Thursday, January 24, 2013

In the Halls of Democracy

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MLK, Jr. Day

On Monday, January 21, 2013, we celebrated the life and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Dr. King dedicated his life to God and to the belief we are all created equal. He promoted through love, and peaceful demonstration, the understanding a person of any race should be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. The world owes a debt of gratitude for all he did to help usher in a new era of equality in America. It is in this same spirit of equality, the same belief we were all created equal, in that I hope and pray that one we as a society will recognize the tragedy unfolding before us on a daily basis - the death of the innocent unborn child. Tens of millions of unborn lives have been snuffed out in the last 40 years and this practice has no part in a civil society. Please join me in an effort to end this barbaric practice. We have all been created equal and deserve equal protection under the law.

State of the Judiciary

At 10:23 am on January 23, 2013, the Missouri House of Representatives voted to suspend the House Rules and allow state office holders, members of the Senate, and the Missouri Supreme Court Justices to enter the House Chambers for a Joint Session. With 150 House members and 32 Senate members present, we welcomed Chief Justice Richard B. Teitelman for the delivery of the State of the Judiciary Address. In a fashion befitting Chief Justice Teitelman, he delivered a brief address designed to pay respects to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., recognize the efforts of some exceptional Missouri citizens, and offer his view on the benefits of cooperative government. It was truly an honor to welcome him to the House chamber.

Though sometimes taken for granted, the State of the Judiciary is far from symbolic. There are few who are as well versed in the effectiveness of our state laws than the Justices who came before us Wednesday.  Their knowledge of the direct impact and success of policies - like drug courts (which our legislature created and the judiciary implemented) - serve to reinforce the rule of law in the most beneficial way to Missourians.  The ongoing dialogue that Wednesday’s address complimented will only serve to progress our judicial system toward the goals of efficiency and effectiveness.   

Elections Legislation Moving Forward

With an overwhelming and bipartisan vote, we supported democracy and efficiency in government this week by supporting Representative Jason Smith’s House Bill 110.  As I wrote in last week’s Capitol Report, House Bill 110 was designed to address a discrepancy in the laws that govern vacancies in political offices.  There were two competing ideas as to what the law provided for: one assumed a political appointment should last the remainder of the term, even if within that time an election could have taken place at no additional cost to the state; the other presumed the appointment should last until the next regularly scheduled statewide election, giving the people a choice in who represents them.  Your Republican leadership has sided with the latter, and with giving the People the ultimate choice, and for the last several legislative sessions, Representative Smith has worked to address this issue.
 
How was it amended?

There were a few amendments to the legislation that have changed it slightly since the last time I wrote to you about it.  Significant changes include the following:
 
·    It will require state legislative office vacancies to be filled democratically within 6 months of the departure of the former legislator.
 
·    It will move Missouri’s Presidential Primary date to March, which will allow this vote to be considered in the primary process.  If you recall, Governor Nixon had formerly vetoed legislation that would have made our last statewide vote actually count in the presidential primary.  The state wasted $7 million on a vote some in the media referred to as a “beauty contest” as a result of Nixon’s actions. 
 
What’s Next?
 
The bill has received the votes it needs to move to the Senate for further consideration.  In the Senate, it will be considered in a committee and then move to the Senate floor for full debate.  If the Senate makes changes to the version we have passed, the House will reconsider the legislation before finally sending it to the Governor for his signature or veto.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Mizzou Tour Video Log

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Medicaid Transformation

Glancing at the headlines and editorials from around the state, it appears that a great deal of the discussion, at least in the political discourse, revolves around a proposed drastic expansion of the welfare entitlement of Medicaid.  In economic terms, the expansion will cost taxpayers billions of dollars over the next several years.  Although I remain committed to investing in our State’s healthcare system, especially for those who truly need our assistance:  our seniors, the disabled, the truly destitute and children who have no other resources; I am opposed to a rudimentary knee jerk welfare expansion proposal because I believe Medicaid should be be transformedLet’s take a quick snapshot at reality and set aside our ideological beliefs on the program for just a moment.

According to the Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions, and Professional Registration (they track all doctors licensed to practice in Missouri) there are 19,628 Doctors of Medicine (MDs) and 3,145 Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DOs).  According to numbers obtained from the Department of Social Services (they track the Medicaid program) only 88% of MDs accept Medicaid.  Amongst DOs, however, the contrast is even worse.  Of all DOs in Missouri, only 33.19% are even registered to accept Medicaid. 

