Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Honoring Missouri’s Veterans and Members of the Armed Forces

The Missouri Legislature strives to give honor where honor is due. One thing everyone can agree on is that honor is due the young women and men who have served in our nation’s armed forces. In the military, these young people gain technical and leadership skills that surpass many of their peers. Therefore, it is only fitting that we provide our veterans with opportunities to transfer their military skills to the college classroom.

Senate Bill 106 (Sen. Brown, R-16), requires public colleges and trade schools to accept credits for equivalent courses that veterans already passed as part of their military training. This act also exempts military members in the medical field from having to renew professional licenses while they are on active duty. These servicemen and women are often updating their medical knowledge through military courses, and, if they are stationed in a combat zone, they are learning under pressure in the classroom of experience.

SB 117 (Kraus, R-8) allows any individual who is separating from the military forces of the United States with an honorable discharge or a general discharge to be considered a resident student for admission and in-state tuition purposes at approved 4-year and 2-year colleges and universities. This is just another way of thanking veterans for their service and giving them more opportunities for their civilian careers.

SB 116 (Kraus, R-8) ensures that military members on active duty have fair access to exercising their right to vote. This act requires the Secretary of State to establish an electronic transmission system for uniformed voters stationed overseas. Through this system, military members may apply and receive voter registration materials and military-overseas ballots.

SB 110 (Brown, R-16), gives active military members more options for visiting their children of whom they don’t have full custody. This act allows a deploying parent to have access to his or her child, and protects the best interests of the child.

SB 186 (Brown, R-16) ensures the unclaimed remains of veterans are interred with the due respect they deserve.

2013 Session Highlights

When the voters of Missouri sent a Republican supermajority to Jefferson City last fall, they charged us with passing common sense, conservative legislation. From day one our priorities have been your priorities: to create an environment in which individuals and businesses can thrive, while safeguarding Missouri values.

The following is a list of truly agreed and finally passed bills that embody our dedication to reaffirming Missouri values and creating opportunities for citizens.

Guaranteeing Constitutional Rights

In the midst of an alarming trend towards gun control at the national level, the Missouri legislature took action to guarantee our citizens’ Constitutional right to self-defense.

The most important piece of Second Amendment legislation undertaken this session was the Second Amendment Preservation Act or HB 436 (Funderburk, R-103). This bill affirms some basic tenets that supporters of the Constitution hold true: that the states created the federal government as an agent to resolve international disputes and regulate interstate commerce. HB 436 declares that while some states may unconditionally submit to Washington, the state of Missouri reserves the power to make laws regarding the everyday life, liberty, and property of its citizens. Furthermore, some powers – including the right to bear arms in defense of one’s life, home, and family – belong to the people of this country.  Because the Constitution does not grant the federal government the power to infringe on the people’s right to self-defense, any attempt by the federal government to usurp this power will be invalid in this state.

Another piece of Second Amendment legislation, HB 533 (Riddle, R-49) allows all public employees to keep a firearm in their vehicle during work hours. This act ensures that public employees can exercise their right to self-defense should they find themselves in a dangerous situation going to or from work.

Protecting Privacy

The dubious actions of the Department of Revenue regarding scanning source documents and submitting lists of CCW holders to the federal government have caused an uproar this spring, and rightly so. Individuals need to go through government agencies to get licenses and permits, but personal information should be private, not carelessly tossed in the mail or made readily available to hackers.

To prevent such breeches of privacy from occurring again, the Missouri Legislature has passed two bills that will safeguard confidential information and move responsibility for issuing concealed carry permits to county sheriffs.

SB 252 (Sen. Kraus, R-8) prohibits the Department of Revenue from scanning and retaining images of any source documents needed for approving licenses. The state of Missouri doesn’t need a one-stop site for privacy invasion. DOR will also be required to dispose of the scans of personal documents they have made in the past few months, by January.

Furthermore, this bill bans DOR from collecting or using biometric data, from facial and voice recognition technology to software that analyzes the way you walk. While this technology may be useful for hunting down terrorists, there is absolutely no need, now or ever, to terrorize the people of Missouri by collecting such detailed information.

