Republican efforts to restrict voting

President Barack Obama on Friday sharply criticized Republicans for leading efforts in some parts of the country to prevent citizens from voting.

Obama’s administration has challenged states that have implemented voter ID laws and other restrictions in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that struck down part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, designed to prevent discrimination at the polls.

Strict voting rights laws are said to disproportionately affect minorities and lower-income Americans, many of whom tend to vote for Democratic candidates.

“The stark, simple truth is this: The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago…. “Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote,” Obama said

Obama said studies showed abuse was extremely rare.

“The real voter fraud is people who try to deny our rights by making bogus arguments about voter fraud,” he said to applause from the crowd.

“But it’s a fact this recent effort to restrict the vote has not been led by both parties. It’s been led by the Republican Party,” he continued. “If your strategy depends on having fewer people show up to vote, that’s not a sign of strength. That’s a sign of weakness.”

“Johnson said, ‘About this there can and should be no argument. Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote,” Obama said, quoting the former president.

“The principle of one person, one vote is the single greatest tool we have to redress an unjust status quo. You would think there would not be an argument about this anymore.”

(Excerpted from Reuters 3/11/14)

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Climate Panel Stunner: Avoiding Climate Catastrophe Is Super Cheap — But Only If We Act Now

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just issued its third of four planned reports. This one is on “mitigation” — “human intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases.”

Now you might think it would be a no-brainer that humanity would be willing to pay a very high cost to avoid such catastrophes…  But the third report finds that the “cost” of doing so is to reduce the median annual growth of consumption over this century by a mere 0.06%.

You read that right, the annual growth loss to preserve a livable climate is 0.06% — and that’s “relative to annualized consumption growth in the baseline that is between 1.6% and 3% per year.” So we’re talking annual growth of, say 2.24% rather than 2.30% to save billions and billions of people from needless suffering for decades if not centuries. As always, every word of the report was signed off on by every major government in the world.

Moreover, this does not even count the economic benefit of avoiding climate catastrophe. A few years ago, scientists calculated that benefit as having a net present value of $615 to $830 trillion. That means our current do-nothing plan is actually far, far costlier than aggressive climate mitigation.

And the IPCC warns “Delaying is estimated to … substantially increase the difficulty of the transition to low, longer-term emissions levels and narrow the range of options consistent with maintaining temperature change below 2 degrees C.”

These are not new findings. In its previous Fourth Assessment (AR4) in 2007, the IPCC found the cost of stabilizing at 445 ppm CO2-eq corresponded to “slowing average annual global GDP growth by less than 0.12 percentage points.”

These conclusions should not be a surprise since they are based on a review of the literature — and every major independent study has found a remarkably low net cost for climate action — and a high cost for delay. Back in 2011, the International Energy Agency warned

“Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.”

(Excerpted from Think Progress 3/13/14)

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We mourn death of Representative Rory Ellinger

University City representative Rory Ellinger has died early Wednesday morning. House Minority Leader Jake Hummel (D-St. Louis) made the announcement to the House Wednesday morning, which then held a moment of silence for Ellinger, who had recently been diagnosed with liver cancer.  He was 72.

Representative Rory Ellinger (courtesy Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Rory Ellinger (courtesy Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“His family is heartbroken as are we,” said Hummel. “They wanted me to take this opportunity to thank all the members [of the House] for their outpouring of support over the last few weeks and for what we all did getting his legislation passed as quickly as we did … that it meant a lot to both them and Rory.”

Representative Ellinger lived in University City with his wife, Linda Locke, president of Reputaré Consulting. They have two children, Martin Ellinger-Locke a former Peace Corps Volunteer and graduate student in Urban Planning and Margaret Ellinger-Locke, a third year law student at the College of New York.

Ellinger’s fellow state lawmakers offered their condolences on Twitter after the announcement of his death.

Fellow House Democrat Chris Kelly (Columbia) said, “I knew Rory for more than 40 years. He really made a difference. Rory died in the saddle and that would have pleased him.”

Senator Ryan Silvey (R-Kansas City) typed, “Sad to learn of the passing of Rep. Ellinger. We didn’t always agree, but he was a genuine & honorable man. Honored to serve with him.”

