Monday, March 25, 2013

Triple E Agenda - Education

There are a myriad of opinions that are promoted in the halls of our Capitol aimed at bettering the education of our youth.  There can be little debate, however, over the fact that a parent should be informed about the performance of their child’s school. 

Rep. Swan introduced an innovative proposal that the House has already taken up and moved forward in her freshman year.  HB 388 is simple:  each school receives a letter grade just like their child.  Utilizing performance reports that are already published, schools will receive this easy to understand grading system that will allow parents to know how their school stacks up.  As a parent myself, it is no surprise this legislation was quickly adopted and is now in the Senate for their consideration.

Another important piece of legislation that the House has already weighed in on is HB 34, proposed by Rep. Guernsey.  This measure would allow certain school districts, with board approval, to be exempt from prevailing wage requirements on construction and maintenance costs.  Maintaining a quality environment for our children to learn is pivotal in our educational system.  Missouri’s schools should not have to be held hostage to extraordinary labor rates that do not reflect the true wage of their local economic environment.  Just like the other prevailing wage proposal the House has passed, this reform will likewise encourage more projects to be undertaken (because greater funding will be available) along with the creation of more jobs.

I am looking forward to these bills moving forward in the Senate along with continued debate on the host of other education ideas that are being debated at the Capitol. 

Triple E Agenda - Energy

I made it a mark early on as Speaker that we would pursue smart energy policy that will help keep your family’s budget intact and our manufacturers’ doors open.  There are vast opportunities on the horizon, including Small Modular Nuclear Reactor (SMR) technology, in which Missouri is still seeking to participate.  In the meantime, there is much we can still do to promote wise energy choices.  HB 44, sponsored by Rep. Korman, is one such proposal we have already moved to the Senate for their consideration.

HB 44

In 2008, Missouri’s voters approved a constitutional change that required that Missouri’s energy generators source a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources.  Hydropower is one such source of power that our energy companies have utilized for many years.  However, hydropower from already constructed sources was not able to apply towards that new benchmark. 

HB44 will modify the state’s statute so that all hydropower can be fully counted towards the Renewable Energy Standard.  Without this measure in place, Missouri’s investor-owned facilities will have little choice but to dramatically increase costs as they make huge investments in new facilities to meet the standard.  We feel the voters’ intent was to have a true standard which counted all renewables, and we intend to bring Missouri’s statute in line with that intent. 

Triple E Agenda - Economic Development

A variety of proposals are moving throughout the House of Representatives that are aimed at impacting what matters most to Missourians: jobs.  In fact, we have already passed several key priorities that will encourage private sector solutions.

HB 385 - Amateur Sporting Event Incentives

Representative Burlison continued championing this cause to utilize a state tax credit to attract major sporting events, such as NCAA tournaments, to Missouri facilities.  When these large events come to town, everyone on “Main Street” benefits, in cities large and small, all across Missouri..  From advertising to hotels and restaurants, local economies see large surges in sales.  Missouri needs to compete every day with our eight surrounding, very competitive neighboring states, and now it is up to the governor to make sure we do.  In fact, this tax credit proposal demands strong taxpayer protections by requiring that the site selection committee must be considering other states to take their event before we can even offer the credit and the credit is based only on “new” money brought into our state budget.  Many of these competing states have similar incentives in place.  The House took a great first step in approving HB 385 and then finalized the proposal by passing a companion Senate bill and sending it to the governor’s desk.

HB 87 - Benevolent Tax Credits

This legislation offers tax credits for our private sector partners to tackle tough social issues – from children in crisis to pregnancy resource centers.  We know that you have a heart to serve, but paying taxes to a bloated government that is wrought with fraud and abuse just does not cut it.  Our not-for-profit community needs our support – it employs thousands of Missourians and provides services to so many more.  In offering a tax credit to organizations that offer so many great services, private, charitable donations are leveraged along with the good nature of Missouri’s citizens.  This proposal was finalized by the House and a nearly identical Senate proposal was “Truly Agreed To and Finally Passed,” meaning it only awaits the Governor’s signature.
HB 320 - Clarifying Missouri's Anti-Discrimination Statutes and 'Whistleblower' Protections

Representative Kevin Elmer's proposal to add "Whistleblower" protections to statute and reform the state's anti-discrimination laws will add certainty back into our legal system for both employers and employees.  Currently, our whistleblower protections are left to common-law and up to interpretation by the courts.  Our employees should be able to turn to the law to protect them when they face situations where they risk their jobs to report unlawful practices in the workplace - and they should know precisely how they are protected. 

