5 GPA for all four years to keep the scholarship. The House ultimately passed a revised approach that would postpone the implementation date for equalizing the difference between funds available for public and private school students until the 2014-15 school year. The passed version also removes the current expiration date for the program.

McCaskill: Consumers are Desperate for Help with Mounting Debt

As thousands of hard-working Missourians face ongoing financial struggles and mounting debt resulting from the economic crisis, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill yesterday took to task representatives from debt settlement organizations that prey on consumers and often leave them with more debt despite promising to resolve their financial issues. In a Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing, McCaskill criticized debt settlement companies for taking advantage of worried consumers with misleading advertising and undocumented promises of 100% success rates.

“You are preying upon the fears of people. You’re making a lot of money and you’re delivering a substandard product. Many times you’re engaging in fraud to get the customers by promising them something that you know is not true,” McCaskill said. She continued “If you can prove what you say then you should just get to proving it.”

Watch McCaskill question the representative from a debt settlement trade association

Numerous complaints and lawsuits have been filed against debt settlement companies for misrepresenting the services they offer and charging large fees for customers who are already deep in debt. Companies often charge substantial fees up-front, before they even begin seeking to reduce a customer’s debt, a practice which McCaskill said should be banned. Further, the companies frequently fail to actually reduce customers' debt at all. Additionally, the settlement companies are notoriously secret about their practices and documentation. Trade associations won’t even reveal which companies are members.

Currently, the Missouri Attorney General’s Consumer Bureau is embroiled in a lawsuit against Credit Solutions of America in St. Louis for misrepresenting the services that the company could provide. The Missouri Attorney General, along with numerous other Attorneys General and consumer protection groups nationwide, has repeatedly found that debt settlement companies are not forthcoming with documentation to substantiate claims that they have successfully helped customers.

“When people are in debt and worried [they] are more easily persuaded that someone can help them because they’re desperate for help…What’s hard for me to understand is how your association thinks you can stop the inevitable march of regulation, lawsuits, and enforcement actions, because I don’t think you can produce statistics that show you’re helping anyone,” McCaskill said.

Senate finalizes resolutions combining education departments

Voters would have final say in November whether to combine the state's education departments into a single department under a measure cleared by the Senate. Following a sluggish session on April 21, senators unanimously approved resolutions the following day to combine the two education departments into one responsible for overseeing kindergarten through the completion of undergraduate education. A single board would oversee the state's entire public school system.

Senate action had been stalled over arguments as to how much power the new education board should have over higher education institutions. Ultimately, the passage was assured when the version before the Senate effectively made no substantive changes in the current level of independence by the various higher education institutions. As with the existing board, the new board would not take any new powers and would continue to be subject to state law. After discussion on the size and term limit for the board, the senate decided it would consist of six members appointed by the governor and approved by the senate to serve six-year terms. No more than three members could be from a single political party. Since the resolutions would alter the state constitution, they would go on this November's general election ballot. If the resolutions pass, they would go into affect July 1, 2011.

Drought Tolerant Corn

Drought Tolerant Corn
Several years ago, seed companies started visiting with local growers telling them that hybrids with increased drought tolerance will be introduced into the marketplace. Now, products are being tested by companies in Midwest farm fields.
Monsanto and DuPont are the companies that are bringing these new products to the market. They are looking at the use of these products in drier climates such as Kansas and Nebraska. This will reduce the cost of irrigation in those areas.
In Missouri, there are typically areas of drought. However, the last two years have been wetter than normal. Droughty soils located on eroded hillsides derived from glacial till, sandy soils along with those which have rooting restrictions can all impact corn yields during dry seasons. These are areas which potentially these products can improve corn yields.
There are other questions as these products move into the marketplace? How will these new corn hybrids perform without drought? Will increased populations of drought tolerant hybrids increase yields without dry conditions?
The Extension Service will know more when companies release products to the Universities to test. These new products seem to be tightly guarded by companies without any University testing at this point.
As we look to the future, there seems like a lot of un-knowns. How will the expansion of the corn market affect the use for corn? What will be the impact on corn prices and what will be the cost of these new products? What will be the impact of yields for area growers?
Agricultural technology continues to increase yields and continues to feed the world. It’s an exciting time to be in the field of agriculture and look forward to the future.
For more information, contact Wayne Flanary at 660-446-3724 or Heather Benedict at 660-425-6434, Regional Agronomists, University of Missouri Extension.

