Monday, March 30, 2015

Hartzler: I am fighting to protect religious liberty

(From Fourth District Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler)

Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (MO-4) joined 66 fellow Republican Study Committee (RSC) members in the effort to protect the religious liberties currently cherished by employers and institutions located in the District of Columbia. She signed a letter last week to Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Andre Crenshaw, calling on Congress to use its authority to block funding for two controversial measures passed by the D.C. City Council that threaten religious freedom.

Including the District of Columbia’s Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act and the Human Rights Amendment Act in the Fiscal Year 2016 D.C. Appropriations Bill would, according to the letter, “undermine long-standing religious protections contained in the Constitution, as well as federal law protecting the free-exercise of religion.”

The letter continues: “This provision would force religious institutions and other pro-life employers to violate deeply held beliefs, values, and principles, and would amount to a government-mandated violation of the Constitution.”

“Violations of the Constitution are always wrong, but they are more egregious when Americans are forced by their government to take actions that go against their religious beliefs,” Hartzler added. “I believe Congress must be prepared to approve language in the Appropriations Bill that protects the rights of Americans against those whose desire is to interfere with our nation’s Constitutional guarantees.”

House bill would require smaller Missouri schools to consolidate

(From Rep. Kurt Bahr, R-O'Fallon)

The Missouri General Assembly was on Spring Break last week. Before we left I filed a controversial bill to improve funding for education, HB1292.

The state of Missouri has 522 school districts and 194 of them are considered small school districts with a total of 350 students or less. HB 1292 will consolidate these school districts by having either small districts combine to become one district with more than 350 students or a small district to join with a larger neighboring districts. By eliminating administrate costs we will have more money for teachers and real education.
This bill affects school districts not school building as is clearly stated in the bill “8. Nothing in this section shall be construed to require the closing of any school or school facility” I have no intention of closing schools; I am attempting to make sure that the taxpayer’s money is spent on the students and not on administrators. There is no reason that two adjacent school districts with 200 students, who are located in the same county couldn’t join forces and become one district with 400 students.

As Chairman of the Education budget I have learned that we spend an extra $15M on these school districts outside of the Foundation Formula. By combining these districts we can put that money back into the formula for all the students in our state.

Student Freedom of Association Act

HB 104 prohibits an institution of higher learning from taking
any action or enforcing any policy that denies a religious student association any benefit available to other student organizations or from discriminating against a religious student organization with respect to the benefit based on any of the religious requirements or leadership standards placed on the organization.

The bill prohibits any institution of higher learning from substantially burdening a student's exercise of religion unless the institution can demonstrate that application of the burden is in furtherance of a compelling interest of the institution and is the least restrictive means for doing so. Any student or religious student association that has been aggrieved as a result of a violation of these provisions may assert the violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding against the public institution of higher learning and obtain appropriate relief, including damages.

Across the United States colleges and universities are enforcing what they are calling, “an all comers policy.” An all comers policy states that no student could be excluded from a leadership post of a student club or organization on ideological grounds. College Republicans must allow Democrats to seek office; the environmental group had to welcome climate-change skeptics; and a leader of a religious group could not be dismissed if she renounced faith midyear. (The administration usually grants an exception to sororities and fraternities.)

This policy has become an attack on the religious clubs. In the first year of implementation at Vanderbilt University, 14 campus religious communities—comprising about 1,400 Catholic, Evangelical, and Mormon students—lost their organizational status. This means they could not advertise or meet on campus. They are, in fact, silenced and ostracized by this policy based upon their religious doctrine. This movement is sweeping across the United States into all universities and colleges. All of the universities in the California state system have now adopted it. So it is only a matter of time, before the Missouri colleges and universities attempt to stop their students from meeting like-minded people on their college campus. HB 104 will hopefully stop this Theophobia from spreading to our schools and impacting our children.

Former board candidate: Koch, Martucci, Roberts- It's a way forward

(From Joplin resident and former Joplin R-8 Board of Education candidate Hal Robertson)

The Joplin School Board race is an interesting thing to watch these days. Having entered and exited the race, I’m still very interested in the outcome and, as in any election, there will be winners and losers. My largest fear is that the real losers could be Joplin voters, taxpayers and students.

The race is complicated this year for several reasons. First, there are three available seats, but they’re not equal. Two of the seats are for full, three-year terms but the third seat is for just one year. Voters will choose one of the three candidates vying for the one-year seat. The remaining three-year seats have some issues.

In the beginning, there were a total of four candidates for the three-year seats - I was one and had to drop out of the race. That left incumbent Anne Sharp, newcomer Jeff Koch and former Joplin Chief-of-Police, Lane Roberts. However, Roberts was recently appointed as the head of the Department of Public Safety for the State of Missouri and will be unable to serve on the Joplin Board of Education. To complicate matters further, his name will still appear on the ballot, since the candidates were finalized and certified at the end of January. This may cause some confusion, but it also provides a unique opportunity. More on that in a minute.

