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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With the November election just a few weeks away, I thought it might be a good time to explain the Amendments on the ballot. There are four issues for consideration. Three of the amendments were voted in by the Legislature and one by the initiative petition process. I'll share my thoughts on that process later.
Amendment Two would allow relevant evidence of prior criminal acts to be admissible in prosecutions for crimes of a sexual nature involving a victim under the age of 18. Currently in Missouri, if a person is charged with this type of crime, any prior acts would not be submitted to the judge or jury in regard to their past conduct. This amendment, if passed, would allow a judge to decide if these are relevant and reliable facts and allow the prosecutor to admit them as evidence. With my feelings about child abuse, I don't have to tell you how I voted.
Amendment Three is the initiative petition dealing with ending teacher tenure for new hires and requiring teacher evaluations by testing. The House defeated this issue twice in 2013 because we didn't like the idea that a majority of the evaluation would be based on standardized testing. Like Common Core, this takes local school boards out of the decision process.
Veto session of 2014 is now in the history books. I drove up on Monday for a special fundraiser that evening. The purpose of the fundraiser, which was held at the Capitol, was to raise money to pay for an assessment of the condition of the artwork throughout the building. Our Capitol building is adorned with some of the most beautiful murals and stained glass work that you'll ever see. A Capitol Commission has been formed to assess and start much needed repair and restoration of our building and along with that, make sure our artwork is preserved and protected. We welcome groups of any size to come to Jefferson City to tour what is arguably the most beautiful State capitol in the Nation. My office will help with arranging tours and accommodations and I'll buy lunch!
On Tuesday I held my monthly Child Abuse hearing. We started work on evaluating the role of Judges and Juvenile Officers. We had a very informational discussion with two Judges, one from Dunklin County and one from Cole County. It was our intent to have both urban and rural views represented and they did a great job of explaining their views. There are currently court cases questioning the constitutionality of our Juvenile Office system and I wanted to start a process whereby we could be prepared to make changes if the rulings go against us. The committee had some great questions for the judges and I think we are off to a good start.
At 9:30 on Tuesday evening, we caucused to decide what we were going to try to override. Having a super majority doesn't mean that we can always get the 109 votes necessary to override the Governor's vetoes. We identified 11 House Bills and 12 Senate Bills that we would attempt to change. All these issues had been passed with bi-partisan majorities during regular session. It was agreed that any tax bills that had large fiscal notes were probably better left until next session when we could review them better.
The drought is over! At least at my house, we've gotten over 6 inches of rain and the river is running normal again. The down side is that we've got a little mud to deal with where we're trying to build our house. Oh well, we're never happy are we?
I was in Jefferson City last week for a roundtable discussion led by Representative David Wood dealing with issues on termination of parental rights. Representative Wood is advocating a pathway for faster termination. He feels that in some cases it would be better for the child if the process could be expedited. One proposal he had was that perhaps there should be a way that a mother could give a child up for adoption and still be able to visit occasionally. Another thought was that grandparents would be able to visit a child that had been adopted. There were some judges present who also had some interesting views on the subject. The Division of Children's service was well represented and there were several present who worked in the Juvenile Offices. As you would expect, there were as many opinions as there were people present. Representative Wood was pressing for legislation changing current statutes but the Judges present were advising caution on that approach. As in most children's issues, the devil is in the details. I advised that we should look carefully at the current statutes and see if the judges were given the flexibility to make decisions based on the circumstances of individual cases. If statutes do not allow that flexibility, it would be much easier to add that to current law than try to come up with a "one size fits all" bill. This idea needs a lot of thought before we proceed, as there are always unintended consequences.
Last week was sure a lot quieter than the previous week! Things seem to have settled down in Ferguson and hopefully it will stay that way. If there were some way to keep the outsiders and agitators out and let the justice system handle the incident investigation without all the media interference and speculation, we could find out the facts and bring some kind of closure to the situation. Meanwhile, there hasn't been a lot going on politically. In fact, as far as your State Legislature goes, it doesn't get much better than this. We're out of session and therefore we're not spending any money. Too bad that doesn't apply to the Governor as well...
This week I will be in Jefferson City on Thursday for a roundtable discussion of termination of parental rights and a few other children's issues. Representative David Wood of Versailles has some constituent issues that he feels warrant bringing in Division of Children's service staff and also some judges. We hope to be able to brainstorm with the participants and find some solutions. A large percentage of complaints about the Division are found to be unwarranted, but there are enough irregularities to justify a meeting to explore the possibilities of making some changes. No matter what kind of job you have, changes are usually unwelcome. Sometimes local practices become normal operating procedure and many times they are not found in the statutes. Policies become "law" in some areas and these things are generally where most of the complaints are registered.
In December we will present our sub committee report to the Joint Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect. At this time any recommendations for changes in statute will be considered. If there are concerns, then legislation will be drafted and the bill process will begin in January. Although we gathered a large volume of information this past year, I don't anticipate any major changes. The main thing I think we need to focus on is some type of universal guidelines for the entire state. It seems as if there are no two counties that have the same guidelines and procedures. Of course, there has to be some lee way for people to make judgment calls when it is necessary to make an on the spot decision, but currently there are vast differences in application of the same laws.