Nixon cuts an additional $45 million from budget

Missouri's budget director announced unexpectedly low collections for the current month as of April 20, as income tax payments are being processed. Because of the decline in collections, Gov. Jay Nixon's administration announced that another $45 million in state spending would be curtailed on April 21. Including the most recent withholds, the state has held back more than $900 million originally appropriated for the 2010 fiscal year budget year that ends on June 30. The cuts included $4.9 million to the Parents as Teachers program, bringing its total withhold for the year to nearly $7 million. Luebbering said Missouri's April tax collections were down 19 percent for the first 20 days of the month compared to the same period last year. A major part of the decline was because income taxes paid to the state for 2009 have been below expectations. Income tax payments have dropped 30 percent, while refunds have increased by 8 percent, Luebbering said. "Not only is the average payment down, but the number of payments is down," Luebbering said.

Preschool Completes Playground Project

The Worth County R-III Child Center, Little Tigers Preschool has completed their new project for our playground this month. In years past we have be using woodchips as a surface material on our playground. These woodchips have been replaced by Missouri recycled tires compressed into safety tiles for playground use by DuroMat. These safety mats will help with the safety and usability of the playground and will be more cost efficient. In doing this new surfacing we recycled 657 passenger tires. This playground was made possible by a grant funded through the Missouri Department of Natural Resources who we would like to give special thanks, along with all those who helped put it all together. Thank you.

McCaskill Supports Bill to Ban Congressional Pay Raise

Yesterday, the Senate passed legislation co-sponsored by U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill to prevent Congress from getting a raise in 2011. The bill, introduced by Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), prohibits the yearly Congressional cost-of-living adjustment pay raise that is automatically scheduled to take effect for 2011. Congress already passed legislation ensuring there would be no increase in 2010.

“Over 200,000 Missourians are out of work, and those who are employed aren’t getting a pay raise this year. It is certainly not the time for Congress to be giving itself a pay raise,” McCaskill said.

The bill passed yesterday unanimously and will go to the House of Representatives for consideration. Since arriving in Washington, McCaskill has worked to rein in federal spending and consistently voted against pay increases for members of Congress.

Farmers with arthritis can learn to work within limitations

Forty-six million Americans suffer some form of arthritis, according to the National Arthritis Data Workgroup. Many aging farmers continue to farm well into their 70s, making them more affected by arthritis than most workers.

“Farm work is constant bending, twisting and lifting. Many farmers also work long hours under stress at times like planting and harvesting. That is why it is important for farm families to learn the psychological, emotional and physical impact of arthritis on their lives,” said Karen Funkenbusch, a University of Missouri Extension safety specialist and coordinator of the Missouri AgrAbility Project, which helps agricultural workers with disabilities adapt their homes and farms to allow them to continue working.

May is National Arthritis Month and spring is a good time for families with a member suffering from arthritis to keep in mind operational limitations imposed by chronic joint symptoms, Funkenbusch said.

“Reduced mobility and reaction time may result in injury for machine operators. Reduced endurance may also put farm workers at risk as they push their limits,” she said.

Methods to help control joint stress and pain can be as simple as wearing quality, non-slip footwear or using appropriate assistive aids.

Other ways farmers can reduce the risk of injury and strain while staying productive:

-Use the largest joint possible to complete a task.

-Maintain proper posture when sitting on a tractor for a long time.

-Avoid gripping and grasping for extended periods.

-Simplify tasks and pace the amount of working time throughout the day.