Another complication is the current state of affairs with our existing Board of Education. After spending millions upon millions of dollars they didn’t have (and then borrowing millions to pay back millions, with millions still owed), the district’s bank account is fading fast. When asked about this issue, the administration and a majority of the current Board start singing the theme song to the Lego Movie: Everything is Awesome!

Further complicating things is the recent State Audit Report on the Joplin Board of Education. A thorough read shows embarrassing mismanagement of funds and a general carelessness about the handling of resources and the law. In a very real sense, they got a “D” on their report card. When asked about this issue, the administration and the majority of the current Board continue singing the theme song to the Lego Movie: Everything is Awesome!

In addition, and contrary to popular spin, our overall academic scores are falling. While we can argue about the metrics of standardized tests and graduation, the simple fact is that Joplin Schools were ranked 373 out of 504 in Missouri last year. When asked why, the administration and the majority of the current Board keep singing Everything is Awesome!

Finally, there is the question of whether our current administration is doing the job they were hired to do and whether we can continue down the road we find ourselves on. When confronted with this question, you guessed it, Everything is Awesome!

For me, the worst part is that our incumbent candidate and two of the other candidates know the song by heart and sing it every chance they get. Just the tiniest bit of research tells me that everything is not awesome in Joplin schools and I believe, if we elect the singers, we lose.

That makes two candidates a clear choice for me: Jeff Koch and Jennifer Martucci. In the recent candidate forum held at MSSU, both Koch and Martucci displayed a working knowledge of our school system and a clear view of our current circumstances while the others waffled. These two have students in our schools and have jumped through all the parental hoops. They know what they’re talking about.

That brings us to the final three-year seat. If you believe, as I do, that we can’t afford to continue with the policies of the past and that 15 years is more than enough time for any person to sit on the board, we need an alternative. Believe it or not, that means we have to vote for - and elect - Lane Roberts. Yes, I just said he can’t serve, but electing Lane Roberts for the final three-year seat triggers a special provision in the election law. If an elected official cannot serve, the Board is required to name a replacement for a one-year term.

This one-year appointment accomplishes several things. First, the new board - if it includes Koch and Martucci - will look and vote very differently that our current board. Second, there is at least a chance that the appointee won’t know the words to Everything is Awesome. Finally, regardless of who is chosen, they are only guaranteed one year in office, limiting their long-term impact and influence.

Is it a loophole? Yes. Is it a political maneuver? Yes. Is it the only way to break the current cycle? While there are no guarantees, this looks like our last window of opportunity in 2015. Koch, Martucci and Roberts. It’s a way forward and the ticket I’ll be voting for on April 7.

Nancy Good prepared to spend $10,000+ to win one-year Joplin R-8 board seat

The Joplin Progress Committee, the same group that brought us Wallace-Bajjali, is doubling down on its efforts to elect Bright Futures USA Chairman Nancy Good to a one-year, unexpired seat on the Joplin R-8 Board of Education.

The Committee contributed $1,750 to the Good campaign today, adding to the $1,750 it gave her March 12, for a combined total of $3,500.

In addition, the Missouri REALTORS PAC has spent $5,520.43 with at least some of that amount paying for a mass mailing.

Good reported $8,320.43 in contributions in her eight-days-before-election reported filed today with the Missouri Ethics Commission, an amount that does not include today's Joplin Progress Committee contribution. Combined with that $1,750, Good has received at least $10,070.43 in contributions to this point.

Those who contributed to Good during the last four and a half weeks include the following:

Nancy Good $100
Jim Willis, Allgeier Martin and Associates $200
Committee to Elect Ron Richard $250
Red-Wood Development, Joplin, $100
Bo Lee, attorney, Joplin, $100
Jhan Hurn, Community Support Service of Southwest Missouri $100
Gary Burton, lobbyist, $100

Good had $2,800 left in her account before the arrival of today's $1,750 infusion.

Those who have contributed to the Joplin Progress Committee can be found at this link.

Electrical contractor hits Joplin R-8 with $7 million dollar bill for work on JHS

Fifteen days after a state audit of the Joplin R-8 School District said the R-8 Board and Administration had spent more than $3 million in their rush to open the new Joplin High School/Franklin Technology Center on time, the district received a bill for another $7 million plus from the company that did the electrical work for the buildings.

With the $7 million, the total that Superintendent C. J. Huff's decision to accelerate construction over the spring and summer months of 2014 to get JHS open by the beginning of the school year now tops $10 million, without guarantee there are no more bills to come.

The bill, dated March 18, and addressed to Huff, Archie Smith of Universal Construction Company, the project manager, and architect Chad Greer of Corner, Greer and Associates, puts the blame for the extra costs squarely on the acceleration of the project.

In the bill, the P1 Group asks for $7,078,464, including $2,379,986 for "acceleration inefficiencies," $1,439,215 for "overtime inefficiencies," and $711,952 for "added supervision,"

The extra supervision was required when Universal, at Huff's request, gave the go-ahead to push the project to try to meet Huff's self-imposed deadline of having the school ready by opening day. P1 was forced to increase its staffing from 30 to 100, according to the bill.

