Jim Howard | St. Louis Public Radio

Jim Howard

Washington correspondent

Howard covers news from Washington, D.C., of importance to the St. Louis region.  His beat includes following the legislative activities of area lawmakers on Capitol Hill as well as developments from The White House, Supreme Court and numerous federal agencies and departments.  Prior to joining St. Louis Public Radio, he was a longtime newscaster and producer at NPR in Washington.  Howard also has deep roots in the Midwest.  Earlier in his career, he was statehouse bureau chief for Illinois Public Radio, where he directed news coverage of state government and politics for a 13-station network.

derekGavey | Flickr

While technology has changed, at least one thing has remained constant: Scammers are always looking for new ways to exploit those who are easily victimized.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., the ranking member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging says, tech-support scams are “confidence scams, pure and simple.” In comments prepared for today’s hearing, McCaskill says “if there’s one thing many seniors are not confident about, it’s technology. So it makes perfect sense that these fraudsters would cling to a senior’s insecurity about technology to swoop in under the guise of assistance.”

The United Soybean Board | Flickr

St. Louis-based Monsanto is joining 80 other U.S. companies in pledging to back a White House campaign to build support for climate talks this December in Paris, France, where the Obama administration says it hopes to see a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," Jimmy Stewart, right, portrays a senator who tries to use the filibuster for good. Now the threat of a filibuster is enough to stop votes.
Columbia Pictures | Wikipedia

In January, Republicans celebrated taking control of both gavels on Capitol Hill and promised to advance legislation important to their conservative base. After months of thwarted efforts and leadership compromises with Democrats to fund the government, the House majority is in disarray and Senate Republicans are considering a change in a longstanding rule that empowers the minority — a key function of the Senate as envisioned by the framers of the U.S. Constitution.

Rep. Lacy Clay
St. Louis Public Radio

The City of St. Louis would be the first stop on a proposed national trail to mark historic sites in the struggle for African American civil rights, if Congressman Lacy Clay, D-University City, is successful in his efforts to preserve “precious historic waypoints along the routes of that largely untold story.”  

Mayor Francis Slay, St. Louis
Jim Howard / St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis is not alone in confronting an increase in violent crime, but what little comfort that may provide city officials is tempered by the fact that there are relatively few resources readily available to help cities across the U.S. confront their own rise in gun and drug related violence.

Mayors from 20 cities along with chiefs of police, an array of federal law enforcement officials, and academics met in Washington on Wednesday for a Department of Justice sponsored summit on violent crime.  St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and Police Chief Samuel Dotson, both attended the day-long session to share ideas, concerns and to make appeals to federal officials for assistance.

U.S. Senator Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
Jim Howard / St. Louis Public Radio

Military families would get added flexibility in moving to a new duty station under a bill introduced Tuesday by U.S. Senator Roy Blunt, R-Mo., that he says will provide those families with “geographic stability.”

The measure would provide up to six months of housing assistance in both the current and new locations.  Blunt says that will allow working spouses to maintain an often vital second income while looking for new work or continuing coursework to further their career.  It also allows children to finish their current grade in school.  

U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin
Official photo

The House Republican Conference is scheduled to select its candidate for speaker Thursday to replace John Boehner, who’s leaving Congress at the end of the month. The rifts in the Republican Party that led to Boehner's departure are reflected in the thinking of House Republicans from Missouri and Illinois.

Thomas Hawk | Flickr

In what some are calling a historic compromise, a broad spectrum of senators on Thursday announced support for sweeping changes in criminal sentencing laws.

The coaltion formed at a time when many Americans see Congress as dysfunctional, and lawmakers even within the same party at odds over national priorities.

ozone air pollution St. Louis
Missouri Department of Natural Resources

Since last fall, when the Environmental Protection Agency announced plans for an administrative rule to tighten standards on “ground-level ozone,” better known as smog, business and environmental groups have been fighting over what might seem to most of us to be minute differences on a grand scale. In anticipation of the new standard, both of Missouri’s U.S. senators have introduced separate bills to limit the rule’s economic impact on businesses, and state and local governments.

