We spent some time debating and passing a piece of legislation that adds transparency and accountability to the initiative petition process. In the past few years the initiative petition process has been infiltrated and abused by out-of-state special interest groups with unlimited funds. Their purpose has been to skirt our legislative process by submitting multiple versions of the same measure in an attempt to confuse the voters and pass a measure that has been disguised as something entirely different. The new law will state that signature gatherers must disclose whether they are being paid for each name, those convicted of forgery cannot gather names, and signing another person's name makes one guilty of a misdemeanor. We deserve to know the real issues and who is responsible for trying to change our laws.
We passed the School Construction Act out of the House. This act was the first bill I heard in Workforce Committee this year and it simply empowers school districts and Missouri taxpayers, except in counties with a charter form of government (St. Louis and Kansas City), to exempt themselves from prevailing hourly wage rates requirements. Independent contractors conducting work under this act must show proof of workers compensation coverage. The bill handler did a good job of explaining how many small school districts that are in need of repair, maintenance, and new construction, couldn't afford to pay prevailing wages to get these jobs done. He also pointed out that there are hundreds of school buildings in the state that are in real need of repair, but cannot afford to do the necessary work. We, in Southwest Missouri, don't have to look too far to find some of those buildings!
My subcommittee on Child Abuse and Neglect met at the Division of Children's Services headquarters for a tour and demonstration of the Hotline Reporting System. The department employees 47 operators who work a rotating shift covering 24 hours and 7 days. The heaviest traffic is on weekdays from 8 to 5. That is when the bulk of reports from mandated reporters come in. An average day consists of nearly 500 calls. We were allowed to listen in on a random call. The call was from a mandated reporter, in this case a counselor, who had been told by an 11-year-old boy of an abuse situation between his 11 year old cousin and his 4-year-old sister! I'm telling you the truth; they couldn't pay me enough to have to take those calls! Most of my preconceived ideas of the call center disappeared over the next hour and a half. The system is set up for the operator to record the answers to set questions by computer. Depending on the answer to a question, the computer shows the operator what to ask next. This way, the required information is made available for use by the children's services workers or law enforcement, if necessary. The training and supervision that we saw was much better than I expected. It's good to be surprised that way.
This week is going to be a challenge as we have to wrap up the budget before our Spring Break. When the budget is ready for the Senate to start their work, we take 7 days off to give them a head start. Most of the time they need all the time they can get, but with Senator Richard in the drivers seat, they are moving along at a much nicer pace. Once again, good old Southwest common sense prevails! More next week, until then, I am and remain, in your service.