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April 2, 2017  23rd Edition
Hello and thank you.
And thanks to all of you who completed my surveys. When I get the results tabulated I will share some of the highlights.

Thanks to all of you that attended the March 9th combined township meeting with the Executive Director of the Missouri Democratic Party, Steven Webber. He explained the political situation of our state very well.
On a bit of a philosophical note
  There is the left, the right, and the middle. To represent the real majority of Missourians, state policy should be somewhere in the middle, not the best for left or right but best for the much majority in the middle. The middle may lean one way or the other, but if the people will get out and vote we can avoid the extremists. We all know the crazy relative who is just at the far edge (either side), and that is not where most people want to be.

I truly believe the more people we have paying attention and getting involved, the better informed the voters will be when it comes time to vote. More people voting should/will provide a result that is more representative of the people of the entire state.
The Legislative Session thus far
  As I noted in my earlier Newsletter the Legislative session got off to a bit of a slow start, however, we have passed some rather important bills. We are still waiting on the budget, as it began about 3 weeks behind schedule. The budget is finally coming to the house on Monday, April 3. Many of the bills passed are contingent upon budget funding. Some may pass but not be enacted due to lack of funding.
My Committees
  I am sharing this with you to give you some idea of bills that come to committees. Some are very good and others can be somewhat questionable as to whether or not they are worthy of the time spent. Each one has some support, but are they good for the state?
  Homeland Security — This is an important concern, but I still cannot really understand how one state can do much along this line other than have first responders trained and ready should something happen. We already have a strong first responder plan in place and work with other states for wider problems. I question whether we need a separate committee for this.

We have received and voted do pass on two bills. HB397 deals with railroad crossing safety and HB 403 relating to cell simulator devices (devices that masquerade as a legitimate cell phone tower, tricking phones nearby into connecting to the device in order to log the IMSI numbers of mobile phones in the area or capture the content of communications). We have also passed two Resolutions; HCR 7 related to Falun Gong practitioners in China and HCR48 creating a task force on Emergency Management. I question why we need a task force; especially when we already have the first reponders organized. Some people talk about how government is too big, yet these are the same people that want to form another task force. We currently do not have any more bills to consider.
  Conservation and Natural Resources — This is the first year we have not had bills related to deer farms/ranches. The deer wars may be over for now in the legislature, the issue has moved to the courts. Our native white tail deer are safe. Some of the bills we have passed out of committee are bills related to poaching animals, prohibition of soil and water testing (without permission); as a nod to the previous land owner and in a slap at our previous governor, changing the name of a newly created park from Jay Nixon State Park to Proffit Mountain State Park; and a prohibition on the Dept. of Natural Resources acquiring additional land until all existing parks are brought to a certain (vaguely defined) standard. The is also a bill that would expand and politicize the Missouri Conservation Commission.
  Children and Families — This is the committee where I have held a seat since I was first elected in 2012. I am the ranking member on this committee, meaning as a member of the minority my job is to report back to the minority caucus and discuss the bills when they come to the floor of the House. We have had 28 bills assigned to this committee. This is about half of what we hear in a year. Some of the topics include:
  • Abuse and neglect of children
  • Juvenile officers
  • hearing aids for children of low income families
  • child care assistance for low income families
  • sale of baby crib bumpers
  • marriage licenses (raising the age requiring parental consent)
  • placement of foster children
  • TANF use requirements
17 of these bills are related in some way to restriction of the rights of women to terminate pregnancy.

10 of these bills have been passed by the committee; the remaining 18 are still in process.
First half action in the House
  Here are a few numbers:
  • 92 pieces of legislation have been 3rd read and passed by the House of Representatives
  • 49 bills have passed the Senate and been sent to the House to consider
Bills signed by the Governor
  Right to work (SB 19) — The bill contains a grandfather clause and will not nullify current contracts unless the contract is modified. I voted no at every opportunity on this bill. Missouri has been a freedom to bargain state and will now be a Right to Work state.

