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Nathan Higgins's Blog in 2009
Nathan Higgins' Blog

5/4/09

There's only two weeks left of session so I figured I'd be covering some big bills in the House or Senate. Instead, Phill gave me a rather interesting story for the day. Senator Jolie Justus, who is openly gay, married her partner legally in Iowa City this past weekend. Phill wanted a story because it would be the first time a Missouri legislator who has had a legal same-sex marriage would be on the Senate floor. At first, myself and my colleague who I worked with were a little unsure of how to handle the issue. Obviously, it's a sensitive topic but it turned out great. It was great to talk to the Senator and hear her story. She was very open and honest with us which was great.

Still, back in the office, it was hard to avoid sensationalism. I didn't want to play up the issue as big as others. Yes, it's never happened before but I didn't want to make it a bigger deal than what it is. It's a great story and maybe will have big consequences, but Justus said it best herself:  just because she's gay and legally married doesn't mean that her number one issue will be gay marriage now. She said she would be happy to see gay marriage legalized in Missouri but that there are more important issues and that Missouri isn't ready for same-sex marriage (as seen in 2004, when voters approved a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage). She mentioned that she will still push for her most important issue which is more money for child care subsidies and she wants to focus on fixing the economy. Additionally, she said the only issue she would pursue along gay rights is to make sure that the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community has more protections. She said right now a gay person could be fired from their job for being gay. Thus, she said she wants to work for more equality and civil protections.

4/29/09

Oh, today was my first filibuster. Yes, it dragged on, but at times it was interesting. I saw a TV show a few weeks ago where someone lobbying for a cause actually filibustered her own bill. One of the ways she bought time was by reading the children's tale The Phantom Tollbooth. Similar things happened today in the Senate, except nobody actually read a book while filibustering. Still, Republicans filibustered a bill that they actually supported. Furthermore, some of the Senators, to buy time, actually spoke about the bill and stats relating to the bill. Others went way off topic. 

For example, Senator Wes Shoemyer and Senator Jolie Justus covered a broad range of topics in the span of two hours (the debate lasted much longer than that). Shoemyer and Justus talked about what they used to do before becoming Senators and what they aspired to do after their life in politics. It was probably the most entertaining part of the day. Shoemyer also talked about his children, and in typical Wes Shoemyer fashion, told many jokes. Like I said, there were some random topics. I almost expected (and maybe half-hoped) someone would read one of my favorite child hood books like Franklin, Clifford, or maybe some Dr. Seuss.

4/27/09

Legislative session is winding down and so is my time here at the Capitol. With only a few weeks remaining, most bills being heard in committee won't make it to the chamber floors. Today, however, I had an exception. House Joint Resolution had already been passed by the House and was up for a third reading and executive session today. Check out the radio story for more details on what the constitutional amendment proposes.

Anyway, executive session was delayed which brought up an interesting facet to the story and a bit of a quarrel for me. There were rumors that the delayed vote means that the bill won't have time to make it through the Senate and that this was a deliberate stall tactic. Of course, Phill said professional journalists cannot report about rumors. Still, after doing some digging, we found out that it wasn't entirely untrue and that the concerns were confirmed but not completely elaborated on by one senator. So, this was an interesting story for me. It was hard to find a balance and try to stray away from the rumors with cold hard facts. Luckily, Phill helped me and I was able to tell the story truthfully while not reverting to reporting rumors.

4/22/09

I got a good workout today. Normally, that's not supposed to happen at work. Still, it seems like I ran up and down these Capitol halls numerous times today.

The Republican representatives caucused today and we needed to find out. Myself and three other reporters went to the basement and waited outside a House Conference room to talk to them to find out what happened. Unfortunately, they took a back door exit. And, thus started my mad dash around the Capitol. Don't get me wrong:  it  wasn't bad, just a little hectic. Since we didn't catch them coming out of caucus, we tried going to their offices, finding them on the House floor, or even just run into them in the hallways. Unfortunately, we had no such luck. The Republican representatives that I did talk to confirmed they discussed big money issues like the state budget and economic stimulus money but no one shared any specific details. Check out the radio story for more information and what all happened. Needless to say, I had a hard time trying to talk to the people I wanted to. So, I just wrote one wrap but put together an interesting "montage" of sorts, of representatives comments on the issue. Again, check out the radio story for more details.

4/15/09

On Monday, Phill proved his point regarding assuming. Myself and and the other staff assumed we had to be at work on Monday just like any other Monday. We assumed wrong. Apparently, it was an unofficial government holiday and the day after Easter. So, we didn't actually have to go to the office and there was no news from Jeff. City.