For more information about the Missouri AgrAbility Project, see or call 800-995-8503

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Energize Missouri Appliance Rebate Program continues in retail and installation contractor businesses

“The savings continues.” Missouri residents began visiting appliance retailers and installation contractors across the state on Monday to receive “green” savings on ENERGY STAR® appliances from qualified appliance categories.
After reviewing the rebates reserved during the first day, it became apparent there was greater than anticipated demand for dishwashers and clothes washers. In an effort to address this demand, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources has reallocated a number of rebates into the two categories. The total number of rebates increased by approximately 10 percent after the department completed this reallocation, although the total amount of funds for the overall program remains the same.
As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, more than 80 percent of the rebate funding remains for Missouri residents to take advantage of during phase one or phase two of the rebate program. The design of the two-phased approach provided a smooth, steady flow of rebates during the first phase and is expected to continue during phase two. Both phases overlap with the “Show-me Green” ENERGY STAR sales tax holiday to help residents maximize their savings. Consumers who wish to take advantage of the rebate program and the state sales tax holiday must purchase the ENERGY STAR appliances between April 19-25 in participating retail and installation contractor businesses.
Phase one of the Energize Missouri Appliance Rebate Program began April 19 allowing participating appliance retailers and installation contractors to reserve rebates on behalf of their customers purchasing ENERGY STAR appliances.
Phase two of the program begins at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, April 21. Consumers may continue to visit participating appliance retailers and installation contractors to reserve rebates or they may reserve rebates online or via a toll-free number before making their purchase. Limited numbers of rebates are reserved for phase two, and residents are more likely to get a reservation and a rebate when working with a participating retailer or contractor.
There are several important conditions and requirements in the Energize Missouri Appliance Rebate Program, and retailers and contractors can help residents navigate the program. For example, not all new appliances qualify for a rebate. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources has targeted five appliance categories for the program including space heating, space cooling, water heaters, clothes washers and dishwashers. Also, the new ENERGY STAR appliance must replace an older appliance from the same category, and the old appliance must be properly recycled. Participating retailers and contractors will have information on qualifying categories and appliances, recycling services and recycling options readily available to consumers.
Energize Missouri Appliance Rebate Program, with its $5.6 million in funding, is part of a larger $300 million federal program aimed at energy conservation, energy efficiency and economic recovery funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Department of Natural Resources has designed its program to maximize eligibility for the estimated 53,000 rebates. To qualify for a rebate residents must:
· Be a Missouri resident, 18 years of age or older.
· Own the property where the appliance is being replaced - with the exception of clothes washers. Renters are eligible for clothes washer rebates.
· Limit the appliance purchases to one per qualified category per address.
· Limit the total rebate amount to $575 per address.
· Reserve the rebate and mail it along with all required support documentation, including proof of purchase and recycling, within 60 days of making a reservation.

More information is available at and through a toll-free consumer information line at 877-541-4848. Visit local participating appliance retailer or installation contractor today!

Gov. Nixon, public education leaders stand together to call for comprehensive tax credit reform

Gov. Jay Nixon and Missouri public school teachers and education leaders today called on the General Assembly to pass comprehensive tax credit reform. In their remarks, the Governor and education leaders said reforming tax credits would help ensure that limited state funds are directed to critical priorities, including public education.

During a meeting with the education leaders, the Governor noted that Missouri currently has more than 60 state tax credit programs. Over the past 10 years, the use of state tax credits has grown to $585 million a year – a jump of 86 percent. Redemptions of tax credits have continued to climb over the past two years, even as state revenues have slumped because of the economic downturn.

“Creating jobs and moving our economy forward requires a diverse set of tools, including strategic tax credits and incentives,” Gov. Nixon said. “But other programs and services, such as public education, are vital to economic development as well. To move our economy forward, Missouri must invest its limited resources in programs that will deliver the best possible return on investment for our taxpayers. That means we must bring greater accountability, responsibility and focus to our tax credit system to ensure that we are investing in incentives that are producing jobs and growth, while also protecting the funds we need to support elementary, secondary and higher education.”

The Governor met with about 70 public school teachers and leaders from public elementary and secondary schools, public community colleges and public four-year colleges and universities this morning. The group discussed the vital role public education plays in workforce development and economic growth, and highlighted the critical importance of continuing to invest in education.