In an additional measure of privacy protection, SB 75 (Sen. Brown, R-16) moves responsibility for concealed carry permits from DOR to the county sheriffs of the state. Sheriffs, unlike DOR bureaucrats, are directly responsible to the people of the county. This decentralization also puts another level of protection between the citizen and those who would intrude upon your privacy. SB 75 also includes measure for preparing schoolteachers and children to protect themselves against gun violence.

Defending Life

Another step towards protecting women and babies from exploitation by abortion groups was achieved with the passage of HB 400 (Riddle, R-49). This piece of legislation requires that when the abortion chemical RU-486 is administered, the prescribing physician must be physically present. While it unfortunately doesn’t prohibit abortions, it does ensure that abortion clinics cannot push women to undergo substandard chemical procedures. In states that don’t have this requirement, clinics are making easy, cheap money from women in crisis by authorizing chemical abortions via tele-medicine. In these abortions, the clinic doesn’t have to pay a doctor to come in, yet they can charge the woman the same amount. In Missouri, we care about infants and the health, physical and mental, of women who face tough circumstances.

Galvanizing Agriculture

Agriculture is foundation of our state’s economy. This session we took several measures to empower our family farms and to continue growing Missouri as a hub of agricultural innovation.

One such major piece of agricultural legislation is HJR 11 and 7, or Right to Farm. This resolution forever guarantees the right of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices. There are organizations whose mission is to destroy agriculture in this state and every other. These groups would put in place environmental regulations and restrictions on the treatment of animals that would amount to a death sentence to Missouri’s top industry. The Right to Farm bill would protect farmers – and every consumer of agricultural products – from undue burdens. Because this is a change to the state Constitution, HJR 11 and 7 will be on the ballot this November.

Unless modified by the Secretary of State, the language on the ballot will read:

“Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure that the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices shall not be infringed?"

Another measure, SB 16 (Munzlinger, R-18), secures the right of minors to work on family farms. These family enterprises could not survive without kids’ help. Furthermore, taking an active role in keeping the family business alive teaches children responsibility and gives them a head start in entering the job market. That’s why employment on family farms should continue to be exempt from child labor laws. Governor Nixon has signed SB 16 into law.


Incentivizing Charitable Contributions

One of the first pieces of legislation to be signed by the Governor this session was SB 20 (Sen. Dixon, R-30), which extends the sunset on several benevolent tax credits. Benevolent tax credits include the Children in Crisis, Pregnancy Resources Centers, Residential Dwelling Accessibility, and Public Safety Officer Surviving Spouse tax credit programs, as well as donations to food pantries.

These programs were designed to give individuals an incentive to make their communities a better place. The government doesn’t always know which programs best serve those going through hard times. Individuals, however, are familiar with the track records of food pantries and crisis pregnancy centers in their areas.

For more information on how to claim tax credits, visit the Department of Revenue tax credit page at http://dor.mo.gov/taxcredit 

Relieving Tax Burdens

Republican legislators promised during elections last fall to lower the tax burden on Missouri citizens. This session we delivered on that promise and achieved a significant tax reform bill. House Bill 253 (Berry, R-38), or the Broad-Based Tax Relief Act of 2013, will reduce personal, business, and corporate income taxes. This piece of legislation will reduce the personal income tax from 6% to 5.5% over a ten-year period, and the corporate income tax from the current 6.25% to 3.75% over five years.

The most important part of this bill, though, is the tax cut for small business. This bill would phase in a 50% deduction for business income reported on individual tax returns over the next five years. Small businesses – the sole proprietorships and S-corporations – generate more than half of the business income in the United States. Entrepreneurs are truly what keep this country moving. Creating a climate where job creators can thrive is perhaps the single most important thing we can do for our state economy.

Fixing the Second Injury Fund

For several years, the Missouri Second Injury Fund has been a disaster zone, compromising the entire workers’ compensation system. The Second Injury Fund compensates injured employees when a current work-related injury combines with a prior disability to create an increased combined disability. This fund was created to provide a living for people who became totally disabled due to the risks of their job. But, over time the list of qualifying injuries became too long. Today, because so many people qualify for additional benefits, those who are eligible for regular workers’ comp aren’t even getting their checks. Governor Nixon called on the legislature to fix the Second Injury Fund and we took action. This year, Republicans and Democrats collaborated to do the right thing for workers and businesses.

Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Senator Rupp (R-2), will narrow the list of injuries that qualify for compensation from the Second Injury Fund and will provide a means of raising money for the fund. In order to qualify for payments from the Second Injury Fund, a worker must have a documented permanent disability that resulted directly from active military duty or from a compensable work-related injury. Or, the pre-existing condition may be the permanent partial disability of an extremity (such as an arm or leg), eye, or ear. To qualify for the Second Injury Fund, one must lose use of the opposite limb, eye, or ear. Back injuries acquired over long periods of time will no longer count on the Second Injury Fund, although they can still be covered by workers’ comp. This is in the best interest of the workers; because with all the many accumulated injuries covered now, people aren’t receiving the money they were promised.

Under the new law, the Second Injury Fund will not cover employees of uninsured workplaces. This will create an incentive for all businesses to contribute to the Fund, creating a larger pool of money for those who end up needing it. In order to dig this fund out of the pit dug over the past several years, we will levy a surcharge of no more than 3% of net profits on businesses. Business owners agree, however, that 3% is a small sacrifice to fix a problem that has been crippling industry.

The 2013 Second Injury Fund fix is a common-sense solution. In order for any kind of insurance to work, there cannot be many people who claim it. By narrowing the qualifying diseases and requiring more employers to pay in, we are doing the economically smart thing and the fair thing for the business owners and workers of this state.
 
 
Paycheck Protection
House and Senate Republicans took on the task of reigning in corrupt labor practices this session. Senate Bill 29 (Brown, R-16), known as Paycheck Protection, gives workers more power over the fruits of their labor. This act allows public employees to choose whether or not to have union dues or shop fees withdrawn from their monthly checks. Furthermore, the union can’t use that money for political purposes unless the worker signs an additional authorization. Unions can be powerful advocates for workers, but like all representative organizations, unions must be accountable to the people they serve. This bill ensures that unions cannot exploit workers who have no desire to send their hard-earned money to political causes chosen by union brass.
Raising the Bar for Education
Senate Bill 125 (Sen. Nasheed, D-5) represents a bipartisan effort to improve the quality and effectiveness of Missouri’s urban schools. This act requires the State Board of Education to make new rules for classifying schools as accredited and unaccredited.
SB 125 allows for an immediate state takeover of unaccredited school districts. Currently, there is a two-year waiting period between the time a district is classified as unaccredited and the time when the district corporation is reorganized. However, districts are unaccredited for a reason: they failed the students. To allow the same ineffective board members and administrators to implement school policy is a disservice to children – and to the rest of the state. Under the new law, as soon as a district loses accreditation, the State can immediately determine an alternative governing structure, or establish conditions under which the existing school board can continue to govern.
This act also allows tenured teachers in the St. Louis City School District to be removed if they show themselves incompetent as educators. By raising the bar for Missouri education, we will raise the quality of life for generations of young Missourians.
Attracting Sports Events
SB 10 (Sen. Schmitt, R-15) creates a tax credit that can be used by sports commissions, nonprofits, counties, and municipalities to offset expenses incurred in attracting amateur sporting events to the state. Having this refund guaranteed will allow Missouri cities to compete in the bidding process for events like US Olympic team trials and NCAA Final Four tournaments. Amateur sporting events bring a huge influx of cash to their host cities. Because qualifying events must attract teams from at least one state outside Missouri, that means teams and supporters will have to stay in Missouri hotels, dine at Missouri restaurants, fill up at Missouri gas stations, and get a taste of Missouri that makes them want to come back. SB 10 was signed into law by the governor in February.
Making School Construction Affordable
HB 34 (Guernsey, R-2) changes the way that the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations determines the prevailing hourly rate of wages on public works projects. Currently, the prevailing wage for a given trade is based on voluntary surveys collected and submitted by contractors on a project. However, because these are voluntary, the information is often skewed towards the higher-end firms, increasing the prevailing wage for the entire area. This act puts in place a new system that determines the most common wage for a specific occupation statewide. This change will make construction on schools and other public works projects more affordable and will give taxpayers a much better value for their tax dollars.
Repairing Gas Infrastructure
SB 240 (Lager, R-12) the Gas Infrastructure Strengthening and Regulatory Streamlining bill, will allow gas corporations to perform additional maintenance to resolve problems with decaying infrastructure. It will save transaction costs in rate case and create new jobs. Surcharges for gas utilities are very low, less than 1% of the total charges for retail customers, and often only .33% to .5% of the total charges for industrial customers. This act also increases the cap on ISRS rate increases from 10 percent to 13 percent, a reasonable increase in light of the current low charges and the safety updates needed in our gas systems.
 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Protecting the Right to Vote for Missourians in the Military

