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13 September 2011

Lant: First-Hand Account Of Senate Proceedings

Last week was the beginning of our Special Session. The Governor called us into session for the expressed purpose of dealing with legislation that is intended to create jobs and find ways to allocate money for disasters. This only sounds easy if you say it fast! The unique aspect of Special Sessions is that the Governor determines what bills are to be heard, and unless he adds a new bill to the call, only what he stipulates is to be considered. The first couple of days are what is termed "Technical Session", meaning that we are only on the floor long enough to read the bill, then we adjourn to do other things. The House Speaker and the Senate Pro Tem agreed to introduce and hear three bills each. On Tuesday we opened session in the House, read our three bills, and adjourned. Elapsed time, probably less than 15 minutes. Since the Senate was opening an hour later, I decided to go over there and listen in. The Lt. Governor saw Tom Flanigan and myself on the sideline and invited us to sit on the Dias with him. That was an unexpected honor. He then began to open the Senate. After the prayer and pledge, Senator Crowell asked to be recognized to speak. He was allowed to rise and rise he did! He spoke for three hours on his upcoming wedding, the flood stage of the river, his neighborhood friends, and everything else you can imagine except the things we were called into session to deal with. When the Speaker Pro Tem finally asked him what he wanted, he replied that he wanted to see the Senate adjourn and everyone go home. The Senate finally read their bills, but the ill-mannered Senator Crowell wasn't through yet. On Wednesday evening, after a long committee hearing, the senator demanded a quorum roll call. Most of those who weren't in the hearing had already gone home for the evening. It took until 1:30 A.M. to get enough Senators back to make up the quorum. After opening on Thursday, the Senate adjourned until next Monday to give them time to read a bill that they have had access to for 5 months. I am certainly not criticizing the whole Senate. We have some fine dedicated senators, especially in our area, however, some of those people abuse the privileges that the constitution affords them!

The House processed a total of six bills. Budget Chairman Ryan Silvey added two bills that deal with disaster funding. One bill was to access the Rainy Day Fund and the other was to create an oversight committee to appropriate emergency funding. Both of these bills passed overwhelmingly. We also passed the measure dealing with the St. Louis Police department returning to local control and one establishing the date for Presidential Primaries. These bills also passed by a large margin.

On Wednesday morning, readers of the Joplin Globe found that the City of Joplin had entered an agreement with a St. Louis law firm to explore the possibility of a "Super TIF" A TIF, or Tax Increment Financing is a public financing method whereby a public project can be carried out within a defined area, usually blighted, and the debt spread out over several years and paid for by the increase in tax revenues from the added businesses. The tax revenues are usually restricted to the city's portion of the revenue. A Super TIF allows the states portion of the revenue increase to also be directed to the payoff. The whole key to making this work on our disaster recovery was to get it done as soon as possible. The TIF needs to be enacted this year in order to use the disaster year of 2011 as the base.
The Governor had allowed an additional bill sponsored by Representative Bill White that deals with property tax adjustments for commercial properties devastated by the tornado. After a tedious day of researching the laws concerning the TIF agreement, and cajoling the House lawyers to draft an amendment, we were able to attach the amendment to Representative Whites' bill. I am delighted to report that it passed the House with a unanimous vote. Every Republican and every Democrat House member saw the tremendous advantage to Missouri disaster areas. If this is signed by the Governor, any area that the Governor declares a disaster in the future is able to apply for this assistance. There is a very intensive application process and the city council of the affected area must do the application, but it gives the public another tool to use in rebuilding efforts. My hat's off to Representative Tom Flanigan who spearheaded a 20 hour effort to prepare the amendment and for his professional presentation on the House Floor.

Saturday afternoon I had the dubious honor of judging the Home Made Boat Race at Shady Acres campground. The race was the final event in the Paddlefest. I have rarely had so much fun or seen so many people having fun. There were boats made of every imaginable material and every imaginable configuration. We were asked to judge the boats on three criteria. The overall best boat, the best designed boat, and the worst boat. The overall best was easy, he won the race so it must have been the best. The overall worst was easy too, they fell off 20 times and lost the race. The best design was really hard! There were three of us judging and we each had to vote three times to narrow it down. Next year I suggest they have more categories. Maybe a "had most fun"," got the wettest"," got the most other people wet", anyway it was a ball and if you missed it, you need to plan to go next year!

I'm heading back to Jefferson City Monday evening for the second round of Special Session, I'm sure I'll have plenty to report next week, until then I am and remain, in your service.

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