Wednesday was better. I covered the Senate, but unfortunately didn't have a story. They perfected two bills, neither of which were of great importance. One of the bills would allow car dealers to collect sales tax on licensed cars they sold. Finally, the Senate discussed a bill that would allow St. Louis firefighters to live outside the city. Under current law, St. Louis firefighters must live within city limits. St. Louis city Democrats fought the bill mainly so that the city didn't lose residents. For the most part, Republicans support the bill. This was going to be my story for the day but the Senate convened at 4:30 in the afternoon, much earlier than expected. Debate over the bill turned into filibustering so the floor leader decided to lay the bill over and convene for the day. I tried to talk with Senators involved in the debate but they had already left. Unfortunately, I had no story but it had been a while since I covered the Senate so at least I got some more work in there.

4/8/09

It seemed like it would be a crazy day at first. Luckily, it didn't turn out that way. With the office missing one reporter, two radio editors, and have a slew of stories, it all added up to a crazy day. It all worked out, however.

Although most of the committee meetings on the schedule weren't covered, we still covered most of the important issues. My story was about a state constitutional amendment that passed through the House yesterday. It became a controversial issue. First, the vote was very close (82-75) and mostly partisan. Three Democrats voted with the Republicans. Two of them were African American representatives from St. Louis who said they wanted to reform the selection process for judges. One said that by expanding the commission, she hoped to have the first African American on the commission in more than 60 years. She also said she wanted to increase minority representation on the commission.

Although there wasn't much of a controversy in race (other than the lack of diversity), there was controversy between the Better Courts for Missouri and some Missouri Supreme Court Judges who lobbied on behalf of the bill. A spokesman for Better Courts said the judges acted unethically and said they went against their oath. None of this was taken up in the Chambers, but it was still interesting to hear about.

4/6/09

There was an interesting coincidence in the newsroom today. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced this morning that the FBI was investigating 2,100 mortgage fraud cases. He said he wanted to crack down on mortgage schemers and discriminating lenders. Coincidentally, legislation is going through both the House and the Senate regarding regulation for mortgage lenders. After doing some research and talking to representatives, I found out that a Senate committee was hearing a bill that has passed through the House.

So far, the legislation has not received much opposition. The only opposition it faced were from legislators who wanted to either add something or remove something from the bill. No one flat out opposed the bill and no one spoke against the bill during the hearing. The bill, if passed, would require brokers to take mortgage education and law classes and receive a license.

It was interesting to see, even though by coincidence, that both the state and the federal government is trying to cut down on mortgage fraud schemers. Furthermore, it was interesting to see the issue on a local scale. 

4/1/09

April Fools Day...yet, there weren't any pranks in the office today. Surprising, sure. Disappointing? Well, who knows.

Anyway, here's an interesting issue. Should the State redistribute more financial aid for students attending public universities and take that money from private universities? It's an interesting scenario that has many stakeholders. Students want to get more money, but others don't want to lose money, obviously. Chancellors would like students to receive more money, they say, because it will help attract more students to their university. Of course, parents also have a stake in this, but most importantly the student as well.

So, there I was covering the Senate Education committee where the issue was discussed. Opponents did not testify (that will wait till next week) but they said the distribution now, although not financially equal, are proportionate based on tuition rates. It's a tough issue. I'll be interested to see how this turns out, mostly, because I have a personal stake in this. I attend a public university and receive financial aid. And like I said, who doesn't want more money?

3/30/09

Again, it was a beautiful day and unfortunately myself and the MDN staff were stuck inside. Luckily, we got to go outside and eat lunch on the Capitol steps. It's always nice to get outside for some fresh air.

It was a little stranger getting back into the swing of things. It's been almost three weeks since we've done any real writing or reporting. During legislative spring break, I worked on my features and did some phone interviews but never produced any stories. The stories still aren't quite ready, but hopefully will be soon.

As for not reporting last week, well I was off enjoying my own spring break...by working. I needed the money and I figured if Mizzou would have made it to the Final Four, all my spring break money would go to fund that trip. Unfortunately, they didn't make it. Fortunately, now I have a little more cash sitting in my bank account. Still, I've got to say, I'm proud of the Tigers. They gave it their all, rose out of obscurity, and put up a heck of a fight. I do, and always will, bleed black and gold.

3/16/09 and 3/18/09

It's a slow week. The legislators and our boss are on spring break. We'll be on spring break in two days and I'm definitely looking forward to a break. Still, it's not time to slack off yet. So, I worked on a new dog fighting feature. I called both PETA and the Missouri Humane Society but unfortunately heard back from neither. Still, I did some background research on the bills and made some calls. Progress was made.

For Wednesday, it was much of the same:  made some calls, did some research, and finally figured out my bracket for March Madness. This issue had been bothering me for quite some time. Will all four number one seeds make it to the Final Four again? I don't think so. Can my beloved Tigers make a run for the championship? Can they beat the other Tigers from Memphis. My heart says yes...my brain, unfortunately, says no. Still, I chose Mizzou to advance past Memphis in the Sweet Sixteen but losing in the Elite Eight to UConn. Hasheem Thabeet scares me.