“Tax credits can be a valuable tool to create jobs and grow our economy, but they must be weighed against their cost to our classrooms, our colleges and other vital state services,” Gov. Nixon said. “Together, Missouri’s education leaders and I call on the General Assembly to pass comprehensive tax credit reform this year to safeguard our continued investment in public education and to lay the foundation for economic growth for the 21st century.”

Education leaders echoed the Governor’s call for tax credit reform.

“As the state’s land-grant institution, the University of Missouri System plays a critical role both in preparing our workforce for the jobs of tomorrow, and in generating economic growth across the state,” said Gary Forsee, president of the four-campus University of Missouri System. “Continued investment in public higher education is critical, and we applaud the commitment of Gov. Nixon and the General Assembly to our institutions. We agree with the Governor that tax credit reform is needed to ensure that our limited tax dollars are invested in Missouri’s most urgent priorities.”

“Tax credits are important economic development tools, but those dollars are then unavailable for other vital purposes, including public higher education,” said Dr. Carolyn Mahoney, president of Lincoln University and president of the Council on Public Higher Education. “Our members share the Governor’s belief that public higher education must be one of the state’s highest priorities, and we would support a process that limits or otherwise critically examines the state tax dollars that are dedicated to tax credits. Today’s students are tomorrow’s workforce, and we want to make sure we are doing everything possible to prepare students who will, in turn, move our state forward.”

“Missouri’s public community colleges are critical drivers of economic and workforce development,” said Dr. Marcia Pfeiffer, president of St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley and chair of the Missouri Community College Association Presidents/Chancellors Council. “We strive to work seamlessly with local businesses and industries to prepare our students to transition directly into employment in growing fields. We appreciate the importance of the strategic use of tax credits for job creation and economic growth, but we support Gov. Nixon’s call for reform to ensure we are using these dollars for the greatest benefit for Missouri.”

“Investing in elementary and secondary education is critical for Missouri’s continued economic growth,” said Paul Kinder, superintendent of the Blue Springs School District and president of the Missouri Association of School Administrators. “We applaud Gov. Nixon’s leadership in protecting our schools from the drastic cuts other states have seen. Refocusing the state’s tax credit system will ensure that Missouri is investing in the right priorities for the years to come.”

“Public schools are responsible for educating each student who walks through the door, whether those students are heading to college or directly to work,” said Dr. Jim Hinson, superintendent of the Independence School District. “Continued support for public education is vital, but excessive tax credits have the potential of endangering funding for our schools. We appreciate Gov. Nixon’s efforts to reform this system and ensure that state resources are focused on critical priorities, including public education.”

Wheat growers will receive ACRE payments, says MU-FAPRI analysis of USDA safety net

Crop farmers facing a June 1 deadline to sign up for ACRE, a federal farm safety net, may want to study the benefits received by wheat producers who signed up last year, said University of Missouri economists.

MU Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) estimates that wheat growers will receive $245 million of the $294 million to be paid on 12 major commodities during the 2009-2010 crop year.

Payments from the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) are an alternative risk management program, based on revenue, in the 2008 Farm Bill. To enroll in ACRE, growers must forgo some benefits in traditional farm programs of direct and countercyclical payments, said Peter Zimmel, MU-FAPRI economist.

The study of the current crop year shows participants drawing an average net benefit of $5.38 per base acre enrolled. That estimate will not be confirmed until the close of the current marketing year, Zimmel added.

The MU-FAPRI analysis shows enrolled producers gave up $118 million to receive protection from the crop-price downturn. In addition to forgoing all countercyclical payments, they lose 20 percent of direct payments under the old program. Also, loan rates are reduced by 30 percent. That lowers chances for Loan Deficiency Payments and reduces the amount producers can borrow if they use the marketing loan program.

“To benefit, a producer must show a revenue shortfall at the same time the state average revenue drops for that crop. Both the farm and the state actual revenue must fall below the farm and state benchmark revenue,” Zimmel said.

“Farmers received lower wheat prices that resulted from an increase in ending wheat stocks,” Zimmel said. “For two years, wheat production exceeded use. The resulting drop in wheat prices triggered payments to wheat producers enrolled in ACRE.”

Most other commodities did not see such large drops in price or yield.

