As the calendar turns to March, the Missouri Senate continues to discuss and debate numerous legislative proposals intended to help all Missourians. While passionate debate is not uncommon in the Missouri Senate, I believe all of my colleagues are here to make Missouri a better place to live, work and raise a family. During the past week, my colleagues and I discussed and debated several bills and proposals intended to improve the quality of life for all Missourians.

Senate Bill 632 renews several of the state’s benevolent tax credit programs. Many of these programs help Missourians in need, such as single moms, those with disabilities and others. One of the life-saving groups that will benefit from this proposal are Missouri’s pregnancy resource centers. These organizations provide vital, life-saving information to women as they navigate pregnancy’s tough decisions. The legislation increases the Pregnancy Resource Center Tax Credit Program from $2.5 million to $3.5 million per year. It is important to note, these are organizations that do not perform or provide information regarding abortions. These are places of hope, where a pregnant woman can receive valuable information and support during her pregnancy. In addition, the bill extends a tax credit program benefiting Missouri’s maternity homes. Like pregnancy resource centers, these groups prioritize life and assist women with bringing their pregnancies to term. Senate Bill 632 increases the tax credits available through the Maternity Homes Tax Credit Program from $2.5 million to $3.5 million per year and it includes specific language requiring maternity homes that benefit from the tax credit program to provide services to its clients and no cost. The goal of these benevolent tax credit programs are to incentivize Missourians to help their neighbors through local charities in their communities. I am confident the General Assembly can come to an agreement on this issue and send it to the governor’s desk before the end of the legislative session.

Opioid-involved deaths are at an all-time high in Missouri. Today, one out of every 66 deaths in Missouri can be attributed to opioid overdose. I believe we have a moral obligation as lawmakers to address this epidemic in our state. To help combat opioid abuse, the Missouri Senate passed Senate Bill 826. This proposal limits the initial prescription length of opioids to no more than a 7-day supply. There is strong evidence linking the likelihood of long-term use with the length of the initial prescription. Long-term use sharply increases after the third and fifth days of taking the prescription. The 7-day limit would not affect patients suffering from chronic pain, nor would it affect anyone undergoing treatment for cancer, receiving hospice care or palliative care, or anyone who is in a long-term care facility. In addition, the bill promotes the safe disposal of drugs and other medicines. Under the proposal, pharmacies can house kiosks for the collection of unused drugs. The legislation also expands the number of drugs pharmacies are legally allowed to take back, and it creates a statewide education campaign for Missourians – a plan that would make safe disposal of drugs widely encouraged. This legislation passed out of the Missouri Senate without any opposition, and I am hopeful the bill will make it to the governor’s desk before the end of the 2018 legislative session.

Missourians received numerous benefits from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed by Congress this past December. While the federal tax cut legislation promises to put more money back into the pockets of taxpayers, one of the federal tax code changes implemented by the federal legislation allows families to transfer money between 529 savings accounts without penalty. 529 accounts are special investment accounts used to save money for higher education expenses. These special savings accounts provide numerous tax benefits intended to help families save for the future. As a result of this change in the federal tax code, one of my Senate colleagues introduced Senate Bill 882. Through this legislation, the Missouri Higher Education Savings Program would allow 529 account holders to transfer money from their college savings account to a Missouri Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account. The MO ABLE account is a savings account for families of individuals with disabilities. By giving families the ability to transfer funds between these two accounts, we are providing Missouri families with the financial flexibility needed to make tough financial decisions while facing a medical emergency. Families shouldn’t have to choose between saving money for college and putting money aside to help a loved one manage their disability. I believe Senate Bill 882 gives Missouri families greater flexibility when it comes to planning for their future.