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14 February 2012

Allen: Update on Six Proposed Bills

My Legislation

The past two weeks have been extremely busy for us. We had five bills heard in committee – House Bills 1032, 1033, 1049, 1051, and 1188 – and are awaiting action on HB 1052 which will be referred to the Elections Committee.

HB 1032 had a hearing on February 1st in the Professional Registration and Licensing Committee. The bill adds professional counselors to the list of potential court appointees to do adoptive investigations. Counselors and the work they often do with children and families make them prime candidates to conduct adoptive investigations. These investigations are often initiated to assess the ability of potential adoptive parents to care for a child or to investigate reports of abuse or neglect. This bill was passed out of committee this past Wednesday, February 8th.

HB 1033 had a hearing on February 1st in the Health Care Policy Committee. HB 1033 requires that breast density information be included in mammography reports. Both dense breast tissue and cancerous growths appear white on mammography scans. Breasts with high density can possibly hide small cancerous growths. Mounting evidence also suggests that high breast density is an independent risk factor for breast cancer. This information should not lead anyone to panic, but it should facilitate open dialogue about the issue with your doctor.

HB 1049 was heard on February 8th in the Children and Families Committee. This is the bullying bill. While bullying seems trivial to some, the reality is that it has a lasting impact on the victim. There have been far too many tragedies in Missouri that have resulted from bullying. This bill formally defines “cyber-bullying” and gives schools the tools to implement policies that suit their unique district. Many school districts currently have procedures regarding bullying and/or cyber-bullying but do not have the formal ability to enforce them. Because of this, bullying often goes unreported and unchecked. If passed, schools can address bullying and new bullying methods and take action with the full backing of the law. There was no opposition and we are waiting for it to be voted out of committee.

HB 1051 was heard on February 1st in the General Laws Committee. This is my comparative audit legislation. This bill would allow the State Auditor to conduct a one-time comparative audit of 5-10 of the largest state agencies to look at best practices and recommend their broad implementation. For example, if one department has a computer management system that appears more efficient than that of another department, this audit report would make us aware of that and note the estimated cost-savings if a switch were implemented. Of course, in reality it is a bit more complex than that. Other states routinely do these types of audits to find and implement best practices. Washington State’s last comparative audit, for example, reported a potential savings of $60-70 million. This legislation was voted out of committee on February 8th and has now been sent to the Rules Committee.

HB 1052 will be referred to the Elections Committee later this week. This bill would establish a closed primary system in Missouri. A closed primary system is a system in which only registered party members can vote in a primary for the political party they are affiliated with. 27 states currently have a closed primary system. The philosophical underpinning of this legislation is that political primaries are a party function and are quite different than a general election. It is a party’s, and its members’, responsibility to pick their candidate. Such a system would help eliminate voter fraud and minimize questionable results. For example, last week the St. Louis Post Dispatch’s Bill McClellan on February 1st urged Democrats to pick up a Republican ballot in last week’s primary and cast a protest vote for Bachmann in order to put Missouri “back on the political map.” This is not only a Republican issue. In 2008, after the Republican nomination was determined, Rush Limbaugh promoted a similar scheme and urged Republicans in remaining primary states to vote for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Primary to keep the Democratic Party “at war with itself.” Such actions could be seen as an insult to our democracy and a misuse of the ballot box. This bill would seek to correct this and minimize this problem.

HB 1188 was heard before the Health Care Policy Committee on February 1st. This bill would allow school nurses to stock asthma related rescue medication, including albuterol, to treat children in emergency circumstances. Children often have their first asthma attack at school and these episodes can be life threatening. HB 1188 was voted out of committee as a consent bill with no one voting in opposition.

Appropriations Committee Update

Our Appropriations Committee on Health, Mental Health, and Social Services has met with all relevant departments over the past three weeks. I was in charge of the subcommittee that looked in-depth at the Department of Social Services (DSS). We had over 6 hours of testimony from DSS. To ensure that the committee received transparent and complete information, we did significant research prior to the meeting.

We looked at General Revenue appropriations compared with actual expenditures for each line item in the DSS budget over the past five years. There are over 100 line items in the DSS budget. Looking at these statistics over the past five years allowed us to see what was consistently restricted, what programs were consistently under or over spent based upon the appropriation, and what the trend for each line item has been over the past few years. This line of questioning sought to open up the core budget of DSS and make their spending as transparent as possible.

Recently Passed Legislation by the House

HB 1329, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Silvey (R-38), authorizes the Director of the Department of Revenue to issue a permit to allow the temporary operation of a motor vehicle or trailer by a buyer and changes the laws regarding motor vehicle registration. This is a good government change to existing law to increase efficiencies in the system.

HB 1311, also sponsored by Rep. Ryan Silvey (R-38), authorizes a state and local sales and use tax exemption on items related to data storage centers and several farm facilities. This bill is an important economic development tool to establish an environment to encourage these industries to come to Missouri and create jobs and expand existing operations here and add more employment positions.

HB 1219, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Elmer (R-141), changes the laws regarding unlawful discriminatory employment practices as they relate to the Missouri Human Rights Act and establishes the Whistleblower Protection Act. This bill corrects inequities that have arisen in our system due to several recent Court decisions over the past several years. The legislation would return Missouri law to the position it used to occupy as a mirror to the federal civil rights law. The proposed legislation would re-establish a level playing field for all employers and employees, allowing employers to properly deal with problem employees while still providing employees the protections they deserve. In this difficult economic environment, where employers are faced with increasing burdens in the areas of taxation, regulation and litigation, we should do all we can to ensure that our small business owners have a level playing field in our State so they can operate in a stable and certain business environment.

HB 1104, sponsored by Rep. Shane Schoeller (R-139), specifies that a person seeking to vote in a public election must show valid photo identification to election officials before they can receive a ballot and have it counted. This is a common sense piece of enabling legislation that will support and implement the constitutional ballot question that all Missourians will be able to vote upon this coming fall. In this day and age of excessive and rampant voter fraud and voter registration fraud, we should do all we can to protect one of our most sacred and fundamental rights, the right to vote.

Presidential Primary

The media this past week was replete with news stories calling this week’s presidential primary a “waste of money” or a “beauty contest.” The media focused their outrage on the General Assembly for not acting to save the state $7 million by eliminating the nonbinding primary.

However, what is not mentioned is the fact that we passed SB 282 last session. This legislation would have tied the choosing of our delegates to the primary results by moving the election to March as the national parties wished.

Unfortunately, the Governor vetoed this important piece of legislation and we lost half of our delegates to the party conventions. Faced with this possibility, the state party decided to choose our delegates through the caucus process ensuring that all delegates would be counted. Now, we will rely on the outcome of the party caucuses on March 17 to finish the job.

Scholarship Opportunity for High School Senior Women

As in the past, members of the Women Legislators of Missouri will sponsor a scholarship award for graduating high school senior women in our state. They will be awarding nine $500 scholarships to 2012 graduating women. One recipient will be chosen from each of the nine Missouri U. S. Congressional Districts for a scholarship award. For more information and the application, please e-mail Denia Fields at: denia{dot}fields{at}house{dot}mo{dot}gov.

Pictures Of The Week

Met with Bob Zangas (just left of me) and other representatives from various Homecare Associations. Mr. Zangas is a constituent of the 92nd District and a local business owner.

We talked about the issues facing access to homecare services, especially in this tough budget time.
Met with Thomas Coburn this week. He is a constituent of the
92nd and an employee of the Department of Social Service’s Division of Youth Services (DYS).

Missouri’s DYS continues to be one of the best in the nation. We spoke about various issues concerning them this year, especially budgetary.

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