News from the state Capitol

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday

As the summer begins to wind down, parents inevitably turn to preparations to send their children back to school. A big part of that process is purchasing the supplies and clothes their kids will need as they head back to the classroom. Fortunately, Missouri has a three-day back-to-school sales tax holiday that exempts everything from school supplies to computers from sales tax.

Approved by the legislature in 2003, the three-day period allows parents to buy school-related items such as clothing, school supplies and computers without having to pay the state sales tax of 4.225 percent. In some cases, local municipalities have also chosen to honor the holiday, which means parents in these areas will be able to forego local sales tax as well. For a complete list of the cities and counties that have chosen not to participate, please click the following link: http://dor.mo.gov/business/sales/taxholiday/school/

This is a great way for Missourians to stretch their dollars by making the cost of going back to school a little more affordable. Parents are encouraged to take advantage of the holiday that begins Friday, Aug. 7 at 12:01 a.m. and runs through Sunday, Aug. 9. It's important to note that the school supply tax exemption has a limit of $50 per purchase, while the clothing exemption has a $100 limit and the computer tax exemption has a limit of $3,500.

Legislature to Investigate Planned Parenthood

As the nation was stunned by allegations that Planned Parenthood may be selling tissues and organs from aborted fetuses for profit, Missouri quickly joined a long list of states that plan to thoroughly investigate these disturbing claims. In the Missouri House, the Ways and Means Committee will work with the Children and Families Committee to take a close look at the actions of Planned Parenthood in Missouri in an effort to illegal activities are not taking place in the Show-Me State.

The public outcry against Planned Parenthood began after an anti-abortion group released video showing a Planned Parenthood executive discuss how the organization disposes of the tissues and organs from aborted fetuses. Pro-life activists claim the video proves that Planned Parenthood is selling the tissues for profit, which is illegal. Planned Parenthood claims the allegations are not true and any costs associated with the tissues are there to cover expenses for transportation, etc.

Now, the House will join the Missouri Senate and Attorney General Chris Koster, who also are investigating the allegations against the national organization that also happens to be Missouri's only abortion provider. The multiple investigations will look at every aspect of the organization and how it conducts its business in Missouri. The goal is to determine if Planned Parenthood has broken any laws in the state, and to take appropriate action if it has.

Medicaid Expansion Continues to Have Consequences in Other States

During recent years, legislators in states like Missouri have remained steadfast in their refusal to take federal dollars to expand Medicaid. Their argument from the beginning has been that, even with federal funding, growing the size of Medicaid would not be sustainable financially in the long-term. They felt the best way to help Missouri's most vulnerable citizens was by keeping Medicaid at a financially responsible and sustainable level so that it can continue to provide health care to those most in need.

Today, states that have refused to expand Medicaid are pointing to the problems faced by those that did expand as examples of why it was the right decision to not expand. To date, more than a dozen states that opted to expand Medicaid have seen their enrollments greatly exceed projections. Kentucky saw more than 300,000 residents sign up, which was double the number projected and even greater than what was predicted through 2021. The end result is that the state will take on tens of millions in additional unexpected costs and those costs will climb into the hundreds of millions in the years to come. Other states like California, Washington and Oregon are facing similar financial challenges because of Medicaid expansion.

Currently, thirty states have expanded Medicaid so that adults with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible. The federal government presently pays for all of the costs of expansion, but will begin lowering its share of the financial burden so that states pay for 10 percent of the costs by 2020.

Legislators Ask Governor to Arm the National Guard

Following the tragic shooting in Tennessee that took the lives of five soldiers, legislators in Missouri called on the governor to allow members of the National Guard to be armed. Lawmakers stressed the importance of allowing National Guard members to defend themselves and their families on American soil. They also noted that governors in several other states, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, Indiana, Texas, Florida, and Louisiana, quickly moved to allow the members of the National Guard in those states to be armed.

Access Missouri Scholarship Funding Increased

It was good news in recent weeks for families with children headed to college as the governor released funding to allow for more scholarship money. The governor released funding from the fiscal year 2015 budget that will allow scholarship amounts for the Access Missouri program to increase. The maximum award will increase for students who attend two-year schools to $850 from the current level of $660. For students who attend four-year colleges, the amount will increase from $1,500 to $1,850.

With the release of the funding, total state aid to the Access Missouri program is now at $73.7 million. The program is a needs-based scholarship to help students in low-income families. It provides scholarship assistance to approximately 50,000 students each year.

Ensuring Fairness in the Fee Office Bidding Process (HB 137

A piece of legislation now set to become law will make an important change to the way the state considers businesses or groups to run local license offices. In effect, it will end a pay-for-play scheme where the state revenue department gives preference to bids that offer the state a kickback.

The goal with the bill is to put an end the games played by the Department of Revenue with the state's license offices. The sponsor of the bill has said the current system is a pay-for-play scheme that doesn't treat well-intentioned businesses and charitable organizations fairly. This bill that is now set to become law provides a much-needed level of fairness that will ensure the competition in the bidding process is based on professionalism, experience and customer service.

To accomplish this goal, the bill prohibits the Commissioner of the Office of Administration from awarding points on a request for proposal for a contract license office to a bidder for a return-to-the-state provision offer. It's important to note as well that there is currently a lawsuit pending filed by fee offices that believe the current system significantly disadvantages experienced license office operators.

As always, it is an honor to serve the good folks of the 153rd District. If you would like to discuss any issue, please call 573-751-1066 or you can e-mail me at steve.cookson@house.mo.gov.

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