Workforce Standards & Development - Chairman
Property, Casualty, & Life Insurance
Select Committee on Labor & Industrial Relations
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What a whirlwind the last week of session turned out to be! The final few days are always jam packed with bills to finalize and there is almost some kind of distraction to deal with but I think this year will go down as one of the best and one of the worst! On Tuesday History was made again when the Senate passed my Right to Work bill. They began discussion at 10:00 A.M. and almost immediately a filibuster was initiated. For a little over 8 hours the Senate was regaled with all sorts of meaningless information from a handful of Senators who held the floor and talked about everything except the Legislation regarding Right to Work. Finally, at about 6:30 P.M., a procedure known as "Calling the Previous Question" or PQ, was initiated and debate was halted. A vote was then taken and the bill passed by a vote of 21 to 13. This set the stage for the House to take up the issue for it's final passage. Unfortunately, the use of the PQ angered the Senate Democrats who then refused to consider any other bills Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. The only thing they allowed to come to the Senate floor was a transfer of Federal money to the Medicaid fund. Fortunately, most of the legislation allowed to die because of a high-level temper tantrum can be brought back next session.
On Wednesday, following revelations that he engaged in an exchange of inappropriate text messages with a Capitol intern, Representative John Diehl Jr. resigned his Speaker position and his State Representative office. I fully support his decision to leave office immediately to focus on repairing relationships with his wife and family and to allow the Missouri House to return to its legislative obligations. Floor Leader Todd Richardson from Butler County was elected to the Speaker position by acclimation on Thursday evening and was sworn in on Friday morning.
One of the most significant things the General assembly has done this year is welfare reform. Last week we overrode the Governor's veto and adopted a meaningful bill addressing TANF. The "T" in TANF stands for "Temporary". Our bill has the objective of reducing the amount of time a person is eligible for assistance. We have failed in the past to accomplish this and, as a result, have ranked dead last in the country in welfare reform. In order to escape poverty, one must take a job and participate in the workforce. The system restructure that we have enacted reinvests the savings in childcare, job training, and transportation services to help people get back into the workplace. Most Americans, (83%) believe that there should be a work requirement for welfare recipients. Missouri has allowed a two-year period to elapse before requiring recipients to look for a job. The new law stipulates immediate compliance with work requirements. We have had a lifetime limit of 60 months eligibility for welfare. That limit has been dropped to 45 months. There are many built in safeguards to keep families from suffering the loss of benefits but this measure is a good start on providing a hand up instead of a hand out.
Last week at the Capitol surely had its ups and downs. Because we have been working steadily since the beginning of session, there are scores of bills on the calendar for discussion and passage. The Leadership team prioritized our work early to get the largest and most controversial issues completed early. Those bills have made the trip to the Senate and are now coming back for final passage. The Senate bills are also coming over to us for our amendments. Many of the smaller and single-issue bills can simply be added to similar legislation that has already gone through the process. Of course, the Senate can always request the bill to go to conference if they don't like something about it. We have the same privilege with House bills that the Senate amends. Normally, this give and take is a good way to resolve differences and it does make for a better-finished product. The other benefit to getting our priority bills done early is to send the finished product to the Governor's desk for his signature or veto early enough that we have time for an override if we disagree with his veto. This is the situation we find ourselves in with SB24. SB24 is the welfare reform bill and its intention is to encourage people to return to work. Only about 15% of Missouri's welfare population is meeting current work requirements, which puts us close to the bottom in National standings. The bill provides for almost four years of assistance, typically about $500 per month in food stamps and $125 in cash. There is also an intervention system where State caseworkers meet face-to-face with people and give them an additional six weeks to comply. If people still fail to meet their work requirements, the benefits would be cut in half for an additional ten weeks. This proactive reform cuts limits from five years to four years and is following the lead of many other states who realize that the programs were expanded as the economy worsened several years ago, but now we need to encourage people to go back into the work force. The resources we save by this move can be reinvested into childcare, education, transportation assistance and job training for families in need.
Right to Work Hearing
As we predicted, the budget is completed and referred to the Governor. There was high drama most of the week as Senator Schaeffer kept refusing to compromise, but finally in an all night conference committee Wednesday night (and Thursday morning), a bargain was struck and we had a budget. It only took us 4 hours in the House to finalize it and send it to the Senate for their final blessing. The work that began last June is completed and we have submitted a budget of a little over $26 Billion dollars to operate the great state of Missouri for another year. I think you might like to know what it's going to be spent on so here goes! I'll round these figures by a few hundred thousand to make this easier:
* Public Debt $62 Million
* Elementary and Secondary Education $5.8 Billion (An increase of $84 Million and $34 Million more than the Governor recommended) Common Core was defunded
* Higher Education $1.3 Billion
* General Revenue $510 Million
* Office of Administration $303 Million
* Employee Benefits $934 Million
* Agriculture $42 Million
* Natural Resources $560 Million
* Conservation $149 Million
* Economic development $362 Million
* Insurance and Professional registration $41 Million
* Labor and Industrial Relations $191 Million
* Public Safety $735 Million
* Corrections $710 Million
* Mental Health $1.8 Billion
* Health $1.3 Billion
* Social Services $8.6 Billion (Cut $210 Million in Administrative costs)
* Elected Officials $124 Million (Rejected raises for Judges and members of the General Assembly)
* Judiciary $208 Million
The Budget is completed but there is still plenty of negotiating to be done. We increased nearly every category over the Governor's recommended amounts. Most of our cuts were to administration costs as we feel that most departments are top heavy. The Governor now has the option of signing or vetoing and of course, he can do the "dreaded withholds" We do have override ability thanks to the passage of Amendment 10 in August but there assuredly is more drama coming. There are now only 3 weeks left in session but they are going to be jam packed with action! There are a lot of bills left in the system to be dealt with. Some of them will make it but some are destined to be next year's topics.
Dirk Deaton and Paula and David Brodie were visitors at the Capitol last week. It's always great to have people from home show up. I have sure enjoyed the visits from our schools this year also. More next week, until then I am and remain in your service.