Expert Witness (HB153) — Missouri's standard of general admissibility is replaced by an inquiry into whether the proposed expert has specialized knowledge, sufficient facts, reliable principle and and has applied such facts and principles to the acts of the case. This is known as the Daubert standard. This standard provides a rule to exclude evidence as unqualified in criminal cases. Some proceedings are exempt from this standard, generally those dealing with family court issues. I voted no, as this would make it more challenging for prosecutors to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Misuse of herbicides (HB662) — This legislation raises fines for illegal herbicide use from $1,000 per field to $10,000 per violation. At issue is the herbicide dicamba, which, if sprayed on one crop can drift to nearby fields and damage plants that aren't genetically modified to tolerate the chemical. Among the crops damaged last year were row crops like corn and soybeans, but also tomatoes, watermelons and peaches. Last summer I visited an area impacted by dicamba drift, it was devastating. I voted yes.
  Missouri Citizens' Commission on Compensation for Elected Officials (HCR4) — We rejected the commission's report suggesting a 5% pay hike for state legislators and a 16% increase for statewide elected officials over two years. Legislative pay has not increased since 2008. We are paid just under $36,000 per year. I voted in favor of the raise, in the hopes that it would encourage compensation increases for our state workers.
Bills passed by the House and sent to the Senate
  Circuit Breaker Tax Credit (HCB 3) — This bill takes away the renters portion of the property tax credit for low income elderly, or disabled Missourians. It will essentially raise the taxes on elderly people who can ill afford this loss of funds. Many alternatives were offered. Some say this was necessary to provide funds for in-home care. Renters were targeted as not paying property tax on their rental home. It was pointed out that is part of what determines the rate of the rent, but to no avail. It was a tax credit designed solely to benefit the elderly living on fixed incomes, and yet a majority (that did not include me) saw fit to remove. Meanwhile, tax credits that benefit corporations, real estate developers and other deep pocket interests remain untouched. That's not how we should be treating people. I voted no.

Charter School Expansion (HB 634) — Currently Charter Schools are only permitted in St. Louis City Public Schools and Kansas City Public Schools. Essentially if the students in one building in a school district fall below 60% on the annual performance review for 2 of 3 years a charter school may enter the district. It does not matter what the score is in all the other buildings, just one building opens the whole district. Last year the school foundation formula was under funded by over $600 million. The Legislators raised the funding amount by $70 million and declared the formula fully funded. I do not understand their math but they are the majority.

Our schools are funded by a combination of state and local funding. For the sake of discussion, if the tuition rate is $12,000, and a school is a hold harmless school such as Parkway, Pattonville or Ladue, the state will provide between $500-$800 per student, with the rest ($11,200-$11,500) coming from local sources (the taxpayers within the district).

If a Charter school comes to the district, for every student who attends that school our public schools pays that tuition. We have voted to maintain a tax rate taxes in our local districts to support the schools for our children. For each student that transfers to a charter school, your tax dollar is being taken away from our neighborhood schools to pay for it.

Some believe schools are like a business, and competition between businesses is good. That is true enough. If you produce a better product by using better parts to make the product, you likely will have more sales and make more profit. But public schools do not work that way. Public schools are open to every student living in the district. Some are well prepared by their family to be ready for school and having a desire to learn, others are not. But they all get to go to school. We do not pick and choose the best students, we take all students. Schools do not operate like a business, nor can they. The measurement of a business is the profit generated; the measurement of a school is the quality of the students that it nurtures. I am a solid no on this issue. Public funds should NOT be used to support a for-profit school.

Unemployment Benefits (HB288) — This is another fun bill. Missouri is the only state sharing borders with 8 other states. 7 of those states will pay unemployment benefits for up to 26 weeks. Arkansas will pay up to 20 weeks. This new bill will reduce the number of weeks to between 20-13 weeks depending on the statewide unemployment average. So if you live in a county will high unemployment compared to the rest of the state, it doesn't matter you could get only 13 weeks. Another no vote from me.