Representative Mark Parkinson (R-St. Charles) said, “It’s very hard to hear the news about Rory Ellinger. We rarely agreed, but he embodied the passion and dedication to service that every member of the General Assembly should have. Brigit and I are praying for his loved ones during their time of loss and mourning. Rest in peace, Rory.”

Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder (R) said, “Rest in peace my pal Rory Ellinger. As a history buff, I enjoyed talking old political stories w/ Rory, especially about his former boss Tom Eagleton.”

The legislature and Governor Jay Nixon (D) moved swiftly to pass and sign into law a bill Ellinger sponsored this session to define protections for breastfeeding mothers.  That bill was signed into law by Governor Nixon last week in a ceremony at University City that Ellinger was able to attend.

Representative Rory Ellinger (photo courtesy, Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Rory Ellinger (photo courtesy, Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

According to his biography on the House website, Ellinger had been in the House since 2010. He was an attorney and president of the law office of Rory Ellinger, P.C. in O’Fallon and St. Louis. He had also served as an assistant general counsel for the Missouri Public Service Commission and had been the executive director of Legal Services for Northeast Missouri. Ellinger had also served as legal counsel for the NAACP of St. Charles County and as the press secretary for Lieutenant Governor Tom Eagleton.

Ellinger had been active in the civil rights movement in the 1960s and served briefly as a bodyguard for Martin Luther King.

Representative Ellinger was elected to four terms on the University City School Board and served as treasurer and secretary of the St. Charles County Bar Association. He was a member of the Urban League of St. Louis, the University City Land Clearance for Redevelopment Commission and the Ethical Society of St. Louis. He had been a former member of the United Way of St. Louis Low Income Housing Committee and was a former president of the Musick Neighborhood Association. Rory also served for 7 years on the Crider Health Center.

He had received the Martin Luther King Award from the School District of University City and the Legal Distinction Award from the St. Louis ACLU. He had successfully argued in front of the Missouri Court of Appeals, Missouri Supreme Court and the Eighth U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Representative Ellinger was appointed by Governor Nixon to serve on the Commission on State Medical Certificate of Need. He also was appointed to serve on the State Welfare to Work Commission by Governor Bob Holden and the Missouri Foundation for Health by Gov. Mel Carnahan.

Representative Ellinger was a graduate of Bishop Du Bourg High School. He received his B.A in History and his J.D. from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. He obtained his M.A. in History from the University of Missouri – Columbia.

(Excerpted from Missouri Net 3/9/14)

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An Historic Week for Health

Enrollment Numbers Exceed Expectations, But The Fight Continues

This week was truly an historic week for those who believe that all Americans deserve access to quality, affordable health care. The Affordable Care Act’s first open enrollment period surged to the finish line, with more than 7 million people enrolling in coverage over the state and federal marketplaces. This is a huge success and shows that the law is working, it’s here to stay and it’s delivering on its promise to provide quality, affordable health coverage that will be there when consumers need it most. But that wasn’t the only evidence this week that the law is working. Let’s take a look at it all:

  • 7.1 Million People Sign Up For Health Care Through The ACA. With an enormous final day surge in interest, the open enrollment period closed with 7.1 million sign-ups for private insurance coverage though the ACA. This number beat not only the scaled-back expectation after the faulty website launch of 6 million sign-ups, but even surpassed the 7 million enrollments that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office had originally predicted and the Obama administration said would be a success.
  • Medicaid Enrollment Grows By More Than 3 Million. Health care expansion hasn’t been limited to those enrolling in private coverage. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced today that over 3 million people signed up for Medicaid between October and February. Of course, not all states have decided to expand Medicaid under the ACA, and that has had a major impact on who’s been signing up: CMS says that “enrollment in states that adopted the Medicaid coverage expansion increased five-fold compared to states that are not expanding Medicaid.”
  • Report Announces “The Largest Expansion In Health Coverage In America In Half A Century.” An analysis of enrollment data released earlier this week found that almost ten million people who were previously without health insurance now are covered. The report estimates that two million have enrolled in private coverage on the new marketplaces; about 4.5 million previously uninsured people have gained public coverage through Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion; and about three million previously uninsured young people are now covered on their parents’ insurance plans.
  • Millions More Have Enrolled In Private Coverage Off The Exchange.ACA marketplaces are not the only place that individuals have been signing up for coverage. In fact, millions have enrolled directly with insurance companies or through private brokers and online sites. Blue Cross Blue Shield, one of the biggest insurers operating on the individual market, announced that 1.7 million people have bought ACA-compliant coverage from them from October through February. The number does not include March, the final month of enrollment.