File photo | Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

The federal government is giving Missouri money to help law enforcement agencies cover some of the costs associated with paying overtime for officers who responded to the violence in Ferguson in the days following the shooting death of Michael Brown.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., says the $1,011,433 in grants will go to the Missouri Department of Public Safety “and then they’ll decide how to divide that up among the various police organizations that have expended money and resources as a result of what happened in Ferguson.”

U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin
Official photo

The divisions among House Republicans over the funding of Planned Parenthood that contributed to Speaker John Boehner’s decision to step down next month will not force a government shutdown this week, according to Ballwin Republican Ann Wagner.

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio
Medill DC | Flickr

House Speaker John Boehner’s surprise announcement that he will resign from the House at the end of October prompted quick responses from the area’s congressional delegation. Boehner, 65, was first elected to the House in 1991.

Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, joined other Republicans in praising Boehner's decision as a selfless act.

File photo | St. Louis Public Radio

“Trade is a two-way street.” That’s the message U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., wants President Barack Obama to deliver to Chinese President Xi Jinping, when the two men meet this week in Washington. Xi begins an official state visit here Friday.

“Missouri farmers have to be able to sell our products in China on a level playing field and right now they’re being treated unfairly,” McCaskill told St. Louis Public Radio.

Karla Thieman
U.S. Department of Agriculture

As the third youngest of four siblings, Karla Thieman, says her favorite chore growing up on her family’s farm in Concordia, Mo., came during calving season. Family members would take shifts getting up very early on cold mornings in February or March to check on the cows that were calving. “There was always this sense of excitement of potentially finding a new baby calf, and the person who found the calf or pulled the calf would get to name the calf so, that was always a very special honor.”

Rep. Lacy Clay
St. Louis Public Radio

For Rep. Lacy Clay, D-University City, this week’s arrest of a 14 year old Ahmed Mohamed, of Texas, with his Muslim background and dark skin, is more proof the U.S. criminal justice system needs to be rebuilt in order to ensure equal treatment for people of color and whites. 

Clay adds that special attention needs to be paid to how inappropriate discipline, as early as pre-school, can leave a lasting impact and set a child on a path toward prison.

 

From left, Gayle Thackrey, Bridgeton; Adam Stipanovich, Houston; Ann McGregor, Kansas City; Jennifer Conner, Pierce City; John Hickey, St. Louis; Gerald Nickelson, Washington
Jim Howard | St. Louis Public Radio

Six Missouri residents, all actively involved with environment issues for reasons ranging from financial to religious, traveled to Washington this week to support the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan on Capitol Hill. The White House is pushing hard to advance several administrative rules it says will help clean the environment and fight global warning.  A consortium of environmental organizations including, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and others is paying for the group's travel expenses.

Patients entering the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis are often greeted by a line of protesters.
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Congressional hearings on Planned Parenthood will deal with abortion in general, as well as funding for that specific organization.

Melissa Ohden, of Gladstone, Mo., says she wasn’t supposed to be alive today. Instead, she says she was supposed to have been aborted 38 years ago this month. Ohden is scheduled to tell members of the House Judiciary Committee today that her biological mother, then a teenager, was “forced" to undergo a saline infusion abortion.

File photo by Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio

The National Labor Relations Board is reversing a 30-year standard in how it determines joint-employment, the situation in which employees of one company, usually under contract to work for another company, are determined to be employees of both companies for purposes of collective bargaining.

Determinations of joint-employment usually flow from a finding by the NLRB that both companies exert sufficient control over the terms and conditions of employment for the workers in question.

school lunch - can't use more than 300 pixels wide
U.S. Department of Agriculture

U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, Mo., is sponsoring legislation she says will allow some school districts to avoid a federal requirement to increase the cost of student lunches. The National School Lunch Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, helps students who don’t qualify for free or reduced lunches to get a good meal, but the program requires participating schools to charge at least a threshold price of $2.70. 

Jefferson Barracks cemetery
Mary Delach Leonard I St. Louis Public Radio

Updated with McCaskill's letter - U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill says St. Louis County should approve the sale of adjacent park land to keep the cemetery operating for several more decades. In a letter to the County Council, McCaskill urges the members to sell 38 acres of Sylvan Springs Park to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The county’s Historic Buildings Commission opposes the parkland sale.

