Typically one of the best-attended events of any legislative session, the annual State of the State Address was entirely different this year. Due to concerns over COVID-19, the decision was made to forego the usual joint-session of the General Assembly in the House of Representatives’ chamber. Instead, the governor delivered his remarks to a smaller live audience in the Senate chamber and livestreamed his address online.
Regardless of the setting, the governor’s speech was positive and optimistic. He reflected on the successes of the past year – including business expansions and economic resiliency in the state, despite the pandemic. The governor returned to familiar themes of workforce development and infrastructure investment as he highlighted priorities for the coming year. Infrastructure requests included additional money for rural broadband, improvements to airports and river ports, maintenance at state facilities and $10 million for water resource projects
The $34 billion budget the governor proposed for 2022 fully funds the Foundation Formula that pays for elementary and secondary education, and increases money for the A+ Schools program and Bright Flight scholarships. He also asked the General Assembly to renew core funding for Missouri’s universities and to increase appropriations for early childhood education. The budget also includes nearly $60 million to fund behavioral and developmental disability services.
Although the governor said Missouri’s economy weathered the pandemic recession surprisingly well, and revenues remain strong, the state faces uncertainty due to Medicaid expansion. The decision by voters to extend health care to low income, able-bodied adults will grow Missouri’s state budget by nearly $2 billion, the governor said. Much of this money will flow from the federal government, but a portion of this cost will be borne directly by Missouri taxpayers.
LEGISLATIVE ACTIVITY ADVANCES
The Missouri Senate perfected its first bill of the 2020 legislative session this week. Senate Bill 2 expands the Missouri Works Program to include part-time National Guard duty and civilian support jobs. Qualifying part-time National Guard jobs for workforce development tax incentives should help Missouri bases and facilities remain attractive as the military selects locations for new units and programs.
On Tuesday, I presented Senate Bill 98 to the Senate Appropriations Committee. A comprehensive package of legislation related to gaming, this bill includes provisions to allow both sports wagering and video lottery terminals in Missouri. We had a productive hearing and listened as a number of witnesses shared how similar programs have benefited other states.
One common theme of the testimony regarding video lottery terminals was the impact this bill would have on the nearly 14,000 illegal gaming machines believed to be currently in the state. These unlicensed machines generate no tax revenue to support elementary and secondary education. With no state regulation or oversight, it’s impossible to know whether these games are rigged, or whether they pay out what they’re supposed to. Allowing the Lottery Commission to place terminals at veteran’s halls, fraternal lodges, bars and other places frequented by adults would ensure that Missourians who want to try their luck will do so with some assurance the games are fair.
The sports wagering portion of the bill also generated a lot of interest, with testimony from sports leagues, as well as casinos and others likely to be impacted by the legislation. It’s clear to me that Missourians are betting on sports now, either online or traveling to other states where it’s allowed. My legislation would bring the money being spent out of state back home and bring needed revenue to the state of Missouri to support our children’s schools.
GUIDANCE FOR SERVICE ANIMALS
During the 2020 legislative session I sponsored a bill that addressed the misrepresentation of service dogs. One provision of that legislation was a requirement for the Governor’s Council on Disability to prepare materials to educate the public about service animals. Those materials are now available. The guidance is especially useful to landlords and owners of rental property, who may have questions about whether animals owned by their tenants qualify for protections under the law. Landlords may request documentation verifying that their tenant’s disability requires the assistance of a service animal. They can also establish reasonable restrictions, including adherence to leash laws, vaccination requirements and sanitary standards. Property owners can also charge tenants for damages caused by a service animal. For more information about laws regarding service animals, visit www.disability.mo.gov/serviceanimals.htm.
As always, I appreciate hearing your comments, opinions and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at 573-751-4302. You may also email me at email@example.com.