Opinion

Whirlwind of activity at session's end

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their support over the last 4 1/2 months. My first legislative session was a success. Your state Legislature is made up of many good folks, and I was able to use my business experience to help make our government more efficient and pass quality legislation.

The last two weeks of the legislative session included a whirlwind of activity. We passed a fiscally responsible budget ahead of the General Assembly's constitutional deadline that includes increased funding for Missouri's K-12 schools and the state's public higher education institutions. Approximately $24.7 billion will fund the state's critical departments and programs with passage of House Bills 1-13, which make up Missouri's operating budget that runs from July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014. Some of the highlights from this year's budget include:

$66 million in increased funding for the state's K-12 school foundation formula, making the amount available to Elementary and Secondary Education $3 billion total.

$25 million increase in funding for Missouri's public higher education institutions.

An additional $85.5 million in federal funds for disaster funding for the state.

$73.2 million to provide funding for Missouri's seven veterans' homes.

$43.7 million increase in funding for the Department of Mental Health and Department of Health and Senior Services for utilization of their programs and services.

$66.2 million in additional funding to maintain Missouri's Medicaid program.

Additionally, my colleagues and I sent to the governor three supplemental bills, House Bills 17, 18 and 19, which will allocate money for capital improvement projects, some of which would be used to maintain, repair, replace and improve state buildings and facilities.

The Legislature also debated and passed several quality measures designed to place our future generations on the right educational path, keep quality health care professionals in our state, and boost revenue that will support important state departments and programs.

Just days before the conclusion of the 2013 legislative session, Senate Bill 210 received much debate but failed to reach the governor's desk for his signature. The legislation would have required the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to hold public meetings in each congressional district on Common Core State Standards, a set of academic expectations for English and math that define the knowledge and skills students need to succeed in college or other post-secondary education training and careers. These public meetings would have answered citizens questions regarding the implementation of this education standard, a national standard that could result in the loss of local district control. Without much-needed legislative oversight, citizens would not have all the information on the table before the policy is implemented.

Legislation on its way to the state's highest executive official is House Bill 253, a bill that would phase in an individual business income deduction, reduce corporate income tax rates and change how sales and use taxes are collected in our state. The legislation is the first reduction of state income taxes in nearly 90 years. The bill was crafted in a way that would maintain the individual and corporate income tax cuts ONLY if state revenues continue to increase. This bill will create more jobs by attracting more companies to Missouri, therefore creating more revenue for our state. We must take necessary, thoughtful steps in order to compete with neighboring states that have gained in the past from Missouri's loss.

The Senate also delivered to the governor a measure that fixes our state's insolvent Second Injury Fund. With $28 million in unpaid obligations to Missouri citizens who have received judgments in their cases and an additional 30,000 cases still pending, the Legislature needed to take action this year and get this fund up and working again for our state's citizens. Senate Bill 1 creates a funding mechanism that bolsters the Second Injury Fund when usual collections do not meet the fund's demands. The measure establishes a priority for paying fund liabilities and no longer allows the fund the pay for permanent partial disabilities. In addition, the legislation exclusively covers occupational disease under Workers' Compensation laws and creates expanded benefits for certain occupational diseases due to toxic exposure.

Some of the issues I was involved in this year dealt with utility rates, solid waste management districts, and funding for our community colleges. There were proposals that would allow investor-owned-utilities to add surcharges to everyone's bills in order to pay for infrastructure replacements and updates upfront. I thought this was unfair to every ratepayer in Missouri, especially our seniors and families, who are on a fixed income. The utility groups also failed to give an example of what they would spend our money on.

The funding for our solid waste management districts was also in jeopardy. These districts subgrant state money to excellent organizations like our sheltered workshops. I visited many sheltered workshops during the campaign and was impressed by the quality work and positive attitude of the workers. They are a great example to our young people about the importance of hard work and a positive work ethic. The solid waste districts also promote recycling throughout our community, and most of these facilities would not be able to operate without this financial assistance.

The Senate Education Committee, of which I am a member, also worked to protect funding for our community colleges. A new proposal for higher education funding would allocate more dollars to institutions based on a number of factors and would bring Missouri's colleges in line with similar institutions in surrounding states. Enrollment in community colleges has been on the rise, and we have an excellent higher education institution in Three Rivers College in Southeast Missouri. It prepares students for the workforce and those interested in continuing their education at a four-year institution.

While this legislative session has come to a close, I will continue working on your behalf. My office will be open and fully staffed. Please call my chief of staff Kyle Aubuchon or my legislative assistant Courtney Lauer with any questions, comments, and concerns you may have or if we can be of assistance. Thank you again for the opportunity to serve you, and I look forward to visiting folks across the district in the upcoming months. Our seniors, veterans, children, schools, and businesses are very important, and I promise to protect their best interests and yours.

Around the

District and Capitol Visitors

Clarkton Elementary at the State Capitol on May 7.

Fourth grade students from Clarkton Elementary in Dunklin County made their way to Jefferson City at the beginning of the month to visit the Capitol building. I enjoy visits from classes throughout the district and hope all students have the opportunity to see their State Capitol firsthand.

I also met with many sheriffs from around the district who visited the State Capitol and stopped to speak with myself and other elected officials. I appreciated the conversation I had with these sheriffs, and look forward to working with these and other individuals on important county and law enforcement issues next year.

I also had the privilege to visit with students and staff at T.S. Hill Middle School. I enjoyed visiting with Principal Scott Kruse, and learning about the exciting projects and programs educators are involved with in order to provide our young folk with a bright future.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all of our area's recent high school and college graduates. You should be proud of your accomplishments, and I hope you carry your success down whatever path you may take next in your life. I was able to attend the Tree Rivers College graduation in Poplar Bluff. It was exciting to see so many family and friends turn out and share their support for the new graduates.

http://www.senate.mo.gov/media/13info/Libla/columns/images/HenryMillerHouse.jpg

Henry Miller House,

located in Bloomfield.

The oldest house in Stoddard County and one of the longest-standing structures in Southeast Missouri was recently added to the list of Missouri's Most Endangered Historic Places for 2013. The Henry Miller House, located in Bloomfield, was constructed between 1845-1849 for its namesake, who was a civic leader and prominent merchant during the early swampland reclamation movement in Southeast Missouri. Miller was also involved in the creation and promotion of the Cairo & Fulton Railroad Company in the 1850s. Historic places on this endangered list help call attention to threatened historic resources in Missouri. Places are added to the list for a variety of reasons, including deterioration, neglect, encroachment, potential demolition or a combination of various threats. To read more information about the Henry Miller House or to see a complete list of Missouri's Most Endangered Historic Places for 2013, visit www.preservemo.org.

For more information on the topics included in this legislative column, please call our office at (573) 751-4843 or visit our website at www.senate.mo.gov/libla, where you will also be able to see a list of my Senate bills filed this session. Thank you for the opportunity to serve you.

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