Posted 04/27/2012: The budget was the big issue again in the Capital. Republican Senators stalled discussion for two days, and a budget plan was agreed on early Wednesday morning.
A big change in the Senate bill was the continued funding to the government-funded health care program for blind individuals who earn too much income to qualify for Medicaid. The program was initially cut in the House by Rep. Ryan Silvey who wanted to undo cuts to higher education.
The budget plan is heading back to the House. Silvey said he believes the budget is unbalanced and will have to be fixed in the Hose.
A budget plan must be agreed upon and submitted to Gov. Jay Nixon by May 11.
The budget will most likely be the main issue in the next few weeks.
His request came after a number of Post-Dispatch articles describing inconsistencies in the proceedings. At the hearing in front of a Senate committee, Stouffer presented three examples of National Guard proceedings that may not have been fair.
First, he mentioned an example of a Neo-Nazi member of the National Guard. According to a report by the Post-Dispatch, it took almost a year for him to be removed from his position.
He also mentioned the case of Capt. Charity Summers, who was, again according to the Post-Dispatch, falsely accused of forging a check to receive a $3,000 grant from the Guard.
And finally, Stouffer brought Capt. Gason Gipson as a witness to testify his experiences with the Guard's handling of disciplinary proceedings. Gipson is being investigated for sexual misconduct.
A story was not produced by Missouri Digital News, because no new information was presented. Most of the information presented in the hearing was second hand, and came from the Post-Dispatch stories.
It was another slow week in the Capital. Wednesday was also Humane day. It was a day set up by the Humane Society to promote animal rights. The upstairs rotunda was filled with booths from different animal rights groups and animal care places.
Perhaps things will begin to pick up in the next few weeks, as legislators begin to rush to get things passed.
Stacey Newman's vasectomy bill that was presented in House committee last week, was amended on Tuesday. The committee removed a large portion of the bill and passed it. Stacey Newman released a statement on Wednesday expressing her disappointment in the amendment. Not much can be done to change this anymore, but I will be waiting to see if the issue is brought to the House floor.
Next week, I am hoping to see Newman's vasectomy bill brought up in the House. It will be interesting to see what her reaction is on the floor.
My feature story was filed on Monday. I made a mistake in referencing the Missouri Bar. It's easy to get comfortable doing things a certain way for a while, and then getting lazy.
I suppose it's all part of the learning experience, but now I will always make sure I double check all of my facts and never assume anything I am told is the absolute truth.
Rep. Stacey Newman presented a bill that would limit access to vasectomies. She said she is trying to make a point to the legislators, and that she believes Missouri laws should be equal towards both men and women. Newman said Missouri is setting the precedent for all other states, because it is one of the first to hear such a law. Georgia is the only other state that has had a similar bill presented.
She said she has received positive responses from all over Missouri, the country and even a few emails from Canada.
During the hearing of the bill in House committee, it appeared as though some of the other representatives were not particularly impressed. Some, it seemed, could have viewed the bill as a joke.
Although in the next few weeks of session, it is unlikely the bill will go far, it will be interesting to see others respond to the bill, and see how far it can go.
Monday, I covered an ethics bill that was addressed in a press conference held by the House Minority Caucus. The press conference was short, no longer than 10 minutes. The issues discussed, were capping the campaign contributions and investing contributions. Shortly after the conference, Steve Tilley held as press conference. I did not go, but was briefed by some of the other reporters.
While writing the story, I tried to include all the facts, including the problems the caucus presented and the fact that some of the issues seemed to be directed at the Speaker of the House.
Coming in Wednesday, I heard that some interpreted my story as being too one sided. Looking back through the story, I could see where it would seem that way and how it could be interpreted in that way. It is easy to get caught up in what you heard, and the facts that you have during the writing process. You can quickly forget that the story must have balance from both sides.
The lesson I learned is to take a step back from the story after writing it and try to see it through the eyes of the audience. I have to ask myself how it could be interpreted. I have to make sure that I have balance in my story, and have an equal amount of information from both sides.
