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In cased you missed it...

by Paula Tredway | January 15, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.
Submitted A group of South Callaway High School students were recognized as Code of Conduct recipients for their behavior exhibiting scholarship, character, honor and success.

Jan. 9

Advocates: 'Everyone can play a part' in helping human trafficking victims

This week, the Missouri Highway Patrol is joining agencies across the United States and Canada to raise awareness about the problem of human trafficking.

The patrol's commercial vehicle enforcement division will participate in a three-day initiative, commencing Tuesday, which is Human Trafficking Day. The initiative is a concentrated effort to educate commercial motor vehicle drivers, motor carriers, law enforcement officers and the general public about human trafficking, what signs to look for and what to do in these situations.

Human trafficking is illegal exploitation of a person through force, fraud or coercion. It can take the form of sex trafficking, forced labor or domestic servitude. Authorities said human trafficking is not specific to age, race or gender, and it occurs in rural, suburban and urban areas across Missouri. The victims of human trafficking are from all socioeconomic backgrounds and levels of education.

"Our commercial vehicle drivers, motor carriers and law enforcement officers are often our first line of defense against human trafficking," Patrol Superintendent Col. Eric Olson said. "Knowing what to look for and how to respond to these situations is key to rescuing the vulnerable people being exploited."

Authorities said signs of human trafficking are not always obvious, and may include the presence of an older "boyfriend" or "girlfriend;" physical trauma such as bruises, cuts, burns, scars; poor health; coached/rehearsed responses to questions; and homelessness.

Omicron explosion spurs nationwide breakdown of services

Ambulances in Kansas speed toward hospitals then suddenly change direction because hospitals are full. Employee shortages in New York City cause delays in trash and subway services and diminish the ranks of firefighters and emergency workers. Airport officials shut down security checkpoints at the biggest terminal in Phoenix and schools across the nation struggle to find teachers for their classrooms.

The current explosion of omicron-fueled coronavirus infections in the U.S. is causing a breakdown in basic functions and services -- the latest illustration of how COVID-19 keeps upending life more than two years into the pandemic.

"This really does, I think, remind everyone of when COVID-19 first appeared and there were such major disruptions across every part of our normal life," said Tom Cotter, director of emergency response and preparedness at the global health nonprofit Project HOPE. "And the unfortunate reality is, there's no way of predicting what will happen next until we get our vaccination numbers -- globally -- up."

First responders, hospitals, schools and government agencies have employed an all-hands-on-deck approach to keep the public safe, but they are worried how much longer they can keep it up.

Jan. 10

Stay home or work sick? Omicron poses a conundrum

As the raging omicron variant of COVID-19 infects workers across the nation, millions of those whose jobs don't provide paid sick days are having to choose between their health and their paycheck.

While many companies instituted more robust sick leave policies at the beginning of the pandemic, some of those have since been scaled back with the rollout of the vaccines, even though omicron has managed to evade the shots. Meanwhile, the current labor shortage is adding to the pressure of workers having to decide whether to show up to their job sick if they can't afford to stay home.

"It's a vicious cycle," said Daniel Schneider, professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. "As staffing gets depleted because people are out sick, that means that those that are on the job have more to do and are even more reluctant to call in sick when they in turn get sick."

Low-income hourly workers are especially vulnerable. Nearly 80 percent of all private sector workers get at least one paid sick day, according to a national compensation survey of employee benefits conducted in March by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, only 33 percent of workers whose wages are at the bottom 10 percent get paid sick leave, compared with 95 percent in the top 10 percent.

Officer helps mold new soldiers through Lincoln University ROTC

Approaching the sunset of his military career, Lt. Col. Nick Bell maintains he has found his calling as professor of military science for the ROTC program at Lincoln University. It is a position that affords him opportunities to embrace his background as a military officer and experiences derived from serving in key position -- stateside and overseas, during peacetime and in combat zones.

