Hartzler outlines plans for new farm bill before Congressional discussion

JEFFERSON CITY – The U.S. House Committee on Agriculture is gearing up for the next federal farm bill, and this time they hope to pass it on time.

U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, presented updates on the bill at the 2018 Farm Bill Summit at MU Wednesday afternoon before discussion begins in the Capitol. U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., also provided a video statement.

The farm bill is the foundation of federal agricultural and food policies that is passed every five years by the U.S. Congress. The current bill, the Agricultural Act of 2014, was passed in February of 2014, two years after the previous 2008 Farm Bill’s expiration in 2012. It is set to expire in 2018.

The 2008 bill was extended for nine months until September 2013. Congress had previously proposed two bills in 2012 and 2013, but both failed to pass the House.

Hartzler, who is a majority member of the House agriculture committee, said she saw some challenges that delayed the signing of the 2014 bill.

“When I was elected in 2010 and got there in 2011, it was just the beginning of the discussions of the farm bill, and I understood how important it was that you have these programs,” Hartzler said. “I quickly learned how many people don’t like the farm bill for various reasons. They made it a complicated process that took years for us to get that done.”

Hartzler said the committee aims to write the new bill up in a timely manner.

“As we go into looking at the farm bill coming up, we’re going to be working very hard to make sure we have one of the best farm bills possible,” Hartzler said. “We are committed to trying to do everything we can. This time we would get it done on time.”

Details of the bill should emerge shortly in Congress. The first draft of the bill is planned to be out in a couple of weeks, and the committee hopes to pass the final one by next year.

“Right now, since the bill is being drafted, is the perfect time for this forum. I’m going to take notes this afternoon,” Hartzler said. “We can take that next week and share that with the House agriculture committee and put together.”

State committee seeks to relieve Missouri student loan debt

JEFFERSON CITY — State legislators are looking to tackle Missouri’s enormous student debt.

According to the Project on Student Debt conducted by the Institute for College Access & Success, 57 percent of Missouri college students graduated with student loans in 2016. The average amount of the debt was $27,532.

Student debt is the second largest form of debt in the U.S., according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Four spokespeople from MU, Webster University, Park University and Central Methodist University testified in front of the House Subcommittee on Student Debt Relief Tuesday afternoon, offering potential remedies to Missouri’s student debt problem.

Erik Bergrud, associate vice president of external relations at Park University, suggested establishing a statewide work-study program that would partially cover debt and provide students relevant work experience throughout their college years.

Bergrud pointed to Park University’s own work-study program, which allows students work for 20 hours a week on campus in exchange for free tuition.

“They get their tuition, room and board on campus, but they have to work and be engaged in community or campus,” Bergurd said.

In the last legislative session, committee member Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, sponsored a House bill that would have started a work-study program, but it never became law.

Keri Gilbert, a financial aid advisor at MU, said a statewide work-study program and an expanded Access Missouri Program, a need-based scholarship, would help the neediest students and further reduce the overall student loan debt.

Committee Chairman Rep. Allen Andrews, R-Grant City, said no bill proposal targeting debt is in the works for the next year, when Missouri’s higher education will face the budget cuts signed by Gov. Eric Greitens earlier this year.

“Where I stand, we need to do everything we can uphold our funding to our universities and to higher education,” Rep. Andrews said. “It will be interesting to see what happens in the next budget year.”

In August, Missouri Treasurer Eric Schmitt launched a new campaign to raise awareness of the state’s college savings plan called MOST 529 — a statewide program that offers federal and state tax benefits including deferred income tax on earnings.

“At a time when student loan debt is skyrocketing, saving for higher education expenses has never been more important,” Schmitt wrote in an email. “The more parents put away now, the less their kids will have to borrow in student loans in the future.”

The committee hopes to hear more from Missouri’s higher education sector through future hearings, with the next hearing scheduled for November.

More information released about airport renovations as United adds flights

COLUMBIA — New details emerged about plans to add more parking at Columbia Regional Airport to accommodate increased traffic from new United Airlines flights and about the timeline for building a new airport terminal.

Mike Parks, Columbia’s airport manager, said during Wednesday’s Airport Advisory Board meeting that, weather permitting, new parking lots will be available before August, when United Airlines starts offering flights to and from Denver and Chicago.

The airport has 651 parking spots and expects 258 more to be ready by the end of July, according to Parks’ presentation.

“The parking lot we’ve already built is almost out of capacity with our existing service,” Parks said.

The Terminal Area Master Plan, the city’s long-term project to add another terminal, and other changes to the airport’s facilities were also discussed at the meeting.

Stacey Button, the city’s director of economic development, said the airport needs to improve the terminal because it’s old and too small.

The airport has seen a 24 percent increase in passengers during the first quarter of 2017 compared to the same period of 2016, according to city data.

Button estimated the number of passengers would increase to as many as 220,000with the new United flights.

“We saw about 128,000 passengers last year,” Button said. “(American) is increasing the size (of its planes), and we’re certainly seeing a significant growth pattern, American alone.”

Button presented the timeline and budget for the city’s project for a new terminal at Wednesday’s meeting.

In May 2016, the Columbia City Council reviewed five alternatives for the Terminal Area Master Plan and chose the north side of the existing terminal as the construction site. The Federal Aviation Administration asked for additional information about the site selection after looking through documentation in February, Button said.

