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09 March 2010

Kraus: Spring Break

Open Forum Tonight

As noted in last week's report, I will be hosting an Open Forum tonight, Tuesday, March 9, at John Knox Village.  I'll start the forum with an update on legislative activity at the State Capitol, after which the floor will be open for questions and comments from the audience.  This marks the sixth year that I've held an open forum during the legislature's spring break.

The forum will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the Places Manhattan Room, John Knox Village, on 1001 NW Chipman Road in Lee's Summit.  If you have any questions about this event, please contact my office at (573) 751-1459 or by e-mail at will{dot}kraus{at}house{dot}mo{dot}gov.  I look forward to seeing you there.

Legislative News

The legislature is on spring break this week – that gives me the opportunity to talk with people from home, spend time with my family, and gear up for the second half of the legislative session.  Here is a run-down on some legislation that has been considered in the first half of the session.

I was happy to see that two of my bills have moved forward.  A House Committee Substitute of HB 1227 was voted out of the Tax Reform Committee, which increases the dependency exemption from state income taxes for each qualified child.  This bill would allow families to keep more of their hard-earned money to spend on groceries, school supplies, and children's needs.

Another bill, HB 1691, was passed out of Rules Committee.  This legislation requires the governor to issue annual proclamations for a Walk and Bike to School month and day in October and Bike to Work month, day, and week in May.  Walk and Bike to School days are an opportunity for schools to organize safe passage for kids to walk to school and to help build healthy exercise habits in our young people.

Education Funding

Judging from calls and e-mails to my office, concerns about cuts to educational programs have been high on people's minds.  I have voiced my support of full funding for the school foundation formula and for keeping funding for many valuable school programs.  I have been a long-time advocate for our schools and the value of an education to our children's future.  The most recent proposed state budget from the House called for full funding of the foundation formula.  It includes the full $106 million increase due to elementary and secondary schools next year, whereas Gov. Nixon proposed giving schools just an $18 million bump.

Budget News

When we return from spring break next week, we in the legislature will have our work cut out for us in crafting the state budget. Typically, by the time we have our legislative break, our budget picture has solidified and the budget bills are ready to be debated and approved on the House floor.  This year is drastically different as our budget picture continues to worsen with each passing month.  Revenue figures released for February showed a year-to-date decline of 12.7 percent compared with this time last year, and a 14.6 percent drop in revenues for February.

The governor presented a budget in January totaling $23.8 billion.  About $7.2 billion of that comes from the state's general revenue fund, largely made up of tax revenues. The shortfall we're talking about now could represent 10 percent — or more — of the $7.2 billion that we in the General Assembly control.  Recently, Governor Nixon said he thinks another $500 million will have to be cut from the budget.

Adding to the budget woes, hundreds of millions in anticipated federal assistance have not materialized. The governor's office built $300 million into the budget in additional federal "budget stabilization" funds.  However, these funds are not included in various recession-relief bills poised for passage in Congress.   As a result, when we return from spring break, we will focus on the difficult task of putting together a balanced budget.

Concealed Carry Bills

I have recently signed up to obtain a concealed carry permit, and I am very excited to be able to take the classes necessary to carry a concealed weapon.  As a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve, the safe use of weapons has been an integral part of my life, and I am solidly behind a citizen's right to bear arms.

On this subject, the House Agri-Business Committee has discussed several bills dealing with laws regulating concealed weapons. Five bills would extend the lifetime of a permit to carry a concealed weapon from the current length of three years to a potential five, which would remove some of the cost of renewing a concealed carry permit.

Three bills proposed to lower the minimum age requirement for obtaining a concealed carry endorsement from 23 to 21, while another proposed lowering the age to 18.  Next, the committee will combine these bills into a substitute that can be brought to the House floor for debate.

Health Care Concerns

Health care is another subject on everyone's mind.  In the last weeks of session, the House Health Care Policy Committee, on which I serve, heard testimony on legislation aimed at encouraging doctors and medical staff to provide pro bono health care by offering liability protection through the state's Legal Expense Fund. This legislation would protect medical staff that provides their services for free at neighborhood clinics.  These services benefit people who do not have health care insurance and who use free clinics to see a doctor or nurse.

While we in the House have passed measures to improve the health care system in Missouri, I continue to hear opposition to the massive and expensive federal legislation that seeks a major overhaul of our health care system.  In response to federal health care legislation currently being considered by Congress, the Missouri House gave initial approval last week to a proposed constitutional amendment that would protect Missourians from being compelled to participate in any health care system, HJR 48, 50 & 57.  If put to a vote of Missourians and passed, the amendment would protect Missourians from government mandates to purchase health insurance.

Law Enforcement Will Crack Down on Seat Belt Violations March 15-31

Under Missouri's Graduated Drivers License Law, seat belt use is required for young drivers.  It is a primary offense. Unfortunately 40 percent of Missouri teens don't buckle up. Law enforcement will be out in full force March 15-31 to crack down on unbelted drivers and save lives. Officers will ticket teens who aren't buckled up.

Many young drivers believe that fatal crashes will never happen to them.  However, one in four Missouri traffic crashes involves a young driver. Between 2007 and 2009, 304 teens, aged 15 to19, were killed in traffic crashes. Of those killed, 72 percent were unbuckled.

The Missouri Coalition for roadway Safety is also sponsoring an educational campaign to influence teens.  The Get Your Buckle On campaign begins March 8 and runs through March 28. It will include TV, radio and Internet advertising.  Information about the campaign can be found at

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