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29 September 2011

Allen: Special Session Updates, Lessons of Moberly

Special Session Update

SB 1 modifies provisions relating to communications between school district employees and students.

The House gave overwhelming approval to legislation that has commonly been referred to as the “Facebook Fix.” The fix is necessary because of an unintended consequence that resulted from a bill passed during the regular session to protect students from inappropriate conduct by unscrupulous teachers. Our goal was to make certain that communications through social media such as Facebook and Twitter are viewable by parents at all times. Instead, the language in the bill caused concerns that it would limit the ability of our many good teachers to use these tools to communicate school-related matters with their students.

Senate Bill 1 requires each school district to put in place a written policy concerning employee-student communication. The bill repeals a provision that would have prohibited teachers from creating and using a work-related Internet site unless it is also available to school administrators and the child’s parent or guardian. SB 1 allows teachers to establish and maintain a work- and non-work related Internet site to have exclusive access with a current or former student. The bill now goes to the Governor for his signature.

SB 7 would establish the Missouri Science and Innovation Reinvestment Act.

The House approved SB 7 which would create the Missouri Science and Reinvestment Act (MOSIRA). In essence, MOSIRA is a seed program designed to kickstart Missouri’s next generation of hi-tech jobs. The goal is to make our state a national leader in life sciences and technology and to help retain and grow science and technology companies in Missouri. The bill would allow us to develop our high-tech workforce that will create good-paying jobs for Missouri residents and give a significant boost to our economy. One of the great things about MOSIRA is the funding method it would utilize. It would not create any new taxes nor would it seek budget money currently being directed to Missouri general revenues. Rather, after a set base year, it would capture part of the increase in gross receipts from state income taxes generated by employees working within designated science and innovation fields. Money generated would then go into a fund that would continue to do outreach to attract more high-tech jobs. This is a revenue neutral bill with solid taxpayer protections.

Many pro-life groups lobbied against MOSIRA. They argued that pro-life protections were needed so that money was not appropriated to embryonic stem cell research and human cloning. As a pro-life Representative, I took these concerns to heart. However, although specific language was not in the bill, the Missouri Constitution specifically bans these practices in our state in Article III Section 38(d). With pro-life protections in place, I supported this bill.

Tax Credit Reform & Economic Development Bills Stalled

The large omnibus Economic Development bill was not passed. Negotiations between the Senate, House, and Governor’s Office did not yield a good bill overall, despite some very good provisions. The House is expected to reconvene next week to negotiate further.

Lessons of Moberly

As we continue to work through this Special Session, I will keep you apprised of all developments relating to the Governor’s recent policy failures and on his Department of Economic Development’s troubling issues with the Mamtek debacle in Moberly, MO. Mamtek was given tax credits and incentives to build a manufacturing plant in Moberly, but pulled out at the last minute. This incident has cast the passage of any additional economic development bills in question. However, the House remains committed to working with the Senate should they wish to strive for additional legislation to help put Missourians back to work. No matter what is passed, the lessons of Moberly must be learned and the institutional failures that occurred must be fixed.

Thoughts on Governance

The very nature of our Missouri government structure makes for a slow and thorough process to consider legislation, much more so than many other states. There are many mechanisms that are used to achieve this slow process.

Term Limits, for example, lead to a more dedicated group of legislators as opposed to career politicians. With only 8 years in either House, there is less incentive to cooperate and compromise and more inclination to fight for what they and their constituents are passionate about. With such a dynamic, it often takes broad agreement beyond simple majorities to pass legislation. We see this happening right now in the Senate where a small minority of individuals are refusing to allow smooth passage of the Economic Development Bill.

Missouri government is also quite transparent compared to many other states. Open committee hearings and strong sunshine laws allows citizens to easily get involved and give their input. An informed citizenry adds another dynamic that keeps government in check from runaway “compromises” as we currently see in Washington.

While the Missouri system of government may not be perfect, it is slow and tedious at times, but it is what we have. A bit of time and deliberation in matters of urgency will in the end yield a better quality result that will benefit all Missourians.

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