You can always accomplish more if you have a plan. It gives you a sense of direction and a distinct goal to work toward as you move forward. And, when we started this session, we laid out our plan for the session in our Blueprint for Missouri. Now, as this year’s session comes to a close, I am pleased to say we have accomplished several of the things we set out to do.
As you may recall, the Blueprint for Missouri rested on four essential pillars designed to move us forward as a state. The pillars represent your core values and are the reason you sent me to Jefferson City. They include protecting taxpayers, creating jobs, reforming education and protecting values. Here are a few of the bills we were able to pass.
We have worked to protect you, the taxpayer, from the onset of this year’s session. Our initial pledge was to balance the budget without raising taxes by a single penny. This is a glaring contrast to those on the other side of the aisle who pushed for higher taxes all session to fill the $500 million budget shortfall.
But we fought hard to keep that money where it belonged, in your pocket. The economic downturn has made it difficult for you to make ends meet, and the rising cost of life’s basic necessities have made it particularly tough. The last thing you need in these tough times is higher taxes.
Jobs were once again a top priority this session. One of the best ways we can help businesses create jobs is to improve the business climate. Currently, Missouri’s businesses are faced with a burdensome regulatory scheme that is crippling their ability to grow and expand. And, until this problem is fixed, our economy will continue to sputter.
Here in the House, we worked hard and reduced regulations on small businesses by passing HB 1135. Under current law, rules can stay on the books of a state agency indefinitely. This legislation terminates all rules after five years unless the department re-promulgates the rule. By requiring these rules to be reviewed periodically, we can ensure that all agency rules are efficient, effective and not a burden to businesses.
HB 1135 also gives businesses more say in the rule making process. By terminating a rule every five years, all rules will have to venture through the public comment process periodically, giving citizens a say in how our executive departments run. This gives you the opportunity to tell the department how a rule affects your business and could keep a rule from being re-implemented.
We also improved the business climate by passing HB 1540 which reforms our co-employee liability laws under workers compensation. Due to a recent court ruling, injured workers now have the ability to sue their co-workers as part of their workers compensation case. This puts our workers in a difficult situation by making them choose between losing their jobs and being sued. And it penalizes workers who are acting in their official capacity.
HB 1540 alleviates this burden on employers and their workers by raising the standard for suing an employee to gross negligence. By toughening the standard, we protect workers who are out there trying to make a living. Here in the House, we think that employees shouldn’t be sued for simply doing their job.
Next, we put Missouri’s children first by passing SB 576, our charter school reform bill. This bill expands charter schools in unaccredited districts and is a step toward improving the educational opportunities for kids in failing schools. These students are some of the most vulnerable children in the state, and providing them with a quality education is their path to a better life.
Charter schools can improve all schools in the state. In the business world, competition spurs innovation, and charter schools have proven to be the innovators when it comes to new ways to teach our children. In fact, charter schools across the country have initiated numerous reforms improving education in all schools, even public schools.
SB 576 also holds our charter schools accountable. Many in the education field think it’s unfair that charters are not held to the same standards as our public schools. SB 576 levels the playing field by holding charters too many of the same standards as our public schools. For example, charters will now be required to collect student performance data.
Finally, we worked very hard to protect your values by passing a bill that cares for our veterans. Our veterans are true patriots, and they sacrifice a lot to ensure we live in liberty. I was proud to vote for a dedicated funding stream that ensures our veterans will get the care they deserve, year after year.
HB 1731 gives them the casino admission fees they originally received prior to 1998. Under this legislation, our veterans will receive an additional $30 million which is enough money to keep our homes open and viable for years to come.
We are currently operating seven homes that serve 1,350 servicemen and women, and there is a waiting list of around 1,700 who are desperately in need of care. HB 1731 not only provides the operating funds for our current homes, but also provides enough funding to start replenishing the Veterans Commission Capital Improvement Trust Fund so we can fill the needs of those on the waiting list.
I am proud of our accomplishments this session. We started with our Blueprint for Missouri plan, and we achieved something in every issue area. When these bills officially become law, Missouri will definitely be moving in the right direction again. These bills now go to the governor for his approval and signature.
For more information about the pieces of legislation mentioned above or about any others that have been introduced, please visit the House of Representatives website, www.house.mo.gov.
To see a list of all legislation from the 2nd Regular Session of the 96th General Assembly click on the following link: Truly Agreed and Finally Passed Legislation http://house.mo.gov/billreport.aspx?select=evergroupcode:1.
As always it is an honor to serve you in the Missouri House of Representatives.