"P1 was forced to work additional man hours due to the accelerated, disrupted, bi-furcated, out-of-sequence and delayed work method experienced throughout the project.

"In addition, P1 was not able to achieve its planned rate of efficiency due, in part, to the fact that when the work was accelerated and P1 was required to staff the project with up to 100 men working 8,200 man hours per week rather than the planned average crew size consisting of 30 men working 1,200 man hours per week and with a projected maximum crew size of 42 men working 1,680 man hours, the quality of the laborers diminished."

Interestingly enough, P1 notes in the letter accompanying its bill that it was not the low bidder for the project.

The $7 million is not covered by any of the $74 million in loans the district has taken since last August.

The documentation was included in a lawsuit filed by the school district today in U. S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri. The school district claims it does not owe P1 anything because "despite demand, P1 Group has failed to remedy its defective work and says that all of the costs claimed by P1 "were not included into an approved change order."

The two-count action claims breach of contract and asks for a declaratory judgment..

The district has hired the high-powered Polsinelli Law Firm of Kansas City to handle the lawsuit and is asking for a jury trial.

Joplin oncologist pleads guilty to dispensing illegal drugs to cancer patients

(From the U. S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri)

An oncologist who operated a clinic in Joplin, Mo., pleaded guilty in federal court today to dispensing foreign, misbranded drugs to his cancer patients.

Robert L. Carter, 74, of Carthage, Mo., waived his right to a grand jury and pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge David P. Rush to a federal information that charges him with buying and selling misbranded prescription drugs.

Carter was the president and medical practitioner of Robert L. Carter, M.D., in Joplin, from Oct. 23, 1991, to April 2, 2012. As a medical oncologist, Carter provided care and treatment for patients with cancer and blood diseases. The practice purchased prescription drugs, including chemotherapy drugs, which were prescribed by Carter and were administered and dispensed through the practice. Reimbursement for the drugs and their administration was sought from the Medicare and Medicaid programs, Tricare as well as other private health care benefit programs.

In April 2010, Dr. Carter began ordering prescription cancer drugs from Quality Specialty Products (QSP) in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. QSP sold drugs – which had been obtained from foreign sources and which had not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for distribution or use in the United States – to physicians and other health care providers in the United States.

QSP shipped misbranded and FDA-unapproved drugs to Carter at his practice in Joplin. These misbranded and FDA-unapproved drugs were administered to Carter’s cancer patients and Carter was reimbursed by government and private health insurance programs.

The labeling for the prescription drugs that Carter purchased from QSP was different than the versions of the drugs the FDA had approved for distribution in the United States. Among other things, they did not have labels bearing the symbol “Rx only,” and the labeling for some of the drugs was in one or more foreign languages. Some of the prescription drugs lacked mixing and use instructions in the English language.

Carter paid $971,854 in restitution today to Medicare, Tri-Care, Missouri Medicaid, Oklahoma Medicaid and Kansas Medicaid. Under the terms of today’s plea agreement, Carter also must forfeit to the government $1.2 million, of which $228,145 was paid today, representing the proceeds from his scheme. Carter is subject to a sentence of up to one year in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $100,000. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Abram McGull, II. It was investigated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Office of Criminal Investigations and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General.

Jennifer Martucci releases new ad

In her new advertisement, Joplin R-8 Board of Education candidate Jennifer Martucci calls for bringing spending under control and empowering teachers.

Joplin R-8 School Board doesn't want to hear you

It has not been easy for constituents to address the Joplin R-8 Board of Education since C. J. Huff arrived in town in 2008, a year in which Anne Sharp was serving as board president, the position she holds now.

Constituents have to register in advance, they have to speak on a subject that is on the agenda, and they are limited to three strictly timed minutes.

Apparently, even that is not good enough. Those who go to the "How to Address the Board of Education" page on the district website, can click on a link to get a form to fill out.

Unfortunately, when you click that link, you reach an error page.

Of course, that could be a metaphor for the Joplin R-8 Board of Education.

Hearing delayed for former JHS teacher facing sex charges

The hearing for former Joplin High School communications arts teacher Jessica Low, 33, originally scheduled for this morning in Jasper County Circuit Court, has been postponed until Monday, April 27, at her request.

The court docket indicates that on that date either motions hearing will be held or Low will change her not guilty plea.

Low faces felony rape, sodomy, and pornography charges.

Low, 33, was arrested shortly after the school day ended at the 9-10 Center (the former Memorial Middle School) May 29. Low had taught at JHS for two years.

State auditor issues statement on death of Spence Jackson

(From State Auditor John Watson)

On behalf of the State Auditor’s Office, I want to ask citizens of Missouri to join us in keeping the family of Spence Jackson in your thoughts and prayers. Mr. Jackson was a respected spokesman for the Auditor’s office and long-time servant in state government. The work of the Missouri Auditor’s office will continue in this difficult time, but no doubt it will be with heavy heart.

John Watson, Missouri State Auditor