But all of this week’s accomplishments draw an especially stark contrast with what progressives are still up against. Paul Ryan, in this year’s GOP budget, again calls for the repeal of Obamacare. He even admitted that a GOP alternative wouldn’t replace the law’s most popular provisions, such as no more discrimination based on pre-existing conditions. House Republicans voted for the 52nd time to undermine the law, this time with a bill that would increase the number of uninsured by 500,000. And 19 states have still refused to expand Medicaid, thereby denying millions of low-income working citizens the ability to access affordable health care.

BOTTOM LINE: This has been a landmark week for health reform advocates, as millions and millions got covered and the uninsured signed up in record numbers. These aren’t just numbers, but represent actual people who now have the peace of mind that comes with health insurance. But there is still work to be done to continue to strengthen law and fight back against those who want to go back to the way it was before.

(Excerpted from Think Progress 4/04/14)

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Number of Uninsured Adults Falls by 5.4 Million – Changes through most of the Affordable Care Act’s open-enrollment period

The Urban Institute’s Health Reform Monitoring Survey (HRMS) has been tracking insurance coverage since the first quarter of 2013. Today, we report the first estimate of how the uninsurance rate has changed through early March 2014. These results track changes through most of the first Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) open-enrollment period, which ended on March 31, 2014.

Analysis of data from the March 2014 HRMS shows the uninsurance rate for nonelderly adults (age 18–64) was 15.2 percent for the nation, a drop of 2.7 percentage points since September 2013, the month before ACA open enrollment began. This represents a gain in coverage for about 5.4 million adults.

States that implemented the ACA’s Medicaid expansion saw a larger decline: their uninsurance rates for adults dropped 4.0 percentage points since September, compared with a drop of 1.5 percentage points for the nonexpanding states. The average uninsurance rate for adults in the 24 nonexpanding states was 18.1 percent in March 2014, well above the 12.4 percent average in the expansion states.

These early estimates understate the full effects of the Affordable Care Act on the uninsured for two major reasons. First, the survey does not capture the enrollment surge that occurred at the end of the open enrollment period, because 80 percent of the responses to the March 2014 HRMS were provided by March 6, 2014. Second, these estimates do not reflect the effects of some important ACA provisions (such as the ability to keep dependents on health plans until age 26 and early state Medicaid expansions) that were implemented before 2013.

(Excerpted from Urban Institute 4/3/14)

 

 

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The GOP must admit it was wrong on Obamacare

Is there any accountability in American politics for being completely wrong? Is there any cost to those who say things that turn out not to be true and then, when their fabrications or false predictions are exposed, calmly move on to concocting new claims as if they had never made the old ones?

The ACA is doing exactly what its supporters said it would do. It is getting health insurance to millionswho didn’t have it before. (The Los Angeles Times pegged the number at 9.5 million at the beginning of the week.) And it’s working especially well in places such as Kentucky, where state officials threw themselves fully and competently behind the cause of signing up the uninsured. Those who want to repeal the law will have to admit that they are willing to deprive these people, or some large percentage of them, of insurance.

Too many conservatives would prefer not to say upfront what they really believe: They don’t want the federal government to spend the significant sums of money needed to get everyone covered. Admitting this can sound cruel, so they insist that their objections are to the ACA’s alleged unworkability, or to “a Washington takeover of the health system” (which makes you wonder what they think of Medicare, a far more centralized program). Or they peddle isolated horror stories that the fact-checkers usually discover are untrue or misleading.

Thus the moment of truth, about the facts and about our purposes.

