Friday, February 24, 2017

Governor names members of Committee for Simple, Fair, and Low Taxes

(From Gov. Eric Greitens)

Governor Eric Greitens announced today the members of his Committee for Simple, Fair, and Low Taxes.

Governor Greitens created the Committee by executive order to study Missouri’s tax structure and recommend comprehensive tax reform legislation to the Governor by June 30, 2017. The Committee is comprised of four members appointed by the Governor, three members appointed by the President Pro Tem of the Senate, and three members appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Governor Greitens has named as Chairman of the Committee Joel Walters, the Governor's recently-named Director of the Department of Revenue. Walters is a Partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP, and has decades of private sector experience with tax structures and their impact on businesses and economic growth.

Walters commented: “I'm honored to be able to Chair this Committee and work with the Governor to design a tax system that helps grow jobs and our state's economy. I look forward to working with the other members of the Committee to design a simple, fair, and low tax system.”

The Governor has also named Jason Crowell, John Lamping, and Will Scharf to the Committee.

Crowell is a Cape Girardeau-based attorney and former State Senator. In his time in the Missouri Senate, Crowell carried anti-tax credit legislation that would have saved Missouri taxpayers over $1.5 billion if it had become law. He famously decried the influence of high-paid lobbyists and insiders wearing “Gucci suits and alligator shoes” on the political process.

Lamping is a St. Louis-based financial adviser and former State Senator. Lamping led efforts in the Missouri Senate to enact ethics reform, roll back tax credits, and fight the implementation of Obamacare.

Scharf is the Governor’s Policy Director and will serve as Vice-Chair of the Committee.



Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard previously named Senators Will Kraus, Dan Hegeman, and Andrew Koenig to the Committee. House Speaker Todd Richardson previously named Representatives Elijah Haahr, Holly Rehder, and Jay Barnes to the Committee.

Emery empathizes with parents of transgenders since their kids "will never be parents themselves"

(From Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar)

Although unable to send you a report from the Capitol last week, I can try to get back on schedule this week. Recent legislation on the Senate floor has included two bills that I oppose – both create new databases of personal information. One is the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) and the other is to comply with the federal REAL-ID mandate. The PDMP bill, SB 74, was perfected while the REAL-ID, SB 37 will have more debate. I may write more about those bills at a later date.

Senate Bill 98 may have created the most controversy this week. In a room filled with TV cameras and photographers, there was testimony over whether a boy can be banned from the girls’ shower room or a girl from the boys’. To most parents, restrictions on access to their children while in a state of undress would be governed by the timeless convention of gender separation: boys would shower with boys and girls with girls.

Over 300 witness forms were submitted to the Senate Education Committee in support of preserving gender separation. However, there was a parade of witnesses in opposition to the bill. With the newly created genders that are defined, not by anatomy or birth certificate but by the state-of-mind, separation by gender was offensive to these parents and children. Their testimony was that if their daughter believed herself to be a boy or their son a girl, they should be allowed to use the shower, locker room, or restroom that aligned with their thinking rather than their biological or birth certificate gender. The theory seems to be that a person’s thinking rather than physiology should reign even if their thinking seems contrary to natural law, physical examination, biology, or DNA.

Struggles like those confessed in the public hearing are not new, but they are more prominently displayed than ever before. These children, should they continue on their present course, will never be parents themselves, but I can empathize with their parents who love their children dearly and struggle with them through these conflicts. One thing that seemed inconsistent in the arguments against the bill was the claim that by being directed to separate facilities unwanted attention would be attracted to the children. This concern was somewhat weakened by the parents putting the same children on the witness stand in front of a Senate Committee and multiple TV cameras to support their claim.

Senate Bill 98 is not complicated; it retains the historic practice of each gender bathing and dressing in private. It instructs schools, under certain circumstances, to accommodate each new “gender identity” that may be created with the same protections. In my opinion, student privacy and safety should be as important to our schools as to parents. Senate Bill 98 ensures that whether we are talking about the ninety-nine percent of the students who align with the current rules or the one percent who do not, every student’s privacy is important and should be protected.