U.S. Army soldiers used Humvees in Iraq.
Photographers Mate 3rd Class Shawn Hussong | U.S. Navy | Wikipedia

The Pentagon is asking Missouri to retrieve two Humvees from Ferguson. The reason for the request is an apparent discrepancy in documentation over how many Humvees are on the books for Ferguson. The Missouri Department of Public Safety says its records show four Humvees in Ferguson, but the Pentagon’s records reportedly only show two assigned to the city.

Remko van Dokkum | Flickr

It will be this fall at the earliest before Congress begins negotiating provisions in a cyber-security bill. U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., says he’s disappointed a bill wasn’t ready to be debated next week, before senators leave town for their month-long August break. The House left Wednesday night.

Rep. Lacy Clay
St. Louis Public Radio

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, is appointing Rep. Lacy Clay, D-University City, to the House Natural Resources Committee.  “Since my earliest days in the U.S. House, I’ve been a dedicated advocate for cleaning up contaminated sites, stronger clean air and water standards, and protecting our precious forests, coastlines and wilderness refuges,” Clay said, in a statement released from his office.

U.S. Capitol
Phil Roeder | Flickr

(Updated 1:45 p.m. with vote) 

The Senate voted on two different highway bills today. The first vote, which passed, was to approve its own six-year plan with three years of funding and language re-authorizing the now closed Export-Import Bank. The second bill is the House-passed, three-month extension of the Highway Trust Fund, which keeps federal road dollars flowing to the states. The Senate approved it 91-4.

Lawmakers in both chambers have pledged to work on a multi-year plan when they return from their August break.

The John Cochran veterans facility on North Grand Boulevard.
Donna Korando | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 5:05 p.m. July 29 with House vote - Members of the U.S. House of Representatives have voted to keep the federal Highway Trust Fund operating until at least Oct. 29. In the same bill, lawmakers also approved an additional $3.4 billion to help the Department of Veterans Affairs fill a budget gap.  

The Senate is expected to approve the extension, even as it continues to work on its six-year highway bill. Leaders in both chambers say they will use this extension to work toward a multi-year bill when they return from break.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

Senate Republicans plan to vote on legislation next week stripping nearly $540 million from Planned Parenthood following the release of undercover videos that appear to show organization officials talking casually about selling fetal tissue and organs. Those videos, released by an anti-abortion group, have outraged abortion opponents and ignited a swift response on Capitol Hill.

Gen. Paul Selva, left, and Gen. Darren McDew
Air Force photographs

The U.S. Senate Monday confirmed Gen. Paul Selva to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Selva has been the commander of the U.S. Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base since April 2014. Senators also confirmed Gen Darren McDew to replace Selva as the next commander of the U.S. Transportation Command.

mortgage money flickr
TaxRebate.org.uk | flickr

Banks with $1 billion or more in assets would see dividend payments received for putting their money into the Federal Reserve’s bank, reduced to 1.5 percent from 6 percent as part of the Senate plan to pay for three years of road work in its six-year highway bill.  

Bank groups are opposing the plan and have been joined by mortgage lenders. 

Sen. Roy Blunt talked with the media early last week. july 2015
Jim Howard | St. Louis Public Radio

In a rare Sunday session, the U.S. Senate gave overwhelming approval to a plan to re-authorize the charter of the Export-Import Bank, as part of its six-year highway bill.  The bank’s charter expired in June.  All four U.S. senators from Missouri and Illinois voted for the plan, backed by Democrats and mainstream Republicans. Tea Party Republicans have long opposed the bank, calling it “corporate welfare” for big business. Supporters disagree and say the bank helps businesses of all sizes.

Sen. McCaskill's Flickr Page

While it’s being called the “highway bill,” the U.S. Senate's plan has far more than funding for road and bridge projects. Among the provisions not specifically related to the six-year highway plan and its three years of guaranteed funding for maintenance and construction projects are two backed by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

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