From now on, will there be more healthy skepticism about conservative claims against the ACA? Given how many times the law’s enemies have said the sky was falling when it wasn’t, will there be tougher interrogation of their next round of apocalyptic predictions? Will their so-called alternatives be analyzed closely to see how many now-insured people would actually lose coverage under the “replacement” plans?

Perhaps more importantly, will we finally be honest about the real argument here: Do we or do we not want to put in the effort and money it takes to guarantee all Americans health insurance? If we do — and we should — let’s get on with doing it the best way we can.

(Excerpted from Washington Post 4/02/14)

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“The right of freely founding unions for working people and the right of those working people to bargain collectively are essential for economic justice,”

Top religious leaders in St. Louis — led by Catholic Archbishop Robert J. Carlson — announced Friday that they oppose legislative efforts to pass “right-to-work’’ measures that would restrict labor rights.

The cabinet of the Interfaith Partnership of Greater St. Louis says it also opposes putting the issue on a statewide ballot.

“Working for economic justice is an integral element of our faith traditions,” the cabinet said in a statement delivered Friday to Bob Soutier, president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council.

“The right of freely founding unions for working people and the right of those working people to bargain collectively are essential for economic justice,” continued the statement, which was signed by Carlson, chairman of the council’s cabinet. Also signing was its vice chairman, the Rev. C. Jessel Strong of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

The statement went on: “So-called ‘Right to Work/Freedom to Work’ laws proposed under the guise of freedom to the individual worker actually weaken their ability to equally bargain for fair compensation in the workplace, and are obviously and admittedly anti-union in their intent and render impossible or at least weaken the process of collective bargaining between management and labor.”

(Excerpted from St. Louis Public Radio)

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Missouri Hospitals Fear Job Losses, Service Cuts Without Medicaid Expansion

In the last six months alone, Missouri hospitals have eliminated nearly 1,000 jobs, imposed hiring freezes affecting another 2,145 positions and cut or delayed at least $50 million in building projects.

The blame is due, in part, to the General Assembly’s refusal to expand Medicaid.

At least that’s the opinion of the Missouri Hospital Association and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce. On Wednesday, they released the results of their survey of hospitals around the state. The survey found job cuts, canceled construction projects and likely service reductions.

The money from the expansion would go directly to hospitals and medical personnel. More importantly, it would replace the federal payments that currently go to the hospitals to cover the costs of caring for uninsured people, many of whom would be covered by expanding Medicaid. Those payments are being phased out.

“Without Medicaid reform,” their statement said, “the state’s hospitals will be left without the new revenue from expanding health insurance coverage to the uninsured, while continuing to experience increased uncompensated care costs.”

Medicaid reform matters,” said Herb B. Kuhn, president and chief executive of the Missouri Hospital Association. “Without it, financial constraints will continue to limit hospitals’ ability to deliver services to Missouri communities and support local economies. What this data demonstrate is that the damage is already occurring.”

(Excerpted from St. Louis Public Radio 3/26/14)

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A nation of takers?

In the debate about poverty, critics argue that government assistance saps initiative and is unaffordable. After exploring the issue, I must concede that the critics have a point. Here are five public welfare programs that are wasteful and turning us into a nation of “takers.”

First, welfare subsidies for private planes. The United States offers three kinds of subsidies to tycoons with private jets: accelerated tax write-offs, avoidance of personal taxes on the benefit by claiming that private aircraft are for security, and use of air traffic control paid for by chumps flying commercial.

Second, welfare subsidies for yachts. The mortgage-interest deduction was meant to encourage a home-owning middle class. But it has been extended to provide subsidies for beach homes and even yachts. In the meantime, money was slashed last year from the public housing program for America’s neediest. Hmm. How about if we house the homeless in these publicly supported yachts?

Third, welfare subsidies for hedge funds and private equity. The single most outrageous tax loophole in America is for “carried interest,” allowing people with the highest earnings to pay paltry taxes. They can magically reclassify their earned income as capital gains, because that carries a lower tax rate (a maximum of 23.8 percent this year, compared with a maximum of 39.6 percent for earned income).

Fourth, welfare subsidies for America’s biggest banks. The too-big-to-fail banks in the United States borrow money unusually cheaply because of an implicit government promise to rescue them. Bloomberg View calculated last year that this amounts to a taxpayer subsidy of $83 billion to our 10 biggest banks annually.