Employers also deserve more clarity.  This proposal will bring Missouri's anti-discriminatory laws back in line with the Civil Rights Act, Age Discrimination Employment Act, and Americans with Disabilities Act which served our state well for decades before our laws turned against job creators.  Non-economic damages would now be capped at the very reasonable level of $500,000.00 per claim.  This significant amount will discourage discriminatory practices while also keeping frivolous lawsuits at bay - frivolous lawsuits that waste money that could be spent on expanding a business or hiring new employees.  One of the most important factors affecting a business’s decision to relocate to our state or grow its footprint here is a stable, certain and fair litigation climate.  HB 320 meets that goal.

HB 64 and HB 409 - Adding Choice to Missouri's Labor Laws

Too often, our public facilities and employees are held hostage by stringent labor laws that limit choice.  If you run a rural, government institution, like a school district, you have to pay “prevailing wages” for your maintenance and construction which is ultimately borne solely by the taxpayers.  And if you are looking for work at a union shop, you have to pay fees regardless of whether you want to join the union.  The problem is, rural prevailing wages are measured using a formula many would agree is too heavily influenced by urban rates.  Moreover, labor unions participate in political activity.  Employees do not always agree with the politics espoused by their union bosses, but they must pay the fees that support that activity anyway.  Both of these scenarios are just wrong and need reform and your Republican-led legislature has taken the issue to task. 
HB 64, sponsored by Rep. Eric Burlison, will allow unions to utilize employee fees for political purposes, but only if the employee consents in writing each year.  HB 409, sponsored by Rep. Warren Love, will realign the formula utilized by the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations to determine prevailing wage in our rural regions so that they are less influenced by urban wage rates.  This is much more fair and equitable to the taxpayers and will likewise encourage more projects to be undertaken (because greater funding will be available) along with the creation of more jobs.  The proposals were finalized by the House and if approved by the Senate, will reform the anti-choice policies of yesterday and help catalyze future growth in Missouri's economy.    

Friday, March 15, 2013

Reforming Labor Laws to Increase Transparency & Add Taxpayer Value

Best Practices for our Rural Counties and Schools

Too often our schools and other public facilities face tough decisions on whether or not to authorize spending on maintenance costs.  It would seem simple enough, but Missouri’s existing law requires that even simple maintenance like painting is subject to prevailing wage laws.  Moreover, our rural areas are often bound to prevailing wage rates that more accurately reflect urban rates.  Should your local elementary school be forced to pay $35 an hour to paint a wall?  Would they?  They likely wouldn’t until the problems are so severe that they demand action. 

This is the heart of the problem we’ve attempted to address this week: allowing public entities to maintain their facilities on a timelier basis.  The end goal is to increase workplace safety for our public employees and students and to also minimize the distraction to our students that crumbling infrastructure causes.  In our reforms, we’ve also included new construction so that local school districts and public entities can get more “bang for the buck”, which will add value to your hard-earned tax dollars.  This is a common sense reform and I’m glad to see the conversation move from the House and now to the Senate for action. 
Giving You the Choice on Your Paycheck

Each pay period, our union members have dues deducted from their paycheck.  These dues fund a variety of purposes, but they often find their way into partisan politics.  Employees, even those who disagree with the politics of the union, have absolutely zero choice in their money being spent on political activity.  This is wrong.

HB 64, sponsored by Rep. Eric Burlison, proposes a simple solution – if an employee consents annually in writing for their dues to be utilized for political purposes then that amount can be deducted from their paycheck.  This is the same process that many of us utilize to help fund charitable institutions that perform work we care about.  We feel that a simple acknowledgment from the employee should be asked and received before a portion of their paycheck is redirected from their pocket to a partisan political cause.  This legislation must move forward in the Senate, and I look forward to it becoming the law of the land.   

Conscience Rights of Medical Service Providers

On Wednesday the House advanced legislation I sponsored to recognize and defend our individual freedom of conscience. Our conscience serves as an internal system of self-guidance—a private radar through which only the individual judges and discovers his or her truest thoughts and feelings. Therefore, the ability to abide by one’s conscience must be protected. This week my colleagues and I answered the call of thousands of workers in the medical field who do not want to be forced to perform or participate in procedures or research that infringe upon their beliefs.