Those who are in the field of healthcare are likely not surprised by this figure.  One reason is that DOs routinely perform certain forms of treatment that are not reimbursed by Medicaid – it is the nature of their methods.  But another cause is likely as follows:

Most MDs practice in larger hospital systems and in more urban areas.  There will be DOs at these hospitals, but you will find a much larger percentage of DOs practicing in our rural areas – perhaps with their own small practice – than in urban regions.  Our urban areas are also home to much larger populations of individuals and families covered by strong, private insurance policies.  These policies, along with the size of the larger hospital systems, allow the more urban facilities to leverage the profits they realize from private insurance carriers against the heavy losses they see when they care for individuals on Medicaid.  In many cases, our rural areas do not have this luxury – doctors in small, private practice shops literally cannot afford to accept Medicaid patients.

The ugly truth that lies within the Medicaid program is that it compensates providers at alarmingly low rates.  Often, this rate is barely above 50% of what the same provider would receive in payment from Medicare – the federal health insurance program for our nation’s senior citizens (and even that rate often cannot match private insurance).  Steven Lipstein, CEO of BJC HealthCare, alluded to the ramifications of Medicaid’s low reimbursement rate and its negative impact on healthcare costs in an article appearing on STLToday.com on January 15, 2013.  I would encourage you to read it – the link is below.

For these reasons and several more, simple Medicaid expansion, as President Obama and Governor Nixon have proposed, will only exacerbate a broken system.  Even worse, it costs taxpayers billions in borrowed money with no end to the unprecedented deficit spending in sight.  Let me reiterate: simply giving an individual a Medicaid card doesn’t ensure them access to care.  This is a fact.  And yet, that is the only solution the left has offered.  Your Republican leadership will actually propose innovative solutions to the healthcare crisis in our state.  Look to our members to propose ways to transform Medicaid and not just kick the can down the road and saddle your children with debt in the process.


 

Elections Legislation

House Speaker Pro Tem Jason Smith’s legislation to give the people a voice in filling statewide office vacancies is one step closer to House approval. Smith’s legislation, HB 110, was approved by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 11-1 by the House Elections Committee on Tuesday, January 15th.  The bill is the first legislation to receive committee approval in the House this session and is one that is truly for and by the people and gives them the biggest voice in their state government.
 
Why Does It Matter?

The legislation is designed to clear up uncertainties that exist in our Constitution and the current statutes.  These discrepancies have led to two schools of thought.  One, which Governor Nixon has sided with, believes that no matter when a vacancy occurs the Governor can fill that vacancy for the remainder of the term (up to four years).  The other line of thinking suggests that an appointment can occur, but the people should be able to elect the position at the next possible juncture.

Smith has filed similar legislation in each of the last several sessions to require special elections to fill vacancies in the offices of Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, State Auditor, State Treasurer and United States Senator. Smith’s legislation would allow the Governor to appoint a temporary office holder to fill a vacancy until the next general election is called—preventing any additional cost from being passed on to Missouri taxpayers.

Flu Season

As we enter what health professionals traditionally dub “peak flu season.”  I want to urge you to learn to recognize the signs of the flu and take the proper measures to protect yourself and your family.
According to the CDC Influenza has spread to more than 80% of the United States and they are advising everyone who has not been vaccinated to do so now. WHACK the Flu is a community based flu prevention program from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. The acronym WHACK is simple:
W—Wash your hands often

H—Home is where you stay when you are sick
A—Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth

C—Cover your coughs and sneezes
K—Keep your distance from people who are coughing and sneezing

 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Veterans Designation on a Driver’s License


SB 470 was signed into law and became effective August 28, 2012.  A provision within the bill enables a veteran to apply to the Department of Revenue to obtain a “veteran designation” on his/her driver’s license (or identification card) upon providing a United States Department of Defense discharge document, known as a DD 214 form, showing a discharge status of “honorable or “general under honorable conditions.”  There is no additional cost to request this “optional” indicator, however, the standard new, renewal or duplicate transaction and license processing fees will apply.  The designation will be posted to the back of the license or document.  It will appear as a symbol with the word “VETERAN” within the banner.  More information about this provision and the various applicable fees can be found at the DOR website: http://dor.mo.gov/faq/drivers/veterans.php#q2 or by contacting them at 301 W. High Street, Room 470, Jefferson City, MO 65105-0200 or via telephone at 573.751.4600.  The Missouri Veterans Commission may be contacted at 205 Jefferson Street, P.O. Box 147, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0147 or via telephone at 573.751.3779 or http://www.mvc.dps.mo.gov/.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Education 1/10/13

As we enter into the First Regular Session of the 97th General Assembly, some of the most important issues facing us are how we will continue to provide appropriate levels of funding for our schools, properly evaluate teacher performance to make sure our children are receiving the best possible education our tax dollars can provide, placing more emphasis on local control, and encouraging parental involvement.

