We have finished week number 14 here at the State Capitol. It appears Spring has finally arrived. (I hope!)

I continue to feel a sense of pride as I drive into Jefferson City and see the State Capitol, even though it is deep into its exterior remodel project. I feel honored and humbled knowing that you voted for me to represent you. I take my job here in the Missouri House very seriously. Committee meetings can last many long hours and debates on the House Floor can go on for a very long time as each member defends their position on the issues.

Despite all that, it is a rewarding experience knowing we are doing the business of the people of Missouri. When deliberating bills being offered, I weigh all the feedback and requests I receive from our citizens back in District 116 as well as listen to other groups visiting me here at the Capitol. It is interesting observing all the various agencies work within the political system here. As I continue to learn that system I am discovering ways I can better advocate for our district as well as discover solutions for some of the challenges facing our state.

As President of the Freshman Class, I had the opportunity to meet with Governor Parson this week to present some ideas regarding education reform and to create an education task force. The Governor enthusiastically endorsed the idea. With all the ongoing deliberations on whether Charter Schools are a solution to better student outcomes the task force will work to determine exactly what the challenges for our schools are and how best to address them. I have asked Representative Brad Pollitt, a retired school superintendent in the Sedalia school system, to be chair and Karla Eslinger, retired superintendent at West Plains, to be vice chair.

On the task force we have included pro charter school task force members, members who are strongly opposed to Charter schools, members who are non-committal, advocates for home school, and a school board attorney. This will be a work in progress, and we’ll be working with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) as well as staff from the Governor’s office and other Members of the Freshman Class. I strongly believe we are the class to address this because we have the talent and most class members will have a full eight years to accomplish the task. While visiting with the Governor we also discussed the challenges facing Medicaid and Mental Health and whether those are programs that we can consider addressing.

I was honored to be selected as one of the “Freshmen to Watch” in the most recent edition of the Missouri Times Magazine. The Freshman Class is a large one with 62 new Representatives and I appreciate being recognized. We try to meet weekly to address various issues and bills that are coming up for debate.

This week at the Capitol, I had the honor and the privilege of meeting with one of Missouri’s most notable historians, Mr. Bob Priddy. He is promoting a project to get the Missouri Steamboat Museum brought to Jefferson City. While visiting with him I asked if he would be willing to come to some of the communities in District 116 to speak about history as it relates to Southeast Missouri and he said he absolutely would!

Those visiting from our district were 3 students representing the SE Sophomore Pilgrimage. Students are selected by their High School teachers and counselors and must be in the upper fourth of their class scholastically and display leadership and citizenship qualities. I would like to congratulate the 3 students representing their schools! On Wednesday, I had the pleasure of visiting with retired members of the SEMO National Education Association.

At the Capitol this week for their Advocacy Days, we had the opportunity to meet with Linemen from Missouri Co-ops and Ameren, Boys and Girls Clubs of Missouri, and Medical students from Saint Louis University.

This week is dedicated to 2019 Missouri Crime Victims’ Rights Week. The Missouri Department of Public Safety hosted an event on the 1st Floor Rotunda to raise awareness about crime victims’ issues and rights and introduce communities to available crime victims’ resources and services.

The House has given preliminary approval to legislation that would give Missourians a break on late payment of taxes. The bill comes in response to issues within the Department of Revenue that have resulted in many Missourians owing more income tax or getting smaller tax refunds this year.

The bill would block late payment penalties on tax debt owed to the state by individual taxpayers through the end of this year. It would also waive any interest owed on such debt until May 15. For those who might pay penalties before the bill would become law, it would require that those Missourians receive refunds.

Supporters of the bill said it’s important to note that while some Missourians could see greater tax bills this year, changes in the federal tax code mean their overall debt is down.

“Missourians are keeping more money in their pockets, so we’ve got to fix this withholding thing but at the end of the day Missourians, as they should, are keeping more of their hard-earned money. That’s what I think people need to realize,” said one supporter of the legislation.

The legislation now requires a final vote in the House before moving to the Senate. The Speaker of the House has said the House Special Committee on Government Oversight will continue to investigate what caused the withholding problems and how the department responded.

Other Bills Sent to the Senate

HB 400 would expand the Missouri Returning Heroes Act to include combat veterans that served prior to September 11, 2001 and combat veterans who are eligible to register to vote in Missouri, registered to vote in Missouri, or are current Missouri residents. Additionally, this bill would place a cap of 30% on tuition and fees for qualified combat veterans pursuing graduate degrees, but not professional degrees, for a period of 20 years after an honorable discharge. Supporters say the bill would offer financial assistance to veterans pursuing graduate degrees at public universities in Missouri. Additionally, supporters say the bill would incentivize veterans to move to Missouri to attend public universities and would assist public universities if they are experiencing a shortage of students.

HB 229 establishes a rebuttable presumption that child custody arrangements that award equal parenting time are in the best interest of the child. Supporters say that even with the passage of the shared parenting legislation, mothers are still presumed to be the better parent and fathers are not given equal parenting time. All cases should be looked at in the best interest of the child, not in the best interest of each parent.

HB 700 says that grandparents may file a motion to modify a decree of dissolution when they have been unreasonably denied a right to visit their grandchildren for a period of 30 days. Supporters say there are numerous societal problems leading to grandparents raising grandchildren for large portions of their grandchildren's lives and terminating that relationship, or making it difficult, does not benefit the young children. This bill still leaves actual visitation orders up to a judge, but shortens the time at which a family can ask for intervention.

HB 272 changes the laws regarding the Small Business Regulatory Fairness Board. It provides that all state agencies shall involve affected small businesses in the development of rules. The bill further provides that the Small Business Regulatory Fairness Board shall be an autonomous entity of the Secretary of State's office. Supporters say the Secretary of State is willing to take over this board and provide administrative support to restore it to its original function serving as a voice of and intermediary for small businesses in regulatory matters.

HB 160 authorizes the Public Service Commission, during a general rate proceeding, to set a separate, lower fixed charge or customer charge for low-income customers of water corporations and sewer corporations. Supporters say that there are currently programs in place to help low-income customers with gas and electric utilities, but there is not a program to help water or sewer customers.

HB 942 allows multiple employer self-insured health plans having a certificate of authority approved by the Director of the Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration to offer such plans to the public. Supporters say the bill will allow insurance brokers to actively market and sell these association self-insured health plans. Currently, they are prohibited from marketing these plans. This will help small businesses to be able to get less expensive health insurance because they will be joining with other small employers making a larger group of insureds thereby sharing the risk with a larger pool.

HBs 746 & 722 specifies that other persons specially appointed to serve orders of court shall also receive $10 for orders they serve. The additional $10 shall be deposited in the Deputy Sheriff Salary Supplementation Fund. Supporters say sheriffs in the areas that receive money from these funds can barely afford to keep good employees because they cannot afford to pay them a competitive salary, so this fund helps a lot. Many sheriffs were able to get off government assistance because of this fund. In the same areas, most people know the sheriffs, so it can be difficult to serve individuals, which is why private process servers are used. Supporters say it would be very helpful to be able to charge the additional $10 for those, too.

I always appreciate getting your opinion on various topics affecting our district and state. On my website I have an online survey that I am asking you to fill out. It will help me know your thoughts and will help me represent you better. To access that website, click on https://house.mo.gov/ , then click on Members, my name will be on the bottom of the list. You can also click on this link and it will take you right to the survey https://xeroxcorp.az1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_39JLezOuPcw6aiN.

If you have any questions regarding any state matters or legislation, please don’t hesitate to contact email me at dale.wright@house.mo.gov or call 573-751-3455.

It is an honor to serve as your State Representative.

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