HCS HB 457 will place in law a shield for medical professionals to exercise their conscience rights. It serves to protect them from participation in medical procedures or research that violates their religious, moral or ethical beliefs.  Major advances in the medical field and the looming encroachment of ObamaCare are forcing health care providers to face the daunting task of providing the best care possible while preserving their right to follow their beliefs that they hold sacred.

HCS HB 457 was Third Read and Passed with an overwhelming bi-partisan vote of 116-41 and now moves to the Senate.

Encouraging Economic Growth with Smart Tax Policy

Each year, a number of amateur events are hosted around the country.  The organizing committees, such as the National Collegiate Athletic Association, United States Olympic Committee, or United States Golf Association, scan the country in search of event locations where their competitions can be held, attended, and successful.  These events encourage economic activity from advertising to local restaurant sales and hotel bookings and many states offer tax credits to incentivize these selection committees to choose their available locations.


Senate Bills 10 & 25 would offer a common sense tax credit to encourage Missouri locations to be selected as venues hosting these types of amateur events that would otherwise take place in a different state.  In fact, the legislation stipulates that another state must be in consideration for the event to qualify for the state tax credit.  With guarantees that other states would be in competition, the Republican-led legislature decided in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion that Missouri needed this tax credit incentive to land these events.  The credit rewards those who are bringing revenue, tourism, jobs and notable events to our State while at the same time containing significant taxpayer protections.  The measure was “Truly Agreed and Finally Passed” this week, meaning it now only awaits the Governor’s signature to become law. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Streamlining Government Adds Transparency and Enhances Service

This week the Missouri House Third Read and Passed two pieces of legislation that are designed to further streamline the political process. These acts also offer solutions to the unintended consequences associated with term limits and initiative petitions that have been revealed over time.

On Thursday HJR 4, sponsored by Rep. Neth (R-17) was given final approval. HJR 4, if approved by the voters would change the way legislators could serve their terms of office in the General Assembly. In keeping with the voters’ wishes from when term limits were enacted, the Joint Resolution maintains the total limit of 16 years that a citizen could serve in the General Assembly; however it makes one significant change so that a legislator may divide those years between the House and Senate however they decide. Furthermore, it prohibits legislators from running if they do not have enough years left to fill the full term. For example; if someone has already served 14 years in the General Assembly, they could not run for a four-year Senate term, but they could run for a final two-year term in the House.

As term limits currently stand, a legislator has a limited amount of time to not only learn the process but also learn the history of how and why certain legislation either makes it or not. In the legislative process, knowledge is power—especially institutional knowledge. Unfortunately time has shown that much of the institutional knowledge no longer lies with the legislators, but instead it lies with the high-paid lobbyists of special interest groups and entrenched bureaucrats. That knowledge and power belongs to the people through their elected representatives. HJR 4 would enable legislators who wish to continue effectively serving their constituents to do so in the same amount of time they are already afforded, but not be distracted by looming term limits for each body.

Another piece of legislation that received final approval this week was HCS HB 117, sponsored by Rep. Dugger (R-141). HCS HB 117 streamlines the process by adding transparency and accountability to the initiative petition process—further protecting the people’s right to petition their government. In recent years, the initiative petition process has been infiltrated by out-of-state special interest groups with unlimited funds to skirt the legislative process in Missouri.

Since 2004, the number of initiative petitions filed has skyrocketed from merely 16 to over 140 in 2012. Of the petitions filed in 2012, 61 were submitted by three different groups and they only covered three different topics. This is a new tactic being used—submit multiple versions of the same measure hoping one will stick. This practice floods the streets with wildly varying information on the same topic, is an abuse of the system and creates costly unnecessary work wasting valuable state time and resources. It is unacceptable. In addition, the number of lawsuits involving initiative petitions has skyrocketed over the past six years, from four in 2006 to fifty in 2012.

This legislation improves transparency and addresses fraud by requiring the following:

·        A copy of the Statement of Committee Organization filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission would be submitted with a proposed initiative petition

·        Proposed initiatives would be posted on the Secretary of State’s website within two business days of filing

·        A public comment period would be held after initial certification

·        The Joint Committee on Legislative Research would hold a public hearing solely for the purpose of taking public testimony within 30 days of certification to place the measure on the ballot

·        Signature gatherers must disclose “paid” or “volunteer” status

·        Prohibits those convicted of forgery from gathering signatures

·        Making those who knowingly sign a name other than their own guilty of a misdemeanor

Increasing transparency and stopping fraud are vital to the success of the governmental process. The citizens of this great state deserve to know what is happening and who is responsible for doing it.

