A fellow MDN reporter, Ke’yanna Johnson, and I received very shocking news when we came to the Capitol this week. An interesting quote we used in our stories from Rep. Paul Fitzwater received a lot of attention and KMOV Channel 4 News even made a whole news story about it. The quote basically said there’s a reason why there’s a sign at the zoo that says don’t feed the animals because they keep coming back. Fitzwater was using an analogy to explain that people can become too dependent on government assistance.
Last week Johnson and I interviewed lawmakers at the Capitol about a report that said half a million Missourians would receive tax credits under the Affordable Care Act (Obomacare). The representatives weren’t familiar with this part of the Obamacare but they did have opinions on the Medicaid expansion requirement under the federal health law.
Thursdays, as always, are hard days to find lawmakers to talk to because their week has ended and they are ready to travel back home. Johnson and I previously looked up representatives and senators who had sponsored or co-sponsored Medicaid legislation this year and then went door to door to see if they were still in their office.
We weren’t having much luck but had left messages with several secretaries. We then came to Fitzwater’s office and in the middle of me asking his secretary if he would have time for an interview, he came behind us and said come on in. He invited us into his office and I introduced ourselves saying I’m Miica Patterson and this is Ke’yanna Johnson and we are reporters from Missouri Digital News.
I don’t know if he just didn’t hear us say we were from MO Digital News or if he was talking over me at the time but I am sure that I said it before we started interviewing him. We asked him if it was okay to record this interview and he said yes. Johnson then gave him the microphone to hold in his hand.
I asked Fitzwater how he thought the tax credits under the federal health law would affect Missouri in the future. Fitzwater admitted that he didn’t know about the tax credits but he did know about the Medicaid expansion requirement. Please note that I never directly asked him about Medicaid because he started talking about it without a question from either of us.
At one point in the interview he said Americans can become too dependent on government assistance and then said the “zoo quote.” This quote has created a lot of controversy for him and I even had sympathy for Fitzwater. But that was before I read his facebook post about that interview which was full of incorrect information. Fitzwater said in the post that we told him we were Lincoln University students doing a class project. This is very untrue and actually we didn’t tell Fitzwater we were students from Lincoln until after the interview was completed.
Fitzwater also said we asked him questions that were never asked by either of us. The only question asked besides the one that initiated the interview was a question about clarification of a bill. This clarification question was not a big part of the interview at all. I understand Fitzwater was under a lot of hot water over the zoo quote but I don’t appreciate him being dishonest about what we asked and told him when we interviewed him. If he assumed something that is one thing, but he should never had said we told him these things. Also it doesn’t make sense to do this when we have the whole interview on a recording.
I have heard several times by different people that journalist use the same type of sources all the time. In many cases they say these sources are government sources.
I believe this to be true but the people who make such claims often don’t understand the whole situation. Of course if that journalist is discussing a bill or law, they will be drawn to a government official because they will be an expert on the bill.
I have tried to get a variety of sources several times for a story and it’s not as easy as some may think. Most big organizations have a rule that any interviews with the media are only to come from the top director.
On Tuesday, I wrote a story about how the House was pushing bills that would expand education benefits for military members and veterans. I thought military organizations or recruitment offices would be excited to speak about this topic. I was wrong. Any comments made to the media must come from the national military departments. I called at least five National Guard or military recruitment offices and they all said this.
This is not the first time I’ve experienced something like this. Even at my own school, it’s hard for me to interview faculty or staff members. They usually tell me the interview must be approved by the University Relations department. And guess what will happen at this department? Those faculty and staff members will get scripted and prepared answers to tell me during the interview. That’s not a true interview, at least not one I really like to participate in.
I realized one of the reasons organizations ask you for the subject topic and then say they will call you back is so they can prepare what they are going to say. A journalist wants unscripted answers because it’s the closet to the truth.
Health care is one of the biggest debates in the United States. The Affordable Care Act, also know as Obamacare, is the federal health law that was signed by President Obama in 2010.
There are of course people who are against and people who are for it. Regardless of people’s opinion of it, many of the federal law items have already gone into effect and other items will go into effect next year.
Under the federal health law, increased access to Medicaid will go into effect January 2014. Americans, who earn less than 133 percent of the poverty line, will be eligible for Medicaid, therefore expanding it in many states.
Several Missouri Republicans say Medicaid expansion is not the answer but Medicaid reform is a better solution. The Missouri House passed the budget and Medicaid expansion or reform was not included in it.
The Senate still has to pass the budget, but there’s a possibility Medicaid still won’t get included. A special session by the governor in the summer is very possible if this current session ends without any solutions to Medicaid.
On another not, some Americans as well as legislators may be surprised to know that effective January 2014, half a million Missourians will be eligible for tax credits for their health care premiums. The tax cuts differ by the size of a family and annual incomes.
Families USA, a national health care organization, released a report Thursday saying 525,000 Missouri citizens will get these tax credits in 2014. These tax credits will go to the insured and the uninsured.
Well I guess only one thing is certain, healthcare coverage is changing in the U.S. Although some people would still debate whether that change is for the better or the worse.