Members of the American Armed Forces stationed abroad bravely risk their lives each day to fight for the rights that we hold so dear, including the right to choose our elected representatives. We can never completely repay these men and women for their sacrifices, but we must at least ensure that they are never deprived of the very rights they defend.

To better serve Missourians deployed abroad, the House recently passed Senate Bill 116, the Uniformed Military and Overseas Voters Act, which will simplify the voting process for military personnel and other Americans living overseas to help guarantee that their votes are counted and their voices are heard.  
Currently, the voting process for those deployed outside the United States is complex and cumbersome. It can take weeks, or even months, for ballots to be mailed back and forth between military bases and the United States, and if deadlines are missed, these votes will not be counted.  Moreover, if forces are transferred to a different base while the forms are in the mail, these men and women may never get a chance to cast their ballots.

Senate Bill 116 makes it easier for those stationed outside of the United States to vote by requiring the Secretary of State to establish a system whereby overseas voters can request registration materials and military-overseas ballots online. Those who are not registered to vote in Missouri will be able to use the federal postcard application to register to vote and request a ballot. This process will apply to national, state, and local elections to make the process as efficient as possible. With a smarter and faster registration process in place, it will be easier for all military personnel to have their voices heard by the country they so valiantly serve.

Response to Governor Nixon’s Claim on DOR Budget

The Missouri General Assembly is committed to protecting Missourians and our tax dollars from any corrupt and unlawful actions of politicians and bureaucrats in Jefferson City. The recent cover-up and denial by the Governor and his administration regarding the scanning, retaining and sharing of the private information of Missouri citizens compelled us to take action. Until questions are answered and procedures are changed we will rightfully and justly intercede for the people by withholding a portion of the funding for the Department of Revenue.

After the Governor finally decided to admit his administration was indeed acting in direct violation of statute, he tried to down-play the seriousness of his violation by calling it a “kerfuffle”.  Now he has the audacity to call the legislature “irresponsible” for taking swift and serious action to demand answers and to stop the violation of state law and of our people’s privacy.
One of the checks and balances the legislature possesses is the budget. When bureaucracy fails its citizens, it must be reprimanded to motivate responsible behavior. Unfortunately, because the governor and his administration would not acknowledge the serious nature of their violation, blatantly denied us answers, and refused to stop violating the law for months, they forced our hand to act in the only way we could, through their budget.

What is irresponsible is the Governor’s refusal to admit his involvement and own his mistakes in this as he would put it “kerfuffle”. Furthermore, now he attempts to distract from his participation in this mess by attempting to shift the blame to the legislature. On Wednesday the governor claimed we would force his hand and threatened that he is prepared to lay-off employees at the Department of Revenue. Let me be clear, if that happens, it will be because of his actions and his actions alone. We have appropriated all the money Revenue needs to operate for 2/3 of the year and as long as they continue to act within the scope of Missouri law they will receive the final 1/3 of their budget in plenty of time to avoid any lay-offs—that is as it should be. We are responsible stewards of our people’s tax dollars and we will not fund rogue departments who do not operate in accordance to state law.

