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.

Commonsense Unemployment Benefit Reform

With the end of Session approaching, the House is putting the finishing touches on several important pieces of legislation. One of these Senate bills, SB 28, modifies eligibility requirements for unemployment benefits.

Current law states that in order to qualify for benefits, an individual must lose their job through no fault of their own, or they must quit for a good cause related to their work or their employer. If a person is fired because of misconduct, they do receive unemployment. The trouble is that the current definition does not specify what offenses constitute misconduct. This results in abuse of the system.  Senate Bill 28 simply places into statue what is already common sense: there are certain behaviors that reasonably result in termination, and the state should not pick up the tab for these individuals.
Under the revised law, misconduct occurs when an employee knowingly violates the standards of behavior expected by the employer. The clarified definition of misconduct also includes chronic absenteeism or tardiness. This is an essential provision of the bill, because chronic absenteeism hurts a company’s productivity, and makes the worker a liability, not an asset, to the workplace environment. We should not be rewarding such behavior with unemployment benefits.

If an individual is working for a state-licensed entity, misconduct also includes knowingly violating state laws or regulations. These kinds of violations not only harm the employer’s interests, but could result in the workplace having its license or certification revoked. Again, these actions should not be rewarded. 
Reform of our unemployment benefits system is a necessity in the present economy. Missouri’s unemployment insurance system is currently more than $500 million in debt. By reasonably tightening the eligibility requirements for unemployment insurance, Senate Bill 28 will allow this program to become financially sound more quickly.
Unemployment insurance, like other state benefits, was created as a safety net. This particular safety net is for those employees who are terminated because of company-wide cuts, for unjust cause, and for other reasons that are not the fault of the employee. By preventing just anyone from falling into the net, we are strengthening the system for those who need it.

HJR 14 – The Fifth State Building Fund


We in the Missouri House strive to be good stewards of the public interest and the people’s money. When times got tough several years ago, we tightened our belts and made difficult and often painful cuts. Today, an opportunity has arisen to invest in Missouri’s future through rebuilding the infrastructure of our state facilities.

The House recently perfected House Joint Resolution (HJR) 14, which will create the Fifth State Building Fund. This is the hour for such a resolution. Last October, we made our final payment on the 30-year, $600 million Third State Building Bond. That bond was approved by the people of Missouri in 1982, when interest rates were between eight and nine percent.

Today, the need for a public works program is great. So is the opportunity for implementing this program at the lowest possible rates. Interest rates are historically low. At 3.3%, they are one-third of what they were in 1982. In fact, these are the best rates this country has seen since the mid-1800s.

We have the chance to make an exceptional deal. We have the AAA credit rating to obtain the bond with the low interest rates. We have workers across the state ready to immediately begin work on massive construction projects. We strive to run this state like a business, and any business would say this is a no-brainer.

Upon voter approval, HJR 14 would allow Missouri to raise up to $1.2 billion to be used for various construction, renovation, and rebuilding projects at state facilities. Up to $600 million would be invested in our higher education facilities. It would allow community colleges and universities to acquire new land on which to build facilities, such as medical training clinics and energy research centers, areas where we anticipate growth in the coming years.

At least $40 million will go toward preserving and maintaining our 85 state parks. New funds will help the parks system build new public facilities, upgraded campgrounds, and boardwalks, which will in turn bring about new and increased tourism. Up to $100 million will be reserved for improvements to the Missouri State Capitol. This building is not only the workplace of the Missouri Legislature—it is a state treasure, a museum of magnificent art and architecture, and an inspiration to the thousands of schoolchildren who come here each year.

The building bond will also provide up to $20 million for renovating the public elementary and secondary schools our children attend every day. Two-hundred million dollars will be set aside for a new mental health facility in Callaway County. The current Fulton State Hospital facility is dilapidated, an unsafe place to work, and an impossible place to heal. HJR 14 would finally provide the funds for not just improvements, but a whole new building at which to treat the criminally mentally ill individuals in our state.

The remaining portion of the $1.2 billion bond will go toward various building and infrastructure projects, from other state buildings to rural water districts. To give an idea of the many projects that can be aided by a new building fund, we look at the 1982 bond. It provided money for soil and water conservation projects, group homes in Jackson County, storm water control grants, and the construction of the Western Missouri Correction Center, along with the myriad improvements and expansion to higher education facilities.