“I see the ACRE program as a form of crop insurance,” Zimmel said. “The loss of part of the direct payment could be considered a premium on an insurance policy.”

To aid farmers making decisions to sign up this year, the MU economists updated their FAPRI ACRE Risk Management (FARM) tool. The program can be downloaded from the FAPRI website at

Scott Gerlt, MU-FAPRI research associate, reprogrammed FARM for those who used the Excel spreadsheet last year to update their farm records. “If they have their spreadsheets from last year, all they have to do is click a button to move into the new program. They don’t have to re-enter yields and prices.”

The update contains the latest developments plus the MU-FAPRI baseline, which gives projected crop prices for coming years.

“We don’t say you should sign up,” Zimmel said. “But we do say you should at least look at that option.”

With volatile crop prices and uncertain yields, ACRE risk management may appeal to more producers this year.

“Not many people signed up last year,” Zimmel said. “There were a great many unanswerable questions and the process seemed complex to producers.”

Also, ACRE does not deliver payments until after the close of the marketing year. For corn and soybean producers, that will not be until October of the year after harvesting their crop. “That can cause cash-flow problems for some,” Zimmel said.

Last year, only 8 percent of the Farm Service Agency farm units enrolled. Those account for 13 percent of the U.S. base acres.

Producers who sign up obligate their farm to stay in the program through the end of the current Farm Bill in 2012. All commodities on a farm are covered. A farmer can’t enroll only one crop or part of a farm.

However, producers with more than one FSA farm unit can enroll each separately.

Sign-up for ACRE this year, available at local USDA Farm Service Agency offices, ends June 1. Although farmers can wait until the last day to enroll, they are urged to contact the FSA office before the deadline to make sure of their options.

Last year, more than 4,000 farmers downloaded the FAPRI FARM spreadsheet. Using the spreadsheet requires a computer running Microsoft Excel.

Because of similarities, farmers in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota and Ohio can use the FAPRI FARM analysis tool.


Frustrated with the secrecy that surrounds the way the Senate does business, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill took to the Senate floor to demand her colleagues make public their objections to non-controversial nominations on the floor. Despite requirements passed in sweeping ethics reform legislation in 2007 to force transparency when senators try to put secret “holds” on bills and nominations, senators continue to file anonymous objections. Around 80 nominees are currently being blocked without explanation.

“If you have an objection to a nominee, you should tell the public you have that objection, and, frankly, you owe the public an explanation why,” McCaskill said. “We're here working for them. We're doing the people's business here. We're not doing some back room deal. We're doing the people's business.”

Watch video of McCaskill’s floor speech here.

The secrecy allows members to indefinitely block the Senate confirmation of government appointees without being held accountable or having to explain their concerns to the public. These nominees are non-controversial and were passed out of committee without opposition.

Following her speech, McCaskill proceeded to ask for agreement to vote on many of the nominees in question. She called up 17 nominees for a vote and Republicans objected repeatedly. McCaskill plans to return to the floor throughout the week to ask for a vote on the remaining 59 nominees who are being held in secret.

The list of nominees called up for a vote by McCaskill is below.

- Stuart Gordon Nash, of the District of Columbia, to be an Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

Without objection, the nomination was confirmed.

- Warren F. Miller, Jr, of New Mexico, to be Director of the office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, Department of Energy.

Republicans objected.

- Julie A. Reiskin, of Colorado, to be Member of the Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation.

Republicans objected.

- Gloria Valencia-Weber, of New Mexico, to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation.

Republicans objected.

- Benjamin B. Tucker, of New York, to be Deputy Director for State, Local, and Tribal Affairs, Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Republicans objected.

- John H. Laub, of the District of Columbia, to be Director of the National Institute of Justice.

Republicans objected.

- Anthony R. Coscia, of New Jersey, to be a Director of the Amtrak Board of Directors.

Republicans objected.

- Albert DiClemente, of Delaware, to be a Director of the Amtrak Board of Directors.

Republicans objected.

- Mark R. Rosekind, of California, to be a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Republicans objected.

- P. David, Lopez, of Arizona, to be General Counsel of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Republicans objected.

- Victoria A. Lipnic, of Virginia, to be a Member of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Republicans objected.