After graduating high school in Goshen, Indiana, in 2001, Bell noted securing a college education became a personal priority. After visiting St. Norbert College near Green Bay, Wisconsin, he realized the beautiful campus would become the location of his collegiate pursuits.

"It was a private college, and I needed to find a way to pay for it," he explained. "I applied for the Army ROTC program and received a three-year scholarship, which was a huge help in covering the costs of my education."

In addition to his academic studies, the ROTC program afforded him occasions to develop skills as a future military officer during summer training camps. Through the military training program, he was also able to complete Airborne School, where he made five parachute jumps.

The college experience also introduced Bell to Emily, who he married in 2005.

Jan. 11

VetNow program helps veterans find resources

The Missouri State Library has launched a support and guidance program for veterans and their families.

Brainfuse VetNow will help veterans navigate Veterans Affairs, provide academic tutoring and assist with employment transition.

The State Library, which is a division of the Missouri Secretary of State's Office, works with community libraries to connect veterans with services through home.brainfuse.com.

VetNow includes live online navigators -- trained veterans -- who can help their peers connect with valuable benefits and resources. Navigators may:

• Answer questions related to benefits eligibility.

• Refer patrons to applicable community resources for housing, health care and education.

Pay raises for state workers grab early support

The governor's proposed pay increases for state workers drew early criticism in a House budget hearing Monday, but generally had wide support among lawmakers.

Last month, Gov. Mike Parson announced he wanted the Legislature to pass a $15 minimum wage and a 5.5 percent cost of living adjustment for all state employees, as well as some extra funds to address wage compression resulting from the new baseline.

Funded through supplemental appropriations, Parson told lawmakers he wanted the pay increases to be passed and implemented by Feb. 1.

The pay plan was the first topic of discussion for the House budget committee's packed hearing Monday.

Representatives largely spoke in favor of the wage increases, recognizing the state's standing as one of the last for state employee pay, widespread department vacancies and the need to start somewhere.

Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern, D-Kansas City, quoted a portion of a letter Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville, Rep. Dave Griffith, R-Jefferson City, and Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, sent to House colleagues in support of the pay increases.

Jan. 12

Hearing on Critical Race Theory, parental rights in schools draws overflow crowd

Education is likely to be a real battleground at the Missouri state Capitol this year, as evidenced by Tuesday's hearing on bills that dealt with Critical Race Theory and parental rights in schools.

The hearing covered House Bill 1747, sponsored by Rep. Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport, which would establish a recall procedure for local school board members, and House bills 1995 and 1474, two takes on a "Parent's bill of rights" sponsored by Rep. Doug Richey, R-Excelsior Springs, and Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O'Fallon.

The hearing hosted a record-breaking number of testimonies submitted, and the crowds that came in support and opposition spilled out of the room and into the hallway, where many sat on the floor as they watched the debate on a TV screen or on their phones. Those in the hallway reacted visibly and audibly to many parts of the hearing with head shaking, laughter and applause. Much of the discussion focused on the latter two bills, which the bill filers agreed could be combined because they are similar in focus.

Richey's bill would require school districts to address a plan for how parents can object to material or withdraw from courses that discuss human sexuality. It also would require a district to have a notification process in which parents could outline "divisive or controversial" topics they would like to be informed of before their child learns about them. It would also establish a transparency portal where parents can review curriculum and instructional materials.

Missouri Senate leadership: Looking to move past divisions

Senate leadership is ready to move beyond party divisions.

Following the first week of session, Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R- Sullivan, and Senate Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said they will work with the conservative caucus, but they are more focused on moving beyond past skirmishes and reunifying the majority party.

Schatz said 2022 is a critical year for Republicans, noting the need to tackle congressional redistricting, the state's supplemental budget and various Republican priorities, including abortion reform, parental involvement in education and public safety.

"Missourians sent us here to work, and they're counting on us to deliver," Schatz said. "The decisions we make have real world consequences, and we can't afford to give up on our obligations to the people of Missouri. The stakes are simply too high."