Wednesday, the House Health Care Committee discussed a tuberculosis bill. This bill would create a targeted testing program that would identify high risk individuals. The hope is to prevent the spread of TB. It is interesting, that TB is an issue in today's society. Many of the representatives from health care facilities said that the disease spreads quickly, and to a lot of people which makes is so high risk.
I guess the lesson here is that something you may not think to be a relevant story can end up being an important issue.
Since I haven't had much time to work on my story so far this semester, this week was very useful. I had already finished most of my research, so this week was dedicated to getting interviews.
I spoke with the executive director from A Gift of Hope adoption agency. He was able to tell me what the agency thought of the bill, and how it will be useful in the future. He mentioned that although absent fathers do not intervene in adoptions frequently, when they do it is a devastating event for the hopeful parents.
Mary Beck, a professor at the University Law School is the author of the bill. I was able to sit down with her this week as well, and learn a little bit more about the bill. She said that she was passionate about this issue, and that she would love for me to keep her updated on my story as well as forward any questions I have onto her.
Although this week was productive, I am looking forward to getting back into the swing of things next week.
The two most talked about issues in the budget included the 15 percent cut to higher education and the $28 million cut to a program that aids the blind. An amendment proposed by Rep. Rizzo would only cut $300,000 to higher education. This cut would be directed towards the UMKC medical school. Representatives are unhappy with the behavior of the dean, and the treatment the staff of the hospital receives.
Rep. Talboy said this was their way of sending a message to the dean of the medical school.
Rep. Kelly proposed an amendment that would provide $2 million to the program that helps the blind. This amendment would help lower the cuts to the program.
The process of hearing and voting on the new amendments was long. Rep. Silvey said the process used to take 15 hours. Wednesday it only took two.
The budget process is confusing, if you have not done a lot of research. Even after doing research, the process was still slightly confusing. I am happy, however that I have a little bit more of an understanding of the budget process.
The marked-up budget proposal will move to the house after the Legislative spring break.
In the House chamber on Wednesday, the issue of Obama's contraception mandate was again being discussed. The Republicans and Democrats fiercely debated for hours. As I sat in the press box and observed the representatives standing at the mics, I noticed the Democrat side of the chamber had a woman at almost every single mic. However, not one of them ever got the chance to speak about the issue of contraception, which is an important woman's health issue. At one point, a male representative was called on by the presiding officer to speak before the woman standing in front of him, forcing her to step aside.
I suppose that as a woman, I noticed this more than someone else may have. It was almost insulting to see such disregard for the female members of the House.
After the adjournment, I went to the front lawn of the Capitol to hear these women speak about their similar dissatisfaction with being ignored. I couldn't help but feel inspired and proud to see that there are still politicians who would demand equality, an idea this country is founded upon, when it is not received.
I can only hope that in future discussions on women's health issues, women's opinions will not be ignored.
Whether or not it is an issue of gender, race, religion, or party affiliation it is important to the political system that every minority or group has a voice, and an opportunity to express this voice. A quality, I think, that our Nation prides itself on.
This experience made me understand the importance of the work of journalists. Without journalists, the reaction of the women may not have been as noticed by the House members. With many reporters covering the experience, the parties involved can be held responsible and hopefully something like this will not happen again.
When I arrived on Wednesday, I immediately went to a House committee hearing that would discuss two bills on teen tanning. The hearing, which was supposed to start at noon did not end up starting until 1:30.
The first bill presented would ban teens ages 15 and under from using a tanning bed. The punishment would be a $250 fine for a first offense and $500 for a second. The second bill would require that teens 17 and under would be required to get written consent from their parents or guardians in order to use a tanning bed.
A dermatologist and physician both testified in favor of the bills, stating that they were good measures to protect individuals, particularly young girls, from getting melanoma.