This is the largest jobs-creation bill of this session, even of the decade. It will move to the Senate along with the 2014 budget. If the Senate takes this opportunity, the people of Missouri will be able to make the final decision through their votes on the long-term growth for our state.

The Great Seal of the State of Missouri depicts a crescent moon. When the seal was designed in 1822, the crescent moon symbolized the hope that our state – small at the time, but with a wealth of natural resources – would continue to grow. Today we have an opportunity to fulfill our forebears’ hopes. The Fifth State Building Fund will create jobs, invest in education and health, and move to preserve and grow Missouri.

Monday, April 29, 2013

House Advances Major Tax Reform

The Missouri House took a considerable step toward sweeping tax policy reform to achieve and promote an economic rebound this week, perfecting and passing HCS SS SCS SB 26, 11 & 31. This bill reduces income taxes at all levels, not just for large corporations.

Missouri must have a friendly business climate in order to compete in the global economy, and attract businesses to our state. But this measure goes further and rewards the hard work of individuals and the risks of entrepreneurs. Through SB 26, the House aims to make Missouri not only business-friendly, but family-friendly, entrepreneur-friendly, and job-creator-friendly.

Over a five-year period, this legislation will reduce the individual income tax from the current 6% rate to 5.33% and Missourians with incomes under $20,000 will receive a $2000 income tax deduction. For businesses, the current corporate income tax rate of 6.25% will go down to 5.5% and the businesses first $25,000 of corporate income will not be taxed at all. The most important cut, however, is the 50% reduction on the business “pass through” income tax. These “pass through” corporations – the sole proprietorships, partnerships, and S-corporations – generate more than half of the business income in the United States. Small businesses are truly what keep this country – and this state – moving.

Missouri will make up for the revenue difference by phasing in a 0.6% sales and use tax over the next five years. Opponents of tax reform say this will devastate the poorest Missourians, but this is false. Necessities like food, gasoline, and mortgages will not see any sales tax increase. Meanwhile, individuals who have the means to buy new cars every year will make their contribution through an increased sales tax.

To ensure Missouri does not have a revenue deficit crisis, the bill has a built-in stopping device. Each phase of the individual and corporate income tax cut is dependent on a revenue increase of at least $100 million from the previous fiscal year. Simply put, if the tax cut does not work as expected, we will not continue it.

Overhauling our tax structure will undoubtedly mean some changes, but these will be rewarding changes. A cap on revenue will force future legislators to be true stewards of Missourians’ tax dollars, instead of jumping to create a new government program every time a problem arises. New programs often start with good intentions, but more often than not, half the money allocated to programs for the less-fortunate goes to administrative costs.  In other situations the programs produce little benefit with less than promised results.

The legislature should not be in the business of creating government jobs. Bureaucratic jobs often outlive their use and under-employ their workers. In the past few months we have seen federal employees – educated, hardworking individuals – lose their jobs due to sequestration. The only way to stop this trend is to encourage businesses to open up in every town and city. We have to remove the barriers for smart, dedicated individuals to set up their own shops and furthermore, we need to encourage families to reinvest in the local economy by allowing them to keep more of their money.

That is what SB 26 does for our state. It enables entrepreneurs to fulfill their dreams of starting a local business. It attracts corporations to relocate to Missouri, bringing with them hundreds of positions for good, family-sustaining jobs. And it gives Missourians a break, allowing them to keep more money and spend it as they like, on goods and services in their local economies, and giving their own neighbors a helping hand.

SB 26 now returns to the Senate for final legislative approval before heading to the Governor’s desk. This measure is something both the House and Senate believe in. No matter the Governor’s action, your Republican-led House will continue to pass similar legislation to help our state rebound, and place more of your hard earned dollar back in your family’s budget.

DSS Policy Change a Win for Taxpayers

You may have recently heard that the Missouri Department of Social Services was contracting with private corporations to move people off of temporary state aid programs with work incentives and offloading them to the more permanent federal disability program.  Their basic idea was simple: save Missouri tax dollars in the short term by dumping people off onto the 100% federally financed permanent disability programs.  The Governor and his administration endorsed the idea, but the practice came under the ire of the media.  Once it was reported, the legislature moved quickly to investigate.

