Everything is Different – and the Same

No two sessions are the same. Each feels slightly different. But beneath the issues of the hour, permanent qualities remain. True character is revealed under the Capitol’s power and pressure, and this is most evident in the last few weeks of every session.

Threats, promises, and horse-trading are the order of the week. In Churchill’s phrasing, it’s the worst of all forms of government, except all the others. It’s ugly and beautiful. In your state Capitol, it’s all crammed in to three furious days in May. And this last week was no different.

With the dust now settled, I believe this was a successful session. Here are some highlights:

Ethics Legislation

On opening day, Speaker Todd Richardson pledged that the House would make ethics a priority. And we delivered. We sent five ethics bills to the Senate in the first three weeks. Unlike past years, we kept each bill narrow so the total package would not collapse of its own weight. In the end, the Senate failed to pass a lobbyist gift ban, which is disappointing. We did, however, (1) close the revolving door from legislators to lobbyists, (2) ban the practice of using campaign funds as a personal hedge fund, and (3) prohibit legislators from using their position to profit as a campaign consultant.

Telehealth Legislation

The telehealth legislation I have sponsored the past two sessions was added as an amendment to Senate Bill 579, which now sits on Gov. Nixon’s desk. This bill brings Missouri’s Medicaid system into the modern age by allowing for reimbursement of health care providers who provide their services using modern communication technologies. Thus, we increase access to care in rural counties and save money. The bill also makes Missouri the forty-seventh state to authorize telehealth services in the private sector. Finally, the bill establishes a statewide home tele-monitoring program in Medicaid that has proven in pilot projects to reduce hospital re-admissions for Medicaid patients – and, as a result, improve the quality of their care and save taxpayer money.

A+ Scholarships for All Qualified Students

What would you think if students who went to parochial and other private schools were not eligible for in-state tuition at our state’s four year colleges and universities? Most people would think that absurd. Yet, that’s exactly the case for our community and technical colleges. Students at public high schools are eligible for A+ Scholarships to two years colleges if they maintain a decent GPA, have good attendance, and complete community service projects. Under current law, private school students are not eligible for these scholarships even though they and their parents are taxpayers and the money goes to public colleges. In the last two weeks of session, a trio of House members (myself, Rep. Justin Alfermann, and Rep. Travis Fitzwater) started hanging amendments on education bills that expand A+ to everyone who qualifies, and I’m pleased to say that it’s on Gov. Nixon’s desk on two different bills.

Expungement Legislation

On Wednesday, the House passed legislation by a vote of 143 to 12 to allow for the expungement of non-violent criminal records for Missourians who have fully served their sentences and stayed out of trouble for an extended period of time after their sentence was completed. The bill was supported by prosecutors, law enforcement, criminal defense lawyers, and the Missouri Bar. I will write in more depth about it in future years, but as the House handler, this legislation may have more positive impact on the lives of more Missourians than any bill that will pass during my service.

I will cover more in future columns, but for the next few weeks I will enjoy a break from thinking about legislation. Every so often I take the time in the early morning to sit at my desk in the House chamber before anyone else arrives. It is quiet and perfect for reflection on the legislature’s awesome responsibilities and the role of each individual legislator.

Our great historian and journalist Bob Priddy wrote earlier this year that the end of session marks the time when “graduating” legislators become mere “pictures on the walls in the hallways, pictures that thousands of people pass by every day – and will pass by every day for generations to come – without looking, or, if looking, find no meaning in the images.”

Priddy is right. State legislators don’t have legacies. Despite the egos and arrogance of the present, no individual legislator is “important” in any permanent public sense. But what we actually do will endure. The bills we pass (or kill) will impact the daily lives of more than six million Missourians.

The people we impact will never know our names, but they will have to live with the rules we created – and so will we. In six years, I’ve kept this in mind every day and pledge that I will continue to do so moving forward. Legislators are not “special” and should not be made to feel as much. It’s also why I believe ethics reform legislation is so important, and will continue to push for it next session.

As always, it remains a tremendous honor and privilege to serve as your state representative. Thank you for reading.