Missouri’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget

Before Session draws to a close, the Legislature must truly agree to and finally pass the Budget. The Missouri Constitution requires us to pass a balanced, timely budget. Once again, the House and Senate worked together to deliver a responsible fiscal plan that places the priorities of Missourians first. We did this, with no new tax burdens on any of Missouri’s hard working farmers, families or small businesses.

The largest appropriations are those allocating money to Elementary and Secondary Education and Higher Education—and with good reason. Education is crucial for economic growth and, more importantly, for individual success. We in the Missouri Legislature are dedicated to providing the highest-quality education to all Missourians at all levels. The budget reflects this commitment.
The 2014 Budget contains the largest level of funding for K-12 education in the history of the state, including a $66 million increase in funding for the Foundation Formula. It also contains $2 million for teaching programs in urban elementary and secondary schools and another $200,000 for the Missouri Charter School Commission. These programs aim to help give children and young people that boost to reach a more productive life.

Today’s working world often requires an advanced degree or technical training. That is why we are working harder than ever to provide funds for higher education. The budget this year includes increases in scholarship opportunities—including a $2.4 million increase for Bright Flight and a $1 million increase for Access Missouri—and in funding for colleges and career programs.
Besides the general $25 million increase for four-year State Universities, we also allocated money to establish or build programs that will train students for highly in-demand careers. Among these items are: $1.3 million for an Occupational Therapy Program at Missouri State University and $150,000 for Three Rivers to establish a trade school in Willow Springs. Another $10 million will go to the medical school at the University of Missouri, to build a cooperative program with Springfield hospitals.

The people of Missouri have made it clear health and public safety are top concerns. One of our goals this session has been improving mental health in order to fight crime. We know that health and safety go hand-in-hand. The 2014 budget reflects this goal. We allocated $750,000 for a prisoner re-entry program in St. Louis to help reduce recidivism rates and violent crimes. We also budgeted $8.9 million for developmentally disabled provider rate restricting in the Department of Mental Health, while also arranging the first provider rate increases in years for nursing homes, mental health services, and home and community-based services.
While we focus on the basic functions of state government, like education, safety, and growth, the arts are not neglected. We take pride in the culture and landmarks of our state, and as economic growth continues, we turn our eyes towards cultural growth. To this end, this year’s budget provides $4.2 million in new funding for the Missouri Arts Council and a $1 million increase in Tourism Funding.

The budget is not all increases, though and cuts in spending should always be considered and pursued. There are times when programs outlive their use and when government services can be performed more effectively at the local level. This year, we moved the issuance of CCW permits from the Department of Revenue to the county sheriff’s offices. This resulted in less funding for the Department of Revenue, additional funding for counties, and more privacy for Missourians.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Weekly Wrap Up Press Conference Vlog

video

Finding the Right Solution for Medicaid in Missouri

Throughout this session, your Republican-led House of Representatives has stood firm against reckless proposals to drastically expand Medicaid - a system already fraught with waste, fraud, and abuse. While I am committed to providing the truly needy with access to medical care, blindly throwing money into a broken system will not solve the underlying problems that plague our healthcare system. Simply enlarging Medicaid will not lower climbing prices, improve the quality of care, or stop people from taking advantage of a program meant only for the most vulnerable in our society. Transforming Medicaid is the only way to make the system more efficient and effective, so this is the task we in the House have dedicated ourselves to.

This week, the House passed HB 986, sponsored by Representative Jay Barnes, which creates the Joint Committee on Medicaid Transformation to investigate needed reforms. This bipartisan group of Representatives and Senators will meet with organizations and citizens from around the state to explore ways to limit skyrocketing medical costs, encourage preventative care, comply with federal mandates, and help able-bodied adults transition to private coverage.
Currently, healthcare costs eat up around 18% of our nation’s GDP, the Medicaid program lost $21.9 billion to bad payments in 2011 alone, and Medicaid recipients still receive subpar care. Medicaid expansion without reform will put our state on the hook for more than we can afford in the future, meaning vital state expenditures, like education, will be at risk, and we will still have a system that fails to deliver cost-effective and quality care to those who need it.

Missourians deserve better than half-baked solutions from their elected officials. With thorough research and deliberation, we can craft a healthcare solution that works for Missourians, and will continue to do so in the future.