Two fundamental concerns have brought this to the level of legislation, and the actions of courts and the federal government have made it imperative. The first concern is the creation of new genders do not exist anatomically. The second concern is the one percent who claims these new genders are demanding that the other ninety-nine percent agree with them. Senate Bill 98 does not show a preference for either opinion nor does it exercise any moral judgment. It merely preserves the commitment to student privacy and security by insisting that no gender be forced to use showers, dressing rooms, or bathrooms in community with another gender.

House deals with legislation expanding access to virtual schools

(From Speaker of the House Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff)

The House took action this week to ensure access to quality education for Missouri children, reform Missouri’s unemployment insurance program and ensure pregnancy resource centers receive much-needed support. Information on these and other important House issues can be found below.

Virtual Education

As the pace of technological change quickens, rapidly shifting the makeup of our workforce and economy, it is more important than ever that we ensure every student has access to advanced courses, especially in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.

House Bill 138, sponsored by Rep. Bryan Spencer, will ensure every student in Missouri has access to the courses necessary for a quality education. The measure, if enacted, would establish "The Missouri Course Access Program" (MCAP) and allow any K-12 student to enroll in MCAP courses, to be paid by the school district or charter school. This will ensure every student in a public or charter school in Missouri will have access to advanced coursework regardless of economic status.

Currently, more than half of the school districts in Missouri do not offer students access to any Advanced Placement course. No students are enrolled in physics courses in 40 percent of Missouri schools and no students are enrolled in chemistry courses in 20 percent of schools. In order to fulfill our promise to ensure every Missouri student is afforded a high quality education, we must guarantee all students have access to the courses necessary to prepare them for higher education and to participate in the workforce of tomorrow.

The House passed HB 138 with strong bipartisan support by a vote of 124-31. We continue to strongly support reforms to our state’s educational system to ensure every Missouri child is provided access to a quality education.

Unemployment Insurance

House Bill 288, sponsored by Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, would tie the number of weeks individuals are eligible for unemployment benefits to the Missouri average unemployment rate. If the unemployment rate falls below 6 percent, recipients would be allowed 13 weeks of benefits. The eligibility period would increase by one week for every one-half percent increase in the unemployment rate up to 9 percent unemployment. If the unemployment rate reaches 9 percent or higher, recipients would receive benefits for 20 weeks.

Maintaining a fair, low and simple tax system in Missouri is one of the top priorities of the House. In order to accomplish this, we must investigate every aspect of Missouri government to ensure all taxpayer-funded programs are operating in the most efficient manner possible. The common sense reforms included in Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick’s measure will make sure unemployed workers receive the benefits needed to support their families while working to reduce the tax burden holding our economy back.

The House passed HB 288 this week and the measure will now move to the Senate for consideration. We will continue to investigate ways to reform taxpayer-funded programs to ensure your tax dollars are being spent effectively and efficiently.

Pregnancy Resource Centers

The Missouri House continued its commitment to ensuring expecting mothers have access to counseling and support services necessary for carrying pregnancies to term this week. House Bill 655, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Engler, reauthorizes tax credits for donations to maternity homes and pregnancy resource centers which do not perform, induce, or refer for abortions and do not advertise abortion services. These facilities are essential to ensuring mothers with crisis or unplanned pregnancies in Missouri are afforded pregnancy testing and counseling, as well as the emotional and material support necessary to assist in carrying pregnancies to term.

Our chamber chose to proudly stand to support every Missourian’s Right to Life. The House perfected Rep. Engler’s legislation this Wednesday and should soon give final approval to send it over to the Senate.

House Approves Legislation to Stop Illegal Herbicide Use


House Bill 662, sponsored by Rep. Don Rone, would allow the Department of Agriculture to fine any individual who knowingly applies a herbicide to a crop for which the herbicide is not labeled for use. The department could fine violators up to $1,000 per acre in violation and the per-acre fine would be doubled for those who repeatedly violate the new law. The current flat fine of $1,000 has proven to an ineffective deterrent of illegal herbicide use. The money collected in fines would go to the local school district in which the violation occurred.

This legislation is meant to stop the illegal use of herbicides that caused widespread damage to crops in the Southeast Missouri last year. According to experts from the University of Missouri, 150 farmers in Southeast Missouri lost an average of 35 percent of their crops when neighbors utilized an outdated Dicamba product. Wind and temperature changes caused that product to drift onto nearby fields, damaging crops.