- Jill Long Thompson, of Indiana, to be a Member of the Farm Credit Administration Board.

Republicans objected.

- Eric L. Hirschhorn, of Maryland, to be Under Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration.

Republicans objected.

- Steven L. Jacques, of Kansas, to be an Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Republicans objected.

- Jim R. Esque, of New York, to be an Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Republicans objected.

- Michael W. Punk, of Montana, to be a Deputy United States Trade Representative.

Republicans objected.

- Islam A. Siddiqui, of Virginia, to be Chief Agricultural Negotiator, Office of the United States Trade Representative.

Republicans objected.

NFPA urges grilling fire safety

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is reminding outdoor cooks not to forget about grill fire safety as the peak months for grill fires arrive. People with gas grills should take extra precautions. In 2003-2006, gas-fueled grills were involved in 81 percent of reported home grill fires and were involved in 6,400 home fires, including structure and outside fires. The leading cause of gas grill fires was a leak or break in hoses.

Video and audio available.

“Nobody wants to see their backyard barbeque go up in flames,” said Lorraine Carli, vice president of communications for NFPA. “There are simple measures that can be taken to avoid charring dinner and setting anything on fire.”

Although gas grills are used approximately one-and-a-half times more often than charcoal grills, they were involved in five times as many fires. Charcoal or other solid-fueled grills were involved in 1,300, or 16 percent, of home grill fires. The leading cause of these fires was something that could burn being located too close to the grill.

In 2007, approximately 9,600 people went to hospital emergency rooms because of thermal burns caused by grills. About one-third of the burns from gas grills happened while lighting the grill. Gasoline or lighter fluid was involved in roughly one-quarter of charcoal or wood grill burns. Children under five accounted for roughly one-quarter of thermal grill burns. Most of these burns occurred when the child bumped or touched the grill.

NFPA offers the following grill safety tips:

  • Use propane and charcoal grills in outdoor areas only.
  • Make sure the grill is located well away from the home, deck railings and out from under eaves and overhanging branches.
  • Keep children and pets away from the grill area: declare a three foot “kid-free zone” around the grill.
  • Use long-handled grilling tools to give plenty of clearance from heat and flames.
  • Remove grease or fat build up from the grills and in trays below the grill so it cannot ignite.
  • Never leave the grill unattended.

Gas grills:

  • Check the gas tank hose for leaks before using it for the first time each year by applying a light soap and water solution to the hose. If there is a propane leak, it will release bubbles.
  • If you do find a leak and there is no flame, do the following:
  • Turn off the gas tank and grill.
  • If the leak stops, have the grill serviced by a professional before using it again.
  • If it does not stop, call the fire department.
  • If you smell gas at any point while cooking, get away from the grill immediately and call the fire department.
  • Use only equipment with the label of a recognized testing laboratory. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to set up the grill and maintain it.
  • Never store propane gas tanks in buildings or garages. If you store a gas grill inside during the winter, disconnect the cylinder and leave it outside.

Charcoal grills:

  • If you use a “charcoal chimney” to start charcoal for cooking, use a long match to avoid burning your fingers when lighting the paper.
  • If you use starter fluid, only use charcoal starter fluid and never add charcoal fluid when coals or kindling have already been ignited.
  • Never use gasoline or any other flammable liquid to get the fire going.
  • Keep charcoal fluid away from children and heat sources.
  • When you are finished grilling, let the coals cool completely before disposing of them in a metal container.

For more safety tips, videos, facts and figures, and audio clips, please visit

NFPA has been a worldwide leader in providing fire, electrical, building, and life safety to the public since 1896. The mission of the international nonprofit organization is to reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating consensus codes and standards, research, training, and education. Visit NFPA’s Web site at

Edible landscapes

If you prefer landscaping to gardening but still would like to enjoy the benefits of homegrown produce, then edible landscaping might be for you.

“Edible landscaping uses attractive plants that also just happen to produce food,” said David Trinklein, University of Missouri Extension horticulturist.

Edible plants in the landscape can include Swiss chard, cherry tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, onions and most herbs.