The legislators are back from spring break and things are definitely starting to heat up at the Capitol. Senators and Representatives are beginning to realize there is only a limited time to get things done before the session and so tensions are starting to rise.
Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal filibustered for four hours to teach Sen. Kurt Schaefer a lesson. She said he raised his voice to her and disrespected her. Even after the four hour delay, the Senate gave first-round approval Schaefer’s proposed constitutional amendment. The proposed amendment enforces the right for citizens’ to bear arms and the right to defend their family.
Also after all the questions and debates over performance funding, It has been decided to wait a year before they implement the model in Missouri’s higher education institutions. Sen. Rick Stream says there needs to be another look at the criteria that will be used to all institutions so they’re observed in a fair way.
I’m not exactly sure what to expect in these next few moths but I’m sure it will be very entertaining and educational.
Last week I covered a story about the House of Representatives passing a proposed constitutional amendment that would let legislators stay in the Senate or the House for 16 years instead of eight years.
I knew this was an interesting topic even before I learned more about it but I wasn't aware of all the history there was with term limits in Missouri and many other states. Actually there are currently only 15 states that even have term limits and six states reversed the term limits they originally had.
Term limits didn't even begin to be passed as laws until 1990 when some voters decided that they didn't want their state legislators to remain in their position for an unlimited amount of time. In Missouri, 75 percents of voters said they wanted their legislators to have term limits. They voted that a legislator was limited to eight years in Senate and eight year in the House for no more than 16 years total.
There's a big debate in many states on whether there should be term limits or not. Supporters of term limits say it gives states the opportunity to get new people in the legislature who would bring new ideas. Opponents of term limits say it makes the state lose experienced legislators and new faces have to be trained to be knowledgeable.
I can understand both points of view. State legislators pass bills every year that affect their citizens but the question is do we want those same legislators to continue to make those decisions for many years. I guess the answer to that question is better answered after state citizens decide if they like the laws those particular legislators have passed or not.
I have learned some very important lessons since I started reporting for Missouri Digital News.
It's extremely hard to catch Capitol sources on Thursdays. Everyone is ready to go home after their last committee hearing and session. They are quick to escape and head home for the weekend.
I had a story about Joplin possibly receiving state revenue to help the city rebuild after the 2011 tornado. The hearing wasn't until after the House recessed which was about 11:45 a.m. The bill was hardly discussed at the hearing and really the only thing that happened was a vote.
So after those 10 to 15 minutes of the quick hearing, I still had no idea what this bill was about or how I was going to write about it. Phil had given me some great advice the previous day and told me never to say I don't know something but research and find out what the bill is about.
So that's what I went to do. As soon as the hearing was over I called the bill sponsors, the committee chair, the committee vice chair, and then the rest of the committee members in that order. Guess What? No responses. Everyone had either left the Capitol already or were out of their office. I left a million messages with secretaries that resulted in no returned calls.
Well if I couldn't get representatives to explain this bill to me then I guess I had to figure it out myself. So I got the substitute bill and witness list from the committee chair's secretary. I had already read the summary. Sometimes a bill or a substitute bill can look like a law book especially if you have never heard the term tax increment financing district before, which is what the bill is about.
I quickly realized I needed a human to explain this bill to me. So I get on the all powerful internet and research for anyone who would know about this bill. I start by calling the two witnesses from the witness sheet, Joplin's city attorney and a developer contracted to work in Joplin. Guess What? No answer but I made sure to leave messages.
So then I start to call other people from the City of Joplin department but again no answer. I then tried to reach the executive director of Joplin's Chamber of Commerce. The secretary said the director wasn't there but she could transfer me to someone who might be able to help. Great! Then once I mention what I wanted to talk about she says I should talk to the director who isn't there at the time. Not so great.
Well I finally reached someone from a conservative organization who had political analysit that wrote about taxing increment financing districts. He knew about the bill and was able to explain it to me. I still wasn't too thrilled about only have one source but then Joplin's city attorney called back and I was able to produce a decent story.
So lesson of the day is to go into the House session and ask to take someone off the floor even before a bill's hearing to get information if it's a Thursday. Also start to call outside sources as early as possible and call as many as possible to get some type of response.
Last week, I wrote a story on several Democrats wanting to reduce penalties for people caught with 35 grams or less of marijuana. The bill would punish such violations with a small fine instead of up to one year in jail and a $1000 fine which is the current Missouri law.
As a university student, I know several students who were caught one time with a small amount of marijuana and yet it seems to follow them for the rest of their life. Most employers have instant access to Case.net where it takes a matter of seconds to look up an applicant. Should a one-time mistake result in student never having the career they want. This is the question bill supporters asked of others.
Let's be realistic, college students do things they shouldn't have during college. They sometimes drink too much, have too many parties and use drugs such as marijuana when they shouldn't. I'm sure many people would tell you they did some things in college they would never dream of doing now.
Representatives Chris Kelly and Rory Ellinger are sponsors for this bill. Ellinger say the current Missouri law on marijuana possession cost courts unnecessary money and that people should be able to move on with their life. Republican Representative Kathie Conway said lighter penalties for marijuana may result in more people driving under the influence of the drug.
This session's General Assembly is mostly Republican so I don't think the bill will become law but I guess anything is possible.
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