Improving the Economy & Creating More Jobs in Missouri

This week the Missouri House perfected and printed several pieces of legislation relating to economic development.  The Republican-led legislature continues to look at measures that will facilitate the growth of our economy and encourage the creation of more jobs for our fellow Missourians.

Supporting Missouri’s Export Industry

Did you know that Missouri exports over $14 billion worth of goods each year according to the most recent estimates?  Our state, regional, and local economies literally depend on the ability of Missouri businesses to find foreign markets to sell items grown and produced on Missouri farms or in Missouri manufacturing centers.  When our local businesses thrive, they employ our neighbors, they invest in their family’s future, and they help fund critical local public services – roads, schools, public health initiatives, firemen, police officers, and the like.


It’s no secret that the best way to help someone is to make sure they have a job – and our exporters are doing great work to ensure the jobs are there.  Sometimes, though, our state gets a little in the way with burdensome taxes that inhibit the full potential of our private sector.  Your Republican-led legislature has taken notice and is taking steps to help get out of the way and encourage the private sector to do what it does best – provide a strong quality of life for Missourians.


There are a variety of proposals before the House that are aimed at helping our freight forwarders, those who get our products from Missouri soil to their final destination worldwide, realize their full potential.  We’re taking steps now to make sure we make the smartest and most economical decisions that will remove barriers to exporting, support Missouri farm and manufacturing industries, and encourage prosperity.


House Moves to Incentivize Data Storage Industry

In the age of computers and mass storage of information, a new industry has emerged that has a strong presence across the United States, employs thousands, and is proving incredibly beneficial to local, state, and national economies.  That industry is the Data Storage Industry and as the name implies they house servers which store massive amounts of information for businesses, not-for-profits, and government entities.  They are basically incredibly high-tech warehouses. 


What’s the House of Representatives’ Proposal?


The Republican-led legislature moved to allow a state and local sales and use tax exemption for qualifying investments from the private sector.  There’s a catch, though, designed to safeguard the public’s dollars: not a single exemption will be allowed until the private investment is made and the exemption is limited to the net fiscal benefit of the state over the next 10 year period.  It’s a great way to get companies to come to Missouri while guaranteeing the investment. 


Why Would We Want Them?


The industry currently is one that is valued at $30 billion in the US, $100 billion worldwide, and it’s growing at a remarkably fast pace – 8% annually.  That means if we can get their business in Missouri, they’ll not only add jobs up front but will continue to do so in the long-term. 


Who Else Would Benefit?


The investment in the facilities required would alone be a boon to the local economy, so cities and counties would stand to see increased economic activity.  The construction costs are $1,300 per square foot, so the construction companies and their employees stand to gain tremendously.  Keep in mind that your average warehouse construction costs are only $50 per square foot, so the difference is stark and significant.  Beyond the initial construction jobs, the industry employs tech-savvy employees and the average salary is $75,000 per year.  If Missouri had only a 5% share of the industry, that would mean $56 million in annual payroll and the benefits like health insurance that come with it.  


Is Missouri Even A Viable Candidate?


Yes.  Our low cost and abundant energy – a major consideration for the industry – makes us an attractive state to set up shop.  On top of that, we have the availability of fiber communications and strong IT talent in our workforce.  We must act quickly though, as our neighboring states are already incentivizing the industry.  Iowa, Nebraska, and Oklahoma have already landed major investments from companies like Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google.


Missouri’s Angel Investors Play a Big Role in Economy

Each year the private sector takes huge risks on emerging business ideas.  The successful ones have huge payoffs for everyone.  They create new jobs, economies grow, and local and state governments benefit from increased revenues and fewer of their citizens relying on social safety net systems.  But “Angel Investors”, folks who invest their hard earned money in new business ideas, sometimes pick a losing product or market.  Missouri’s Republican-led legislature knows that the private sector is better-suited to handle many of the problems a society might face.  However, if the risk is too great the private sector reacts by holding back its potential.  We’ve taken notice and we think we have a strong proposal to encourage angel investors to take risks and support continued job creation, investment, and growth.