“Containers filled with tomatoes or peppers can add to the decor of a patio or deck while at the same time providing fresh, tasty food,” Trinklein said. “Woody plants such as fruit trees can be planted instead of small flowering trees. Blueberries can take the place of shrubs and grapes can adorn an arbor or cover a trellis instead of vines.”

More ideas to consider:

--Incorporate plants such as lettuce, radish or cabbage into your flowerbeds and borders.

--Plant herbs along with flowers in a container.

--Plant gooseberries instead of barberry for an effective hedge.

--Train raspberries up a fence.

--Plant flowering cabbage in the fall as an alternative to mums.

--Design an edible flower garden using nasturtium, violas, borage and calendula.

You don’t necessarily need the large, sun-drenched spaces of traditional vegetable gardens, but certain environmental needs must be met. Most edible plants require about six to eight hours of sunshine each day along with good soil, the right nutrients and fertilizer. If soil is compacted and drains poorly, add organic matter on a yearly basis.

Edible landscaping tends to require more maintenance than traditional gardening or landscaping. This means paying additional attention to watering, fertilizing, pruning and pest management.

“It is important to remember that pesticides that can be used safely on ornamental plants might not be labeled for food crops,” Trinklein said. Always read the directions and never use a pesticide on edible landscape plants that is not labeled as safe to use on food crops.

“Edible landscapes represent a means of providing a greater return on a homeowner’s investment in the man-made environment by providing a source of safe, tasty and nutritious food while creating a pleasant environment,” he said.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Opinion: Getting Financial Reform Right

Op ed submission from Max Cook, president and CEO, Missouri Bankers Association

A year and a half after the country came perilously close to economic collapse, average Americans are sitting up and taking notice of the debate in Washington over financial reform. No one wants another financial crisis, and one thing that consumers, the White House, Congress, regulators and bankers of all stripes agree on is that financial reform is needed.

There is also broad agreement on the primary issues that reform effort must focus on, including ending the concept that any one institution is too big to fail and closing regulatory gaps that allowed securities firms and other non-banks to create huge problems for the economy. The legislation pending in Congress takes some positive steps toward addressing these matters. But it also stops short in several areas and goes overboard in others.

Traditional banks didn’t bring about the financial crisis. Their mission is, as it has always been, to serve their local community and make credit available to consumers and small businesses. The bill before the Senate unfortunately contains provisions that would hinder their ability to do this effectively and to provide the credit the local economy so badly needs to get back on track.

Consider, for example, the proposal to create a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It sounds great in theory, and bankers strongly support improving consumer protections. But in practice, creating another new bureaucracy will produce more problems than it will solve by putting the government in the business of deciding what products are right for bank customers. Community banks could reasonably conclude that it is not worth offering checking accounts, savings programs, home equity loans or other products that are specifically designed for their local markets because they don’t have the bureau’s stamp of approval. This kind of invasive oversight undermines the essence and strength of community banks – namely, the relationships we have with our customers. How can we adhere to our mission if we can’t tailor products to meet the specific needs of our customers?

Then there is the issue of uneven enforcement of the rules. The new consumer rules would apply to both banks and non-banks, but enforcement against these non-banks, many of whom contributed greatly to the economic crisis, would be weak or nonexistent in many cases. Unlike the banking industry, a strong infrastructure for examination and enforcement of rules does not exist for non-banks. How does that protect consumers from mortgage brokers or other financial entities outside of the traditional banking industry that made a disproportionate share of toxic loans?

There are other concerns. Ending too-big-to-fail is critical, yet the Senate bill falls short in this regard. The bill also contains provisions that will make credit less available for consumers and small businesses, and it doesn’t provide adequate oversight of accounting rules that greatly worsened the crisis.

Bankers support financial reform, but it needs to be done well—and it especially needs to be done with an eye toward the impact on communities like ours. These issues are important, and vigorous debate should be encouraged. The consequences of getting reform wrong are too great to be treated lightly.