The bill would also give the Department of Agriculture additional powers to investigate claims of illegal uses and hold violators accountable for the damage of personal property. House Bill 662 passed the House this week and will be sent to the Senate for consideration.

Judge grants Neosho businessman more time to file objections to pre-sentence investigaiton

A federal judge today granted the lawyers for Neosho businessman Blake Altman extra time to respond to his pre-sentence investigation report.

Altman, 33, pleaded guilty January 4 to receiving and distributing child pornography.

Altman admitted that he received and distributed child pornography over the Internet from Aug. 14 to Oct. 1, 2014. Law enforcement officers executed a search warrant at Altman’s residence after he was identified in an undercover investigation into the distribution of child pornography via peer-to-peer file-sharing software. Undercover officers downloaded images and videos of child pornography from Altman’s computer. Officers seized Altman’s laptop computer, which contained images and videos of child pornography.

Under federal statutes, Altman is subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in federal prison without parole, up to a sentence of 20 years in federal prison without parole.

More information about Altman's crimes was included in a motion for detention filed by the Assistant U. S. Attorney, which can be found at this link.

Billy Long: Gorsuch is an excellent choice to replace Antonin Scalia

(From Seventh District Congressman Billy Long)

President Donald Trump recently nominated Neil Gorsuch, a judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, to replace late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Mr. Gorsuch is a man who has had a long history of interpreting the Constitution as it was intended by our founding fathers.

Mr. Gorsuch is a graduate of Columbia, Harvard and Oxford. After law school, he worked at a law firm in Washington, D.C., the Department of Justice and clerked for two Supreme Court Justices, Byron White and Anthony Kennedy. His resume is quite impressive, but it is his commitment to upholding the Constitution and his commitment to justice that make him deserving of a seat on the Supreme Court.

Mr. Gorsuch is an excellent choice to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who also interpreted the Constitution as the framers intended it, and not what he or society wanted it to be. An example of this is Mr. Gorsuch’s record on the Second Amendment. Throughout his time as a judge, Mr. Gorsuch has been a strong supporter of the Second Amendment.

Another example of his commitment to upholding the Constitution is his dedication to religious freedom. In the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case, Judge Gorsuch sided in favor of religious rights by ruling against an Obamacare provision that required companies to provide coverage for certain contraceptives despite their religious beliefs. The Supreme Court sided with Judge Gorsuch’s opinion and struck down the provision.

This is a man who has consistently been respectful of the Constitution and its intended purpose. Neil Gorsuch will make an excellent Supreme Court Justice. I am sure if my colleagues in the Senate to take the time to talk with him and listen to him he will be easily confirmed.

Justice Antonin Scalia’s successor should be one that holds the same strong conservative values as the late Justice and Mr. Gorsuch is such a person.

Video- House Majority, Minority weekly press conferences

Video- This week in the Missouri Senate

J. C. Penney to close 130-140 stores, offer voluntary early retirement to 6,000

(From J. C. Penney)

J. C. Penney Company, Inc. (NYSE:JCP) today announced it is implementing a plan to optimize its national retail operations as part of the Company’s successful return to profitability. Under the plan, the Company expects to close two distribution facilities and approximately 130 - 140 stores over the next few months. These strategic decisions will help align the Company’s brick-and-mortar presence with its omnichannel network, thereby redirecting capital resources to invest in locations and initiatives that offer the greatest revenue potential.

(Note: J. C. Penney has owned an anchor store at Northpark Mall in Joplin since that facility opened in 1974.)

“In 2016, we achieved our $1 billion EBITDA target and delivered a net profit for the first time since 2010; however, we believe we must take aggressive action to better align our retail operations for sustainable growth. During the year, it became evident the stores that could fully execute the Company’s growth initiatives of beauty, home refresh and special sizes generated significantly higher sales, and a more vibrant in-store shopping environment,” said Marvin R. Ellison, chairman and chief executive officer of JCPenney. “We believe the relevance of our brick and mortar portfolio will be driven by the implementation of these initiatives consistently to a larger percent of our stores. Therefore, our decision to close stores will allow us to raise the overall brand standard of the Company and allocate capital more efficiently.”

