It was a very busy week here at the State Capitol this week!
The very best part of serving in the Missouri House is when I get to see visitors from back home who come to Jefferson City for association meetings, to advocate for legislation that is important to them, or to simply tour “The House of the People,” our beautiful Missouri State Capitol building.
This week the Capitol showcased students and current and future leaders for our state and nation. The hallways were filled with students and their mentors representing FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) and FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America). Ste. Genevieve Middle School, under the leadership of Dr. Rhett Oldham, participated in the Missouri Student Showcase held at the State Capitol this week.
Ste. Genevieve’s focus was on World History and Engaging with the World. I was unable to meet with them due to conflicting committee and other meetings but Dr. Oldham and I are arranging for me to visit the middle school soon. I did get to meet with Farmington High School students and their advisor Mrs. Carolyn Strobel. These fine young men and women are our leaders of tomorrow!
I had the privilege to meet with Craig Hayden, Executive Director of Perryville’s Career and Technology Center and Mike Graham, Director of Fredericktown’s FFA program and hear about the great work they are doing for our area students. Area Nurse Practitioners and Dental Hygienists came to my office and I was pleased to meet with them regarding upcoming bills that can benefit patient care in District 116. School Board members also came to the State Capitol this week for their Legislative Forum and to meet with their respective Representatives. I was honored to meet with Terry McDaniel board member at Ste. Genevieve schools.
Finally, in addition to students and school board members, the halls were also filled with MRTA (Missouri Retired Teachers Association) members. There were over 300 teachers here to voice their opposition on HB 849 which relates to their retirement. There was one particular retired teacher who had special influence on me during this Valentine’s week, my special Valentine, my wife, Denise wanted to make sure I voted correctly on this bill! Thank you to everyone who came to visit. I always appreciate getting to see the many great people from back home!
Members of the Missouri House of Representatives gave initial approval this week to legislation meant to put thousands of Missourians on a fast track to develop the skills they need to obtain good-paying jobs. The bill would create a new state financial aid program known as Fast Track that would address workforce needs by encouraging adults to pursue an industry-recognized credential in an area designated as high need.
“Fast Track is a creative solution that could impact nearly 16,000 eligible students providing training, meeting specific workforce needs, improving the economy, and benefiting Missourians in all regions of our state.”
Missouri has the seventh most diversified economy and ranks among the top 10 states in high school graduation rates, but lags in post-secondary degree or credential attainment. 755,000 Missourians have some college experience but no degree, meaning there are thousands of individuals who could take advantage of the innovative Fast Track program.
The goal of Fast Track is to provide community colleges, tech schools, and universities with the means to equip students for the high-paying, high-demand jobs of the future. It is designed to open up higher education opportunities for hard-working, middle-class families looking for a boost to pursue their dreams. It is also meant to help Missouri businesses find workers with the training needed to fill their workforce demands.
Fast Track is a needs-based scholarship targeted at adults age 25 and older who are working toward a certification, undergraduate degree or industry-recognized credential for a high demand occupation. To be eligible, a student must be at least 25 years of age, not have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, and have an adjusted gross income of less than $40,000 for an individual and $80,000 for a married couple filing jointly. If approved, a Missourian could attend an approved Missouri postsecondary institution of their choice and have their tuition and fees paid for by the program. The program is a “last-dollar” program and will be applied after all federal non-loan aid, state student aid, and any other governmental student financial aid are applied.
Fast Track is a wise investment that will open doors for Missourians across the state to help continue building a stronger economy. The state’s business climate remains strong, but in order for businesses to succeed into the future, the state must take steps to create a more skilled workforce that is ready for the jobs of tomorrow.
The bill now requires a final vote in the House before moving to the Senate.
The House gave final approval this week to legislation that would create a statewide monitoring program for drug prescriptions. The bill would combat the abuse of prescription drugs and help prevent conflicts between medications. Opponents worry that it would violate Missourians’ constitutional right to privacy but Supporters say protections can be put into place to protect our citizen’s data.
Known as the Narcotics Control Act, the bill would require the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to establish and maintain a program to monitor the prescribing and dispensing of all Schedule II through Schedule IV controlled substances. The bill would require information on these drugs being prescribed and dispensed to be reported within 24 hours. By the year 2022 the information would be updated in real time. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.
Another bill headed to the Senate from the House is meant to better protect children by improving the state’s Amber Alert system. The bill is known as “Hailey’s Law” in honor of Hailey Owens, who was abducted and murdered at the age of 10 while walking home from a friend’s house.Soon after the arrest of her killer, state officials and lawmakers turned their attention to the Amber Alert System. Though witnesses saw Owens being abducted, more than two hours passed before an Amber Alert was issued to let authorities and the public statewide know to look for her, and what her kidnapper and his vehicle looked like.
The legislation would require the Amber Alert System to be tied into the Missouri Uniform Law Enforcement System (MULES), which is the computer system that allows all law enforcement in Missouri to communicate. Once an officer enters information about a missing child into MULES, it would at the same time be available to the Amber Alert system.
The bill would also require the state’s Amber Alert System Oversight Committee to meet at least once a year to discuss ways to improve the system. Currently there is no requirement for that committee to meet. The sponsor said that having the committee meet regularly to evaluate the system means there will be an ongoing effort toward getting alerts out more quickly.
House members investigating the Department of Revenue says Missourians are not prepared for owing more income tax or getting smaller tax refunds this year, and that many Missourians could suffer because of it.
An error in Missouri tax code that dates back at least to 2004 was only recently discovered. The error was revealed because of the federal tax relief plan that was passed in 2017. As a result of the combination of the tax change and the error, Missourians’ overall tax debt will decrease, but some could see a greater remaining income tax bill or a smaller refund than they anticipated.
During the hearing, members of the House Special Committee on Government Oversight looked back over the Department of Revenue’s efforts to alert Missourians about how the tax code has changed and what it could mean for them.
“The department was proud to send out press releases to talk about the bicentennial license plate that we switched over to … they spread the news whether it be on social media, whether it be in press releases, you read about that in the paper, there were different TV interviews; there was a lot of notoriety about a new license plate, however now that this mistake has occurred the Department of Revenue does not want to ‘fess up,” said the chairman of the committee. “Let the taxpayer know that an error occurred and what they should be expecting as we get closer to April.”
The revenue department director told the committee he agrees that communication should be improved. He also stressed that he believes it is a minority of Missouri taxpayers who will experience a significant change in their tax returns, “but those are important people and people that we stand ready to work with.”
“We’ve created a dedicated phone line to help individuals with this. We consistently work with taxpayers who need more time to pay their taxes or are struggling to pay their taxes, and we’ve put a page right up front on our website where immediately you go there, you can say if you need assistance – here’s where you can go to get assistance,” he said.
Lawmakers also asked the department for examples of how taxpayers might be affected. The director said his department has declined to offer examples because the many variables in filing means any two people filing the same way, with the same annual income, could see wildly different impacts. Legislators told him they still want examples so they have a better idea what some Missourians might face.
The committee will meet again next week when it will ask more questions of the department director and review the examples that legislators have requested, which he urged the department to prepare.
Missourians who have questions about their 2018 return can contact the Department of Revenue for assistance at (573) 522-0967 or visit the department’s website at https://dor.mo.gov/.
If you have questions regarding any state issues please give my office a call at 573-751-3455.