As I am sure you are aware, last year’s budget request from our Governor called for over $100 million in cuts to higher education. Your Republican majority rejected this cut. Making it more difficult to get an education and/or reducing the quality of education we can provide makes no sense at any time - especially when we are trying to bring high quality, high paying jobs to Missouri and provide an educated workforce to fill those positions. I can assure you, any attempt by our Governor to reduce funding for education in order to pay for his attempts to expand entitlement programs will be thwarted. We need good paying jobs and the knowledge provided by education to fill these positions.

In lockstep with providing a proper education is making sure we have quality teachers able to produce results in the classroom regardless of the obstacles they must overcome. We all know education is the key to a brighter future and taking steps to ensure quality teachers are in our classrooms is a must in the coming months.

Another aspect of improving our education system is enhancing local control within our communities. With such diversity throughout Missouri communities, a single set of educational guidelines will likely not address the needs of every community in Missouri. Increasing local control will help solve this issue and provide educational standards appropriate for the needs of your community.

As always, one of the keys to a child’s educational success is parental involvement. The lack of parental involvement has increasingly become a problem and indeed is a hindrance to our children receiving the best possible education our schools can offer. We must take responsibility as parents to ensure our children are engaged in schoolwork. Just dropping them off at school does not ensure they are learning. We are resolved to find ways to help encourage parental involvement to assist our schools in providing the education our children need.

Opening Day Vlog

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Energy 1/10/13

Energy policy is often debated in legislatures nationwide and ours is no different. Though we typically identify its impact as to having a direct effect on the cost to us to flip on the light switch at home – energy policy is much more than that. Energy costs are some of the largest for companies who grow, manufacture, deliver, and sell the public its commodities and other goods. Poor energy policy won’t just make your electric bill go up, it will make the cost of your milk, eggs, diapers, cars – you name it – go up.

Here in Missouri, we depend on coal. It produces most of the energy we have and use. While the EPA and democrats in D.C. have been struggling to find ways to make you pay more for anything and everything you buy with their destructive energy policy, your Missouri House has a different agenda.

Over the next several months, we will work towards policies that stand against threats to coal, enhance our ability to be competitive in the Small Modular Nuclear Reactor market (more to come on this), and stand up for your wallet.

Economic Development 1/10/13

There is one thing many in Jefferson City can agree on and that is better jobs mean better quality of life. This interim I’ve visited with countless constituents and other legislators about their thoughts on what we can do to improve Missouri’s economic position because it’s time our unemployment rate was the lowest in the nation and not just average. Here’s a sample of what has been mentioned:
Restore Medical Malpractice Protections

There is no denying it, physicians practice where they can afford to do so. With malpractice insurance premiums rising some 25%, we are bound to lose physician jobs to places that protect doctors like Kansas. Our citizens on the border in places like Kansas City, St. Joseph, and Joplin need quality physicians to provide critical care. Look to the legislature to protect physicians from frivolous lawsuits so more Missourians will have real access to the best care possible.

Tax Credits

Debate on this issue will continue this year. Certain programs cost too much and provide little return. Others, like those for data centers and angel investing have high rates of return to the state and have vast, positive impact on local economies. Our strategy here will be multi-faceted: cut, cap, and create. We'll cut programs that don't work, cap programs to provide stability to the state's budget, and create an stronger economic environment as a result.

Paycheck Protection & Right to Work
You shouldn’t be forced to pay for a political advertisement or lobbying you don’t agree with. Along those same lines, if you want to work you shouldn’t be forced to join a union. If given the choice between a right to work state and one that has forced unionism, employers go to right to work.
 
Transportation
 
Transportation is the lifeblood of any strong economy. It's why many of your largest cities are built near rivers, ports to sea, or have a highway that connects them to one of those two. Missouri is centrally located in the country, which is why we have a strong trucking industry that provides thousands of jobs, benefits, and healthcare to our citizens. Your legislature will be looking at ways to invest in our transportation infrastructure to ensure its continued ability to transport our people, our goods, and our visitors in an efficient manner.