We will be focused on budget this week since the budget chair has given us a committee deadline of Feb. 18th to get our work done in our appropriations committees. Having received the budget mark up booklets at the end of this week means a lot of us will be studying over the weekend. I will be in Kansas City with Mark, helping move my father-in-law into a new place. The drive time home will be a good time to continue budget review.
It was an honor to meet with members of the Hispanic Chamber and join in on a small group discussion about issues facing the Hispanic Community. I thank Jorge Riopedre for the opportunity to be involved.
Thank you for your confidence and this opportunity to serve. It is an honor to work for you and our state.
Of Note…From my Committees
Rep. Schupp (middle), alongside Rep. Mary Still (left) and Rep. Sue Schoemehl (right), questioning a witness during the House Higher Education committee meeting this Tuesday.
Higher EducationThe Higher Education Committee heard testimony on House Bill 1473 that lowers the grade point average required for renewing an Access Missouri Scholarship from 2.5 (C+) to 2.0 (C) for the first two years of the program. Initially, I was opposed to this seemingly "dumbing down" of the GPA requirement, but testimony provided insights I hadn't considered. First of all, this program is about access to college. Student recipients are getting these dollars based on need, not because of merit. State merit scholarships, by the way, also require a 2.5 GPA. We want our students to be able to attend and successfully graduate from college. Many of these recipients are the first generation in their families to go to college. Freshmen come in learning to make decisions, juggle schedules and use their time without necessarily living under the watchful eye of their families. Some have to work in addition to learning in this new environment. A "C" average for the first two years of college is not unreasonable, and to take away the Access Missouri Scholarship would absolutely mean that many of these students who could go on to succeed and earn a degree would lose their opportunity because college simply would not be affordable without this aid. This is not Lake Wobegone, "…where are the children are above average."
Appropriations for Public Safety and CorrectionsThe committee met for five hours to take a cursory glance at the hundreds of pages of budget descriptions from each department. Through meetings with other ranking members organized by Rep. Sara Lampe, our Ranking Member of Budget, we reviewed the mark up process that will be used this year to make recommendations for movement of dollars within each of our committee areas. This is a different process than last year, and will likely be more transparent. Within each of our appropriations committees, we will have to offer decreasing amendments in order add increasing amendments, so within each department there will not be any net budget increases. We are only allowed to move or manipulate the budgets within Public Safety and Corrections...we cannot look to other areas of the budget for increases or decreases. Changes across budget areas can happen within the Budget Committee or on the House Floor. Our Committee Liaison, Mr. Joe Roberts, has been generous with his time and met with some of us twice to address questions, help us understand how to look for areas where changes might be made, and prepare for the budget meetings.
Children and FamiliesThis week, The Special Standing Committee on Children and Families heard testimony on two bills. HB (House bill) 1365 was described by its sponsor as a bill that ensures that pharmacies are not required to stock abortafacients, but that is not what the bill states. Currently, no pharmacy, or any business for that matter, is required to stock and sell a particular item. What this bill does is incorrectly and inadvertantly lumps contraceptives in with abortafacients and allows the legislature to override the powers of the judiciary by exempting pharmacies from liability should a particular customer have a grievance. I will be offering amendments to correct the inaccuracies and allow an agrieved consumer the opportunity to be heard.
We also heard House Bill 1546 that ask the woman choosing abortion to provide personal information about her decision in order for records to be kept as to why this choice was made. The information will not be statistically significant, since women who choose to provide this information are a self-selected group. The language is somewhat unclear in that the word "required" is used even though this participation is voluntary. The bigger question is about the real purpose of the bill. What problem does it seek to resolve? If we find that unintended pregnancies are the result of lack of information about family planning and contraception, will we expand programs to help provide that information and access? If we find that women are not choosing abortion due to coercion, will we quit hearing that type of legislation? If we find that women believe they cannot afford to have another child, will we help with family assistance and support for that woman and her family? Is this simply another attempt to intimidate women who are making a very difficult decision?
Freshmen Dems’ Learning SessionsThis week, we found our time well spent yet again as two highly informative learning sessions took place to help us make thoughtful and well informed decisions when addressing future legislative issues.
Sallie Hemenway, from the Department of Economic Development (DED), talked to us about tax credits. There were a lot of questions as legislators work to ensure they understand how the various credits work and what they do. The focus of the discussion was on proposed legislation that would subject tax credits to the appropriations process. DED has not taken a position on this legislation to date. There were so many questions as we went through the topic (everyone felt they could have listened and learned from Sallie for hours, but we only had one scheduled,) that the question itself was only addressed in this way: Subjecting tax credits to the appropriations process will change the time line for the developer(s) of the project. The legislative body will have to determine whether that is something it feels is beneficial to impose.
Our second session for the day (we are fortunate to have a group of people who want to learn, and those who are willing to help us do so) included Dr. Jon Hagler, Director of Agriculture, and Davis Minton, Department Director of Natural Resources. Our discussion and questions focused on CAFOS( Confined Animal Feeding Operations), local versus state control and information about "puppy mills." Animal welfare groups and animal lovers in our district have been especially concerned about puppy mills in the state. Under Dr. Hagler's leadership, a new program, Operation Bark Alert has been implemented. It is the belief of the department that the big offenders and news headliners exposing horrible breeding practices and accommodations under which man's best friends live in Missouri are created by the unlicensed breeders. Resources for the department are scarce. It will require additional personnel (currently there are 11 inspectors for the entire state) to continue to inspect the licensed breeders, pounds and facilities and to seek out the unlicensed breeders and shut them down. To learn more about the department's activities and innovations, you can "google" the Missouri Department of Agriculture.
Next week the caucus will hear from Jason Hall of the Missouri Technology Corporation (MTC), and Dr. Anthony Harris from the University of Missouri, about Missouri's advancement and opportunities in the biotechnology and plant, animal and life sciences fields, and Cynthia Kramer, executive director of SCOPE (Science and Citizens Operating for Purpose and Exploration.)
In the News...Governor Nixon appointed Major Ronald Replogle as superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol on February 8. He is a 26-year patrol veteran and currently is commander of its Criminal Investigation Bureau.
Congratulations to Major Replogle.
House Bill 1497 was approved by the house this week. It requires the governor to call a special election to fill a vacancy to the offices of lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, state treasurer or state auditor. This would take away the governor's ability to appoint someone for the remainder of the term. It has fiscal implications and time ramifications. This bill will, for example, take the power away from the Governor to appoint a replacement should Secretary of State Robin Carnahan win in her bid for election to the U.S. Senate.
The House gave final approval for HB 1377, which requires that TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) recipients be screened and required to take a drug test. If found to be using an unprescribed drug, the $58/month received in benefits will be taken away for one year. The people who receive TANF benefits are mostly (78%) women with an average in the range of 2-3 children. This group is in the process of looking for work. Should the State find them to be drug users, it does nothing to help them overcome drug addiction. It is punitive, and places this poverty-stricken family in an even more tenuous situation by taking away dollars that could be going for rent and utilities. This year's form of the bill also requires drug testing for state elected officials and judges. What is lacking in that regard, is the same kind of punitive response to a positive drug-use finding than TANF recipients receive.