After the hearing, I called a few tanning salons to get their opinion on the bill. The owner of Tropical Tans, a salon in Jefferson City, said she did not care much about the bills. She said she did not believe they would affect her business, as many of the young girls are occasional tanners anyways, meaning they only come in before dances or spring break. She also said that many come in with their mothers, who bring them because that is where they tan.
This response was surprising. I expected the response to be more negative.
This week was short and not terribly straining. I am looking forward to getting back into reporting on Monday. Maybe I can start working on my feature story soon.
At 4:00 the House went into session. My hearing would begin as soon as the House adjourned. This was my first time in the House. I had been to committee meetings, but never in the chamber. The discussion (more like argument) was over a bill that would require voters to have a photo identification.
The House adjourned at 6:30. During the House Committee hearing, the bill that would create a two-year pilot program that would transfer children up to the age of 17 to their incarcerated mothers passed. The committee then discussed a bill that would give school districts the option of renting out space on their school buses for advertising. The aim would be to generate more revenue for the school district, since state funding continues to reduce. There was a lot of discussion on the type of advertisements, and the placement on the bus. The bill sponsor said that no ads that would be swaying to children's purchasing decisions would be placed on the bus. The school board would decide whether or not ads are appropriate for the buses. The bill also states that advertisements may also be placed on the passenger side of the bus only. Some space on the inside ceiling of the bus would also be available.
Not much happened in this meeting, but I produced a short story about the buses, and wrote a newsbook about the incarcerated mothers bill.
On Wednesday, I went to a House committee meeting that would discuss a bill which would give health care providers the option of opting out of procedures or practices they believed were morally wrong, or went against their conscience or religious beliefs. A few witnesses supported this bill, saying that there are many circumstances in which health care providers are punished or discriminated against for refusing to do something that is against their conscience.
Witnesses in opposition to this bill said that this bill would give health care providers the right to refuse treatment to patients, or withhold vital information from patients if they believe it would cause the patient to make an "immoral" decision. The bill sponsor said that this bill was timely, considering Obama's contraceptive mandate.
The House then went into executive session. One bill that passed, was the abortion pill bill, which I wrote about last week. One representative presented an amendment that would not require a woman to be in the presence of a physician while taking the second dose of the pill. The amendment passed, and the substitute bill was then adopted by the committee. Michelle Trubiano, whom I spoke with last week said she was glad they added the amend because it showed they cared about women's safety.
I wrote a short newsbook about the passing of the bill.
My story on the "conscience protection bill" as the bill sponsor called it, was one of my longer stories. I tried to present equal amount of argument from each side, and I included a few anecdotes that some of the witnesses presented.
I am really enjoying my time at the Capitol so far. I am happy to see some of my stories being published on KMOX's website. I am excited to begin working on my feature story.
My story on Monday was about state run mental health facilities. HB1077 would integrate patients in the facility with intellectual disabilities into the community. It was an interesting hearing, with many emotional testimonies. Many families with loved ones in such facilities seemed opposed to the bill. During the hearing, I was planning out the story. It makes it much easier to write afterwards.
On Wednesday, I sat in a hearing for HB1274. This bill would require that the abortion pill (RU-486) be administered by a licensed physician in a hospital or abortion clinic. I knew going into the hearing that this would be an interesting, but very controversial topic. The hearing room was very crowded, there were spokespeople from Campaign Life Missouri and Right to Life. A spokesperson from Planned Parenthood also testified. Before the hearing began, I did some research on the abortion pill. Before that, I had no knowledge of the abortion pill or the process women must go through. This made the hearing and testimonies much easier to follow.
When I went to write this story, I had to think for a while about what exactly I wanted to say. I was warned multiple times that this was a very controversial issue, and I had to be careful about how I wrote it. I tried to make sure that all of my quotes and facts from the hearing were double checked. Once I got started though, I wrote it pretty quickly. It is also my longest story yet.
I really feel much more comfortable now. Everyone is still so helpful and encouraging. I am having so much fun, too. I can feel it getting easier to write a story and write it quickly.
I am excited to start working on my enterprise story next week!
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