Congressional staff from the U.S. House and Senate, as well as county elected officials looked back at 2018, and peered into the new year Friday at the Audrain County Farm Bureau’s annual meeting held Friday at the Knights of Columbus hall in Mexico.

County improvements

Presiding Commissioner Steve Hobbs highlighted some of the biggest county improvements in 2018 and looked forward to additional progress in 2019.

He focused on the small structures tax, which helps fund county infrastructure projects like bridge replacement. The county has performed 140 replacement projects since the tax passed, 80 of which occurred in 2018. The county intends to perform additional large-scale projects with the revenue collected from the structure tax, such as bridges. One such bridge replacement will be more like an aluminum box arch that will be bolted together at the road and bridge shed and then transported to its final location. The cost will be about half of a traditional bridge replacement, which can be $130,000. Hobbs said the replacement will only close the affected road for two days.

“We’ve been kind of saving our money back, because some of these structures are quite expensive,” Hobbs said. “We’re trying to leverage the money taxpayers are paying and make it go as far as we possibly can.”

Sen. Roy Blunt

Hannah Larrick, with Sen. Roy Blunt’s Columbia field office, reviewed the ongoing government shutdown.

“I wish I had interesting information to tell you about that,” she said. “I know they’re going to meet over the weekend. At this point, we’re just waiting and we’re going to see what kind of situation we’re going to come out with.”

Larrick celebrated the passage of the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, also known as the Farm Bill, which includes a funding increase for broadband internet infrastructure, which Sen. Blunt championed.

“It’s really important, especially for our rural areas,” he said. “It really is a utility. It’s something he spent a lot of time last year and I know it’s something he’s going to spend a lot of time on this year.”

Rep. Vicky Hartzler

Steve Walsh, Rep. Vicky Hartzler’s press secretary and field representative, also celebrated passage of the Farm Bill and its broadband provisions. He highlighted an amendment offered by Hartzler, which was ultimately not in the final version of the Farm Bill.

“She was on the committee that tried to iron out the differences between the Senate and the House version of the bill,” he said. “We’ve built on the 2014 Farm Bill.”

Hartzler’s amendment would have added additional work requirements for SNAP recipients.

“Anyone with young children would not have been affected by this,” Walsh said. “Just people who are able-bodied in, say, their 20s or 30s who could be out working but chooses not to. … Unfortunately, the Senate did not see it the same way, and when it came back to the House, that was stripped from the Farm Bill.”

Rep. Sam Graves

Bryan Nichols, field representative for Sixth Congressional District Rep. Sam Graves, noted the change to the Waters of the United States rule by the Environmental Protection Agency, announced Dec. 11. The rule change, which passed into law as part of an omnibus bill in May, is still in its public comment period, which will end in early February.

The change excludes stormwater and return flow runoff from farms like row crop fields from being considered unlawful unless it negatively impacts public health, wildlife, or industry and agricultural uses.

“Congressman Graves participated in that announcement at the EPA, and we’re excited about that. It makes it much more clear, and we’re not going to regulate ditches and streams and things like that, that don’t need to be regulated,” Nichols said.

Graves is now the ranking member on the transportation and infrastructure committee, which means he is the top Republican on the committee in the now Democrat-controlled House. Graves will be the chief Republican crafting infrastructure bills, Nichols said.

State Rep. Kent Haden

Haden said members of the Missouri General Assembly are working to modify Amendment 1, also known as Clean Missouri, which passed by voters in November, amending the state’s lobbying, campaign finance and redistricting laws. Haden said legislators are focusing on the redistricting portion of the amendment.

In the petition language, it is written that state legislative districts for the House must be drawn so both major political parties are equally represented.

“Amendment 1 … my bias is this was legislation that was written to pass without the people knowing what was in it,” Haden said. “It was written basically for, again this is a bias, but it was written for the redistricting aspects of it.”

Opponents of Amendment 1’s redistricting changes have decried the prioritization of partisan fairness and competitiveness over contiguous and compact districts, and claim the amendment could lead to misshaped districts with populations who are difficult to represent.

His current district is 60 miles across from Vandalia the Nuclear power plant in Callaway County.

“Can you imagine trying to represent people from downtown St. Louis to Northern Boone County, 10 miles wide. … A lot of the urban legislators in Kansas City/St. Louis, particularly the black legislators, go, ‘We are not for this.’ They are in the same boat as rural legislators, they could lose a significant part of their (constituents),” Haden said.