Fifth, large welfare subsidies for American corporations from cities, counties and states. A bit more than a year ago, Louise Story of The New York Times tallied more than $80 billion a year in subsidies to companies, mostly as incentives to operate locally.

We talk about the unsustainability of government benefit programs and the deleterious effects these can have on human behavior, and these are real issues. Well-meaning programs for supporting single moms can create perverse incentives not to marry, or aid meant for a needy child may be misused to buy drugs. Let’s acknowledge that helping people is a complex, uncertain and imperfect struggle.

But, perhaps because we now have the wealthiest Congress in history, the first in which a majority of members are millionaires, we have a one-sided discussion demanding cuts only in public assistance to the poor, while ignoring public assistance to the rich. And a one-sided discussion leads to a one-sided and myopic policy.

We’re cutting one kind of subsidized food — food stamps — at a time when Gallup finds that almost one-fifth of American families struggled in 2013 to afford food. Meanwhile, we ignore more than $12 billion annually in tax subsidies for corporate meals and entertainment.

Sure, food stamps are occasionally misused, but anyone familiar with business knows that the abuse of food subsidies is far greater in the corporate suite. Every time an executive wines and dines a hot date on the corporate dime, the average taxpayer helps foot the bill.

So let’s get real. To stem abuses, the first target shouldn’t be those avaricious infants in nutrition programs but tycoons in their subsidized Gulfstreams.

However imperfectly, subsidies for the poor do actually reduce hunger, ease suffering and create opportunity, while subsidies for the rich result in more private jets and yachts. Would we rather subsidize opportunity or yachts? Which kind of subsidies deserve more scrutiny?

(Excerpted from NY Times 3/26/14)

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Six Things You Didn’t Know About The Minimum Wage

This week and next, a coalition of minimum wage activists in favor of raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 are taking their message of “Giving America a Raise” on the road with an 11 state bus tour.  This issue couldn’t be more important for working families across the country and creating an economy that works for everyone.

Right now, a parent working full time earning the minimum wage and raising two children is making poverty wages. She struggles to make ends meet and can barely afford basics such as school supplies for her children. But with a higher minimum wage, workers will have more money to spend on basic needs, money that will go back into the local economy, which in turn gives businesses more customers—helping them to hire more workers. Raising low-end wages will also save taxpayers $4.6 billion a year on nutritional assistance programs.

Raising the minimum wage would be a critical step in ensuring that the economy is working for everyone. It will provide Americans who work hard a better opportunity to get ahead while giving the economy a needed shot in the arm. It is past time for Congress to act. The federal minimum wage has not been raised in more than five years. Right here are six facts explaining why Congress needs to raise the wage to $10.10 an hour.

(Excerpted from ThinkProgress 3/26/14)

 

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House hypocrites claim to care about voter fraud, but strip funding from elections integrity unit

“This decision by House Republicans shows that they are more interested in scoring political points than actually doing anything to take on voter fraud and voter access issues,” said Secretary of State Jason Kander. “I am hopeful that the Senate will restore funding to the Elections Integrity Unit to show Missourians that this state has zero tolerance for voter fraud.”

(Excerpted from Progress Missouri 3/26/14)

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Union groups rally against ‘right to work’ legislation at Missouri Capitol

Hundreds of union members and supporters packed the lawn outside of the state capitol building to show opposition to proposed “right to work” bills today.

Gov. Jay Nixon told the crowd he would not hesitate to veto anti-worker legislation as he has in the past. Currently, the Missouri House is considering a measure to put right to work on the August ballot, bypassing the governor.

“If they try to go around me and put this to a vote of the people, I will stand right beside you and we will fight and win just like we did in 1978,” Nixon said.

The crowd, with signs reading “Right to Work is a Ripoff,” “Solidarity” and “Stop the War on Workers,” cheered.

Opponents of right to work measures argue that they are politically motivated attempts to hurt unions and will result in lower wages and fewer benefits for workers in the state. Sen. Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, is the president of the Missouri Building and Construction Trades Council, which organized the rally. Walsh said unions are essential for the middle class to survive.

