Although I tend to be critical when I believe it is warranted, I also try to give praise when appropriate. Governor Nixon vetoed a near record number of bills from this session, but he also signed several critical bills. Among the most decisive for our future is HB 1490, the Common Core bill. HB 1490 sets Missouri on the road to regaining control of the education of our children and returning government to the people. I applaud the governor for his signature on this important piece of legislation.
This report will concentrate on signed bills and next week will cover the vetoes.
Common Core Rollback
HB 1490 allows the state to reject the federal Common Core standards and begin a process of developing Missouri--based student achievement benchmarks. Specifically, the bill allows districts to continue with the Common Core standards that are already in place, but would create teams to develop new standards to be put in place by the 2016 academic year. This is not ideal, but avoids total upheaval as we are about to begin the new school year. Under the bill, the work groups will be made up of parents, teachers, and other experts who will work to develop standards for English, math, science and history. The bill also protects schools from being penalized for poor performance on the Common Core tests while they remain in place.
Common Core was adopted by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) during the summer of 2010, between school years, without any legislative oversight, review, or any other public input. Education is a reserved role for the states so that it will be closer to the people, but this process stepped on the state's role. HB 1490 reverses this trend and provides a path to local input and control. HB 1490 requires that any academic standards revision must go through work groups assigned by a wide range of entities. The governor, lieutenant governor, commissioner for higher education, the Senate, the House, Missouri school boards, and the state board of education, among others, will name members to these advisory groups. Additionally, HB 1490 provides that whenever standards are developed or modified a minimum of three public hearings will be held, giving more parents and other concerned citizens a voice before any changes are made. The bill also prohibits DESE from dictating curriculum, textbooks, and/or other instructional materials to be used in Missouri schools.
Common Core greatly restricts local choice because material other than that provided for Common Core cannot exceed 15 percent of all classroom content. HB 1490 has no such restrictions as long as the materials chosen by the local school boards do not create a conflict with state standards. These provisions move government closer to parents, taxpayers, and educators at the local level where government functions best.
Other Important Bills Signed by the Governor
Prescription Drug Program Extension -- SB 754 extends the Missouri Prescription Drug Program that provides prescription drug assistance to more than 200,000 low--income and disabled seniors. The program was set to expire this year, but the bill extends it until 2017. This bill covers applicants with an yearly income below 185 percent of the federal poverty level.
Right to Try -- HB 1685 is commonly referred to as "Right to Try" legislation and is designed to give Missourians battling a terminal illness better access to potentially life--saving treatments. The bill allows terminally ill patients under the care of licensed doctors to access investigational drugs that have passed basic safety tests but whose efficacy is not yet conclusive. The bill expedites the process for patients fighting a terminal illness who do not have the time to wait for the full FDA approval process that can often take as long as a decade.
Helping Drug Overdose Victims -- HB 2040 will allow first responders in Missouri to potentially save the lives of victims of drug overdose. The bill allows qualified first responders to a drug known as Naloxone to individuals suffering from an apparent narcotic or opiate--related overdose. Naloxone is a medication used to counter the effects of opioid overdose from drugs such as morphine or heroin.
Child Abuse Investigations -- HB 1092 will give child abuse investigators more time to complete their work and task a joint committee with looking for ways to improve abuse and neglect proceedings. The bill allows caseworkers in the Children's Division to have 45 calendar days to complete investigations rather than the current limit of 30 days. The bill also requires the Joint Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect to recommend improvements for abuse and neglect proceedings.
Criminal Code Revision -- SB 491 comprehensively revises the state's criminal code for the first time in more than three decades. The bill creates a new classification of misdemeanor and a new classification of felony to better allow the punishment to appropriately fit increasing levels of severity of criminal activity. The bill also greatly increases the punishments for individuals who sexually abuse children and for assault crimes in general. In addition, it deals much more harshly with habitual drunk drivers who endanger others on the road, and creates a stair--step approach for drug--related crimes that would give additional flexibility to prosecutors, defense attorneys and courts in the disposition of drug--related cases.
Missouri Military Impact and Sustainability Committee
The Interim Committee on Missouri Military Impact and Sustainability held its first meeting on Monday, July 14 in Hearing Room 7 of the Capitol. A variety of witnesses addressed two different topics: the role of the Missouri National Guard and the state of care for veterans through the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).
We began hearings with information about the role of the National Guard in Missouri, the number of personnel and the Guards impact within local communities. We will be provided with local and specific information as we move throughout the process.
The committee also heard testimony from several people receiving care or involved with someone receiving care through the VHA. The following became evident through the witnesses:
-- The capacity of the system is being taxed by a heavy influx of Vietnam era veterans and as well as those from the recent Middle Eastern conflict.
-- Outsourcing helps alleviate some of the capacity problem.
-- Many witnesses expressed their apprehension to moving further toward outsourcing as a permanent solution to the capacity problem.
-- VHA is a system that has not had a serious reorganization since the 1940s. Of course, much has changed since that period of time.
The committee will continue its meetings in St. Robert on August 18 and in Warrensburg on September 23.
It is an honor to serve the 51st District in the Missouri House of Representatives. Each week I will issue a capitol report to keep you informed of activities in Jefferson City and Missouri. Any concerns or issues you might have are of great interest to me. I look forward to your input and thoughts, so please feel free to contact me at any time if you have questions, concerns, or ideas to improve our state government and the quality of life for all Missourians. My telephone number is 573-751-2204 or you may contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for working with me to make Missouri a great place to live.