Also today, the staff looked at a meal that looked tantalizing. It was an odd mixture of sweet, greasy, and most likely a lot of cholesterol. I can't remember the name but it was a burger with bacon and a fried egg smashed between two Krispy Kreme donuts. Like I said, an odd mixture but it could have some potential. Maybe it's gross, maybe it was just a combination waiting to be discovered. If something new comes up from this issue, I'll keep everyone posted.

3/11/09

It was a long day. Originally, I was assigned a hearing of a bill that dealt with the handling and transportation of sick, diseased, and toxic dead birds. Instead, a bigger story came up. I covered the House Budget committee. And, it was long and tedious. There were more than 120 proposed amendments to the bills. Some faced opposition and others passed easily. It was interesting to see the conflict between the Democrats and Republicans. It wasn't completely partisan voting, but still, the Democrats were getting frustrated. That definitely played a large role in my story.

3/9/09

Howard Ramsey sure loves his noodling. So much so that he brought his grandchildren with him over two-hundred miles to testify for a noodling bill that would regulate the sport and create a noodling season. He definitely fit the need for a central compelling character for the noodling feature.

Considering my last feature didn't really have a human interest piece, this one definitely did. It was interesting to talk to him and find out more about the sport of hand-fishing. I never realized that this sport existed nor the fact that it's actually a little dangerous.

It was also interesting to hear the other side of the issue. Some compared hand-fishing to deer spotlighting and said that hand-fishing violated the Fair Chase law. These people thought shining a light on a deer and killing it was the same as reaching into a hole in a log or down into a dark stream to grab a fish. Ramsey adamantly disagreed and it was interesting to see the dynamic between the two as well as the passion each person had for their issue. 

3/4/09

Another day at the capitol and another story on pre-need funeral coverage. I'm wondering at what point experience becomes expertise...

All joking aside, I covered the House committee hearing on pre-paid burial contracts. For the most part, it was the same stuff as the Senate committee I went to just last month. There were many of the same witnesses and same grievances. However, there were a few new faces and it was interesting to hear their sides. Some people demanded that pre-need coverage be abandoned and thrown out the window. This was definitely a new perspective.

However, I still had a hard time writing stories today. I've covered this topic when it was in Senate committee and I covered it for my feature piece. So, it was hard to find a good news story from this issue when most of the information given today was old news to me. Granted, it was new to the House committee. There were a few new perspectives so I decided to try to tell their story. Again, this was still hard. I had to make it new and newsworthy not just say, "hey, look at this guy and what he's talking about." Phill, my boss, gave me some pointers but I definitely learned how to take a new angle and make it original and newsworthy. Sure, the issue of pre-need burial coverage is getting a little stale, but I'm still learning by covering the issue.

3/2/09

It was a slow news day at the Capitol. There weren't many hearings or events going on which allowed me to work on my feature. Unfortunately, my feature lost a key personal interest standpoint. After I interviewed Bill Sponsor Delbert Scott, he told me that not many consumers were really affected by the bill. He said the bankruptcy of National Prearranged Services hurt funeral homes more than consumers. It appears that consumers were actually given complete coverage or almost complete coverage and thus didn't lose any money. Thus, there went my human interest standpoint.

Either way, Phill told me to do a long, updated feature story on the issue. It was a good opportunity to give more detail and dive into an issue more in-depth. It's the first time I've been given that opportunity in the broadcast reporting side of journalism. It was different, but overall I liked it. My next feature:  noodling!

2/25/09

I learned about noodling today. For those who don't know what it is, well I was in the same boat as  you. "Noodling" seemed to be an ambiguous term, and maybe even had negative connotations. I'll leave it at that.

Anyway, I covered a Senate agriculture committee hearing today where they debated the issue of legalizing noodling. Noodling is basically hand-fishing in Missouri streams. Let's just say, I was way off. It was an interesting committee hearing, however. Supporters of the bill actually brought children with them and had children testify. It was the first time I had seen that and definitely took me by surprise. Kudos to the children who had enough courage to sit in front of a committee of senators and testify in favor of legalizing noodling.

Today, it seemed the little things at the Capitol kept things going. From kids testifying and finally learning what noodling is, it was without a doubt an interesting day.

2/23/09

Today resulted in a late night. Overall, it was a slow news day so I worked on my feature story and interviewed a few senators. Contrary to what I originally thought, the pre-need funeral contracts really didn't effect consumers as badly as we thought. While most consumers lost coverage, they did not lose complete coverage. Most still received partial coverage. This may make it harder to find a human interest angle to the story, but obviously I need to do more investigating.