After repeated inquiry by Rep. Jay Barnes’s committee on Government Oversight & Accountability and Rep. Sue Allen’s committee on Appropriations – Health, Mental Health, & Social Services, the Department has retracted major components of this policy.  The bottom line is that government programs for the disadvantaged should serve the truly disadvantaged.  State government should not contribute to the waste, fraud, or abuse found in federal programs.  This contract had strong incentives for companies (they are to be paid $2,300 per person shifted!) to push people onto the disability roles where there is no motivation to work.  Federal dollars or not, they are taxpayer dollars and we all pay them.  Your government, regardless of whether it is local, state, or federal, should be frugal with your dollars and consider the total impact of its actions, and the House’s actions have forced the Nixon administration to do just that.  I will continue to do all I can to keep government accountable to the people and to bring reform to any bureaucratic agencies that need it.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

House Seeks to Protect Women and the Unborn

This week the Missouri House third read and passed House Bill 400, sponsored by Representative Jeanie Riddle (R-49). This legislation will ban web-cam abortions in the state of Missouri and ensure that women will meet with a doctor, in person, in the same room while receiving an RU-486 abortion. This legislation protects women from an industry that is seeking to make a profit by providing sub-standard care to women.

During a web-cam abortion, a doctor can sit in front of a computer at a remote location – even in another state – and give the thumbs up for the abortifacient, RU-486, to be administered by a nurse. A woman takes the first dose of this drug, which starves the baby, at the office. She then is sent home with a second pill that induces labor.

The tragedy is that women seeking abortions of any kind are already in a difficult situation. Proponents of chemical abortions say that women can expel their baby surrounded by who they choose. But the truth is these women are often alone. Web-cam abortions only intensify that isolation. If complications arise because of the side effects that RU-486 can cause, the woman has no trusted doctor to call. Meanwhile, she is charged the same amount of money for the chemical abortion as for a surgical abortion, while the clinic saves all the expense of getting a doctor to come and supervise. Clinics are turning a profit at the expense of women—that is unacceptable.
 
HB 400 is about protecting women’s health and safety. While it is tragic if a woman makes the choice to abort her baby, she should still have access to the utmost quality care of a physician. It is already heartbreaking to lose one life – why put the life of the woman at risk, too? One hundred and fifteen members of the House of Representatives, in a veto proof bipartisan manner, agree and have sent this bill to the Senate.

Rep. Davis’s Veteran’s Proposal Moves to Senate

If there is one thing we can all agree on in Missouri, it is that we respect and should honor our veterans. Our state has many young veterans - women and men fresh from Afghanistan and other posts around the globe. These new vets have sacrificed four or more years of their lives serving their country, even as their peers attend college and raise families. These service members are there for us in national crises and in natural disasters, and it is important that we are there for them when they return to civilian life.

House Bill 114, sponsored by Representative Charlie Davis (R-128), aims to recognize the training veterans receive in the military. Beginning in January 2014, every university, college, and vocational or technical school will be required to award academic credit to students who have already taken equivalent courses as part of their military training.

This bill also makes it easier for nurses and other health-related professionals to keep their civilian certification while serving in the armed forces. Active duty healthcare professionals will be exempt from license renewal fees and, under certain conditions, from continuing education requirements. If a person is assigned to a combat area, it is unreasonable to expect them to take continuing courses: they are already on the scene in the classroom of experience. If a serviceman or servicewoman is continuing their professional training through the military, this bill allows those courses to meet the licensure board’s requirements.

We need qualified employees in this state and country. Who better than veterans to fill that role? Veterans have the discipline and commitment to take full advantage of higher education. Here in the Missouri House, we are working to fund those educations, and to remove the barriers that might discourage veterans from seeking more training. They have served us and it is our responsibility to do our best to serve them.

House Bill 114 passed the House this week and is now awaiting a hearing in the Senate Veterans’ Affairs and Health Committee.

House Honors 2nd Amendment

Protecting our Second Amendment rights has never been more salient than this session. With the US Congress and President Obama striving to limit Americans’ access to firearms and ammunition, we must do everything within our power to protect our rights. The Missouri House recently gave final approval to several pieces of legislation that protect our rights to defend ourselves, our homes, and our families.

