Your ideas and concerns are very important to me so above is an invitation for you to come to a meet and greet or town hall meeting, whatever you want to call it, bring your neighbors so we can talk about what is happening in the district or in Jefferson City. Whatever you want to share I will be there to listen and share my thoughts. I will not be going door to door this summer as I did last year and in 2012.
A new committee system is in place, and I have new committee assignments. There are 42 standing committees which feed feed legislation into 13 select committees. Once a bill is passed by the standing committee it must also pass the select committee. The idea is that bills will be examined and voted on twice before coming to the House. Supposedly this will make for better bills and avoiding passing bills with nasty unintended consequences.
I am on the standing Child en and Families committee, one of three feeding into the Select Social Services Committee, of which I am also a member. The other two are Health Policy and Veterans.
My other committee assignments are Social Services (select), Conservation and Natural Resources (standing) , and Agriculture (select). Yes, I am on two committees each feeding into a select committee where I am also a member. This is unusual as it seems most of my fellow members of the House are on three or four standing committees and one, maybe two select committees. The reason for the seemingly light load is I have been elected chair of the Missouri Children's Services Commission. This is a statutory committee with only two members from the House, two from the Senate, eight department Heads, two pediatricians, one judge and a private citizen.
As usual life in the Capitol is surreal with schedules of meetings overlapping and it seems this part time job really is more like 2 full time jobs if you do your homework and keep up with those who want to visit with you or get help solving problems.
Ethics - a minor win
I was extremely bothered last year when I discovered that the Local Government committee I served on would meet at a restaurant. The first time I had no idea and thought it would be a time where I could learn about how the committee functioned. Wrong! It was all about the dinner. I did attend a second time because I felt that as a freshman legislator I needed to get along or be out of the loop. After learning that a lobbyist was footing the bill however I quit going. I am glad I am no longer on that committee.
Now since it was made public, no committees are allowed to have any food at meetings, no matter who provides it.
Here is a summary of some of feedback I received, along with my thoughts and comments.
First, thank you to those who took the time to respond! I won't bore you with the full statistical report though. My goal is to answer some of the concerns expressed and give a broad overview.
I want to make something quite clear at the start. As it turns out I am more often than not in the minority on many controversial votes, but then according to your feedback, the majority of the people in our district are also in that minority. To those of you who check the votes before assuming how I voted on an issue I want to say THANK YOU.
Police issues were mentioned most often. We should have very well trained police who have a presence in the community and have up to date safety equipment for their own protection as well as some kind of recording device which could be useful in volatile instances.
- Texting and Cell phones
Driving while using a cell phone got lots of suggestions and ideas, but the issue is how to enforce.
- Health Care
Medicaid Expansion seems to meet with overall approval in the district. It is sad the need for this additional coverage goes unnoticed by the majority of the members of the House.
Highways, Bridges and Roads
- Many suggested to raise taxes rather than cut funds to meet some of the more crucial needs such as taking care of our highways and crumbling infrastructure.
- Last November there was a vote to raise the sales tax to pay for roadways, which failed. I think it is because it was a sales tax. Based upon your comments, it might have had a better change of approval as an increased gas tax.
- The Economy
- The Legislative majority seems to prefer to lower taxes for the "overburdened" business and corporations. They contend that lower taxes will attract more job creating business. This is backward to my way of thinking. For one thing, according to the Tax Federation (a conservative think tank) Missouri ranks 46th in per capita tax burden.
- Helping those with less by providing education and stability that will enable them to get a job will build the both the labor and consumer populations. If people work and make enough to live on they will purchase more and create a greater demand for products and services, creating jobs to meet that demand.
- It was suggested to raise the income tax on those making over $200,000. That would help but first we need to end the abuse of tax credits.
This is the big issue this year. Unfortunately most proposals appear to favor charter schools at the expense of public schools, testing and a misrepresentation of Common Core.
