On Tuesday, Sept. 11, I was honored to have my official portrait unveiled in the Hall of the Senate President Pro Tem. The hall pays tribute to former presidents of the Missouri Senate. It is full of men who acted with honor and integrity, men who safeguarded the traditions of the Missouri Senate and moved our great state forward. I am proud to be a member of this select group of individuals. This is a humbling honor, but one that I could not have accomplished without the love and support of my family and friends. I was thankful to be joined by several former presidents pro tem, as well as the governor and the lieutenant governor. This is an honor that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Former presidents pro tem and the governor joined Sen. Richard at the unveiling of his portrait. From left to right: Tom Dempsey, Charlie Shields, Gov. Mike Parson, James L. Mathewson, Mike Gibbons, Sen. Ron Richard and Rob Mayer.

Earlier this month, the governor issued a proclamation convening an extraordinary session of the Missouri General Assembly to address two important issues that are vital to moving our state forward. This week, lawmakers returned to the State Capitol to pass legislation intended to improve and reform Missouri’s drug treatment courts and to approve legislation promoting careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). While these are two different issues, each of these bills play an important role in making Missouri a better place for all Missourians.

House Bill 2 aims to improve and expand Missouri’s drug treatment courts. These courts play an important role in keeping offenders out of prison and encouraging them to become productive citizens. Through this legislation, circuit courts will have the ability to establish special treatment court divisions to serve as an alternative for the judicial system for certain cases. These special courts are designed to handle cases involving alcohol, drugs and other forms of substance abuse. By allowing every circuit court in the state to establish treatment court divisions, we are giving local communities the ability to best decide how to rehabilitate substance abuse offenders. Statistics indicate that these special court divisions have the ability to lower recidivism rates when compared with both incarceration and probation. By expanding these successful drug treatment courts, I believe this legislation allows for individuals to receive the vital, life-saving treatment they need instead of being incarcerated in Missouri’s already over-crowded prison system.

The goal of House Bill 3 is to encourage high school students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The legislation requires the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to develop a STEM Career Awareness Program for students in grades six through eight. The goal of this program is to introduce students to STEM-related careers through an online-based program. In addition, the legislation requires DESE to develop a graduation policy that allows students to fulfill one unit of academic credit with a district-approved computer science course in place of any math, science or practical arts unit required for high school graduation. By allowing computer science courses to count toward graduation, we are incentivizing students to learn vital computer skills that will prepare them for success outside of the classroom. Computer science-related jobs are growing at a rate faster than any other career in our country. In Missouri, we currently have more than 10,000 open computer science jobs. These are good-paying jobs, and I believe this legislation has the potential to encourage and prepare our students to succeed in today’s technology-driven workforce.

As this week comes to a close, I have had the opportunity to reflect on my legislative career and the relationships I have formed during my time in Jefferson City. I am proud of the work accomplished by my colleagues in both legislative chambers. Over the past 16 years, there have been numerous distractions, but the members of the Missouri General Assembly always stayed the course and worked hard to pass meaningful, commonsense legislation intended to benefit all Missourians. Serving in the State Capitol has been one of my life’s greatest honors, every day I am reminded of the immense responsibility you have placed in me to represent your views and concerns in these hallowed halls. When Winston Churchill became Prime Minister of England, he made no guarantees during his first speech as prime minister to the House of Commons. “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat,” stated Churchill. This quote has inspired me from my first day in the Missouri House of Representatives to my final moments in the Missouri Senate. It has been an honor and privilege to serve the citizens of the 32nd Senatorial District.