The Jefferson City News-Tribune, March 24

'Right size' the Missouri Legislature

It's not often you see a government entity seeking to reduce itself.

But that's exactly what Rep. Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, is doing. Fitzwater has proposed a constitutional amendment to reduce the size of the Missouri House from 163 members to 120. Under his plan, the Senate would increase from 34 to 40.

That would be a net reduction of 37 members in the Missouri Legislature.

He makes a good case for his proposed legislation, which is being considered by the House.

Missouri's Legislature is out of proportion to that of other states. It has the seventh-largest legislature in the nation, but not the seventh-largest population.

All eight states surrounding Missouri have smaller legislatures.

The proposal would save the state an estimated $1.5-$3 million annually.

The proposal would require a statewide vote since it changes the state's Constitution.

The No. 1 concern we anticipate Missourians likely would have about the plan is whether a smaller legislature would result in less representation.

We don't believe it would. Lawmakers must be accountable to constituents to get re-elected, and we believe constituent services and other representation wouldn't be affected.

Missourians might not be the stumbling block for Fitzwater's proposal to succeed. As in previous years, such bills have been proposed, it might be the Legislature itself.

Part of that is because lawmakers, like everyone, have an instinct for self-preservation.

Reducing the Legislature means district changes that would cause some current members to lose their seats.

As Fitzwater said in a recent Fulton Sun story: ". it's already going to be hard for a number of members to, basically, vote themselves out of a job."

So lawmakers might need some persuasion. If you agree, like we do, that reducing the size of the Legislature could be a good way to streamline operations and save costs, contact your local House and Senate representatives and let them know.

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St. Joseph News-Press, March 25

Wind farm taxes should stay local

Rural areas encountered their share of economic headwinds in recent decades.

There's depopulation, lagging broadband infrastructure and factory job loss, just to name a few. Even prisons, once viewed as a economic savior for small towns, are falling out of favor as states seek to reduce the cost of incarceration and prisons struggle to find enough workers.

One thing northern Missouri has in abundance, though, is wind. So wind farms are popping up across Atchison, Nodaway and DeKalb counties.

These have brought their share of controversy. One of the first entrants into our area, Wind Capital Group, made few fans when it fought over how much taxes it should pay to local schools. Some say this company didn't do enough to repair roads in DeKalb County.

Now the industry is expanding, with new companies developing wind farms in Atchison, Nodaway and DeKalb counties. This promises to bring in millions of to local taxing districts like schools and ambulance providers, but things are never that easy.

Now, there's growing concern that counties could lose out on this revenue if public utilities begin to buy wind farms from private companies or develop their own wind-generation projects.

The reason is that a private wind farm is taxed like any other local factory or business, with the revenue going to support local entities. A public utility-owned wind farm would be considered more like a coal-powered generating plant or a railroad, with taxes assess through Jefferson City and distributed across the utility's wider network. This is of particular concern with Ameren Missouri, which has a bigger presence on the state's eastern side.

Make no mistake: The loss of local tax revenue would decimate the wind industry just as it gets off the ground. Some would welcome this loss, citing a range of concerns about this burgeoning industry.

Some of these issues deserve attention, such as noise and light flicker. Other, like the charge that the power doesn't stay local, is just a red herring. That's like saying a company shouldn't drill for oil unless the gas is only sold in one county.

Allen Andrews, the state representative from Grant City, has watched as wind farms provide a potential revenue boost for long struggling rural areas. He has a challenge for those who oppose wind farms: Show us your plan for providing a similar stimulus to rural America.

Andrews filed a bill that would ensure that wind revenue stays local, even under a public utility's ownership. The fact that Andrews was able to get this bill passed through the House on a 151-1 vote shows his idea has merit, even for lawmakers whose districts are nowhere near Atchison or Nodaway counties.

Let's hope the wind remains at this bill's back in the Senate.

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The Kansas City Star, March 22

Serious or not, bill requiring AR-15 rifles is a new low for the Missouri legislature

The competition for the worst idea to emerge from the Missouri legislature is always fierce. This year, though, state Rep. Andrew McDaniel may have retired the trophy.

In late February, the Republican from Deering proposed a bill requiring every Missourian over the age of 21 to buy a handgun. Too expensive? The measure offers a state tax credit for 75 percent of the cost of the weapon.

The credit isn't refundable, by the way. That means poor people with no tax liability couldn't use the subsidy, while rich people would. Amazing.

McDaniel offered a companion bill requiring all residents between 18 and 35 years of age to purchase a semi-automatic weapon "modeled on the AR-15 rifle design by AramLite, Inc." Again, tax credits would be available to defray part of the cost of the purchase.

It's impossible to overstate the foolishness of both proposals. Missourians who think arming every adult is a good idea should contemplate the carnage that might result if 4.5 million of their neighbors owned guns, including hundreds of thousands of AR-15s, which are designed to kill people.

"This is not a prank," former Sen. Claire McCaskill wrote in a tweet. "This actually happened. This is embarrassing for my state." Well, yes.

It's only a slight relief to learn that McDaniel, a former deputy sheriff, isn't really serious. "The legislation points out the absurdity of the opposite side and their proposals to add more requirements and barriers for law-abiding citizens," he told the Associated Press.

McDaniel's bills do nothing of the sort, of course. Instead, they illustrate the mind-numbing belief among some lawmakers that guns and bullets are the solution to every problem, all of the time, every time.

Missouri, like every state, imposes all sorts of requirements and restrictions on law-abiding citizens: drivers, health care providers, lawyers, publishers, teachers, business owners, others. The restrictions are meant to protect the public's safety.

Reasonable gun restrictions are part of that safety framework. They're particularly important in Missouri, which remains one of the most dangerous states in the nation. Anything close to the McDaniel proposals would make the bloodshed substantially worse.

The state representative has hinted in some interviews that his real purpose may be to provide tax credits for gun purchases in Missouri. That, too, is ridiculous. There is no reason Missouri taxpayers should subsidize the private purchase of guns, period.

The obsession with guns in Jefferson City is not healthy. Recently, a top legislative aide was arrested in the capital when a loaded gun fell to the floor after a fight in a bar. The legislature is considering measures that would allow guns in places that ban them now, including bars, child care centers and churches.

That's a waste of everyone's time. Missouri's roads are falling apart; its poor residents can't get health care; the budget is unfinished; and flood waters are coursing through rural areas. Meaningless bills are useless provocations at precisely the wrong time.

So here's a modest proposal for state Rep. McDaniel and his colleagues: If these bills come to the floor, legislators should be required to attend at least one memorial service for a murder victim during every session.

We're confident that spending a few minutes with moms and dads who have lost children to gun violence would be an eye-opening experience.