Minimum Wage (HB1194) — The federal government has a minimum wage and all states may set their minimum so long as it is at least the same or more than the federal minimum, Our state minimum is a little bit more then the federal minimum. The City of St. Louis passed an ordinance imposing a minimum higher than the state. The Missouri Supreme Court handed down a decision upholding the validity of the City minimum wage. This bill (HB 126) is intended to preempt localities from having a higher minimum than the state. There are many repercussions and unintended consequences, if this bill passes the Senate. Apparently there is an emergency clause, which would not meet constitutional muster. Also St. Louis County has employment protections for LGBTQ individuals and there would be the question as to if they would remain enforceable. The courts ruled in favor of St. Louis' ordinance, but the legislature said no. I voted no on this bill, whatever happened to the sacred cow of local control?

Paycheck deception (HB251) — This would require public employees' annual permission before union dues could be taken from their paychecks; another no vote.
  Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (HB90) — We are the only state that does not have this. This is intended to combat prescription drug abuse by tracking patients who obrain multiple prescriptions from different doctors. I voted yes.

  Repeal of Prevailing Wage Rules (HB104) — The existing law requires contractors and subcontractors hired for taxpayer-funded public construction projects to pay a fair wage based on local standards. Under HB 104, they would only be required to pay minimum wage. This is a bill that will hurt all Missouri workers whether they are union or not. I voted no.

  Real ID Compliant Licenses (HB151) — Missouri has resisted complying with the REAL ID Act for more than a decade, and in 2009 went so far as enacting a law explicitly prohibiting state agencies from taking action to comply with the federal law. While many other states also initially resisted Real ID, today Missouri is just one of five states continuing to hold out, one of only five. While I was a strong supporter of this bill, knowing that the bill would pass, I voted Present, in protest of the Speaker not allowing anyone to speak on the Prevailing Wage bill.

As a side note, one of the more entertaining moments in the debate came when someone from the opposite side of the aisle stated that “if you look up and see the ceiling, vote yes… if you see the bottom of a spaceship, vote no.”.
  If you're keeping score, here is what the majority leadership in the House is focusing on:
  • taking away tax credits benefitting elderly people who rent
  • funding charter schools at the expense of public education
  • cutting benefits to people without jobs or in low paying jobs
  • mandating the final say on the minimum wage statewide instead of allowing local control
  • adding cumbersome steps to the funding of unions
  • removing rules to ensure that workers on public works projects to be paid a fair wage
What I see approaching us as a state
  Looking at the list above, it seems those shouts of individual freedom, local control, protecting the middle class, and job creation are pretty meaningless.

My fear is that we are approaching a two class system… one with wealth in schools, health care, homes, and more than adequate incomes; and a second class in poverty, choosing between food and healthcare; with discrimination being a part of daily life.

What concerns me most are:
  • efforts to delete all taxes with the exception of sales tax… which takes a bigger percentage out of lower income pockets than higher income ones.
  • strides being made to eliminate public schools to the detriment of children who have parents with little or no time to search out schools; or those without parents making it more difficult to become productive, independent, self-sufficient adults, as their schools will be impoverished due to the raid on funding by charters and vouchers
  • low income families without safety nets to protect them from illness and starvation
It is a very sad state of affairs in which we live.
The good news is…
  There are 6 weeks left in the session to try to reduce the harm, and support the middle class. This is not an election year so I will not be knocking on your door this summer and fall. Actually I will miss talking with everyone… but it is an awfully long walk.

We can all take action. Send a letter or post card to:

Sen. Claire McCaskill
503 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Sen. Roy Blunt
260 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Rep. Lacy Clay
2428 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Rep. Ann Wagner
435 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Tell them how you feel about what seems more like reality TV show based on alternative facts than a functioning government in Washington DC.

It's not hip, it's not in, and it's not cool… but… yes, write it on paper and put your thoughts in an envelope or on a post card. Why not email? It's impersonal. A letter or postcard shows that you invested more time than a simple mouse click. It has a better chance of being read and might even generate a thoughtful response. Post cards can stack up into an impressive tower. Keep it short and to the point.

Join a march… be active in a group. The larger the group, the more newsworthy it becomes.

I will send an End of Session report, arriving in late May or early June.
As always
  Thank you for your support, and for giving me the opportunity to represent you in Jefferson City. Keep in touch and and share your thoughts on potential town hall topics.

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Paid for by Friends of Sue Meredith, Pam Crowley — Treasurer