Other than that, I covered a late Senate Judiciary committee which discussed this year's abortion bill. This was an interesting committee to cover. With such a heated issue, there always seems to be two polarizing sides and this committee reinforced that opinion. Many people testified and it seemed to generate an in-depth, and at times, heated debate. I look forward to see what happens with this bill. Of course, it's a very controversial issue and will have a huge impact even if it's not passed.

2/18/09

It seems the House Crime Prevention committees are becoming a little nook of mine. This is the second straight Wednesday that I've covered a hearing for the committee, and so far, these committees have been the most enjoyable. Unfortunately, the topics haven't always covered the most normal issues. Last week, I reported on a hearing involving sex offenders and where they would be limited to go in Missouri. This week's topic covered a very urgent issue:  the distribution of Sudafed (specifically pseudoephedrine) in meth production.

Listening to and covering the same committee definitely made me more confident this time. I recognized many of the members and had talked to them previously. I also knew my way around the room and didn't just walk into the room looking like a lost sheep. After the hearing I spoke to Representative Mike Colona again. He was very enjoyable to talk to and I look forward to working with him in the future. It's good to see that I've set some bases and developed some contacts.

2/16/09

I wish technology never failed. Of course, that would make for a much less stressful life, right? Well, today I sat in on a Senate Appropriations committee with my trusty recorder. Only today, it wasn't so trusty. Upon coming back to the office to dub my audio cuts, I discovered that some of my audio sounded scratchy and had a lot of static. I'm not sure if it was because of the microphones used in the committee room or a faulty microphone cord. Before the meeting, I rushed out of the office and didn't properly check ALL the equipment. The microphone seemed to work fine but I forgot to check the recording to make sure it sounded fine. I guess I learned the lesson the hard way:  always prepare with enough time to make it to the meeting and fully check the gear.

Anyway, the Appropriations meeting went alright, albeit it was dry and very long. The committee heard numerous proposals on how to distribute tax credits. Surprisingly, the committee didn't shoot down many of  the proposals. Mostly, they asked questions for clarification. Only on a few occasions did a senator question and burn a proposal. After the lengthy meeting, I discovered some of my audio didn't work so I had to find some new audio clips. Luckily, I found some and still put together three wraps.

Today, I also did some research to on my semester feature piece on regulating pre-need funeral coverage. I'm not quite sure when I will finish, but the Senate has perfected the bill and will receive final vote soon. I still need to talk to the bill sponsor Delbert Scott and I hope he can point me in the right direction to find someone who lost pre-need funeral coverage. It will be very interesting to talk to one of the 55,000 people that this has directly effected.

2/11/09

Finally, a more straightforward bill. Today, I covered the Crime Prevention committee hearing where they heard bills that limit where sexual offenders can go or what they do. Under these bills, offenders would no longer be able to go to Missouri State Parks or public parks. Additionally, offenders will not be permitted to act as athletic youth coaches. The bill and hearing were pretty straightforward. Witnesses came up and gave their views on the issue and I talked to a few of the Representatives and witnesses after the hearing. Overall, it was a good day.

 

2/4/09

I sat in on my first House of Representatives chamber meeting. The representatives discussed a very important issue:  Missouri's economic stimulus plan. It passed final hearing and will be voted on soon. I talked to two representatives, Belinda Harris who opposed the bill, and Timothy Jones who supports the bill. The House voted and "perfected" the bill or gave final passage. It was a busy, long day and the story was over a big issue. I realized what all happens in a chamber meeting. Furthermore, covering the story helped me shed some of the intimidation that I was feeling. I feel much more comfortable now covering an issue and going up to talk to representatives.

2/2/09

This week is my first week reporting at the State Capitol. I was definitely anxious and a little nervous at the start of the shift. I really didn't know what to expect but I was anxious to discover what I'd be covering, who I'd be interviewing, and what issues would arise.

I first looked over the feature stories and chose what I'd be covering in-depth this semester. After discussions with the other news staff, I chose to cover the story on pre-need funeral coverage. Although I knew nothing about the story, it proved to be interesting. I researched the issue and discovered that the St. Louis based National Prearranged Services corporation went bankrupt after failing to provide coverage to 55,000 Missourians. The company took investors' money and kept it for personal gain. The Senate committee Financial and Governmental Organizations and Elections reviewed the situation. Behind Senator Delbert Scott who is sponsoring the bill, the committee moved Senate Bill One to the Senate floor. The bill regulates the industry and will create more security for consumers. I sat in on the committee hearing and interviewed three senators on the committee.

After the committee hearing, I began to write and produce the stories. Overall, it was a good first day at the Capitol. In such a short time, I learned a lot and I will continue to track Senate Bill One through the Senate.


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