“For too many members in this building, their priority is attacking your right to be in a union,” Walsh said. “If we lose, the whole middle class, everyone who works for a living, will lose.”

Don Bresnan, vice president of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1, said the comments about the middle class resonated with him.

“We all have the same common goal to have good paying jobs, send our kids to good schools,” Bresnan said. “This goes across Republicans and Democrats, union and non-union.”

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, Secretary of State Jason Kander, Treasurer Clint Zweifel and Minority House Leader Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis, all spoke at the rally. Rep. Anne Zerr, R-St. Charles, told the crowd that she and others were working “very quietly and very patiently” to convince Republicans to oppose right to work.

(Excerpted from St. Louis Post-Dispatch 3/26/14)

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Money for a possible state takeover of a southeastern Missouri park remains in next year’s proposed state operating budget, but funding for expanding the Medicaid health care program for the poor was left out. The Republican-led House turned back an effort by Democrats to include funding for expanding Medicaid. Supporters of expanding Medicaid eligibility contend doing so would improve health care access for low-income Missourians and note that the federal government would pick up the cost for the first two years.

The GOP-led Legislature has repeatedly rejected expansion proposals during the past two years. “We are leaving dollars on the table, and we are leaving people uninsured,” said Rep. Jill Schupp, D-St. Louis.

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Scared senators want the Medicaid monster to go away

The St. Louis Post Dispatch editorial board piled on in criticism of state legislators opposing Medicaid expansion, saying they’re essentially tired of hearing about the issue: “They see the 700 or so Missourians who, statistically speaking, will die next year if Missouri continues to be one of the states unwilling to expand its Medicaid system. They don’t want to talk about that anymore. They want the dead people out of their dreams. They see the 24,000 jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity predicted by the same economic models that led the Legislature to offer billions of taxpayer dollars in corporate incentives to Boeing. They know that unlike the Boeing deal, Medicaid expansion isn’t funded by the state, but by an infusion of federal dollars. They can taste the hypocrisy and want to spit it out. They see the lie of opposing the Medicaid expansion on “conservative” grounds laid bare. A House committee run by Republicans produced a report showing that the proposal would have a net positive effect on Missouri’s budget for years to come. … They see the St. Louis Regional Chamber putting on a conference this week titled, ‘Will we say yes to jobs?’ with business leaders touting the economic benefits of Medicaid expansion, and they wonder: Will the donor base dry up? So the obstructionists, seeing the writing on the wall but unable to end their bad dream, stand in their marble closet screaming like scared children at the monster to go away, while their colleagues in the House actually hold hearings in which the evidence will carry the debate.

(Excerpted from PoliticMO Rundown 3/26/14)

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Suppressing the Vote

Republican lawmakers who work to impose higher bars to voting — either through proof-of-citizenship or voter ID laws — are well aware that many of those otherwise-eligible voters who struggle to come up with the required documents, which include a birth certificate, passport or driver’s license, aremore likely to vote Democratic. Sometimes they even say it out loud, as Mike Turzai, the majority leader in the Pennsylvania statehouse, did in 2012when he bragged that the state’s voter ID law was going to “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

Excerpted from New York Times 3/2014)

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Republican’s No More National Parks Policy

Responding to President Obama’s decision last week to protect a stretch of California’s Coast near Point Arena as a new national monument, the House of Representatives is planning to vote next week to overturn a 108 year-old law that presidents of both parties have used to protect iconic American places, including the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty, and Arches National Park.

The bill, H.R. 1459, aims to block presidents from using the Antiquities Act of 1906 to establish new national monuments by putting caps on how many times it can be used, requiring congressional review of proposed monuments, and forcing local communities to engage in an ironic exercise of reviewing the environmental impacts of protecting lands for future generations.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), criticized President Obama’s use of the Antiquities Act to expand the California Coastal Monument last week as an end-run around Congress. “In other words, the House was punked by the President,” said Bishop.

However, despite arguments from Bishop and Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) that Congress should hold exclusive power to decide whether or not to protect public lands, the House has effectively shut down all legislative efforts to protect wilderness, parks and monuments since the Tea Party takeover in 2010.