- Common Core just became fully in effect in the 2015-2016 school year. It does not dictate what can and cannot be taught in our local schools, nor does it remove any local control. Common Core establishes a number of foundational standards to ensure that third grade learning in Alabama for example is equivalent to third grade learning in Missouri. How to deliver the information and material into the student's understanding is strictly a local issue.
- Meanwhile we should be working to develop systems that help students learn rather than financially destroying schools and moving students from school to school. Neighborhood schools are a major connector in our society, so what the heck are they thinking?
- Yes, the Lottery has a problem with too large a percentage going to administration. It is my understanding the Lottery Commission has been in the process of trimming their costs to make more funds available for schools.
- In answer to one question in particular, schools are primarily funded through general revenue and local support via real and personal property taxes as set by the school boards.
- A lot of work is being done in rewriting the statutes regarding schools. I do not agree with the Charter School Plan as well as how it relates to closing schools below a particular score. Pattonville has a wonderful school I visited recently which falls well below the accreditation level but is a school with a curriculum designed specifically to help those students who are not working at grade level to be able to meet the standards.
- Retirement Plans
- I agree, don't mess with peoples' retirement plans.
- Legislative Pay and Ethics
- Yes, I strongly believe in limits on contributions to campaigns. Unfortunately there is always a loophole somewhere. Shadowy organizations that make huge donations yet do not disclose the source of those donations corrupt our democratic process.
- I find it crazy to spend $50,000 or more on a State Representative race but it is done all of the time. I have spent just over $15,000 on each of my races.
- State employees pay is painfully low. We are in a race to the bottom. I find it horrifying that many of our state employees qualify for food stamps.
- State Legislators (Senators and Representatives) are paid $35,915 per year. It sounds like a lot for a part time job but it is not really part time. This is a big job with a steep learning curve; and I am always behind on my e-mail because I believe in personally answering inquiries and in doing my homework before taking action.
- Yes, I did vote for an increase for the Legislature, statewide officers and judges. Two reasons:
- Who wants to run for an office or hold a judgeship when they can earn several times that working outside of government? We do not want a Legislature comprised of only the wealthy or those with independent means of support.
- If we voted to give ourselves a raise we would be pushed pretty hard to give other state workers pay raises.
- Our State Legislature is notorious for tossing around an issue then putting it before a vote of the people; and then reversing that vote of the people with other legislation. This is very, very wrong.
Other Notes/Answers to your questions:
- Other Issues
- Tolls on Highway 70 -- You don't like them, and neither do I.
- Voter ID – some of you think it's a good thing, more of you do not see it as a problem. I oppose stricter voter ID laws. Voter impersonation is not a pervasive problem.
- Gun Control – We support hunters and sports people, however most of you (and I) see no need for automatic weapons
Finally, if you come to Jefferson City, do stop in. If I am not in my office my Legislative Assistant, Donna, will bring you to wherever I am at the time. With advance notice we will escort you to the Whisper Gallery and if you like we can climb all the way to the top of the dome.
- Budgets — When we make budget decisions in the House if we want to add funds to an area or item we must take the funds from something else. Moving funds is taking from one pocket and putting it in another. We cannot raise taxes without a vote of the people.
- I am not a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — ALEC is very conservative organization, supported by big money groups that claims to work at getting government out of personal lives, though its model legislation often seems to benefit corporate special interests. Moreover, some ALEC members within the Missouri House have a habit of taking ALEC drafts and submitting them as written, creating legislation that is at odds with the Missouri Constitution. That's irresponsible and lazy!
- Benefits from Social Services — Yes, there is some fraud, at about a 1%-2% rate. This is really a low rate but still it adds up to a considerable amount. However if you compare that to a business and its inventory shrinkage (due to shoplifting, inferior merchandise etc., it's a pretty impressive rate.
- I don't like the death penalty — especially since we have no reasonable way to enact the penalty with the drug producing companies refusing to sell us the products.
- My St. Louis office — my office is my home and you can call me there at 314-878-2088.
Please join us for the Town Hall meeting in April. I would love to talk with you.