House Bill 436, sponsored by Representative Doug Funderburk (R-103), establishes the “Second Amendment Preservation Act.” This act declares that self-defense is an unalienable right, which cannot be corroded by any level of government. In the Declaration of Independence our Founders made “Life” the foremost of our unalienable rights. The right to self-defense is paramount in guaranteeing the right to life.

House Bill 170, sponsored by Representative Casey Guernsey (R-002), nullifies any federal laws that seek to cripple Missourians’ right to self-defense. This bill, called the “Firearm Protection Act”, specifies that no official shall enforce a federal firearm law when the firearm is manufactured, sold, and owned solely in Missouri. This is an important protection against future federal government overreach.

For too long, the federal government has expanded its powers through the “interstate commerce clause.” This clause was written to ensure a unified currency in this nation and to encourage business among the states. It was never meant as a means to regulate values or infringe on rights.
 
We must always remember that the true chain of authority in this country starts with the citizen, who loans power to the state. The national government is the child – not the big brother – of the states. We in the state legislature have the direct responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of you, the citizens who granted this authority. That is our goal in the Missouri House.

House Advances Triple E Agenda

This week the House took action on Rep. Anne Zerr’s HB 698, which contains many of the legislative proposals I outlined as part of my “Triple E” Agenda.  This agenda, with its focus on education, energy, and economic development, hones in on what Missourians have consistently told legislators are the focus of their families and co-workers. 

What Does HB 698 Do?

This legislation has many proposals that aim to cut, cap, and create tax credits.  We have focused on several industries that have great potential for economic impact or already offer great benefit and could become stronger if government would not penalize them so greatly with taxation.  A few of these are listed below and I would encourage you to visit www.house.mo.gov for more information. 

Data Storage – This multi-billion dollar industry is bringing high-paying jobs to local communities across the country.  Other states are benefiting greatly because of the incentives they have in place to encourage investment within their communities and we want Missouri to follow suit.  If a facility were to come to Missouri, the construction costs, which are much greater than normal warehouse construction, would be a boon to the construction industry and those that supply it.  The high-tech jobs that would result would add millions in payroll to the local economy and bring with it benefits and healthcare to more Missourians. 

Angel Investment – Our angel investors take enormous risk to bring new products to their full production and sales potential.  Investors will be treated in much the same way as donors to charities – they will get a portion of that investment back in the form of a tax credit that can be utilized against their state tax liability in 2013 or in the next five (5) tax years.  The science and manufacturing industries stand to make great gains whenever the government lets innovation take over and the private sector do what it does best – create jobs.
 
Historic Tax Credits – For many years we have authorized tax credits on qualified renovations to our state’s historic buildings.  Downtowns have been revitalized, new housing opportunities have become available, and Missourians have been put to work in the construction, real estate, and other industries.  We have continued this incentive with added budget controls because of its great benefits to local communities large and small.  With a little reworking, our state’s budget makers will be aiding in predicting revenues and the private sector can continue keeping Missourians employed and our historic districts from wasting away.

Monday, April 15, 2013

House Urges Koster to Protect Missourian’s Religious Liberties

The Missouri House took action this week to encourage Attorney General Chris Koster to act in the best interest of Missourians by protecting their religious freedoms and conscience rights pursuant to the First Amendment.  I filed House Concurrent Resolution 35 in the wake of the errant US District Court’s decision that sections of Senate Bill 749 – overwhelmingly passed by the General Assembly after being vetoed by the Governor – was unconstitutional.

What was SB 749?

Senate Bill 749 provided employers the protections needed after the Democrat Congress and the President moved to violate the rights of millions of Americans in requiring them to provide insurance coverage for anti-life forms of “healthcare” for their employees regardless of their religious objections.  Missouri employers shoulder much burden already in providing benefits in the form of health and dental insurance coverage for those who work for their businesses or organizations.  They have made it clear, however, that being forced to cover religiously-objectionable services was a step too far.

What’s Next?

HCR 35 will need further action from the Senate, and I am hopeful they will concur and go on record in support of advancing the cause of religious liberty and freedom in our state.  Business owners should not be forced to provide products to their employees that they find morally objectionable or that violate their religious beliefs.

