Legislative Column - Jan. 13, 2014

It's been five weeks since the governor called the Legislature back to Jefferson City for a special session in early December. Now, we’re back in the Capital City as the Second Regular Session of the 97th General Assembly began on Jan. 8. Much work lies ahead as we prepare to debate important legislation.

One of my prefiled bills, Senate Bill 530, sets out to change how parental rights are terminated by adding to the circumstances under which a parent is considered unfit as a result of a consistent pattern of committing a specific abuse. This ever-growing problem in the state of Missouri has been brought to my attention by individuals who have observed an increasing number of parental rights cases related to a mother's or father's methamphetamine and other illegal drug use.

Currently, a parent who is convicted of drug use, possession, manufacturing, or distribution has approximately 15 months before a Petition to Terminate Parental Rights (TPR) is ordered by the court. When drugs are involved, most of those parents continue to test positive for drugs and then only become serious about their treatment at the 15-month benchmark. Federal and state law in place right now intends to secure the permanent placement of a child as quickly as possible either through termination of parental rights or guardianship. Revising our state statute would also relieve prospective adoptive homes of the agonizing long waiting period when considering the parent’s progress in addressing his or her drug addiction.

If a child's birth mother or the child tests positive for cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine while the mother was pregnant or within eight hours after the child is born, Senate Bill 530 would consider the mother as an unfit parent. And if the parent has pled guilty to or has been convicted of a felony involving the possession, manufacture or sale of these same drugs within a three-year period before the judicial decision or sentence, then a parent is also considered unfit.

Senate Bill 530 is designed to provide incentives to parents of children who are removed from their homes because of illegal drug use, drug manufacturing or distribution to seek out treatment for rehabilitation in a timely manner. The goal is to get drug-addicted parents the help they need to provide a safe, nurturing home for their children, or depending on their commitment to a healthy family unit, not let their children languish in the foster care system.

In addition, the legislation speeds up the process of terminating parental rights for those parents who are deemed unfit, making family intervention performed by social workers safer during their investigations and counseling, while eliminating months of work and valuable taxpayer dollars. Senate Bill 530 eases the process for these affected children to leave the foster care system and be adopted into a caring and loving home.

Two months ago, 23 senators signed onto a letter I wrote to the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) regarding the proposed Draft General Management Plan (GMP) of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways (ONSR). I shared in this letter our collective concern of further encroachment of the NPS on our businesses and citizens who live, use, and work long the Riverways. While our legislative delegation agrees we need to protect the ONSR, we must not overlook our citizens' heritage and livelihood. Tourism is one of the most critical components of our rural economy and the ONSR is the primary attraction. Thousands of out-of-state as well as in-state hikers, campers, boaters, hunters, fishermen and horseback riders visit this area annually and bring many irreplaceable dollars when they come. Any further limitations on the access to these assets would severely impact this local economy.

After submitting this letter, more meetings were scheduled to allow citizens an opportunity to voice their concerns about the GMP draft, which can be found online at www.parkplanning.nps.gov/ozarkgmp.

Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014
Eminence High School's New Gym
505 South 6th Street, Eminence, MO 65466
6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Friday, Jan. 17, 2014
Salem City Hall Auditorium
202 North Washington, Salem, MO 65560
6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014
Van Buren Youth & Community Center
Intersection of Business 60 & D Highway,
Van Buren, MO 63965
6:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.

Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014
Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center
11715 Cragwold Rd.,
Kirkwood, MO 63122
6:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.

The public comment period for the proposed GMP will continue through Feb. 7, 2014. I strongly support the “No-Action Alternative,” because the other proposals will have devastating consequences on our local economies and way of life. We need to be promoting this beautiful and wonderful resource, not restricting access to it!

If you would like to read more about SB 530, or our letter to the NPS, visit www.senate.mo.gov/libla. Thank you for the opportunity to serve you.

State Senator Doug Libla
201 W. Capitol Ave., Rm. 226
Jefferson City, MO 65101
(573) 751-4843

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