The last two weeks of session are hectic every year. This year, however, seemed the most hectic yet in my three years of service. As bills pass across the rotunda from chamber to chamber, sometimes it’s difficult to keep track of everything that the Senate is doing to send bills to the governor’s desk. With a weekend of much-needed yard work behind me, I thought I’d recap the accomplishments from this session in which I played a role.
- MSP Re-Development and Capitol Maintenance –The budget included $38 million in the budget for the construction of a new state office building on the grounds of the old Missouri State Penitentiary and $50 million for long overdue maintenance in the state capitol. The $38 million investment at MSP will kick-start further redevelopment by ensuring a critical mass of people who work there. The $50 million for maintenance will ensure that our state capitol remains the treasure it is today. Just as a homeowner must invest in repairs and upkeep, so too must state government ensure that our buildings do not fall into disrepair.
- Raises for State Employees – The budget included a $500 raise for all state employees. We still rank 50 out of 50 and $500 is not enough to get us out of the basement. But, it’s the second year in a row in which state employees have received a raise after six consecutive years without one. Moving in the right direction is a win.
- Education Reform for Struggling School Districts – Senate Bill 125, which I handled in the House, will put St. Louis schools on equal footing with other districts in the state by allowing it to terminate teachers found incompetent. It will also allow the State Board of Education to intervene immediately in an unaccredited school district rather than waiting two years as it has to under current law. This will help ensure that students in struggling districts get appropriate help from the State Board as soon as possible. While this bill was not as transformative as we initially attempted, it is the most substantive education bill to pass since the re-write of the foundation formula in 2005.
- Medicaid Transformation – House Bill 986 and Senate Bill 127 combined do four things relating to Medicaid: (1) extend Ticket-to-Work, a program which helps Missourians with disabilities keep health insurance while employed, (2) place foster children on equal setting with children of traditional families for health insurance, (3) streamline Medicaid eligibility and require annual re-determinations through electronic searches to root out waste, fraud, and abuse, and (4) allow the creation of a Joint Interim Committee on Medicaid Transformation for a group of senators and representatives to study how we might transform Missouri Medicaid into the most market-based public health care system in the entire history of the federal program.
- Saving First Steps – After the House and Senate passed a balanced budget using Gov. Nixon’s original recommendation to eliminate the circuit breaker tax credit, Gov. Nixon vetoed the circuit breaker legislation. As a result, First Steps and federally qualified health centers could not receive funding unless the legislature passed a bill to create the Senior Services Protection Fund. In order to save First Steps and FQHCs, House Bill 986 created the Senior Services Protection Fund and was sent to the Gov. Nixon’s desk Friday afternoon.
- Strengthening Missouri’s Law on Rape – Missouri’s law on rape has a loophole which prevents a charge of rape against a perpetrator who commits the crime against a victim who has become incapacitated as a result of anything other than the perpetrator’s conduct. The defendants in the infamous Steubenville case from Ohio unsuccessfully used a similar loophole in Ohio law as their defense. I sponsored legislation this year to close this loophole, attached it as an amendment to at least three separate bills, and I’m pleased to report it’s on the governor’s desk as an amendment on House Bill 301, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Engler.
- Tax Credit Reform – The ‘Buck Stops Here Tax Credit Reform Act of 2013,’ aka “Missouri Works,” will consolidate several economic development programs into one which provides DED with much more flexibility to say no. The goal: more Monsantos and less Mamteks. We want DED to be able to weed out bad projects. This legislation was passed via amendment to House Bill 184, sponsored by Rep. Stanley Cox.
- Veteran’s Courts – Veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder deserve our help. Senate Bill 118, sponsored by Sen. Will Kraus takes veteran’s courts statewide, will help ensure that veterans with PTSD in legal trouble get the help they need to turn their lives around. We know that veterans are capable of being productive members of society. Getting them the right kind of medical treatment will put them back on the path to success. SB 118 is very similar to my legislation and to legislation sponsored by Rep. Sheila Solon, who deserves credit for her work on this issue as well.