Today, many of Missouri's top military officials made their way to the State Capitol this week to be honored during Military Appreciation and Awareness Day. The event takes place each year to highlight the significant contributions and sacrifices of military service members and the importance of the economic impact that military installations have on the state of Missouri.
Visitors included Maj. Gen. Kent Savre with Fort Leonard Wood; Brig. Gen. Paul Tibbets with Whiteman Air Force Base; and Brig. Gen. Greg Mason with the Missouri National Guard. They took part in a joint hearing of the Senate Veterans' Affairs and Health Committee and the House Veterans Committee. Military leaders and members of the Missouri Military Preparedness and Enhancement Commission also met with legislators to discuss the nearly $40 billion impact that defense and military spending have on Missouri's economy.
We also passed several bills out of the House this week.
State Operating Budget Headed to the House Floor for Discussion
The House Budget Committee met for several hours over the course of two days to work out the final details of the Fiscal Year 2017 state operating budget. After much discussion and several amendments, the approximately $27.1 billion spending plan is now headed to the House floor for discussion.
The plan that House members are set to debate next week includes an additional $69.3 million for the School Foundation Formula that provides basic state aid for public elementary and secondary schools. The budget proposal also includes an additional $9.9 million in performance-based funding for the state's institutions of higher education.
Other budget highlights include:
-- $1.3 million for 2015's Dairy Revitalization Act
-- $2 million increase for river ports
-- $2 million increase for business startups through the Missouri Technology Corporation
-- $30 million to revive the state cost-share program to fund transportation projects
-- Increase Medicaid provider rates by three percent
-- Two percent pay increase for state employees
-- $500,000 increase for the Alternatives to Abortion program
-- $1.75 million increase to library funding over the governor's recommendation
"Paycheck Protection" Legislation Sent to the Governor (HB 1891)
The Missouri House and Senate this week worked together to send "paycheck protection" legislation to the governor. The bill is designed to give public employee union members the right to opt-in annually if they choose to participate in their union. The current system requires a public employee to opt-out, and if they fail to do so their dues are automatically deducted. 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 109 votes in the House and 23 votes in the Senate: both totals being veto-proof majorities.
House Approves Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (HB 1892)
After lengthy debate, discussion, and a close vote, the Missouri House approved legislation this week that would enact a prescription drug monitoring program in Missouri, which is currently the only state in the nation without such a program in place. Known as the Narcotics Control Act, the bill would allow physicians and pharmacists to monitor patients' medication lists in order to catch those who try to obtain multiple prescriptions for addictive pain killers from different medical professionals. Because of concerns over the lack of effectiveness and potential privacy breeches, I voted against this bill.
Improving 911 Services for Missourians (HB 1904)
The Missouri House of Representatives gave final approval to legislation designed to consolidate and provide adequate funding for the state's 911 call centers. The bill is meant to ensure Missourians have access to 911 emergency services in all parts of the state.
The bill would update the current funding model for 911 services that was put in place more than three decades ago and is based on a surcharge on traditional landline phone lines. The bill's sponsor noted that as more and more residents have done away with landlines and switched to cell phones, funding for 911 services has dissipated. The legislation would allow local municipalities to submit for voter approval a fee of up to $1.50 for any device capable of contacting 911.
Encouraging Missourians to Save (HB 2125)
The members of the Missouri House took action this week to encourage Missourians to save their hard-earned dollars. The legislation would allow financial institutions in the state to offer and conduct savings promotion programs, which offer participants a chance to win prizes if they make a minimum deposit.
The programs were authorized by Congress in 2013 with the passage of the American Savings Promotion Act. Since its passage, 16 states have authorized savings promotion programs and have encouraged savings of more than $100 million to date. Under current Missouri law, banks and credits unions in the state cannot offer promotional prizes to encourage savings. The bill approved by the House would authorize financial institutions to do so.
House Approves Adoptee Rights Act (HB 1599)
House members spent Wednesday morning discussing the merits of a bill designed to provide adoptees in Missouri with access to their birth certificates when they turn 18. The Missouri Adoptee Rights Act is designed to ease current requirements that restrict access to birth certificates for those who have been adopted.
Under current Missouri law, adoptees are only allowed to access information to identify a biological parent when the parent consents or dies. The bill approved by the House would give adoptees a simple process to obtain a birth certificate without first needing to obtain a court order. In effect, it would allow an adopted person to apply for an original birth certificate as long as the applicant is at least 18 years old, was born in Missouri, and has proper proof of identity.
Lowering the Tax Burden on Fitness (HB 1463)
Members of the Missouri House moved this week to stop an overly-broad interpretation of the state's entertainment tax. House members approved legislation to exempt activities such as gym memberships, as well as dance and yoga classes, from an entertainment tax that was intended for items such as tickets for sporting events and amusement parks.
The bill would update state statutes dealing with sales taxes on entertainment or athletic events and reverse decisions made by the Missouri Department of Revenue that negatively impact small businesses throughout the state. It was in 2010 that the revenue department decided that yoga studios and gyms were "places of amusement, entertainment, or recreation" and began taxing these small businesses. The department also began auditing businesses and ordering them to pay years of back taxes.
The legislation approved by the House would protect small businesses from the department's overly-broad interpretation and put an end to the tax on fitness.