Rowden said he's optimistic for the session and the new opportunities it brings.

Rowden said his relationship with the Republicans in the Senate's conservative caucus is different for each member, rejecting the idea they always vote as a unit.

"I think the notion that each of the now seven -- one left -- but the now seven of those individuals all think with one brain and speak with one voice all the time is not true," Rowden said.

Jan. 13

Public service at core of job, new Highway Patrol troopers told

Public service is job No. 1, the state's chief executive officer told 25 new members of the Missouri Highway Patrol at their graduation ceremony from the patrol's academy.

Speaking at Wednesday's ceremonies at the Patrol's General Headquarters in Jefferson City, Gov. Mike Parson told the 112th recruit class the job of a patrolman is much larger than just writing citations.

"I will expect you to be public servants because your job is to help people every day," Parson told the class. "Some days, you may be chasing a bad guy. But other days, you'll be helping to change the tire of a stranded motorist. You'll answer calls you really don't want to go to, but a true public servant does all these things."

Parson, a former sheriff, urged the new troopers to remember all the training they've been given during the past 25 weeks.

"You've got to be prepared, and you've got to be ready to do things right," Parson said. "There are no shortcuts, and there is no making the system easy. You have to be accountable for everything you do, probably more so now than at any other time in the law enforcement profession."

MU extension offering virtual strength training program

The University of Missouri Extension's Stay Strong, Stay Healthy (SSSH) program for older adults is being offered virtually via Zoom.

The new eight-week class will be 10-11 a.m. each Tuesday and Thursday starting Tuesday.

SSSH aims to provide older adults with access to a safe, structured and effective exercise program capable of building muscle and increasing bone density, thus increasing independence and decreasing frailty, osteoporosis and the risk of falls, said SSSH instructor Lynda Zimmerman, MU Extension nutrition and health specialist.

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults not only participate in aerobic activities like walking each week, but also incorporate strengthening exercises working all major muscle groups at least two times per week," Zimmerman said. "The virtual classes will be led on Zoom by two certified instructors and participants will complete low-impact warmup exercises, eight upper- and lower-body strengthening exercises and cool-down stretches with gradual progression."

Jan. 14

FPS board updates Return to Learn Plan

The Fulton School District 58 Board of Education heard from director of health services Lauren Jacobs, who gave an update on the district's COVID-19 status at its Wednesday meeting.

As of Wednesday, the district has 69 positive cases, which is the highest number that has been reported in the district. Though numbers are higher, symptoms don't seem to be as severe.

The board decided to amend its Return to Learn Plan to fall in line with the current CDC guidelines by reducing the exclusion from school time from 10 days to five days for a student who is positive for COVID-19. The student could return to school after five days if their symptoms improve, are without a fever for 24 hours and wear a mask for five days.

They also decided to remove the yellow zone from the Return to Learn Plan and to edit the green zone to apply to zero to 6 percent of total school population. Another changed was daily updates will be made to the Fulton Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard to reflect current positive cases instead of contacting close contacts. This passed with a 5-2 vote, with Joe Davis and Emily Omohundro being opposed.

Biden all but concedes defeat on voting, election bills

All but conceding defeat, President Joe Biden said Thursday he's unsure the Democrats' major elections and voting rights legislation can pass Congress this year.

He spoke at the Capitol after a key fellow Democrat, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, dramatically announced her refusal to go along with changing Senate rules to muscle the bill past a Republican filibuster.

Biden had come to the Capitol to prod Democratic senators in a closed-door meeting, but he was not optimistic when he emerged. He vowed to keep fighting for the sweeping legislation that advocates say is vital to protecting elections.

"The honest to God answer is I don't know whether we can get this done," Biden said. He told reporters, his voice rising, "As long as I'm in the White House, as long as I'm engaged at all, I'm going to be fighting."

Sinema all but dashed the bill's chances minutes earlier, declaring just before Biden arrived on Capitol Hill that she could not support a "short sighted" rules change.

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