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16 February 2012

Lant: Wading Through Muddied Waters Of Unclear Intent In Legislation, Redistricting Battles

We were busy with committee work most of the week. My committees include Workforce Development, where we heard a proposal to provide clarification to some prevailing wage provisions dealing with definitions of "maintenance work" vs. "construction". It seems that another of the unintended consequences of a bill from a few years past was to muddy the waters about what was what. We also find the need to better define the term "major alteration". These seem on the surface to be nit picking, but the interpretations of these terms can either cost or save the taxpayers many dollars. We passed it out of committee and it will now have a chance to be heard on the House floor. Another of my committees is Appropriations for Transportation and Economic Development. We held several meetings this week to finish hearing testimony from the Department of Transportation and I have to admit they were certainly entertaining. The budget process is tremendously complex in that what appears to be is not always what is! We asked the departments to remove any estimated increases in the budgets and restricted overages to 10% instead of the customary 25%. We passed the budget bill out of committee and sent it to the Budget Director for further adjustments. This is the culmination of about 50 hours of testimony and question and answer sessions. This is really only the beginning of the process of budget, as the Senate conducts their hearings and then the House and Senate committees get together to form a bill to send to the Governor. Then the Governor has the option of withholding up to 3% of the budgeted amount just because. I have to wonder how in the heck they ever came up with this process? I am also on the Professional registration Committee. Every person who holds a license issued by the State is regulated by this department. We are currently hearing testimony that deals with the "Pain Control Clinics". We have heard so far from witnesses on both sides of the issue and it looks like the solution may be in changing some of the wording so the legislation being proposed doesn't affect anyone other than those working in the pain control fields. The trick to good legislation as far as I can tell, is to word it so that anyone can understand what the intent is, and close all the loopholes to keep the lawyers out!

On the House floor, we passed several "Consent" bills. A consent bill is one that has no cost to the taxpayers and is unanimously voted out of committee. Typically, they are naming highways, declaring special days, or adding and subtracting language in an existing bill to clarify it. We passed a dozen of these on Wednesday afternoon. We have a committee whose job it is to do nothing more than get rid of antiquated bills. Some of these are fun just to read. There are still laws on the books outlawing spittoons in hotel lobbies. That had to be a good thing in its day! I was talking to a senior representative last week who told me that just eight years ago there were only about ten books of Missouri Law, today there are over twenty. I think we need to spend more time making sure our bills are written and punctuated properly to make sure we don't have to enact two new laws to correct one mistake. Even a comma placed incorrectly will make a law do something that was never intended.

Last week the Appellate Court ruled that the House Maps are correctly drawn. The Supreme Court still has to rule, but I think they will uphold the lower court decision. The Senate Maps are still unfinished and I have heard talk about extending the filing date to give the commission more time to re-draw their maps. With filing less than two weeks away, they had better get moving or they will have to extend the date. This will create a hardship on those who are running for Senate seats as they won't be able to start campaigning until they know the boundaries of their districts. I think I'll be all right for my House District as long as I don't get over into Oklahoma or Arkansas!

I visited with several Representatives on both sides of the aisle last week about what I consider to be a broken system of dealing with neglected and abused children. The difficult part is that no one department is at fault. We are going to have to look at the entire system in order to find out what is, or is not being done. I have intentions of forming a interim study group to meet with department heads and other interested parties to look for ways to improve, or if necessary, overhaul the current system. I received an E-mail from an old friend last week which spelled out yet more problems I was unaware of. It's amazing what you find out once you start looking into problems. You will be hearing more about this as I learn more. I will also be sharing thoughts and ideas as we begin meeting with the departments.

There is going to be a Storm Spotter Training Class March 9th. at 6:30 in the McDonald County High School Cafeteria. If the past several years are any indication, we need all the storm spotters we can get. There will be more information in the Press this week, if you can go, it sure will be worthwhile. I'll have more next week, until then, I am, and remain, in your service.

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