Workforce Standards & Development - Chairman
Property, Casualty, & Life Insurance
Select Committee on Labor & Industrial Relations
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Jane and I attended the McDonald County Schools Foundation Banquet last Saturday evening. For those of you that don't know what this is, the Foundation is committed to enhancing the educational programs offered by the McDonald County R-1 School District. The Foundation assists in providing optimum educational experience for their students that will provide the skills that are necessary for a productive future. The Foundation will give the community the opportunity to support and fund programs that will build upon the courses of study provided by the McDonald County School District. That is quite a mission statement! We enjoyed the evening tremendously. It began with a demonstration by the Drill Team, then the Presentation of Colors, followed by the National Anthem and a Humorous Interpretation. We were then treated to a fabulous meal prepared by the culinary department. What a fabulous display of talents by our High School students! The Clifford and Susie Thornton Family were honored with the 2015 Heart of Education Award for their loyal support of both the foundation and the school district over the years. My hat is really off to the Board of Directors and all the faculty who helped make this effort a terrific success.
We have reached the mid way point in Session and have made history several times. For the first time ever, a chamber of the General Assembly passed a Right to Work bill and sent it to the other side of the building. Two pieces of legislation - one a proposed constitutional amendment and the other a statutory change to require voters to show photo identification before casting ballots have passed the House. Medical Malpractice reform, restoring reasonable limits ($350,000) on non- economic damages, passed with ease. Education reforms addressing the transfer issue in failing schools gained wide support. The Dairy Revitalization Act was passed to help revitalize Missouri's struggling Dairy Industry and Welfare Reform adding new eligibility and work requirements for welfare recipients to help them return to the workforce and become self - supporting and independent also passed with bi-partisan support. Add to these, the first thing we did was to reject a proposed pay increase for State elected officials. Those are just the major pieces of legislation that we passed and of course, we also sent a budget to the Senate earlier than ever before. Our leadership team has asked us to work smarter than in previous years and have been there to help us achieve some really good things. The Senate has also been on a faster pace and has many companion bills to send us after the break.
Right to Work Hearing
The House Budget was completed last week. Budget Chairman, Tom Flanigan from Carthage, Budget Vice Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick from Cassville, and their capable staff accomplished the near impossible by providing a balanced budget and getting it done three weeks early this year. The importance of getting it done early is to allow time for an over-ride if the Governor hits us with unreasonable withholds as in previous years. Just a few of the things that we restored from his previous withholds were $1 million for Community Health Access, $3 million for MoHealth Net, $1 million for the Autism Center, $1 million for Social Innovation Grants, $2.4 million for Parents as Teachers, $4 million in Utilicare Funding, $500,000 each for Asthma Services and Sexual Violence Services, a Quarter million for Health care for Foster Kids, Elks dental Program, Newborn Screenings, and the list goes on. All these items were eliminated from last year's budget after being appropriated by the General Assembly. We have never been told where the money was used.
To keep our promise of funding Education with more money than ever before, we added $74 million to K12, $12 million to Higher Education, $6 million to 2 year institutions, $5 million to Early Childhood, and a $2 million increase to the A plus program. There was considerable floor debate on Education issues with Representatives from both sides of the aisle expressing their views on how we could allocate additional money for programs all over the state. For the most part, this was a gargantuan bi-partisan effort to fund Education with more money than ever before in the state's history. We funded it well above the Constitutionally requirements of 25% of the general Revenues. Next to paying the State's bills, Education is our foremost responsibility as Legislators.
We Third Read and Passed a real smorgasbord of bills last week. Some of the bills we worked with seem almost silly and unnecessary but, as an example, we had to create a statute in order to be able to collect data on Missouri Healthcare Workers. The end goal was to provide better training and education as we continue to invest in our health care industry. It passed by a whopping 142 to 10. We passed a bill allowing audits of Transportation Development Districts by 146 to 4. We also passed a Tax Amnesty measure that encourages people to pay their back taxes by a vote of 141 to 7. As you can see, there are a lot of issues that are totally bi-partisan. We passed a bill dealing with Missouri's lead industry by 145 to 12. Its purpose is to establish a task force addressing employment, economic development, and remediation. Missouri is America's only reliable source of lead and we need to protect access to this strategic mineral. We added allowable weight to trucks carrying grain during periods of harvest and increased the distance that log trucks may travel to help those industries be competitive with our neighboring states. That measure passed by 140 to 16.
The 800-pound Gorilla last week was Medical Malpractice Reform. We have needed to address this issue for several years but continue to meet strong opposition from the trial lawyers. Some years ago, under pressure from trial lawyers, the Supreme Court found our Tort Laws to be unconstitutional. That decision removed all caps from claims of pain and suffering. The surrounding states cap the same judgments to $250,000 to $350,000 dollars so you can understand why our doctors have left Missouri. Their insurance costs caused them to raise their rates to an unacceptable level. This is compounded by an already existing shortage of doctors in Missouri. This measure is for non-economic damages only and does not limit costs for procedures. Debate lasted for nearly two hours and it passed by a vote of 101 to 50. This one will have some interesting Senate Debate!