“We understand that closing stores will impact the lives of many hard working associates, which is why we have decided to initiate a voluntary early retirement program for approximately 6,000 eligible associates. By coordinating the timing of these two events, we can expect to see a net increase in hiring as the number of full-time associates expected to take advantage of the early retirement incentive will far exceed the number of full-time positions affected by the store closures,” added Ellison.

“We believe closing stores will also allow us to adjust our business to effectively compete against the growing threat of online retailers. Maintaining a large store base gives us a competitive advantage in the evolving retail landscape since our physical stores are a destination for personalized beauty offerings, a broad array of special sizes, affordable private brands and quality home goods and services. It is essential to retain those locations that present the best expression of the JCPenney brand and function as a seamless extension of the omnichannel experience through online order fulfillment, same-day pick up, exchanges and returns,” said Ellison.

“While many pure play e-commerce companies are experiencing dramatically increasing fulfillment costs, we are pleased with the double digit growth of jcpenney.com and how leveraging our brick and mortar locations is enabling us to offset the last-mile delivery cost. We believe the future winners in retail will be the companies that can create a frictionless interaction between stores and e-commerce, while leveraging physical locations to minimize the growing operational costs of delivery. In fact, in 2016 approximately 75% of all online orders touched a physical store. Even with a reduced store count, JCPenney is competitively positioned to deliver a differentiated department store model that meets the expectations of a digital world with an inspiring, tangible shopping environment,” Ellison added.

As a result of the store actions, JCPenney will close a distribution center located in Lakeland, Fla. in early June, at which time operations will transfer to the Company’s logistics facility in Atlanta as part of a strategic effort to streamline store support services. The Company also is in the process of selling its supply chain facility in Buena Park, Calif. in an effort to monetize a lucrative real estate asset.

Associates who will be impacted by the store and distribution center closures will receive separation benefits, which includes assistance identifying other employment opportunities and outplacement services such as resume writing and interview preparation.

Eligibility for the Voluntary Early Retirement Program (VERP) will generally include home office, stores and supply chain personnel who met certain criteria related to age and years of service as of Jan. 31. Approximately 6,000 associates are eligible for the program. Current costs and future savings will be based on the number of associates who accept on or before March 17 when the consideration period expires. The Company’s qualified pension plan will remain in a well-funded status post VERP. No cash contributions to the pension plan are anticipated for the foreseeable future. Charges related to the VERP, of which the vast majority will be non-cash, will be reported in the Company’s first quarter fiscal 2017 results.

FINANCIAL IMPACT

The total store closures represent approximately 13 - 14 % of the Company’s current store portfolio, less than 5% of total annual sales, less than 2% of EBITDA and 0% of net income. The stores identified for closure either require significant capital to achieve the Company’s new brand standard or are minimally cash flow positive today relative to the Company’s overall consolidated average. Comparable sales performance for the closing stores was significantly below the remaining store base and these stores operate at a much higher expense rate given the lack of productivity. Once cycled, these closures are expected to be net income neutral.

The annual cost savings resulting from these strategic decisions, primarily occupancy, payroll, home office support, corporate administration and other store-related expenses, are estimated at approximately $200 million. During the first half of 2017, the Company expects to record an estimated pre-tax charge of approximately $225 million, primarily lease termination obligation expenses, non-cash asset impairments and transition costs, in connection with this initiative.

The Company plans to release a full list of planned closures in mid-March pending notification of all affected personnel. Nearly all impacted stores are expected to close in the second quarter of 2017.

“I have a deep appreciation and respect for our associates who are on the front lines working tirelessly to serve our customers every day. Closing a store is never an easy decision, especially given the local impact on valued employees and our most loyal shoppers,” said Ellison. “While any actions that reduce or exclude our presence in communities across the country is always difficult, it is essential that JCPenney continues to evolve in order to achieve long-term growth and profitability and deliver on shareholder value.”

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Greitens announces restoration of funding for home and community based services

(From Gov. Eric Greitens)

Governor Greitens today announced an amendment to his budget, posting the following on Facebook:

Last week, the state of Missouri learned that it will receive $52 million dollars from a legal settlement and additional federal funding.

Many people wanted us to use the money as soon as we got it. Commentators in the media accused us of not spending it fast enough. They were, and are, wrong.

Too many politicians spend before they think. In fact, when we came into office, they were trying to spend $700 million that we simply don’t have in the bank. I was elected to fight for the people of Missouri, to be a budget hawk, and to guard every tax dollar.

