As we ring in the New Year with unseasonably warm weather (coupled with the fear that intrepid Old Man Winter is about to come knocking!), our minds are filled with fading yet pleasantly warm memories from this holiday season, as the focus of the members of the House and Senate and Missourians all across our great State returns to the issues at the Capitol up on the hill…
“The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you're willing to pay the price.” -Vince Lombardi
Commencement of the Second Regular Session of the 96th General Assembly
On Wednesday, January 4, 2012, legislators from the four corners of Missouri, and everywhere in between, returned to Jefferson City to convene the Second Regular Session of the 96th General Assembly.
The General Assembly begins each year at noon on the first Wednesday after the first Monday in January at the State Capitol in Jefferson City. Here, legislation will be introduced and debated on both the Senate and the House Floors. The General Assembly meets until the first Friday following the second Monday in May. This year, the Legislative Session will run from January 4th to May 18th, one of the longest possible Sessions we can have, thanks to the Constitution and the calendar.
The Missouri General Assembly is made up of 34 members of the Senate, who are elected for four-year terms and 163 members of the House of Representatives, elected for two-year terms. This is an election year and we continue to face severe financial and economic challenges across the Nation. It is against this backdrop that the Session has commenced.
Beginning the Year with Prayer
This year, as in all years past, the first two days of the Legislative Session were marked by a prayer service, on each day I attended with many of my colleagues. Yesterday I participated in the Annual Dedication Service at Concord Baptist Church in Jefferson City, and today I attended and participated in the Annual Governor’s Prayer Breakfast (a tradition going on 50 years now) at the Capitol Plaza Hotel. The highlight of the Governor’s Prayer Breakfast was hearing the incredibly inspiring and moving words of Pastor Randy Gariss of Joplin, Missouri. Pastor Gariss recounted the horrible aftermath of the Joplin tornado and then lifted us all up in a stirring and passionate testament to the incredible generosity and assistance that poured into Joplin from across the State. Missouri had its share of natural disasters last year that affected nearly every citizen in our State to some extent. Pastor Gariss helped us focus on the priorities of life and profoundly stated, “What do I want the folks who live, work and serve in Jefferson City and in government to know? I want them to know God.”
Focus on Education
One of the major factors to discuss in this General Assembly is education and much needed education reform. Billions of dollars of your hard earned tax dollars go to fund public education in this State, comprising over ONE THIRD of the entire State’s Budget. As long as taxpayer dollars continue to fund this system, every legislator owes a duty to every taxpayer to insure that those tax dollars are being spent wisely, that parents ultimately control the public education choices relevant to their children and that everyone in the public school system is accountable and held to the highest standards. With both the Kansas City and St. Louis school districts now in full unaccredited status, bold solutions must be sought through courageous leadership. The Senate General Laws Committee passed legislation in March, 2011 termed the “Turner Fix.” This legislation ultimately did not pass the entire General Assembly but will be debated again. The “Turner Fix” from 2011 would have allowed students in a failing district to transfer to a charter school, virtual school, or an accredited school district, at the cost of the unaccredited district that the student is leaving. Neighboring districts say that this could cause issues due to the fact that their schools “could be” or “might be” at capacity. Other options for reform include a state takeover of the district, mayoral control, having other school districts administration take over, or getting rid of the districts all together. Whatever we decide to do, the status quo has not been acceptable to the taxpayers of this State for a long time so it is time for innovation, creativity and bold solutions. I will be committed to helping lead significant reform in this area.
Focus on Business & Creating a Stable Climate for Job Creation
A cloud is looming over small business and their ability and willingness to hire and retain employees as a result of serious concerns regarding workers compensation problems (caused by several recent court decisions), which include co-employee liability, occupational disease liability and the insolvency of the state’s second injury fund. The second injury fund can help an injured worker when a current work-related injury combines with a prior disability to create an increased combined disability. This fund helps business hire without discrimination, while keeping the business safe in case a different injury should occur. Unfortunately the fund is completely insolvent. Additionally, the co-employee and occupational disease liability issues have created uncertainty amongst our businesses, large and small, like never before in our State’s history. Uncertainty causes businesses to hunker down and protect their bottom lines instead of focusing on retaining and hiring more employees and growing business here in Missouri. Solutions will be pivotal to an improved economy and job creation in this State. Businesses must be able to move forward confidently knowing that these issues are priority for both Houses and I am dedicated to helping achieve solutions.
Fine Arts Grant Available
The Missouri Arts Council Annual Grant Applications can now be accessed online at http://www.missouriartscouncil.org/ under the “Get Funding” tab. This is a one-year grant for dance, established institutions, fold arts, mid-sized arts organizations, minority arts, visual arts and theater. There are separate applications available for art education as well as community arts.
Visiting the Capitol
I always enjoy it when constituents visit the Capitol and want to thank all who make the journey. If you ever find yourself in or around Jefferson City at any time during the year, please feel free to visit us! Stop by the Majority Leader’s Office in Room 302 and we will be happy to meet and greet you!
Personal News & Notes
If you know anyone who would be interested in receiving this Capitol Report, they can click the “Capitol Report Signup” button on my member home page at www.house.mo.gov and enter the appropriate information to receive the Capitol Report.