“At the end of this year, we hope we’ll be moving forward,” Button said. The city wants the new terminal to be done by 2023.

The $38 million project would be funded by the 1-cent increase in the city’s new lodging tax voters approved in August and by state and federal money, Button said.

Amy Schneider, director of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau, said it would take three to five years for the city to generate $10 million for the plan from the additional tax.

More convenient facilities

Parks said the airport has also installed additional signs, closed-circuit televisions and seats for customer convenience and safety. The second floor of the airport has been furnished with charging stations and bar stools as planned earlier this year.

“Including the expansion of the snack bar, we are going to try to think of a few more options available for the passengers,” Parks said. “It’s all about their convenience.”

More screening devices are also expected to come to in the airport.

“Whenever Transportation Security Administration installs that, that will be the centralized point for baggage (for both airlines),” Parks said.

The specific date of TSA’s installation of the screening equipment has not yet been set.

Along with the airport’s efforts to improve its facilities, Parks emphasized the communication among the airlines, TSA, city officials and passengers for its better service.

“I’m meeting with United Airlines, American Airlines, TSA and city staff,” Parks said. “We’re all together in mid-July because we want to make sure that we’re all on the same plan.”

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford and Sky Chadde.

Residents share opinions about new plans for south Columbia intersection

COLUMBIA — Columbia residents showed mixed reactions to the city’s new plans for the Forum Boulevard and Green Meadows Road intersection at a Tuesday open house.

About 80 people attended the meeting at Rock Bridge Elementary School to discuss and ask questions about the five designs suggested by the Columbia Public Works Department. The intersection has four-way stop signs with multiple lanes, causing difficulties for drivers and pedestrians to know when to cross.

Allison Anderson, the city’s engineering supervisor, said the department has received many complaints about drivers failing to fully stop at the signs at the intersection. Thirteen collisions were reported at the intersection between January 2011 and December 2015, Anderson said.

The Forum and Green Meadows intersection project was originally planned as a roundabout in 2016. After facing opposition last September, the Columbia City Council directed the department to look for other options and discuss the plan with the Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission.

The Public Works Department added four new options in January: a full signal, a reduced signal, a J-turn and a J-turn with a pedestrian signal. The Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission, however, decided to support the roundabout design for better safety after reviewing the five concepts last November, according to the Public Works Department website.

Anderson said the roundabout is one of the safest options for pedestrians and for drivers.

“The way roundabouts are set up forces the traffic to slow down to about 15 to 20 miles per hour to go around the roundabouts,” Anderson said.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, roundabouts significantly reduce crashes where people are injured or killed by around 80 percent, compared to conventional stop-controlled and signalized intersections.

Nevertheless, some residents at the meeting worried about a roundabout at the intersection.

John John, a long-time Columbia resident, said he owns property in the surrounding neighborhood and is unhappy with the city’s original plan for roundabout.

“I think one of the two-lighted intersection plans would be the best,” John said. “The roundabout doesn’t fit the space they’re trying to put it in.”

According to the city’s current plan, a partial two-lane roundabout would be added at the intersection with four legs of six lanes.

Eleanore Wickersham, a 12-year resident of the neighborhood, said she participated in the public hearing last September, along with around 30 other homeowners’ association members.

“If you are trying to get out from Green Meadows, there is going to be two lanes of traffic to your left,” Wickersham said. “In the roundabout situation, the people to your left have the right of way and we could easily be sitting there, watching these cars go and go and not have our turn to go.”

Another public hearing on the project is expected to take place this fall, Anderson said. The project would be funded by the city’s quarter-cent capital improvement sales tax that voters approved in 2015. Construction is scheduled to start in 2019.

Supervising editor is Hannah Black.

Columbia man arrested in connection with U.S. 63 double shooting

COLUMBIA — Police arrested a Columbia man Monday afternoon in relation to the Monday shooting on the U.S. 63 connector at Interstate 70.

Officers found Denico Crawley, 30, inside his car on Paris Road after he fled the scene where he fired rounds toward two victims in a white Suburban. The victims’ vehicle was driving on the U.S. 63 connector when Crawley approached them and started to shoot at the driver’s side door.

After the shooting, the injured driver managed to drive her car to the Verizon parking lot off U.S. 63 and Broadway where she unintentionally hit a parked car.

The female driver, 22, and another male victim, 25, were taken by EMS to the hospital and are reported to be in stable condition, the Police Department’s news release said on Tuesday.

Crawley and the woman were previously in an intimate relationship, according to the news release.

Upon detaining Crawley, officers also spotted marijuana and a 4-gram bag of cocaine while searching his vehicle.

Crawley was booked into Boone County Jail Monday afternoon on suspicion of possessing controlled substances in addition to illegal use of the firearm.

A $4,500 bond was set for Crawley’s felony possession of controlled substances, according to the Boone County Sheriff’s Department website. Bonds are to be set for his other felonies, including domestic assault, first-degree assault and unlawful use of a weapon.

According to records on Missouri Casenet, Crawley has been charged 14 times since 2004 with illegal drug possession, assault and other felonies before the Monday shooting.

The case is set to be heard in court at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Supervising editor is Hannah Black.