Workforce Development & Workplace Safety - Chairman
Joint Committee on Child Abuse & Neglect - Vice-Chair
Professional Registration & Licensing
Subcommittee on Child Abuse Reporting & Investigating - Chairman
Issue Development Standing Committee on Cowboy Caucus on Agricultural Issues
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As promised, last week was a big week. Many of the bills that were started in committee nine and ten weeks ago had finally made their way through committees, past fiscal reviews, and through the rules committee, approved by the Speaker and made it onto the House calendar. There, the Floor Leader makes his choices on which bills he wants to debate and in which order and the fun begins! He usually starts the day off with a fairly simple proposition that isn't likely to get too much opposition and gradually works up to the real doozies that take an hour or so of heated discussion. We had our fair share of doozies last week. Common Core has been gradually gaining increasing opposition in some states and Missouri is no exception. One major objection was student data collection (that had nothing to do with education), another was the provision that each student needed computers and this would create financial burden in some districts, and yet another was that this would take away local control and put Missouri Schools at higher risk of future federal intrusion. After hours of committee and sub committee work, a compromise was reached. HB 1490 creates work groups starting in 2014 whose job it will be to create new academic standards to replace common core standards in order to achieve an optimal learning environment for both students and teachers. All interested parties to education in the state will have a part in the selection of the work groups. The groups must convene by October 1, 2014 and will present the results of their work to the state board of education within one year. Both public and educational input will be sought by the board and by the 2017-2017 school year will be implemented. The newly implemented common core standards will be used until implementation of the Missouri core standard.
I can't imagine anything more ridiculous for the EPA to try to regulate than wood stoves! They already have guaranteed huge increases in electric bills with their war on coal. Currently 85% of the power generated in the Midwest is derived from coal. We are now going to be forced to replace the cleanest coal burning plants in the WORLD with natural gas fired facilities. This immensely expensive endeavor is guaranteed to do two things. It will raise the cost of natural gas, which many people heat with, and raise the cost of electricity, which is the second most popular heat source. And, oh by the way, that dirty old coal? It's being shipped to China and India where it's burned in plants with NO scrubbers. What's left, you ask? Well, we can always use the wood stove since most of us in Southwest Missouri have one in our homes and there is an ample supply of dead wood available at a reasonable cost if we don't want to cut our own. Hold on there Pilgrim! The EPA is now saying that wood stoves are contributing to the CO2 levels and we need to eliminate them! Have we lost our minds? Scientists and mathematicians agree that the yearlong eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Pacific placed more CO2 in the atmosphere than mankind has since the beginning of time. One good forest fire in California contributes more than all the wood stoves in Missouri since Daniel Boone! Where in the world are people with common sense? I'm proud to say that a few of them are in the Missouri House of Representatives! Last week by a vote of 127 to 21 we passed a bill that would prevent the EPA from enacting any rules to prohibit Missourian's ability to heat their homes with wood. With Senate approval and the Governor's signature, this will become law.
Last week was busy, confused, productive, and nerve wracking. Outside of that, no problems! The big challenge was the passing of the House Budget. It is contained in 13 separate bills and each one has to be debated and voted on. The House Rules provide for each side to have a total of 6 hours of timed debate. We got the job done, but not without some spirited exchanges on things like Medicaid expansion and additional funding for food stamps etc. The total budget was 26.6 Billion dollars. We passed a "no games" balanced budget that provides for a surplus fund if Missouri takes in more money than expected. The surplus would go for education and one-time expenditures. Between the general revenue figures and the surplus fund expectations, we appropriated a $278 million dollar increase for the Foundation Formula. There was an appropriation for $8.2 million for the preschool program and $3.5 million for new reading programs. We expanded the Bright Flight scholarships to cover seniors who score in the top 3% on the SAT or ACT tests with scholarships and forgivable student loans. To cut unnecessary costs in healthcare, we provided for a fraud detection system, Asthma education, Preventive dental care, coordinated healthcare for foster children, and coverage for rehab therapy. We also eliminated the developmental disability waitlist, added money to speed up newborn blood screening, and help for newborns to receive early treatments. To encourage economic growth we added $5 million to the Missouri Technology Corporation and $4.5 million in matching funds to early stage business development grants. The budget process is always a year long process and is very much a bi-partisan effort. We passed the bills with large margins, sometimes unanimous votes. The process is far from over. We sent our finished bills to the Senate where they will have their own debate and offer amendments. We then will go to conference with the Senate and work out the differences. The important thing to remember is that for any amendment that increases spending, an amendment to decrease another budget item for the same amount must be offered. The budget must remain in balance. The other important responsibility we have is to provide good oversight. If we don't pay attention to how the Departments spend their allocations and insure that the appropriations go for what they were intended, we invite problems.
Last week was our Legislative "spring break". Normally one would think that a spring break would mean vacation, or leisure time, or a trip to Branson, etc. Nope! Jane had me clearing brush, cutting dead trees, cleaning up the river bank, well, you get the picture. Now I'm not claiming spousal abuse....yet... but I sure stayed busy for the last week! I do have to admit that the spring clean up was a welcome respite from Legislative duties. When we return we will begin the second half of this years session. We do have plenty of work ahead of us. We will begin with the budget. The budget process began last year at the end of session. The budget committee worked all summer comparing needs to projected revenue and coming up with the consensus revenue figures that are the starting point. When session begins the various appropriation committees hold public hearings to take testimony from each department and determine what they think they will need for the next year. The committees then recommend a figure to the chairman for inclusion in the budget. This process involves thousands of different budget lines and adds up to around 8 billion dollars. About 38% of the budget goes to education and over 40% is allocated to social services. That only leaves about 20% for everything else. We are forced to pass a balanced budget which is a great thing. That fact keeps us a triple a credit rating and only 7 other states join us with balancing the budgets! The budget chairman has now collated the numbers and put the budget in bill form ready to be debated on the House Floor. There will be some amendments offered but if a member offers an amendment to increase a budget line, they must also offer an amendment showing where the additional funds will come from. This process keeps the budget in balance and keeps us from adding dollars to the budget that we don't have.