This money makes our budget situation a bit better. It helps; it doesn’t make us whole. When you consider that politicians were overspending by $700 Million, this $52 Million is helpful, but it is not a long-term solution to the challenges that we face.

We looked at every part of the budget, and we looked at what the people of Missouri needed most. In our original budget, because of the shortfall, one of the tough choices we made was to change eligibility standards for the home and community-based services program. Making that change helped us protect the most vulnerable people in Missouri.

This program spends almost $1 billion taxpayer dollars every year—and it is growing at an unsustainable pace. It is on a path to break budgets for many years to come. If we are not careful, this program alone will eat away at every other budget priority, including public safety, domestic violence shelters, K-12 education, veterans programs, and programs for children with special needs. The simple fact is that if healthcare spending in Missouri is not reformed, it will destroy the budget and threaten every other important program that we care about.

Given the settlement money, I am issuing a Governor’s amendment to the budget to restore $41 million in funding to home and community-based services. This will maintain coverage for every patient currently in the program, while giving us time to work to overhaul a broken healthcare system.

This is not a long-term fix—it is short-term relief. My team and I intend to use the coming months to do a thorough audit of how this program works: who it helps, where it’s broken, and how we can deliver better services for fewer dollars.

This amendment also restores $11 million dollars for K-12 school bus transportation. Protecting K-12 education was always one of our priorities. This $11M means that we are spending more on elementary and secondary education than any budget has before.

This settlement is good news. But it’s important to remember that they are a lucky break. Sound budgets are not built on lucky breaks. Our budget problems cannot be solved by stopgaps and short-term funding windfalls.

A politician would pretend that this extra money was somehow of their doing, and they’d promise that everything will be fine if we keep spending exactly as we have. I came here as an outsider, and I know we can’t do what we’ve always done.

The hard truth is that Missouri needs to get our fiscal house in order. We need to cut unnecessary programs, reform others, and get maximum value from a minimum of tax dollars. Most importantly, we need to get the economy moving, so we can create more jobs and higher pay for the people of Missouri.

My boxing coach used to say, “Hope is nice and lucky is great when you can get it, but if you want to be a champion, count on hard work.” Missouri, we caught a lucky break, but we’ve got a lot of hard work in front of us.

Sullivan Republican explains bill making it tougher to get workmen's compensation

(From Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan)

Successful government is often about balance. This week, the Senate debated the issue of balance between employees who have filed workers’ compensation claims and their employers.

A 2014 decision by the Missouri Supreme Court created a deep imbalance in our business community. The decision opened up employers to much greater liability by significantly lowering the standards to make a workers’ compensation claim for discrimination. This decision made it too easy to file a frivolous and potentially inaccurate lawsuit against employers, thus hampering the business productivity of our state and the rights of our business owners.

To solve this problem, I have introduced and the Senate has perfected Senate Bill 113, which modifies the laws regarding the firing of employees under workers’ compensation laws.

The first thing my bill does is restore the standard of proof in those workers’ compensation cases. This will ensure that injured workers retain their rights while maintaining a strict standard to bring suit. My bill also stipulates that workers’ comp payments are decreased if a worker was shown to be on illegal drugs or alcohol during the time of the incident. And, lastly, SB 133 stipulates that an employee who walks away from their job, even when medically appropriate light-duty is offered, also walks away from their temporary benefits.

To give a bit more background, the 2014 Missouri Supreme Court case I referred to previously wasTemplemire v. W&M Welding. That case broke almost 30 years of case law precedent. In the past, an employee injured on the job must have proven that his or her prior workers’ compensation claim was the “exclusive factor” for their firing. But in 2014, the court incorrectly decided that a former employee must only prove that a prior workers’ compensation claim was simply a “contributing factor” to their discharge, as opposed to the previous standard of an “exclusive factor” in order to win a wrongful discharge lawsuit.

My bill ensures that the balance is restored in the employer-employee relationship, giving both sides the respect and freedom that they deserve. We cannot allow the extreme decisions of our state courts over the last ten years to continue eroding the delicate balance of Missouri’s workers’ compensation system. We must protect injured workers, but we also have to make sure that we do not unnecessarily harm business owners. My bill finds the right middle ground, and I am proud to sponsor it.