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23 January 2012

Lant: Sponsored Legislation Due In Committees Soon

Our work week began on Tuesday with committee hearings, session and the Governor's State of the State Speech. His speech was entitled "Missouri Moving Forward" and promised no tax increases, reducing State payrolls, and adding jobs to Missouri. No one could find fault here could they? The hard part is keeping those promises. His budget proposal, among other things, cuts higher education an additional 13% which translates to over 3 million for Missouri Southern and nearly 3/4 million at Crowder. His advice to the Universities was to cut overhead and administration and raise their tuitions. In addition, he proposed budget cuts in many areas of education, agriculture, and social services. Although I applaud the Governor for agreeing with us that we will not raise taxes, I am glad that the House and Senate will get to set and approve the actual budget.

We also heard from the Chief Justice with his State of the Judiciary Speech. Much like Judge Price last year, Chief Justice Teitelman urged lawmakers to pass measures to reduce the number of people in prison for parole and probation violations and reduce the prison population by 2%. This would result in savings of over 16.6 million over a 5 year period. We intend to seriously review such proposals for non-violent offenders and I will relay the ideas to you for your input.

The first bill to be passed out of the House this year was HJR 43. If approved by the Senate, this issue will be on the ballot in November for voter approval. Its purpose is to put limits on state appropriations. The increases in expenditures are tied to the rate of inflation and percentage changes in Missouri's population. It limits growth of government spending, provides long-term fiscal planning and rainy day funds, helps balance economic highs and lows, protects programs and funding, reduces income tax rates, and creates a stronger business environment. This bill passed with an overwhelming bi-partisan majority.

I was privileged to meet with several educators last week who shared concerns with me about children who are being neglected or abused. It seems like there are loopholes in our current system of reporting that need to be addressed. I am trying to research our current practices and have enlisted the help and advice of law enforcement, educators, and Social Services. There are several legislators who are helping me to design a fix to the current procedures.

I should be presenting several bills in committees in the next few weeks including my Funeral Protest Bill. It passed out of the House nearly unanimously last year but got hung up in the Senate. I'm hoping to avoid that problem this year. I also have a storm shelter bill that should be heard soon and a couple of bills dealing with prevailing wage. Both the House and Senate seem anxious to get started early this session and I sure hope that is a good sign.

All of the Appropriations Committees begin to meet this week. I for one can't wait to ask the directors what they spent their money on last year and more importantly, why they didn't spend it on the things they said they needed it for. You see, we are supposed to be responsible for oversight after we appropriate funds and if we don't ask the right questions, then we surely won't get any explanations. I'm not saying that they are less than honest with their answers, but there are a lot of ways to say something and I don't appreciate "spin". One of the things that concern me are departments that tell the public that we have cut their budgets when all that has happened was we refused to give them additional funds in a time of economic turmoil. In some circles of government, not increasing spending is labeled "cutting the budget". There have also been abuses where a director asks for additional funds for one purpose then spends them for another knowing that we would not have appropriated funds for that expenditure. Kind of reminds me of the stories my boys used to try to get me to believe. Remember how they always waited until you were real busy before they asked for something? That seems to me to be another good reason to have a few "Gray Haired Legislators". We're harder to fool!

We should be starting work on a few jobs bills this week. There will be some great floor debates in the House and Senate and I sure hope we can get bi-partisan support for some much needed reforms. I'll give you a full report next week. Until then, I am, and remain, in your service.

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