Marijuana legalization, state infrastructure among topics at McCaskill forum in Columbia

Monday, March 17, 2014 | 6:45 p.m. CDT; updated 7:37 p.m. CDT, Monday, March 17, 2014

COLUMBIA — When Amelia Cottle put a question in the basket for Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill on Monday at a Columbia town hall forum, the words on the white half-sheet of paper came straight from her heart.

Cottle's question, the last of 21 answered in the forum, was about Alzheimer's disease. She began by telling McCaskill that she appreciates the recently approved funding increase for Alzheimer's research and caregiver support. She then asked what McCaskill thinks about increased funding for facilities and caregivers for Alzheimer's patients.

Cottle asked because her 54-year-old husband, Brian, who was with her at the forum, has early-onset Alzheimer's.

As part of her response, McCaskill called Alzheimer's "a crisis in our country" and said she knows how important it is to find good facilities and caregivers for Alzheimer's patients. It is important not only for the patient but also for the patient's family, she said.

She said she would be happy to go more into detail about the issue with anyone who wants to know more.

McCaskill took questions for a little more than an hour late Monday morning in the packed City Council Chambers at city hall. The public forum was one of several stops across the state this week in the "McCaskill on Main Street" tour. She was in Hannibal earlier Monday and was scheduled to move on to St. Louis on Monday afternoon, she said.

Although the forum was advertised as covering job and business opportunity expansion, McCaskill — whose was introduced as a graduate of Hickman High School and MU — responded to questions on a range of topics, such as infrastructure, foreign policy and military issues.

Here are some of the topics addressed:

Marijuana legalization

McCaskill said she will not say she is for the legalization of marijuana.

She said she has been talking with her colleagues from Colorado about the legalization of marijuana, who told her that some unexpected problems have arisen since Colorado legalized the sale of marijuana, effective Jan. 1.

McCaskill compared marijuana to substances such as alcohol and nicotine and said legalizing another drug "may not be wise."

She said she is open to seeing what happens going forward, though.

Employment Nondiscrimination Act and same-sex marriage

Two women proudly held up their wedding rings for McCaskill to see after the senator said she hopes same-sex marriage will be legalized in Missouri. The women were recently married in Iowa, they told her.

McCaskill said she is a big supporter of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which would prohibit employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The act has been passed by the U.S. Senate but has not received enough support in the House of Representatives to be heard on the House floor.

Russia and Ukraine

Asked how she would solve the crisis in Ukraine, McCaskill said she does not support declaring war on Russia because "that would start World War III." Rather, she thinks the U.S. should impose more sanctions on Russia.

It is vital that European allies of the U.S. stand strong against Russian President Vladimir Putin, McCaskill said. Because Russia trades closely with several U.S. allies, Putin will be in trouble if those nations impose trade restrictions on Russia, she said.

McCaskill encouraged the audience to pray for the citizens of Ukraine.

Vocational job training

McCaskill said she sees the need to connect youths or adults who are changing careers with real on-the-job training, rather than expecting them to learn everything in a classroom.

She said she has visited manufacturing plants across Missouri that have shortages of skilled workers and thinks there should be more opportunities for potential workers to gain these skills.

McCaskill said the Workforce Investment Act should be updated.

Sexual assault victims

Regarding sexual assault victims in the military, McCaskill said she thinks the problem lies in having a system that doesn't encourage victims to speak out. She would like each victim to have his or her own lawyer, she said.

After the military, the next priority should be tackling the under-reporting of sexual assaults on college campuses, she said.

Roads and bridges

McCaskill said she thinks Missouri should invest more in infrastructure, especially bridges and roads.

Missouri is in the top 10 states with deficient bridges and in the bottom 10 states in spending on bridges and roads, she said.

Cottle's response

Amelia Cottle said after the forum that she was thankful for the opportunity to have her question answered and that she thought McCaskill did so satisfactorily in the short amount of time available for each question at the forum.

Cottle, who has also been actively lobbying in Jefferson City for funding for respite caregivers, said she thinks town hall forums are an important way to connect politicians with members of the community.

"When you speak to them (politicians) face to face, that's what makes the difference," Cottle said.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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