House Supports Basic Rights

This week the Missouri House advanced another piece of legislation to enhance your Second Amendment rights with HB 533, sponsored by Representative Jeanie Riddle (R-49). This bill grants state employees the right to store a firearm in their vehicle on state property, as long as the vehicle is locked and the firearm out of sight.

The aim of this legislation is simply to ensure that state employees are not denied the right to defend themselves while traveling to and from work. There are several instances in which having a firearm in one’s vehicle would ensure safety and even save lives. Suppose that, upon pulling into their driveway, a person is confronted by an assailant. If the person has a firearm, they can defend themselves and their loved ones from possible harm, and prevent a needless tragedy.

There are few places a person is more helpless as when they are stranded on the side of the road late at night. If a person has a wreck or if their car breaks down, they are at the mercy of passersby. Even with a cell phone, friends or the police may not arrive on the scene for several minutes – which can be a common occurrence in rural areas. During that time, any individual, alone and exposed, is at risk for assault. A firearm, kept in the vehicle during the work day, puts power back into this person’s hands.

There are also less alarming applications for this law. A law-abiding state employee who enjoys hunting or target practice in their leisure time could store their firearms in their car and continue on to the shooting range right after work. This would save time and – especially important with today’s prices – gasoline.

Self-defense is the most basic of rights. HB 533 acknowledges this foundational part of American law and simply allows state employees full advantage of their right to personal safety.

Nixon Administration Confirms Sharing Data with Feds

If you have been minding the state news wires, you have no doubt heard the accusations that the Missouri Department of Revenue, which operates the Division of Motor Vehicles, has been scanning, storing, and sharing private information with the federal government regarding our citizens who are permitted to carry concealed weapons.  The original complaint came from a Stoddard County resident who did not wish for their information to be scanned at the local DMV.  Just last week, the Missouri State Highway Patrol admitted that in fact they had requested on two occasions the complete list of Missouri CCW holders and they had forwarded that information on to the federal government. 

Why Should I Care About This Issue?

There are a variety of reasons why this issue is premier.  First, it is against the law.  The Missouri General Assembly, in 2009, passed HB 361 which specifically states “no citizen of this state shall have his or her privacy compromised by the state or agents of the state.” 

Second, while the government might have good interest in certain data at the group level (this helps when they are tracking and mitigating disease, for example), I can think of no good reason the government should be pinpointing CCW holders individually.  Having a CCW is not a crime or grounds for an investigation.  In fact, it should be encouraged.

Third, this action is one of many in a long line of mishaps attributable to the Nixon administration that shows their continued disdain for accountability and transparency in government and their continued effort to centralize power in the Executive Branch, no matter the means or the ends.  Whether it was the mishandling of the E. coli incident at the Lake of the Ozarks by Nixon’s DNR, the incredible debacle of crony capitalism involving Mamtek at Moberly that cost taxpayers millions at the hands of Nixon’s DED, the continued mishandling of the application of the Prop B dog breeder compromise by Nixon’s Department of Agriculture, the unnecessary purchase of a new plane at a cost of over 5.5 million dollars to taxpayers or this latest incident involving the sharing of your private identity information and disturbing disclosure of Missouri’s entire CCW database to the federal government, the Nixon administration seems to care little for accountability, transparency or being a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars.

What Are We Doing to Help?

The House has responded with Representative Richardson’s (R-Poplar Bluff) House Bill 787, which would further prohibit the Department of Revenue from retaining copies of source documents used to obtain driver's licenses and nondriver's licenses.  On the Senate side, Senator Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) has led the investigative charge and continues to garner information from the Nixon Administration regarding this apparent breach of privacy and trust. 

My office continues to receive a variety of concerns from constituents regarding this evolving issue.  I am committed to ensuring your government is responsible in protecting your privacy.  If you have further questions, comments, or concerns, please let me know.

