Local legislators provide update on top issues in Jefferson City
Editor's note: A correction was made in this story Friday, March 21. Originally, the 22nd paragraph misquoted state Sen. Bill Stouffer as suggesting that corn prices have dropped recently. Corn prices are high at the moment.
State Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, and state Rep. Joe Aull, D-Marshall, were at Stone Hedge Golf Club for a legislative luncheon Monday, March 17, sponsored by local economic development agencies.
Both Aull and Stouffer spoke about current topics in state government before fielding questions from the small crowd.
Aull started things off by talking about the health care crisis in Missouri.
"We've still got a lot of good people that need health care," said Aull.
There are currently 700,000 uninsured Missourians, he said.
"What happens when people don't have insurance is they keep getting sicker and sicker, until they end up at the emergency room door," he said. "Then we have to take care of the bill."
Aull also spoke about the importance of passing a bill to increase teacher salaries.
Missouri is ranked 42 out of 50 states in teacher salaries, to which Aull reacted "that's horrible."
The bill would raise Missouri's minimum starting salary from $23,000 to $31,000. Teachers with more experience would receive minimum salaries of up to $46,000.
Although illegal immigration is usually viewed as a national issue, Aull talked about its impact on the state level.
"We have to have laws and restrictions, but we also have to be fair," he said.
"It's a really sticky issue," Stouffer added. "Hopefully we can find some middle ground."
Aull voted against a bill that would allow illegal immigrants to attend a state university.
"It's hard to justify spending state funds on undocumented citizens," Aull said.
He went on to defend voting against an act to create the Missouri Special Needs Tax Credit Program.
The program is intended to give grants to special needs students, allowing them to attend a public or private school of their choice. Donating tax payers would be awarded a tax grant of an amount equal to 80 percent of their contribution.
"We have to be careful that we're not diverting public money to non-public schools," Aull warned.
Aull also expressed concerns about the ability of private schools to accommodate special needs students.
"Some of the non-public schools are not under the same requirements to provide services to special needs students," he said.
When Senator Stouffer stepped up to the lectern, he focused mainly on economic issues.
Stouffer expressed his concern that ethanol fuel has unfairly received "a lot of black eyes."
"There is a lot of misinformation out there about ethanol," he said, responding to thoughts that ethanol has created a hike in corn prices.
"The reason the price of corn is where it is is because the dollar has hit the skids," Stouffer said.
He is currently supporting a bill that would require biodiesel to be sold in the major fuel supply, a bill comparable to the ethanol standard that went into effect in Janurary.
"From an air quality standpoint biodiesel is good," said Stouffer.
However, environmental benefits are not the only benefits that biodiesel offers.
The senator also discussed the possibility of the Second Injury Fund going bankrupt within the next year.
"Something has to be done between now and the end of May," said Stouffer.
The Second Injury Fund covers situations in which disabled employees have their condition worsen due to job related injury.
Reducing the lump sum payment from $60,000 to $40,000 may remedy the situation, according to Stouffer.