It has been thrilling to serve the 138th District and the entire state throughout the past seven years. Because of term limits, this is my final session as your representative, but I hope it is one of the most productive and beneficial years Missouri has seen.
Legislators returned to Jefferson City this week to begin the 2012 Regular Session. My House committee assignments remain the same as last year. I look forward to serving on the Utilities, Elementary and Secondary Education and Downsizing Government Committees. I am also humbled to continue serving as the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee.
Please feel free to contact my capitol office if you have any questions or concerns about legislation that is considered by the House during session. Knowing how you feel about certain issues helps me to serve you better.
When budgets are tight, our values come forward. This year, the budget is just about as tight as it can get. Current projections show that the legislature will have to find a way to face a nearly $600 million budget shortfall. Many proposals have been made to increase economic prosperity in the state. However, few address the issues associated with such a large budget shortfall.
I value the education of our children and will continue to be the voice for public education for Missouri's children. The current education foundation formula has become inadequate and inequitable and will require attention from both chambers. Clearly, with little revenues, schools will suffer with or without a rewritten formula. I'm so proud of Springfield Public Schools for being the largest accredited school district in Missouri. When school districts struggle, looking to successful Missouri schools for best practices can be beneficial.
I also value our veterans and seniors. Often, we see veteran and senior issues pitted against our children. Programs that assist those who have served our country bravely, and those who have worked hard to build a great state and community should be valued as our children are. The legislature is constitutionally bound to present a balanced budget. Balance is the key as we continue to consider the finances of our state.
During the interim, I had the opportunity to serve Missourians in a broader way. I participated in a variety of conferences and panels.I was appointed to the Council of State Governments Executive Committee to represent Missouri at the executive meeting in June. The Council of State Governments (CSG) is the nation's only organization that serves all three branches of state government. It serves to facilitate the exchange of ideas and understanding among state leaders, and to promote collaborative problem-solving. As a member of the Executive Committee, I help develop the policy and programs of CSG. I also serve on the CSG Education Policy Task Force. In October, I attended the CSG National Summit. As the Education Policy Task Force Co-chair, I led meetings that focused on encouraging children to seek higher education, on how to improve education standards, and on how to move beyond standardized testing as a way to check student learning.
In August, I attended the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) Summit. NCSL provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues. NCSL is an effective and respected advocate for the interests of state governments before Congress and federal agencies. I serve on the NCSL Committee on Education, and I was able to discuss education legislation with nearly 5,000 elected officials, staffers and others involved in public policy.
I was also humbled by the recognition of several organizations. The Foreign Language Association of Missouri (FLAM) honored me with the Friend of Foreign Language Award. The Southwest Independent Living also honored me with their Legislator of the Year award. I cannot begin to describe how surprised and grateful I am to be recognized by these fine organizations.
Every Child Project
The Every Child Project is a public-service journalism initiative by the Springfield News-Leader. This project aims to focus on problems facing children in the Springfield area, to encourage discussion and debate on how to help solve these issues and to lead the community to take action.
The News-Leader established a community advisory board to assist with this project. This advisory board includes members of community and state government, local business leaders as well as local community and religious leaders. I am honored to participate in such a great cause.
The statistics about child abuse and need in the community are astounding. The Greene County foster care system includes more than 1,000 children and youth. Greene County has the most child abuse cases out of any county in Missouri, and demand for homelessness services is growing at a rapid rate.
Every day during the month of January, the News-Leader will publish notes and observations from investigators of child abuse in the community. Please take the time to read these quotes and consider the implication that these facts have on our children, community and future. Please read some of the comments here.
Issues to Look for in 2012
Job Creation: The No. 1 priority of 2011 that wasn't acted on, job creation is even more vital in 2012. House Democrats will pursue polices aimed at encouraging businesses to expand hiring while protecting the rights and wages of Missouri workers. Unfortunately, Republican legislative leaders have announced that instead of substantive job creation efforts they will instead pursue an anti-worker agenda that will further depress the state's economy.
I-70 Toll Road: The Missouri Department of Transportation will ask lawmakers to approve a plan to rebuild Interstate 70 as a toll road. Because a 1967 Missouri Supreme Court decision prohibits MoDOT from operating toll roads or for using money from the state road fund for their construction or maintenance, MoDOT is seeking legislative approval to lease I-70 to a private contractor, which would finance the interstate's reconstruction and recoup its investment by operating it as a toll road. Whether MoDOT's plan clears the constitutional hurdles, however, is questionable and the proposal has so far received a lukewarm response from lawmakers and Gov. Jay Nixon.
Sexual Abuse Reporting: In response to the Penn State football program sexual abuse scandal, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster is asking the General Assembly to enact a law that would require any person who witnesses the sexual abuse of a child to report it to authorities or face criminal prosecution for failing to report an incident.