Until the passage of a bill to protect wilderness lands in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore last week, Congress had not protected a single new acre of public lands since 2009, the longest such drought since World War II. Adding injury to insult, Congress also forced a 16-day government shutdown last fall that cost national parks and local communities 8 million lost visitors and $414 million in lost visitor spending.

Coupled with the ongoing freeze on new parks and public lands bills, a vote next week to block the President’s creation of new monuments and park units would represent the endorsement of a de facto “No More National Parks” policy in the U.S. House of Representatives. Although members of the House could be casting controversial votes next week against new monuments and parks, H.R. 1459 is not expected to be considered by or passed in the Senate. The President would also be likely to veto such a bill.

The vote — set to coincide with the one year anniversary of President Obama’s establishment of monuments honoring Harriet Tubman and Colonel Charles P. Young (with the support of Republicans and Democrats in Congress) — would also stymie a growing effort to protect sites that honor women, the LBGT community, Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and other communities that are currently under-represented among national parks and monuments.

November, 2013, survey commissioned by the Center for American Progress found that:

By a margin of more than three-to-one, voters believe that leaders in Washington should be creating new parks and expanding opportunities for Americans to get outdoors, instead of closing national parks and cutting budgets for public lands.

separate survey, commissioned jointly by Republican and Democratic polling firms, found that nearly seven in ten voters in the West say they are “more likely to vote for a candidate who supports enhancing protections for some public lands, like national forests,” suggesting that, in addition to its policy impacts, the political impacts of next week’s vote may stretch into November.

(Excerpted from Climate Progress 3/20/14)

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Faith leaders rallied beneath the Capitol Rotunda, calling on lawmakers to expand Medicaid, increase education funding and allow early voting in Missouri.

A group of faith leaders rallied beneath the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday, calling on lawmakers to expand Medicaid, increase education funding and allow early voting in Missouri.

Pastors and other leaders of congregations across the state held the fifth annual rally at the Capitol to push their agenda and meet with legislators, but their priorities are not the same as those of the Republicans that control both chambers of the General Assembly.

Speakers tied Medicaid expansion and other issue to their deeply held moral beliefs and expressed an understanding of Christianity that focuses on serving the poor, feeding the hungry and caring for the sick.

“God is not happy, and we are not happy,” said Doyle Sager of First Baptist Church in Jefferson City. “Healing will only occur when dignity is granted to every child of God in Missouri … Economic dignity and racial equity are not favors we are seeking, they are rights we are claiming.”

They called out lawmakers for using divisive politics to pit people against one another and serving special interests and not the people they represent.

The priorities of the faith coalition face steep hurdles in the Legislature, where Republican lawmakers have stridently opposed an expansion to the state’s Medicaid rolls.

(Excepted from News Tribune 3/12/14)

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Political ambitions fuel Republican effort to restrict reproductive rights

Reproductive rights were hit hard in the Missouri Legislature on Monday [March 9]. Women were thrown under the bus because of election-year fervor among Republican lawmakers looking to score big with religious conservatives who make up a big part of their base.

Political ambition and legislative motive may fuel the cause, but that doesn’t make the threat to reproductive freedom any less real. Legislation passed by Republican lawmakers, who have veto-proof majorities in the Senate and the House, may very well wind up restricting the rights of women to get legal abortions.

Lost in the politics of all of this are thousands of women facing difficult choices, choices that they have a right to make regardless of someone else’s political career.

The Missouri House passed bills to triple the mandatory waiting period for women to get an abortion from 24 to 72 hours (of the 26 states that have a waiting period, only Utah and South Dakota require 72 hours) and to mandate notification of both custodial parents before a minor has an abortion. The mandatory waiting period bill is House Bill 1307. The parental notification bill is HB 1192.

The Legislature may yet inflict even more damage. Some 20 more bills related to reproductive rights are awaiting hearings. Most of them contain new restrictions and requirements for women seeking abortions and many focus on the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, the state’s sole abortion provider.

One of the bills would quadruple the number of inspections required for abortion providers from once a year to four times a year. The sponsor of that bill, Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, said it was intended to ensure that the clinics were safe and sanitary and not to restrict abortions.

Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights and research group, said she did not know of another state requiring four annual inspections of a clinic or ambulatory surgery center, which are routinely licensed and inspected once a year.

Ms. Nash said Missouri is among the top three states for legislative proposals restricting reproductive rights. Typical Missouri: always at the top for the wrong reasons.

Four decades after Roe v. Wade, abortion remains an intractable issue. The belief that human life begins at conception and must be protected at all costs is morally defensible. But so too is the belief that women have the right to control their own bodies. It is the law that states cannot forbid abortions in the first trimester of pregnancy, but it hasn’t stopped lawmakers in Missouri and elsewhere from making it as hard as possible.

To be sure, some of those lawmakers are acting out of moral conviction. For others, it’s just good politics. We can’t help but notice that most of the Legislature’s anti-abortion crusaders are men.

Creating more obstacles for women seeking legal abortions will force them to choose unsafe and possible deadly methods for dealing with unplanned pregnancies. This is not a moral solution.

Common ground exists to minimize abortion by preventing unplanned pregnancies. This requires expanding health care, making all forms of birth control cheaper and easier to obtain, and providing access to good sex education programs and family planning information. This is where the focus should be. Blame and shame are not the name of the game.

(Excerpted from St. Louis Post Dispatch 3/13/14)

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Senator McCaskill – A Town Hall in Columbia

March 13, 2014

Dear Boone County Dems,Claire Jackson Day2012

This week I will be hosting town halls in communities across the state to hear your ideas and concerns, answer questions, and give a firsthand update about my work in the Senate to boost jobs.

The best ideas don’t come from Washington, but they do come from folks on the ground in Missouri – and these town halls are another chance for me to hear directly from you and to answer your questions.  We’ve made a lot of progress these past few years, creating millions of jobs and pulling our economy out of the ditch, but there are some commonsense ideas still on the table to build on that success. I look forward to talking directly with Missourians about how to keep our economy moving in a positive direction. 

On Monday, March 17, I will be in Columbia at 11:15 a.m. and hope you will be able to come.  This event is free and open to the public:

11:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. – Columbia Town Hall
Columbia City Hall
City Council Chambers
701 E. Broadway
Columbia, MO  65201

Please click here to RSVP for this town hall and to learn more about the event, or contact my Columbia office at (573) 442-7130.

I look forward to seeing you there.

Sincerely,

Claire McCaskill
United States Senator

P.S. If you would like more information about resources that can help Missourians, or what I am doing in the Senate on your behalf, please sign up for my email newsletter at http://www.mccaskill.senate.gov.

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Missouri House finds new way to shame women seeking abortions

For those of you keeping track at home, there is now exactly one abortion clinic in the entire state of Missouri: Reproductive Health Services, in St. Louis. (There are three left in Kansas.) What does that mean for a woman in, say, Springfield, Missouri, who gets pregnant and decides – as is her right under the constitution – that she doesn’t wish to bring a child into the world at that time?

It means she has to take off work and drive three or four hours, either to St. Louis or Overland Park. After initial counseling, she must, by law, then wait another 24 hours before undergoing the procedure. That adds up to about two full days of misery, to say nothing of physical and emotional recovery time.

HB 1307 and HB 1313, which sailed through the House 115-37 yesterday, aims to triple Missouri’s mandatory waiting period for women seeking abortions, from 24 hours to three days. The Senate is currently reviewing a similar bill.

The Republicans supporting these measures argue that women need more time to process the emotional ramifications of the decision to have an abortion. The goal of bills like HB 1307 and SB 519 is to make it more difficult for women to have an abortion, and to make the process as shameful and humiliating as possible along the way. In addition to being condescending to women, they’re also bad policy from a health perspective.

“Abortion is a very safe procedure, but it is safer the earlier it is provided. Tripling the amount of time a woman has to wait before accessing medical care will force abortion later in pregnancy, putting women’s health at risk all in the name of politics,” says Paula Gianino, President and CEO of ADVOCATES, the political arm of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, in a release today regarding the proposed legislation. “Missourians want politicians in Jefferson City to respect women and their ability to make private medical decisions.”

(Excerpted from The Pitch 3/6/14)

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