This week I had my initial hearing on HB 1956, a bill to protect your information in the county court house. Although all records in the court house are public record, some companies try to download the information, at cost to you the taxpayers, and sell the information to mass marketers. The extra cost is unacceptable to me and I have filed the bill to end this practice. Also this week, all of my education bills are in the Select Committee on Education. HB 2144 would require the Bill of Rights to be taught within historical context to all secondary and higher education students. HB 2234 would provide for a statewide student portal in higher education that will ease the difficulties of filing applications and finding information on the websites of our state colleges and universities. Finally, we passed several bills out of the House this week.
Promoting Civics Education (HB 1646)
In a bill that works hand-in-hand with HB 2144, the House approved legislation to promote American history and civics education in Missouri classrooms. The bill would create the Missouri Civics Education Initiative to require students in public, charter, and private high schools to receive a passing grade on a standardized civics test in order to graduate.
Under HB 1621, exams would consist of the same 100 questions used on the civics portion of the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' Naturalization test that is taken by immigrants seeking American citizenship. The questions would cover topics ranging from the U.S. Constitution to American history to geography. The test could be retaken by the student an unlimited amount of times until a passing grade is obtained. The provisions of HB 2241 will help students prepare for this exam.
If passed into law, Missouri would join states such as Arizona, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Idaho, Tennessee, South Carolina, Louisiana and Wisconsin, which all passed Civics Education Initiatives earlier in the year.
"Paycheck Protection" Bill Receives House Approval (HB 1891)
The House gave approval this week to legislation meant to give workers the authority to annually opt-in rather than opt-out of paycheck deductions for union fees. Often referred to as "paycheck protection" legislation, the bill would require annual written consent from a public employee before any amount could be withheld from the earnings of the employee for the payment of any portion of dues, agency shop fees, or other fees paid to a public labor organization.
The legislation also would require public employee unions to obtain annual written consent in order to spend a portion of the fees on political activities. Unions for first responders, such as police and firefighters, would be exempted from the requirements of the bill.
The General Assembly approved similar legislation two years ago but saw the bill vetoed by the governor. This year's version of the legislation received 110 votes in the House, which is one more than needed to override a potential veto by the governor.
House Approves Legislation to Address Misuse of ASARCO Settlement Dollars (HB 2187)
The House approved legislation that would force the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to sell land it had acquired in Oregon County for use as a new state park. Many House members had taken issue with the decision of the executive branch to acquire the Frederick Creek Ranch land with funds that were meant for important remediation efforts such as clean drinking water projects in Missouri's lead mining district.
During the 2015 interim, the House formed a committee to look at what members said was an inappropriate use of settlement funds that were intended to be utilized to remediate the damage done by the ASARCO mining conglomerate at five sites in southeast Missouri's lead mining district, which includes St. Francois, Reynolds, Iron and Madison counties. Instead, the trustees of the ASARCO settlement determined it was appropriate to use funds to acquire land several counties away and in a different watershed.
Now, with the legislation approved by the House, members hope to undo the decision made by executive branch to prioritize the purchase of Frederick Creek Ranch over the remediation projects in areas that were actually impacted by ASARCO's actions. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.
House Approves Resolution Encouraging an Audit of the Federal Reserve (HR 71)
The members of the House approved a resolution calling on Congress to pass the Federal Reserve Transparency Act to require a complete audit of the Federal Reserve Bank. As the sponsor of the resolution said on the House floor, the Federal Reserve has loaned trillions of dollars to bail out foreign banks without the consent of Congress, and it refuses to fully disclose the details of its lending practices. He also noted that the Federal Reserve has never received a complete audit.
The resolution approved by the House notes that the Federal Reserve has inflated the money supply and manipulated interest rates since its inception in 1913, which has eroded the purchasing power of the dollar by approximately 95 percent, and contributed to boom and bust business cycles. It also points out that Federal Reserve has operated the nation's monetary system without full disclosure and transparency, which has led to a lower quality of life for the American people and abuse verified by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in its 2011 Report to Congress. The bill's sponsor hopes that a complete audit will finally provide the American people with answers about how their money is being spent, where their money is being spent, and at what cost.
House Approves Returning Heroes' Education Act (HB 2156)
The Missouri House took action this week to fix an issue with the Missouri Returning Heroes' Education Act that will help veterans to more easily afford the cost of a college education. The bill changes existing law to ensure the tuition benefit created by the act is applied correctly.
The Missouri Returning Heroes' Education Act was created by Senate Bill 830 in 2008. The act limits tuition charged to qualified combat veterans to $50 per credit hour for any program leading to a Bachelor's degree. Under the act, a "combat veteran" is any person who served in armed combat after Sept. 11, 2001, who was a Missouri resident when first entering the military, and who was discharged from military service under honorable conditions.
While the program has been beneficial for combat veterans, several filed a lawsuit alleging some state universities were misapplying the benefit. The universities were using the other financial aid available to the veterans to pay for tuition before capping the cost of classes at the $50 limit. The veterans who brought suit said the $50 cap should be applied first so that other financial aid could then be used to cover the other costs associated with attending college, which have increased significantly in recent years.
The legislation approved by the House changes the law to require the tuition limitation be provided before all other aid is applied and repeals the provisions prohibiting a veteran from receiving more than the actual cost of attendance when the limitation is combined with other available aid. The bill also will clarify how the law should be interpreted so that every university in Missouri will apply the act in the same way. Supporters said the goal of the legislation is to support veterans in Missouri and to help them to obtain their degrees without accumulating excessive student loan debt.