Opinion:: Blunt Believes Women Should Have Less Pay for Equal Work

By the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee

With today being Equal Pay Day, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee would like to remind Congressman Roy Blunt of his vote last year to deny equal pay for equal work for Missourians regardless of gender. Last January, Blunt joined with many of his Republican colleagues in voting against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which makes it easier for Missourians to get the pay they deserve, regardless of their gender, race, or age. Despite Blunt’s attempts to derail this bill, the bill passed, and was signed into law. On Equal Pay Day, does Blunt stand by his vote to deny equal pay for equal work for Missourians, or would he vote differently today?

“On the day that Americans recognize the importance of equal pay for equal work, Missourians should remember that Roy Blunt voted against this commonsense legislation just last year,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee National Press Secretary Deirdre Murphy. “By opposing equal pay for women, Blunt gave Missourians more evidence that he is out of touch with the economic realities of his own state.”

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 passed both chambers of Congress on a bipartisan basis and was signed into law by President Obama on January 29, 2009. The bill restored the ability of workers to effectively seek legal redress for pay discrimination on the basis of sex, race, religion, age, or disability. The legislation amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to say that the 6 month statute of limitations on filing lawsuits for pay discrimination reset with each discriminatory paycheck. Based on the court case filed by Lilly Ledbetter against Goodyear, this legislation was critical, as in some circumstances, like Ms. Ledbetter’s, awareness of the pay disparity did not come to light until the previous statute of limitations had expired.

Opinion: Missouri Senate Set To Advance Bill Expanding Protective Information before Abortion

By the Missouri Right to Life

On Thursday, April 15, the Senate perfected SS SCS SB 793, a bill that contains excellent pro-life provisions. In addition to offering an ultrasound and information on her child's development 24 hours before an abortion, a mother receives information about the possibility of pain to the unborn child, the father's liability for child support, alternatives to abortion and additional information to help her make a more fully informed choice. This legislation also includes language that allows Missouri to "opt out" of abortion coverage in federal health insurance exchanges.
Although the legislation alters the existing requirement for a treating physician to meet with the woman to discuss the medical facts of a drug-induced or surgical abortion 24 hours before an abortion, the senate sub moves Missouri closer to making sure women receive information that will help them choose life for their unborn child.

We thank the legislators in both bodies who are working hard to pass legislation that protects women and their unborn children. We look forward to passage of the bill out of the Senate and the House.

AARP Launches Initiative to End Abuse By Financial Industry

AARP today launched a multi-faceted initiative to pass financial reforms necessary to safeguard the pocketbooks of Americans. The initiative includes targeted local TV, radio and print ads in states; grassroots engagement; national and local research; and social media outreach.

“We know now that older Americans lost billions of hard earned dollars due to the failure of an outdated and compromised financial regulatory system,” said Nancy LeaMond, Executive Vice President at AARP. “We strongly believe that any bill the Senate passes should protect the rights of consumers first and foremost.”

AARP is calling on the Senate to put consumers first, not the financial institutions that caused the economic crisis that hurt millions of older Americans. The ad campaign highlights the consequences of the financial industry’s reckless behavior, using a jingle with lyrics including:

“Oh big banks how you’ve used us
Mistreated and abused us
Mortgage lenders too
We gave you our trust
Then you almost went bust
Turned our taxes into bonuses too
Now you want to forget
We paid off your debt
You act like you’re free of blame
But your profits they grew
While you broke every rule
We’re tired of playing your game
Stop the fat cats from putting your money at risk – tell your senators to pass financial reform now.”

Recent AARP polling has shown that Democrats, Republicans and Independents age 50-plus overwhelmingly say they want reform. More than 9 in 10 people believe financial institutions should use plain language to describe their products, be transparent about fees on accounts, disclose the costs and benefits of all products they market and that consumers should be able to know more about the financial professionals they are consulting for advice.

“AARP is calling on Senators to pass a strong bill that includes, among other protections, a strong and independent consumer watchdog, rules that forbid the financial industry from selling products they know their customers can’t afford or don’t understand, and greater transparency in an industry that has historically operated behind closed doors,” said LeaMond.

To view the ad and learn more about the initiative visit: or watch the ad on YouTube at

For more information about AARP’s financial reform surveys visit:

For more activity on financial reform, check out AARP on Twitter: @AARP and Facebook: