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.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

McCaskill: Demand Congress protect Planned Parenthood funding

(From Sen. Claire McCaskill)

I was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, so I know a thing or two about how important preventive care is.

It infuriates me to no end that Republicans would defund Planned Parenthood and leave millions of Americans – many of them in our most vulnerable communities – without the same access to vital care that I've been so fortunate to have.

If you feel the same way, I need you to speak your mind – loud and clear – to demand Congress protect Planned Parenthood funding:

Add your name to tell Congress: Protect Planned Parenthood funding.

Cancer screenings, birth control, prenatal care – these are the services that would be cut if Republicans get their way. What good does that do our country?

Americans overwhelmingly support Planned Parenthood, and millions rely on it, but Republicans are still moving full speed ahead with plans to defund the organization. I need you to join me and speak out right now:

Add your name to join me and demand Congress protect Planned Parenthood funding.

I'm not going to stop fighting for this.

Hartzler: Town hall meetings aren't productive

Joplin man sentenced to 15 years on child pornography charge

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

A Joplin man was sentenced in federal court today for possessing and distributing child pornography over the Internet.

Ernest W. Haney, 51, of Joplin, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Roseann Ketchmark to 15 years in federal prison without parole.

On Oct. 20, 2016, Haney pleaded guilty to possessing and distributing child pornography. Haney used peer-to-peer file-sharing software on his computer to download and to share images and videos of child pornography over the Internet.

This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney James J. Kelleher. It was investigated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Southwest Missouri Cyber Crime Task Force.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Joplin city manager provides weekly update

(The following report was provided by City Manager Sam Anselm to the Joplin City Council Friday afternoon.)

Good afternoon, everyone. Please see below for this week’s report.

-The most recent update from public works is available by following this link.

-Earlier this week the police department submitted an application for a grant from the Department of Justice for body cameras. It is a 50/50 grant, and if successful, we will use drug forfeiture money to cover the city’s cost for the equipment.

-In other news from the PD, the first of the two affixed speed displays was installed on Main Street on Thursday. The second should be installed by the end of next week. In addition to posting vehicle speeds, the equipment also collects speed data for analysis.

-On Monday of this week, parks staff opened bids for artificial turf at Wendell Redden and Joe Becker stadiums. As previously indicated, the bids were solicited to determine how much it would cost to partially or fully turf these fields, which would dramatically lower the cost of field maintenance and extend the use of the playing surfaces beyond our typical February-September season. Staff is in the process of analyzing the bids, and I hope to bring this discussion to you at our March work session.

-In addition to the turf discussion, March’s work session will also include an update from the Vision Joplin 2022 group. If there are other topics you would like to discuss during the work session, please let me know.

-In response to council’s request to seek input from the home builders and contractors associations about changes to our building permit process, we have heard back from both groups. I have asked the building division staff to prepare some additional information about our process and the current enforcement abilities of our chief building official. We are targeting our first meeting in March to present you with that information and get your guidance on whether to proceed with changes to the building permit process.

State auditor calls on Greitens to approve family-friendly leave policy for state workers

(From State Auditor Nicole Galloway)

Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway today issued a letter to Gov. Eric Greitens calling on his administration to approve two important changes to family leave policies for state executive branch employees. Auditor Galloway issued the letter after learning the administration informed the state's Personnel Advisory Board meeting on Feb. 14 that it was not moving ahead with the changes. The proposals were unanimously approved by the Board in December of 2016.

These family-friendly policies were designed to provide additional flexibility to parents by allowing employees to use earned sick leave for parental bonding after the birth or adoption of a child. The policies also expand parental leave allowances for parents in cases where both parents are state employees. Auditor Galloway urged the Governor to reconsider the halting of these policies, which would benefit employee health and welfare, at no additional cost to the state.

"This is paid time off employees have earned through their time in the state workforce, but can't use during the critical bonding period that exists in the weeks and months after a child is born or adopted," Auditor Galloway said. "Families benefit when parents are involved in the care of a child and without these policy changes, many state employees will remain prohibited from using their own paid leave to take time off to bond with and care for a new addition to their families."

The delay adds additional pressure to the timeline in order to complete the process prior to established deadlines.

The proposed changes would allow state employees to use accrued sick leave to take time off for parental bonding after the birth or adoption of a child. Current policies allow employees to use accrued vacation time for parental bonding. Sick leave is limited to pregnancy, childbirth and recovery from childbirth, but not for parental bonding. If the employee has no vacation leave, or once that leave is exhausted, the employee may take unpaid time off for parental bonding up to a combined total of 12 weeks of leave after the birth or adoption of a child. The maximum amount of protected time off would remain 12 weeks, but employees could use both vacation and sick leave for parental bonding, which could be spread out over 12 months.

The policy changes would also expand parental leave in instances where both parents are state employees. The state currently allows 12 weeks of protected leave, which must be split between both parents. The new policy would allow 12 weeks to each parent.

Unlike the executive branch workforce, which is under the control of the governor's office, other statewide office holders have the authority to approve their own internal personnel policies. Auditor Galloway has taken steps to ensure these beneficial family leave policies apply to employees of the State Auditor's office. She also highlighted a recent change to allow her staff to use sick leave or shared leave in situations involving domestic violence.

Auditor Galloway is calling on other statewide office holders to examine their own policies to ensure they offer adequate leave benefits. These leave benefits are key to attracting workers in a state where state employees are among the lowest paid in the nation. The policies would have no impact on private businesses.

Columbia man arrested for attempting to help ISIS, undercover investigation detailed

(From the U. S. Department of Justice)

Robert Lorenzo Hester, Jr., 25, of Columbia, Missouri, was charged in a criminal complaint with attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a designated foreign terrorist organization. Hester was charged in federal court based on his role in making preparations to launch a terrorist attack with persons he believed were associated with ISIS, who were actually undercover law enforcement personnel.

The announcement was made by Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Mary B. McCord, U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickinson for the Western District of Missouri and Special Agent in Charge Eric Jackson of the FBI’s Kansas City Field Office.

“As alleged in the complaint, Robert Lorenzo Hester, Jr. attempted to provide material support to ISIS by participating in what he believed would be a deadly attack committed in the name of the foreign terrorist organization,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General McCord. “Countering terrorist threats remains the highest priority of the National Security Division, and we will continue our efforts to identify and hold accountable those who seek to commit acts of terrorism within our borders.”

“First on social media, then during face-to-face meetings with an undercover FBI employee, this defendant repeatedly expressed his intent to engage in acts of violent jihad against the United States,” said U.S. Attorney Dickson. “He believed he was part of an ISIS-sponsored terrorist attack that would result in the deaths and injuries of many innocent victims. He readily participated in the preparations for an attack, provided materials and resources for an attack and voiced his intent to carry out an attack. I commend the FBI for protecting the public from a security threat.”

“Terrorism knows no demographic boundaries and remains the FBI’s top priority,” said Special Agent in Charge Jackson. “The arrest of Hester is the culmination of an extensive FBI investigation and demonstrates the challenges law enforcement faces in identifying individuals intent on causing harm.”

Hester, who remains in federal custody, was arrested on February 17, when he arrived at an arranged meeting with an undercover law enforcement employee. The criminal complaint was signed on Sunday and made public today, when Hester made his initial court appearance.

According to an affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, throughout the investigation, Hester expressed his interest in and exhibited his willingness to commit violence in support of ISIS – and he attempted to provide material support to ISIS by assisting in what he believed would be a murderous terrorist bombing and gunfire attack committed in the name of the foreign terrorist organization.

Hester is a U.S. citizen who was born in Missouri. He was enlisted in the U.S. Army for less than a year, receiving a general discharge from service in mid-2013.

FBI agents undertook a review of Hester’s publicly available posts on multiple social media accounts in September 2016. On Oct. 3, 2016, Hester was arrested by the Columbia Police Department in an unrelated case and remained in state custody until he was released on bond on Oct. 13, 2016. His bond conditions included electronic monitoring. While Hester was being monitored, FBI undercover employees maintained regular contact with him via an encrypted messaging app and text messages, and met with him on several occasions.

On January 24, Hester pleaded guilty in state court to property damage and unlawful use of a weapon and was released on his own recognizance. Hester was no longer on electronic monitoring after that date. FBI undercover personnel continued to meet in person with Hester and communicate with him electronically.

Hester agreed to meet again with an FBI undercover employee on February 17. When Hester arrived for that meeting, he was arrested. Hester was the sole subject of this undercover investigation.

Undercover Investigation

According to the affidavit, the investigation began when the FBI became aware (through multiple confidential sources) of Hester’s social media posts, in which he expressed animus towards the U.S. and suggested an adherence to radical Islamic ideology and a propensity for violence. Hester used several online aliases, including “Mohammed Junaid Al Amreeki,” “Junaid Muhammad,” “Rabbani Junaid Muhammad,” “Rami Talib” and “Ali Talib Muhammad.”

On Oct. 3, 2016, Hester was arrested by Columbia police officers after an incident in the parking lot of a grocery store. Hester, who appeared to be in an argument with his wife, threw a folded pocket knife through a plate-glass window near the entrance of the store. When store employees confronted Hester, he assumed an aggressive stance and forcefully placed his hand into the diaper bag he was carrying in a manner that appeared to be reaching for a weapon. Police officers later recovered a 9mm handgun from the diaper bag. Hester was in custody until Oct. 13, 2016, when he was released on bond and placed on electronic monitoring.

On Oct. 15, 2016, two days after Hester’s release on bond, an FBI employee using an undercover identity contacted Hester by private message. The FBI employee had accepted a friend request from Hester the day before Hester was arrested for the grocery store incident. They continued to communicate via social media, text and an encrypted messaging app, the affidavit says, during which Hester presented himself as a security threat, stating, for example, that the U.S. government should be “overthrown,” and suggesting “hitting” the government “hard,” while noting that it would not be “a one man job.” Hester identified categories of potential targets for attack and said he wanted a “global jihad.” Hester stated that he was trying to find like-minded people to help. When the undercover employee mentioned “brothers,” Hester said he wanted to meet them.

Hester then established that he would act on the statements he made online. In early November 2016, the affidavit says, Hester made arrangements with the undercover employee – whom he never met in person – to meet with “one of the brothers.” The undercover employee arranged this meeting with another undercover FBI employee.

During a January 31 meeting, the undercover employee provided Hester with a list of items to purchase, including 9-volt batteries, duct tape, copper wire and roofing nails. The undercover employee implied that these items would be used to make bombs, the affidavit says, stating that those materials are needed “to make … things … to bring some kind of destruction.” Hester allegedly responded by stating: “I’m just ready to help. I’m ready to help any way I can.” When the undercover employee stated that what they were planning was “going to bring them to their knees … and then they gonna know to fear Allah,” Hester expressed his anticipation by stating: “I can’t wait. I can’t wait.”

Hester and the undercover employee agreed to meet again at Hester’s residence the next day. When the undercover employee arrived, the affidavit says, Hester gave him the items he had purchased. The undercover employee told Hester they were planning something “10 times more” than the Boston Marathon bombing, and Hester expressed his approval. The undercover employee told Hester that they were planning on “killing a lot of people.” The undercover employee told Hester that he could “walk away,” the affidavit says, but Hester said, “I’m down.” The undercover employee told Hester they were going to “wage all kinda war,” and Hester again expressed his approval.

The undercover employee then pulled back blankets in the back of the SUV to show Hester three AK-47 style rifles and two .45-caliber handguns. The undercover employee told Hester that, while they had plenty of firearms, they needed more ammunition. Hester stated that he could not purchase ammunition because of his state charges, but that he had a friend that could get ammunition for him. Hester stated that he would have money to purchase ammunition after he received his tax refund and after he was paid in a couple of weeks.

The undercover employee also opened a backpack, which contained pieces of pipe with end caps attached in the manner of pipe bombs, along with cord-like safety fuse, stating, “these are bombs right here.” The undercover employee explained that the duct tape Hester provided would be used to tape the bombs together, which Hester acknowledged, and that the nails Hester provided would “cut peoples’ heads off.” Hester responded: “Oh yeah. I know,” indicating that he understood the nails were to be used as shrapnel for bombs.

The undercover employee stated that they had more backpacks that they were going to put in different locations. Hester acknowledged that he understood, and stated that they had to be smarter than the Boston Marathon bombers. Hester again confirmed that he was “down,” the affidavit says, and that he understood they had to “lay low” and act in a manner to avoid detection.

The undercover employee stated that they were going to “strike fear in all these infidel hearts,” and Hester responded that he agreed and that he was ready.

According to the affidavit, Hester contacted the first undercover employee via text message on February 2, and indicated he would “have some more stuff … in a couple of weeks when I get paid.” Hester asked the undercover employee, “When you talk to the brother again let him know I’ll have some more gifts in a couple of weeks.”

On February 4, 6, 7, 11 and 16 Hester communicated with an undercover employee via an encrypted messaging app. Hester said that he was excited, that he was “happy to be part” of it, and that it was “time they answer for their atrocities.” Hester predicted that it was “going to be a good day for Muslims worldwide.” Hester asked how the “party plan” was coming along and reiterated that he would get more “supplies.” The undercover employee told Hester that the “party” would take place on Presidents’ Day and that the targets of the operation would include busses, trains and a train station in Kansas City. Hester said, according to the affidavit, that it felt “good to help strike back at the true terrorist.”

On February 17, Hester met again with the second undercover employee and brought two additional boxes of roofing nails. Hester accompanied the undercover employee to a nearby storage facility, where the two examined the security cameras. Hester was arrested shortly thereafter.

The charge contained in this complaint and the assertions in the supporting affidavit are simply an accusation, and not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

This case was investigated by the FBI and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brian P. Casey and David Raskin, with the assistance of Trial Attorney Jennifer Levy of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.

Hester Complaint

Vice President Pence to visit Missouri Wednesday

(From Gov. Eric Greitens)

On Wednesday, February 22, Vice President Mike Pence will travel to St. Louis, Missouri to participate in listening discussions with American workers and employees of the Fabick Cat equipment and engine dealer, a 100 year-old family owned and family operated business. 

During his visit, the Vice President will discuss America's economic comeback. 

After the listening discussions and a tour of the facility, the Vice President will provide formal remarks.

Greitens: We need volunteers to clean up vandalized Jewish cemetery in St. Louis

(From Gov. Eric Greitens)

As you may know, yesterday Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in St. Louis was vandalized.

One measure of a community's strength is what we do in moments like this. We can choose to cower, or we can choose productive action and shared service. We can turn a vile act into a moment for resolve and a demonstration of our state's faith.

At 3:00 PM on Wednesday, February 22nd, we will be bringing together a group of volunteers to help clean up the cemetery. There are simple things that need to be done—but at times like this, it's simple things that send a powerful signal about who we are as a state and as a community.

There is a concept in Jewish teaching and thought known as tikkun olam. It translates literally into “repairing the world,” but what it means more broadly is that we all have an obligation to one another and to be of service. It is in moments like this that the world is in most need of repair, and we must do our part.

My team and I will be there tomorrow, and I'd invite you to join us. If you'd like to help, please be there ready to work at 3:00 PM. If you have supplies to spare, please bring what you can of the following: rakes, large garbage cans and garbage bags, work gloves, five-gallon buckets, non-chlorine bleach, and wash rags.

The cemetery is located at 7550 Olive Blvd, University City, MO, 63130. We will be working until the close of the cemetery at 4:00 PM.

There are many of you that cannot join us but who still want to help. The Jewish Federation of St. Louis has put out a call for donations for the restoration and security of the cemetery. Please consider a contribution: https://www.jfedstl.org/emergency-response/.

I welcome you to join us as we rebuild in this moment, and I look forward to seeing many of you tomorrow.

We look forward to seeing you!

Response: Brutality lawsuit against Joplin police officers is frivolous

In responses filed today in U. S. District Court for the Western Missouri, attorney Karl Blanchard said brutality charges alleged in a civil suit against Joplin police officers John Isenmann and Ethan Rodgers were "frivolous" and were designed to "harass" his clients.

The response also denied the brutality allegation.

In his lawsuit, filed February 15, Joey Caulk said Isenmann and Rodgers used excessive force on him following his August 9, 2015 arrest on charges of domestic assault and two counts of resisting arrest.

Officers Isenmann and Rodgers intentionally, unnecessarily, and unreasonably pushed Plaintiff Caulk to the ground and smashed his head into the ground. Because Plaintiff Caulk was in handcuffs, he could not brace his fall or keep his head from being smashed into the ground. Plaintiff Caulk screamed in pain and blood gushed from his head.

Caulk is asking for $300,000 and is requesting a jury trial. He is represented by Springfield attorney Erica Mynarich

Joplin Police records indicate Caulk has been arrested three times since August 9, 2015- charged with domestic assault January 15, 2016, domestic assault August 20, 2016, and assault October 29, 2016.


Watch Senate Education Committee hearing on Ed Emery's bathroom bill live at noon

Watch MO Senate Ways and Means Committee hearing live

McCaskill visits U. S.-Mexico border

Monday, February 20, 2017

St. Louis Democrat: Legislation makes it harder for Missourians to access legal system

(From Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis)

25 DAYS OF SESSION

The House is rolling along, some days feeling productive but most days trying to contain my disgust.

I'm heartened that many more of you are paying attention ---not just at the federal level and the dysfunction of the White House, but what we are doing at the state level as well.

The Speaker added a new committee this year, Special Committee on Litigation Reform, which meets every Monday at 1pm. Their purpose? To advance legislation making it harder for Missourians to access the legal system, particularly if you are negligently injured, killed or even discriminated against. Of course, these bills make it easier and less costly for corporations.

ADDITIONAL BILLS WE'VE SENT TO THE GOVERNOR:

SB19 (Brown, R-Rolla) - RIGHT TO WORK
Employees are not required to join a union to collect union benefits -  I voted NO
GOVERNOR SIGNED INTO LAW ON FEBRUARY 6, 2017

FOR A FULL LIST OF BILLS TO DATE SENT TO THE SENATE - CLICK HERE


WHAT WE DID THURSDAY ON THE HOUSE FLOOR

Taking a break from anti-labor legislation, this week the House debated and sent over to the Senate HB57 (Haefner, R-South St. Louis County) - giving law enforcement "special victim" status when they may be targeted based on their employment and raising that penalty. We also third read HB302 (Hill, R-Lake St. Louis), creating a "Blue Alert" system when law enforcement have been intentionally injured or killed, similiar to the existing "Amber Alerts".

We had several days of impassioned debate, including emotion testimonies Thursday from many members of our Black Caucus, detailing their personal histories of being detained/pulled over because of their race. I could feel their anguish, knowing that HB57 may protect further race targeting - which makes me very angry.

I echo my colleague, Rep. Peter Merideth's sentiment as he posted online:

 

Rep. Merideth also mentioned in his debate that last session we TOTALLY ignored the wishes of law enforcement who were adamant against "Guns Everywhere" SB656, which the GOP overrode after Governor Nixon's veto. Missouri police chiefs, prosecutors and sheriffs statewide were loud in their opposition - citing their own safety with the abolishment of concealed carry permits (no longer any training required or a sheriff's discretion allowed).

Those of us in metropolitan areas with higher populations KNOW that flooding our streets with more easily attained guns with no background checks or permits to carry concealed required makes it MORE dangerous for law enforcement at any traffic stop or incident call.

It is clear hypocrisy that the GOP majority would rather give law enforcement "protected class" status, further endangering people of color and women, than actually keep them safe.

HB57 passed the House by a bipartisan vote of 120-35 (several Democrats voted in favor). I VOTED NO.


"ALTERNATE REALITY/FACTS" EXPLOSION re REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICE

Just when you think you've heard everything...

It all began when St. Louis City passed Board Bill 203CS which was signed into law by Mayor Francis Slay on February 10 - prohibiting discrimination in housing or employment based on an individual's reproductive health decisions or pregnancy.

I sponsor similiar bills, HB376 (protecting reproductive decisions) and HB377(Pregnant Workers Fairness Act) - which have yet to be referred by the Speaker to a committee for a hearing.

Across the country employers are using their religion to discriminate against employees for their personal reproductive decisions, using birth control or assisted reproductive technology. Cities and states are stepping up to prevent women from being fired or losing their homes because these actions are not included in most non-discrimination laws, including Missouri's Human Rights Act. See the National Women's Law Center brief HERE.

Fast forward.

Last week my Children & Families Committee heard public testimony on HB174, (Hubrecht, R-Dexter) which would provide additional protections for religious based alternative-to-abortion agencies. These agencies have received tax credits since 2007 ---this year Gov. Greiten's budget allows them over $6M, however they have little MO government oversight. Many of these agencies provide medical treatment for pregnant women and are not required to employ medical staff, provide medically-accurate information or even receive inspections.

Tax credits for fake medical centers but no money for school buses? Really?

Then real dysfunction began in the hearing.

Numerous people testified that HB174 was designed to overthrow the St. Louis city ordinance ---because religion, particularly the Catholic Church, was under attack. Yet, the city ordinance has a clear religious exclusion:




And today the St. Louis Post Dispatch Editorial Board weighed in. HERE.
I agree with the Post that private reproductive decisions are that ---private. "Such decisions are none of the employer’s or landlord’s business."
Stay tuned.

AND EVEN MORE"ALTERNATE REALITY/FACTS" 

In that same Children and Families Committee, we also heard HJR18 (Moon, R-Ash Grove) a constitutional amendment proposal affirming the "right to life" at every stage of development, beginning at conception.

HJR18, if approved by the voters, would essentially be a test case against Roe v Wade and outlaw most forms of birth control and fertility treatments in Missouri.

The testimony went into the absurd quickly as the Rep. Moon indicated his confusion between federal law and the Constitution. Male members on the committee were also confused by how common forms of birth control work and only men testified in FAVOR of HRJ18.

Rep. Moon had this to say when inquired of by my colleague, Rep. Cora Faith Walker (D-St. Louis).

WATCH HERE.

Tadpoles. Women's reproductive decisions are now based on tadpoles.

Billy Long talks trade deal with Japanese prime minister

When President Donald Trump needs some diplomacy done, one of those he calls on could be Seventh District Congressman Billy Long.

At least that is the impression Long gave when talking to media following a meeting he and other members of Congress had with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe earlier today in Tokyo.

From the Japan Times report:

Billy Long, a Republican representative from Missouri, told reporters after the meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office that he had discussed trade with Abe and felt confident the countries will hammer out a bilateral trade deal.

“President Trump and Prime Minister Abe really built a good relationship on the golf course, so I think you’ll see a trade deal coming,” Long said, adding that he gave Abe a set of golf balls to replace any that might have been lost in Florida.

According to the White House, Trump asked Long in a meeting with lawmakers on Thursday last week to give his regards to Abe, praising the prime minister’s golf game and calling him “a fabulous guy.”


Hundreds gather in Kansas City to protest against Trump

Turner Report exclusive- transcripts from Billy Long's town hall meetings since 2011

He hasn't had any.

McCaskill: Trump immigrant ban is a potent recruiting tool for terrorists

(From Sen. Claire McCaskill)

President Trump’s ban on immigrants and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries – and refugees from anywhere – is making our country less safe and has compromised our most sacred values.

This ban has handed a potent recruiting tool to international terrorists by communicating that America is at war with Muslims. And in addition to refugees, it’s threatened to leave behind even those people who put their lives and the lives of their families at risk to help American military servicemembers in war zones. It’s appalling.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against this discriminatory order, but we cannot, and I will not, stop fighting the ban until it’s gone for good. I’m joining my colleagues in the Senate to demand President Trump rescind this ban, but we need you to speak out with us:

Please, add your name right now to join me, my colleagues in the Senate and Americans across the country to demand President Trump rescind his discriminatory ban on refugees and immigrants from Muslim countries.

The notion that our government would prioritize one religion for admittance to our nation flies in the face of our sacred, founding values of liberty and freedom of religion.

As the top-ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee, I’ll keep fighting until we fix this horrible wrong that’s making our country less safe every day it’s on the books. And I urge you to keep calling the White House, writing letters and emails, and marching – keep using your voice to speak out for what’s right.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Agenda posted for Tuesday Joplin City Council meeting

COUNCIL AGENDA
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
6:00 P.M., Council Chambers
1.

Call To Order

Invocation
Pledge of Allegiance of the United States of America
2.

Roll Call

3.

Presentations

4.

Finalization Of Consent Agenda

5.

Reports And Communications

1.

Semiannual Report Of The Capital Improvement Sales Tax Oversight Committee. Chris Churchwell, Chairman

6.

Citizen Requests And Petitions

7.

Public Hearings

8.

Consent Agenda

1.

Minutes Of The February 6, 2017 Joplin City Council Meeting

Documents:
  1. A.PDF
9.

Resolutions

1.

RESOLUTION NO. 2017-004

A RESOLUTION, if approved, would authorize a contract between the City of Joplin and the Missouri Department of Transportation for the acceptance and expenditure of grant funds.  DWI Unit, Hazardous Moving Violations Enforcement, and DWI Enforcement in the amount of One Hundred Forty-Nine Thousand, Seven Hundred Twenty-One Dollars and Twenty-Five Cents ($149,721.25); authorizing the City Manager to execute the same by and on behalf of the City of Joplin, Missouri. 
10.

Ordinances - Emergency

1.

COUNCIL BILL NO. 2017-109

AN ORDINANCE approving the contract with Rosetta Construction L.L.C. in the amount of Eight Hundred Seventy-Two Thousand, Five Hundred Thirty DOLLARS and 50/100 ($872,530.50) for the Eastmorland Public Sewer Line Replacement Project in the City of Joplin, Missouri; providing how the cost shall be made and levied; and containing an emergency clause.
2.

COUNCIL BILL 2017-110

AN ORDINANCE approving the contract with Hunter Chase Construction, in the amount of Two Hundred Fifty-Nine Thousand Five Hundred Twenty DOLLARS and 00/100 ($259,520.00) for the 4th & School Storm Drainage Improvements Phase I in the City of Joplin, Missouri; and containing an emergency clause.
3.

COUNCIL BILL NO. 2017-111

AN ORDINANCE approving Work Authorization with Allgeier Martin & Associates Inc. in the not to exceed amount of Forty-Five Thousand Four Hundred Twenty Four and No/100 Dollars ($45,424.00) for engineering services associated Trickling Filter Design and Bidding for the Shoal Creek Wastewater Treatment Facility and containing an emergency clause.
4.

COUNCIL BILL NO. 2017-113

AN ORDINANCE approving the City of Joplin to enter into a contract with Rosetta Construction, LLC in the amount of $15,572 (Fifteen Thousand Five Hundred Seventy Two and 0/100 Dollars) for the Crossroads Phase II Clearing project and authorizing the Director of Public Works to execute said Agreement; and containing an emergency clause.
5.

COUNCIL BILL NO. 2017-114

AN ORDINANCE approving the City of Joplin to enter into an agreement with Empire District Electric Company in the amount of $50,129.67 (Fifty Thousand One Hundred Twenty Nine and 67/100 Dollars) for the removal of street lights along Main Street from 15th to 32nd Street and authorizing the Director of Public Works to execute said Agreement; and containing an emergency clause.
11.

Ordinances - First Reading

12.

Ordinances - Second Reading And Third Reading

1.

COUNCIL BILL NO. 2016-290

AN ORDINANCE amending Ordinance No. 2004-256, passed by the Council of the City of Joplin, Missouri, November 15, 2004, by removing from District R-1 and including in District C-1-PD property as described below and located 2915 East 17th Street in the City of Joplin, Jasper County, Missouri.
13.

Unfinished Business

14.

New Business

1.

Appointments And Reappointments To Boards And Commissions

2.

News From The PIO