Missouri farmers received some Senate protection this week from the State Tax Commission, which had voted to raise taxes on farm land. By a vote of 30-3, we approved Senate Joint Resolution 32 and 35 that says we disagree with the commission's decision to give new, higher values to agricultural and horticultural property. I agreed to co-sign this bill, because 1) I'm against raising any taxes, and 2) our farmers are dealing with enough issues like rising costs and volatile markets and we don't need burden them with additional worries about how they're going to pay their property taxes. Our state's farmers have enough on their mind as it is. The House of Representatives will examine the resolution soon, and as a Senate body we have vowed to get it passed in the time allotted for us to deny this unjust and badly-timed recommendation.
I testified on my Senate Bill 725 this week before the Senate Health, Mental Health, Seniors and Families Committee. This bill protects taxpayers by requiring drug screenings for welfare recipients.
Basically, if a case worker suspects that one of their clients is using drugs, this gives that case worker the power to test their client. If there is a positive test, the drug abuser is required to participate in a substance abuse program. If the individual fails to complete the substance abuse program or after completing the program still continues to test positive in subsequent drug tests the individual will be ineligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits.
This proposed legislation protects the children of welfare recipients by making sure the kids of those recipients who are caught using drugs still get their benefits. And, most importantly, it will offer help to those who may need protection from themselves.
Finally, we're one step closer to real protection for those individuals affected by autism and their families. My autism insurance reform bill, Senate Bill 618, was unanimously approved by the Senate Small Business, Insurance and Industrial Relations Committee and will soon be considered by the full Senate body.
This legislation prohibits health insurance carriers from denying coverage for this devastating neurological disorder that is affecting more and more Missouri children. It covers treatment plans, and sets boundaries on a maximum benefit in a calendar year. A family shouldn't have to go broke while they try to get their child the help they deserve.
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed SB 586, sponsored by Sen. Matt Bartle (R-Lee's Summit), which would strengthen regulations for sexually oriented businesses in Missouri, including prohibiting anyone from establishing a sexually oriented business within 1,000 feet of a pre-existing school, house of worship, state-licensed day care, public library, residence, or other sexually oriented business. The bill would also require such establishments to close between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. and prohibit the sale, use and consumption of alcohol on the premises.
COMMITTEE HEARINGSCommittee hearings continued to dominate Senate activity this week as the chamber's major ethics reform bill—an issue touted as one of the Legislature's top priorities for the session—was presented in the Senate Rules, Joint Rules, Resolutions and Ethics Committee. Senate Bill 577, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields (R-St. Joseph), would create the position of an independent investigator within the Ethics Commission, bar certain contributions to incumbent officials during session and expand income reporting requirements to include legislative staff.
Also receiving a hearing in the Senate Transportation Committee was a bill that would ban texting while driving in Missouri—for all ages. A law passed last year prohibits drivers 21 years of age and younger from texting while driving. Senator Ryan McKenna (D-Crystal City), who also sponsored last year's provision, is sponsoring this year's SB 701. The measure would apply the text message ban universally so that all drivers, regardless of their age, are prohibited from texting while operating a motor vehicle.
Other hearings held this week included:
- Senate Bill 583, sponsored by Sen. Norma Champion (R-Springfield), was heard in the Senate Small Business, Insurance and Industry Committee. The measure would entitle consumers with long-term insurance policies and Medicare supplement policies to premium refunds, and restricts certain abusive sales practices with respect to Medicare products.
- Senate Bill 594, sponsored by Sen. Rita Heard Days (D-St. Louis), was heard in the Senate Health, Mental Health, Seniors and Families Committee. The bill would allow adopted individuals age 18 and over to obtain copies of their original birth certificates under certain circumstances.
- A quartet of bills relating to drug-testing of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients and applicants also received hearings in the health committee this week. The bills are SB 602 (sponsored by Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau), SB 607 (sponsored by Sen. Stouffer), SB 615 (sponsored by Sen. Jack Goodman, R-Mount Vernon), and SB 725 (sponsored by Sen. Rupp). Watch a video clip of Sen. Stouffer discussing the issue.
- Senate Concurrent Resolution 36, sponsored by Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-Glendale), urges Congress to pass a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution. The resolution was heard in the rules committee along with SCR 37, also sponsored by Sen. Schmitt, which urges the attorney general to investigate the constitutionality of the Nebraska Compromise to federal health care legislation.
- Senate Joint Resolution 23 was heard in the Senate General Laws Committee. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Luann Ridgeway (R-Smithville), would prohibit a political subdivision from receiving state funding if it provides health insurance to its employees through a public health insurance option plan—upon voter approval.
- Senate Bill 596, sponsored by Sen. Victor Callahan (D-Independence), was heard in the Senate Progress and Development Committee. The bill would allow the governing bodies of any Missouri city to designate Show-Me Small Business Districts within a city for no longer than 23 years. During the designation period, eligible small businesses within these areas could receive tax-favored status for a term not to exceed 15 years.
- Senate Joint Resolution 25, sponsored by Sen. Jane Cunningham (R-Chesterfield), was heard in the Senate Governmental Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee. Upon approval by voters, the resolution would prohibit any laws from interfering with Missourians' health care choices.
- Also heard in the same committee was SJR 29, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Purgason (R-Caulfield) and Sen. Ridgeway. The measure, upon voter approval, would replace all state income taxes with a sales and use tax. Watch a video clip of the resolution being presented to committee.
The Senate Appropriations Committee also met this week to begin work on the fiscal year 2011 budget after receiving the governor's recommendations during his State of the State address on Jan. 20. Committee members will continue to meet throughout the weeks to come as they begin to develop their budget plan in conjunction with the House Budget Committee. The bills comprising the FY 2011 budget will eventually be debated, first in the House and then in the Senate (all appropriations bills originate in the House).
Fiscal year 2010 ends June 30, 2010. Fiscal year 2011 begins July 1, 2010, and runs through June 30, 2011. The Legislature must send a final state budget for FY 2011 to the governor by May 7, 2010.
Listen to the Senate Minute's report on the budget.
The Missouri Senate reconvenes at 4 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 1. The Second Regular Session of the 95th Missouri General Assembly runs through Friday, May 14, 2010.
As the 2010 legislative session unfolds, I will continue to keep you, my constituents, apprised of all major developments, and I look forward to continuing to serve your needs and priorities in Jefferson City. As always, if you have any questions about this week's column or any other matter involving state government, please do not hesitate to contact me. You can reach my office by phone at (866) 271-2844.