Representative Noel Torpey (R-Lee’s Summit) has filed HB 191 which affords a small tax credit to qualified angel investments.  The seed capital that the investors provide then flows to the new business to take their product or service idea to the market so it can be successfully sold.  It’s a small tax credit that will have a large impact.  When businesses are successful, they increase payrolls, they provide health coverage and other insurances, and they and their employees pay taxes.  On top of that, they provide an avenue for increased consumer spending which catalyzes even more growth.  In the long run the small investment that the State commits will have exponential growth potential.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Grading Missouri Schools Vlog

Rep. Flanigan's Legislation to Help Joplin Moving Forward

The House took a great step forward in helping Joplin’s local economy recover from the devastating May 22, 2011 tornado that cut through a large swath of the Southwest Missouri town.  Though the bill is difficult to explain due to the technical nature of Tax Increment Finance law, the basic idea is as follows:

With approval from local governing officials, redevelopers are incentivized to build certain projects in certain areas - in this case those affected by the disaster. A portion of the new tax revenue from sales and property taxes that the local government would have received from the growth that this redevelopment causes is then diverted to help the developer cover some of the costs of construction.

This legislation will add future state revenues to the mix, reinforcing the state's commitment to Joplin. The city and state benefit by revitalization and the new tax revenue they receive from that revitalization, the developer benefits by having some of their risk mitigated, and the citizens benefit by having a faster redevelopment of the town.

When certain areas are devastated by disaster, the entire system of governance, economics, and public safety is at risk. Joplin held together in the moments, days, weeks, and now many months since the May 22, 2011, tornado. In fact, we took great pride in taking care of one another. It is my hope that this legislation will serve to compliment the already indelible spirit of Jasper County's economic hub.

House Republicans Stand With Veterans

Missourians are very proud and mindful of the service and sacrifice of our men and women committed to protecting our freedoms and our nation through service in our Armed Forces.  Throughout our Nation’s history, untold millions have voluntarily answered this call of duty.  In one way or another, they have all paid a huge price for their love of freedom – some paying the ultimate price. 


While we can never fully compensate our returning veterans for their sacrifice, we are committed to doing everything we can to provide the support they need and deserve.  In the face of last year’s revenue shortfalls, House Republicans were able to ink a deal in HB 1731 to provide a secure funding stream for the Veterans Commission Capital Improvements Trust Fund – saving potential closures of Veterans Homes.  We are truly committed to providing for our veterans and active service men and women here in Missouri.  This year we are continuing with the tradition of support for our veterans in the passage of HJR 8.


HJR 8, sponsored by Rep. Sheila Solon (R-31), proposes a constitutional amendment requiring the State Lottery Commission to develop and begin selling a “Veterans Lottery Ticket” by July 1, 2015.  The net proceeds from the sale of these tickets would be deposited into the Veterans Commission Capital Improvements Trust Fund to provide vital services to our veterans.   This legislation has received resounding support and no opposition. 


There is no greater sacrifice than placing your life on the line in service to your country and the protection of freedom.  We shall forever be indebted to, and humbled by, our veterans.  While the debt we owe them can never be repaid, we shall never waiver in our attempt.

Protecting Rural Missourians

The Missouri House passed legislation this week sending a strong message about our support of your right to farm here in Missouri. We are fully committed to standing in defense of the traditions, values and rights we Missourians have held dear for generations. HCS HJR 11 & 7, sponsored by Rep. Bill Reiboldt (R-160), would approve a constitutional amendment giving voters the opportunity to make their voices heard on this important issue in the next statewide election. It will allow all of us who value our agrarian traditions to stand in opposition to the radical animal rights groups like PETA and HSUS when they assault our freedoms with measures like Prop B.


HCS HJR 11 & 7 is a common-sense measure protecting Missourians from the encroachment of out-of-state special interest groups. As the national animal rights lobby continues to partner with the entrenched bureaucrats in President Obama’s Department of Agriculture, it is important to remember we can take actions at the state level to protect ourselves. I am proud to join with my colleagues to defend the traditions passed down from generation to generation in Missouri’s fields, backyard gardens, and thick stands of timber for more than 190 years.


As we engage in this effort to protect the rights of farmers, it is important to understand one of the most powerful weapons in the war on rural Missouri has been the authority of federal and state agencies to put new ‘rules’ in place. These ‘rules’ are not enacted by the legislature, but have the force and effect of law. For example, the Missouri Department of Agriculture could pass a ‘rule’ limiting the number of cattle a farmer could own, or a ‘rule’ limiting how many acres of corn a farmer could plant.


It is so important to protect the right to farm in the Missouri Constitution. While state ‘rule-making’ authorities may be able to skirt the law, they cannot infringe on the rights granted in the Constitution.


State and federal agencies will continue to expand their powers to legislate through the ‘rule-making’ process until we push back. In the Missouri House we are proactively working to safeguard the rights of all Missourians whose life and love is farming.