Hartzler, Pike address students
Immediately following the anti-bullying conference at Nevada High School, Friday, Jan. 22, students met with State Rep. Patricia Pike and U.S. Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler, who represents Missouri's fourth congressional district.
The two came to the school after meeting with community members at the Franklin P. Norman City/County Community Center.
Pike introduced Hartzler to the students from Nevada Middle School, Sheldon, Butler, Bronaugh and Nevada High School.
"She is very interested, as I am, in hearing what are your thoughts, what's going on in your lives, and what issues can we address from you on a state and national level," Pike said to the students.
Hartzler began her conversation with the students by asking the "leaders of tomorrow" about the anti-bullying conference many of the students had just attended.
"On a scale of one to 10," she asked. "Ten being students getting beaten up every day and one, where everybody loves each other. What is the number (that represents your school's level of bullying)?"
With a show of hands, Hartzler said she saw some sixes and a five and a half, along with other numbers scattered across the scale.
"OK, we have answers all along the board, but it is a pretty big problem," she said. "I'm glad no one put 10, I would have been really concerned about that."
She asked the students what problems they had witnessed in terms of bullying.
One student shouted, "social media."
Hartzler said she agreed social media was an issue, referring to suicides that were caused by cyber bullying, and she said sometimes people say mean things on her Facebook account.
"It's hard enough to live your life as a kid without having something rude pop up on your phone," she said. "People sometimes do that now with elected officials. They kind of have this distance, so they get on my Facebook page, and sometimes my staff won't even let me read it. It's often things people wouldn't say face to face. So elected officials can get bullied too."
Other instances of bullying the students gave included name-calling, "Yo Mama!" jokes, and classroom put-downs.
Nevada High School counselor Tom Geeding said one of the things the students in the audience had done to counter bullying was show up for the conference held earlier that morning.
"That's the first stage of change," Hartzler responded. "And that's to care. You guys care, and it says a lot about you that your teachers can tell you care. It's awesome."
Hartzler shifted the conversation to drug abuse in schools and communities, calling it a "problem in our state, and a problem in our whole nation."
She said she went to a jobs fair and she was talking to some of the employers at the fair. The employers told her finding good potential employees was very difficult.
"We had 40 businesses there and 250 jobs available. When I visited one-on-one with several of the employers, they told me the same thing, and they weren't in the same room," she said. "They said, 'Congresswoman Hartzler, we have jobs, we just can't find people who are willing to pass a drug test.'" Hartzler said she heard a similar story from the military recruiter at the fair.
She told the students she was shocked to find there are a record number of children in foster care, and said most were there because parents abused drugs.
"Children aren't there because they have been abused, or neglected. They are there because their parents use drugs and couldn't take care of them," she said to the audience. "There are a lot of children being impacted because of drugs."
Hartzler told the students she has been working in the district on ways to prevent drug use.
"My prayer for our district is that nobody's life is devastated by drug use. That's a big goal, but that's what I would like," she said.
"We are identifying counties in our area that don't have a (drug) court. It's a very intense 18-24 month program for offenders who are on their last-ditch effort and are facing prison. They have the option to go through this program, which has a 70 percent success rate. People who complete this don't go back on drugs," she said. "We're trying to help the seven counties that don't have a drug court set up."
She told the audience at the high school she and her team recently helped open a court in Johnson County. According to an article on Newsok.com, county prosecutor Rob Russell said of the court, "It's a brand new day for the criminal justice system compared to the way we used to operate. We'll look at the alternatives rather than just shipping people to prison. If we can get seven of every 10 on the right path to be valuable members of the community, then we have done a great thing."
The program, according to the article, receives grants from the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Mental Health and will charge each assigned participant $500 to defray costs.
"We can save money here and save lives. I think this is a great positive for the community," Russell said.
"Now, I'm trying to talk to students and schools because we're trying to keep people off drugs," said Hartzler. "It is hard, it is expensive. Their life has been devastated at that point. The whole economy of our nation has been devastated. We don't have people working and paying taxes. The most important thing we can do is getting people away from drugs to start with."
Students told Hartzler the most common form of drug abuse happening in their school was misuse of prescription drugs.
One senior at Nevada High School told Hartzler that she knew of students who were obtaining the drugs from their parents and then selling them.
"That just seems crazy, that someone would take a prescription drug that they don't know what it is and what the dosage is," Hartzler said in response.
"Missouri is the only state that does not require that when somebody goes to a pharmacy to buy prescription drugs, that there's a database (to see if the customer has another prescription elsewhere)."
According to the Missouri Prescription Drug Monitoring Program NOW Coalition, "Forty-nine other states recognize the importance of uncovering so-called 'doctor shoppers,' and help control the growth of prescription abuse, which is afflicting communities in Missouri and across the country."
"Prescription Drug monitoring is being talked about in Missouri legislature," Rep. Pike noted. "It infringes somewhat on a citizens' privacy, and some don't like that, but overall, it's very helpful for pharmacists and doctors to be able to know there's not any over-prescribing going on."
Pike also touched on a bill she sponsored about powdered alcohol.
"This is rehydrated alcohol and has been put on the market as pills, crystals and powder," she said. "So the legislation is to block it (from being marketed). It has the potential to be mixed with a prescription pill for a pretty strong dose."
Pike told the students there are 27 states that have already blocked rehydrated alcohol. The bill will be heard soon, she said.
After the drug and alcohol questions, Clay Landoll, a Nevada High School junior, asked Hartzler about the strength of the nation's defense and fears of terrorist attacks in the U.S., after the attacks in Paris and at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore.
"I'm fairly confident (in the safety of the U.S.) but there is an increased threat level to our country," Hartzler said. "I do deal with this a lot on the House Armed Services Committee. I get classified briefings on what the current threat levels are. I am watching ISIL, I'm watching Putin and I'm watching Kim Jong-Un in North Korea. He has nuclear capability and he has ballistic missile capability. We're watching China. They are at war with us on the Internet, and if we don't recognize that, we are in trouble."
She said in the last year, China has stolen $300 million in trade secrets. China hacks into America's companies and that has impacted defense spending, the congresswoman said.
"The biggest threat we face though, is a lone wolf attack," she said. "People going into a mall or a game and the terrorists blowing themselves up. That is hard to monitor and prevent. It's not a threat like a whole army. Sometimes the individuals are crazy and connect through the Internet.
"That's one of the issues America is behind on. With ISIL, they send out hundreds of tweets a day around the world to try and make themselves look like the cool, hip terrorists. There are people joining, and we are kind of behind the eight ball (in recognizing and dealing with this type of recruiting). It's a whole other threat level. This is certainly something to be aware of."