With just one week remaining in the First Regular Session of the 98th General Assembly, the Missouri Senate is moving full steam ahead, working hard to accomplish as much as we can in the few days we have left. A number of this session’s high-profile measures were addressed this week, including legislation on welfare reform, municipal court reform and student transfers.
Late last week, the governor vetoed Senate Bill 24, this year’s effort to pass much-needed reform measures aimed at modernizing Missouri’s welfare system. On Tuesday (5-5), the Legislature successfully overrode the governor’s veto by a 25-9 vote in the Senate and a 114-41 vote in the House.
Missouri’s current welfare system provides such a high level of benefits that it actually disincentives our citizens to work. The statistics support this statement: In 2013, only 17 percent of Missouri’s welfare recipients participated in a work activity. It’s important to point out that a “work activity” is not limited to just actual work, but also includes attending school, job training and job-search activities. Since 2013, the situation has become increasingly worse, with only 14.4 percent of our state’s welfare recipients participating in a work activity — the lowest percentage in the nation.
Missouri lawmakers truly agreed and finally passed municipal court reform legislation this week. Senate Bill 5 modifies what’s commonly known as the Mack’s Creek Law, which states that any city, town or village must send revenues from traffic violations in excess of 30 percent to the Missouri Department of Revenue to then be distributed annually to the schools of the county in which the revenue was generated.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2016, the 30 percent threshold would be reduced to 20 percent. The legislation is in response to a number of municipalities in Missouri, located primarily in St. Louis County, that have been using over-zealous traffic enforcement practices to generate revenue and pad their budgets. The bill also creates minimum standards for municipal governance and a remedy process for citizens who believe the minimum standards are not being met.
Also this week, the General Assembly sent House Bill 42 to the governor’s desk. It is the culmination of hours of debate and compromise between both chambers and members on both sides of the aisle, with some input from the governor as well. The measure contains policy changes to our state’s education system that will help ensure every child in Missouri has access to a quality education. In addition to adding important accountability measures for charter schools, HB 42 addresses transfer options for students living in unaccredited school districts. The primary goal of the bill is to reduce the number of students transferring out of their home districts, so they can receive a top-notch education, close to home. Rather than designating an entire school district as unaccredited, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will also accredit each school building individually. Students enrolled in unaccredited schools and districts will be able to transfer to another accredited school building in the district, transfer to a local charter school or enroll in a virtual school.
On Wednesday (5-6), the Senate passed a package of House budget bills that appropriate funding for Missouri’s public colleges and universities, state parks and improvements to state buildings and the Capitol. I’m pleased to report Missouri Southern State University is set to receive an estimated $6.7 million for repairs and renovations, including laboratory renovations in Reynold’s Hall. Funding improvements to our state’s institutions of higher learning is of the utmost importance, as it helps ensure our students have access to safe facilities and the latest technology.
Finally, on Wednesday, May 6, I was very honored to be presented with a flag by Will Flanigan, son of Representative Tom Flanigan of Carthage. Camp Five was constructed by the United States to house enemy combatants captured during its Global War on Terrorism. Taliban and Al-Qaeda members await their fate within the confines of its perimeter. On March 13, 2015, the flag was proudly flown for 9 minutes, 11 seconds over Camp Five, as a tribute to those who lost their lives during the attacks and those who continue to fight against terror. We will never forget.