HCR 35 / CCW Privacy Breach Vlog

video

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Missouri Solution: Market-Based Medicaid Transformation


No doubt you have heard in the news that Governor Nixon met with Republicans this week to promote his ideas for Medicaid and to intimate that he supports our efforts of true, positive, Medicaid transformation in Missouri.  The Supreme Court decision from last summer makes Medicaid expansion optional for the states. While he may promote flat out expansion at any cost, he was willing to consider support for a proposed plan for reform from House Republicans. We also agree that it should be Missourians, not the federal government, who make these pivotal decisions for our state.
The conservatively led Missouri House is committed to finding the best solution for Missouri. We will not jeopardize the best health outcomes for our neediest citizens nor will we risk the financial stability of our state by expanding a broken, unsustainable system to include 300,000 more people. We must fix Medicaid so that it provides access to quality health care for our most vulnerable citizens at a reasonable cost to taxpayers.
Medicaid has proven itself inefficient, and many recipients receive lower quality care than individuals with private insurance or even those with no insurance at all. Many doctors refuse to take new Medicaid patients because of low reimbursement rates. And because the current system lacks competition, there is no incentive to improve care or control costs.

The failures of the current system make it imperative that we enact actual, meaningful reforms rather than slap a billion-dollar Band-Aid on a broken system. If we are going to do what is best for Missourians, we must transform our Medicaid system so that it provides high quality care to those who need it most. This means taking a commonsense, conservative approach and transforming our system into a good investment that results in healthy, productive citizens.

As we undertake the challenge of transforming Missouri’s Medicaid system, there are several key components that are critical to making the system the high-quality safety net it was meant to be:

Encourage free-market principles and competition to lower costs. Give Medicaid recipients the power to choose the plan that best fits their situation.

Incentivize preventative care.

Promote price transparency to allow recipients to shop for the most cost-effective medical solutions.

Demand less federal oversight and more flexibility. Empower our state to adapt the program to meet the needs of Missouri’s growing population and an ever-evolving health care industry.

Reaffirm Medicaid’s original purpose: to serve as a safety net for our most vulnerable citizens – seniors, children, and the disabled.

Medicaid was never meant to provide healthcare to everyone. Rather than expand the pool of recipients who receive increasingly diminished services, we need to transform Medicaid into a system that ably provides the highest quality care to those who need it most.
House Republicans are currently exploring a market-based, transformative approach to Medicaid. It incorporates many of the components listed above. The bill, HB 700, sponsored by Rep. Jay Barnes would move private insurers into a position of greater competition to provide coverage for low-income Missourians. It would empower Missourians, turning recipients into participants who actively make health care decisions and not wait until their health care needs require the emergency room. This system has the potential to vastly improve quality of care while containing costs and reaffirming Medicaid’s role as a true safety net.

HB 700 is not the final solution to the Medicaid crisis, but it is a solid starting point. From here we can work toward a sustainable Medicaid system that can continue to meet our state’s needs for years to come. We will continue to monitor the innovative solutions proposed by other states. Arkansas, for example, is pushing for a system that would enroll those newly eligible for Medicaid into the same private insurance plans available to individuals and small businesses.
Regardless of how we proceed, in the end we are dependent on whether the federal government will grant us a waiver that empowers our state to transform our Medicaid system. The White House structured Medicaid expansion as a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum when it comes to states getting federal dollars for the program. However, as the President sees more and more states refuse to accept the money along with all rigid federal requirements, we see a greater willingness to allow state governments flexibility to transform Medicaid as they see fit.

House Supports Military Veterans with HB 168

When veterans return home from service, they often make the decision to advance their education in support of their careers and families.  Unfortunately, our public school system has residency requirements that sometimes force our returning veterans to pay out-of-state tuition rates.  Representative Charlie Davis took note of this and proposed House Bill 168.

What Does It Do?

HB 168 waives residency requirements for all separating service members who are applying to our public four year institutions.  It also waives those same requirements for our 2 year colleges so that the service member will receive the “in-district” rate rather than the higher “out-district” rate. 

Why the Need for Statewide Legislation?

It’s simple.  Our veterans, should they choose to go back to the classroom, are going to go somewhere to gain that education.  If we penalize them, they will go elsewhere.  I’d rather our Missouri soldiers come home to a Missouri institution for higher education. 

Don’t Some Schools Already Do This?

Yes, they do.  In fact, the University of Missouri system and the University of Central Missouri have been true trailblazers when it comes to this public policy.  Other institutions have already made moves to implement this policy regardless of legislative action, and I applaud all these efforts. 

What’s Next?

The House finalized its version and it now awaits Senate action.  There is a similar Senate Bill, SB 117, which was approved by their body and now awaits our consideration.  If there are any differences, we will need to resolve them, but I am encouraged that we will work expeditiously to get this one in the books.