The Second Regular Session of the 96th General Assembly Begins
On Wednesday, Jan 4., the Second Regular Session of the 96th General Assembly will commence. Throughout the 2012 regular session, which will continue until May 18, I will be sponsoring several measures, some focusing on vital issues that I have addressed before in previous sessions. Some of the governmental matters I will focus on include:
- Allowing the City of St. Louis to control its own police force without state intervention (SB 461);
- Reforming aspects of the payday loan industry to prevent Missourians from acquiring excessive debt (SB 462);
- Increasing fines for seat belt violations from $10 to $50, encouraging citizens to put safety first (SB 463);
- Expanding early childhood education programs to ensure our children are on the path to a solid education and future;
- Analyzing the death penalty and its fiscal impact on Missouri;
- Examining spousal trusts and trust protectors; and
- Establishing the Non-Human Primate Act, which will address the ownership of non-human primates, such as chimpanzees and gorillas.
Expanding Early Childhood Education Programs
Increasing access to early childhood education programs is one of my top legislative priorities. In a news release issued Dec. 12, it was announced that the St. Louis Public School District plans to further expand access to early childhood education programs in the City of St. Louis.
The release further states, "Under a proposal outlined by the St. Louis Public Schools and approved by the U.S. District Court last month, the school district will invest $23.1 million from the Desegregation Capital Fund to dramatically expand access to early childhood education programs. This investment in early childhood education is one part of the district’s comprehensive plan to improve student performance and ultimately return to full state accreditation."
The funding will be dispersed as follows:
- $15.9 million over three years to open and fund 25 additional preschool classrooms throughout the district, two of which will be early childhood special education classrooms;
- $4.7 million over three years to provide before- and after-care for preschoolers at 30 sites throughout the district; and
- $2.5 million to expand the Parent Infant Interaction Program to Roosevelt, Beaumont, and Sumner high schools. This program provides child care and related support services that allow teen parents to continue their education.
New Missouri Senate and House District Boundaries Announced
At right: New legislative districts pertaining to the St. Louis area.
The new legislative boundaries for the Missouri Senate and House, drafted by members of the Missouri Appellate Apportionment Commission, were announced on Nov. 30. On Dec. 9, however, the commission filed a revised redistricting plan and map, due to a constitutional provision regarding multi-district counties.
Since the new district maps were released, questions have been raised regarding representation. The redrawn boundaries will coincide with any newly elected or re-elected individuals sworn into office in January 2013. I will continue to proudly represent the current 4th Senatorial District, and will be happy to welcome new constituents in 2013.
To view the new legislative maps, please click here, or visit the Missouri Office of Administration’s redistricting website at oa.mo.gov/bp/redistricting.
If you have any questions regarding the redistricting process, please don't hesitate to contact me.
Raising Awareness for HIV/AIDS
At right: Panelists from the World AIDS Day convention. From left to right: Sheila Jackson, Sherrill Wayland, Dr. Katherine Mathews, Steve Houldsworth, and Lawrence Lewis.
HIV/AIDS in St. LouisAccording to a report published by KMOV in October 2011, more than 5,000 people in the St. Louis region are living with HIV/AIDS. The article further states that, according to the Missouri State Health Department, 300 new HIV/AIDS cases were documented in the St. Louis area in 2010.
On a national level, it's estimated that more than one million people are living with HIV in our country, and that more than half a million have died after developing AIDS. It is important that we address the HIV/AIDS epidemic by stopping HIV/AIDS discrimination, discussing how to prevent the disease, and advocating for HIV/AIDS programs and services.
On Dec. 1, I had the honor of attending the World AIDS Day ceremony at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis — I thank my hosts for inviting me to discuss this imperative health issue.
Syringe Exchange ProgramsOne of the most effective ways to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS is promoting Syringe Exchange Programs (SEPs), which are designed to help prevent the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis C. The programs allow injection drug users to acquire sterile syringes and dispose of used syringes at no cost.
Since the epidemic began, injection drug use (IDU) has directly and indirectly accounted for more than one-third (36 percent) of AIDS cases in the United States. This disturbing trend appears to be continuing. Of the 42,156 new cases of AIDS reported in 2000, 11,635 (28 percent) were associated with IDU, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A study conducted by the World Health Organization showed an 18.6 percent annual decrease in the HIV rate in 36 cities with SEPs, compared to an 8.1 percent annual increase in 67 cities that didn't have these programs.
Currently, there is only one SEP offered in Missouri. We need your support to advocate for the establishment of more SEPs in our state and help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. For more information about AIDS awareness, please visit www.aids.gov or facing.aids.gov.
Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District's Low-Income Assistance Program
The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD) offers a low-income assistance program for qualified low-income, elderly, and disabled customers. Eligible customers will receive a rate reduction equal to 50 percent of the current charges on their monthly sewer bill.
In order to qualify for the low-income assistance program, a customer's total annual income for the previous year must be less than 150 percent of the most recent Health and Human Services’ (HHS) poverty guidelines by size of household, and less than 175 percent for disabled individuals and seniors who are at least age 62. These guidelines can be found on the MSD website, www.stlmsd.com, in the section titled "Low Income Assistance," located under the Customer Service tab at the top of the page.
Additional qualifications include:
- A person's liquid assets and real estate are less than $3,000, excluding his or her house of residence. Senior homeowners who are older than 62 — or disabled individuals — are not subject to the liquid asset guideline.
- A customer must own and/or reside as a tenant in the property for which he or she is applying to receive a rate reduction.
- Property must be a single family residence or multi-unit properties up to six units.
Once the application is accepted, rate reductions begin on the first full month following approval. The rate reduction will remain in effect for a period of one year from the date of approval, and all applicants must reapply annually.
New applicants with a prior past due balance will need to establish payment arrangements with MSD in order to qualify for the low-income assistance program.
Motor Vehicle Extended Service Contracts
As many of us depend on our automobiles for transportation, consumers will often purchase motor vehicle extended service contracts, which are designed to cover the cost of vehicles' repair, replacement, or maintenance when they age or encounter a problem.
Most new automobiles come with a factory warranty that is included in the price of the vehicle; however, some consumers buy motor vehicle extended service contracts on cars with expired factory warranties.
The Missouri Department of Insurance lists a number of guidelines how motor vehicle extended service contract providers must conduct business.
Providers are required to offer a “free-look” period. Consumers may receive a full refund within 20 business days from the time the contract is issued or mailed. Any refund not paid in full within 45 days of the return of the contract will be assessed a 10 percent penalty each month until the refund is paid.
In addition, motor vehicle extended services providers may not:
- Use the word “warranty” in sales and marketing materials;
- Claim a false affiliation with a motor vehicle manufacturer or dealer;
- Falsely claim to know the status of the consumer’s factory warranty; or
- Use deceptive practices in any term or provision of a motor vehicle extended service contract.
Helpful Information For Small Business Owners
I have the utmost respect and admiration for Missourians who own and operate their own businesses. The success of a small business requires determination, a dutiful work ethic, and a lot of pride. As a lawmaker, I want to do all I can do help small businesses thrive in our state.
Featured on the Missouri Department of Revenue website is a source dedicated to serving small businesses' tax requirements. The website offers information regarding:
- How to research the tax requirements for your business and registering the business with the department;
- Ongoing requirements for filing and paying tax in Missouri; and
- Access to additional state resources, including access to the Missouri Business Portal.
Another helpful website is the MOSourceLink, which can help you create a plan for your business, register your company, and expand your market. You can visit this website at www.mosourcelink.com.
Dick Gregory Place Apartments Offer Affordable Housing Options
In October, the completion of Dick Gregory Place Apartments was celebrated, and I was happy to participate in the ribbon-cutting ceremony. The Dick Gregory Place Apartments project was shepherded by Northside Community Housing Inc. and the Greater Ville Neighborhood Preservation Commission.
I'm also pleased to say that a piece of St. Louis history was preserved in this project, as 15 of the buildings are historic rehabs. Funding sources for the project included Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, Historic Tax Credits, HOME funds, and ARRA funds.
Thanks to this project, numerous St. Louis families will be able to live comfortably and affordably.
Missouri Arts Council: Grant Applications Now Online
Art plays an important role in our lives, and it is my pleasure to serve on the Missouri Arts Council and Cultural Trust Board.
The Missouri Arts Council (MAC) is a state agency and a division of the Missouri Department of Economic Development, and provides more than $6.5 million a year to nonprofit organizations that are dedicated to emphasizing the importance of the arts. In addition to promoting the arts, MAC provides expertise in community development, fundraising, marketing, grant writing, and arts education, among other skills.
I'm happy to announce the FY 2013 Missouri Arts Council Annual Grant applications are now online, and can be accessed at mac.cgweb.org. In order to apply for MAC funds, you must have an active online profile. Guidelines and forms regarding the grants may be found here. The deadline for draft reviews is Jan. 30, 2012. You can contact your program specialist with questions at (314) 340-6845 or toll-free (866) 407-4752.
Studies have shown that children who are involved in arts education have higher standardized test scores, higher attendance and graduation rates, and lower disciplinary rates, according to a news release issued in March 2010 by the Missouri Alliance for Arts Education (click here for the full release). Please support the arts in our state, and visit www.missouriartscouncil.org to learn more about how you can get involved in arts education.