Legislative Column - Feb. 27, 2014

Education remains on the forefront of debate in the Missouri Senate. This week we worked long hours discussing and giving final passage to a bill addressing the way students transfer from unaccredited to accredited districts and how our state classifies the status of individual schools within these districts. Senate Bill 493 would allow our state to accredit individual schools within each district as unaccredited, provisionally accredited, accredited or accredited with distinction; 55 percent of a district's schools would have to be considered unaccredited before the State Board of Education could classify an entire district as unaccredited. Currently, if one school fails in a district, then the entire district is considered unaccredited.

Students would have to live in their school district and in the boundaries of their school for 12 months before they are allowed to transfer from an unaccredited to an accredited district in the same or adjoining county. Each school district would have the ability to establish a policy for class size and student-teacher ratios. Three regional authorities — responsible for serving the students in St. Louis and St. Louis County, Kansas City and Jackson County, and the rest of our state — would be responsible for coordinating student transfers from unaccredited to accredited districts. Senate Bill 493 would also provide students in struggling and underperforming districts with free tutoring and supplemental education services. With three unaccredited and 11 provisionally accredited districts in our state, the time we spent in the Senate considering all avenues of the student transfer and school accreditation issue was crucial.

Senate Joint Resolution 45, if approved by Missouri voters, would prohibit the governor from controlling the rate of expenditures of, and withholding funds from, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and any appropriation for the payment of principle and interest on the public debt. Currently, the governor can control the rate at which any appropriation is expended and may reduce the expenditure of the state or any of its agencies below their appropriations when the actual revenues are less than the initial revenue estimates. After passage of the FY 2014 operating budget, the governor implemented a $400 million funding freeze; $66 million was temporarily withheld from the General Assembly's FY 2014 appropriation for our state's K-12 schools. Now that the funding has been released, we should not chance future budget withholdings regarding our state's students. Money intended for K-12 students should go to the classrooms. Senate Joint Resolution 45 has since advanced to the House.

Camping is a popular recreational activity in southeast Missouri. The unique landscape of this area along with its rich history brings visitors throughout our state and country to the region. However, there are instances when campers don't respect the sites nor have consideration for their neighbors who are trying to enjoy the great outdoors. Senate Bill 735, given first-round approval in the Senate this week, requires campground owners to inform campers of the ground's policy regarding curfew, alcohol and tobacco use, and pets. If campers are not registered guests or visitors of the campground; remain on the grounds beyond the agreed-upon departure time and date; default on their camping fees or charges; create a disturbance that prevents others from enjoying their camping experience or fail to preserve public peace, health, and safety; or violate any federal, state or local law, then the legislation gives owners the right to ask the campers to leave the premises. If they don't leave, then the campers would be guilty of trespassing in the first degree and would be refunded any unused portion of their prepaid fees.

This week, legislation I'm co-sponsoring in the Senate was introduced. Senate Bill 944 is known as the Utility and Transparency Act. Missouri’s investor-owned utilities operate as monopolies, with the responsibility of the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) to balance fair profits with fair rates for consumers. But when these investor-owned utilities refuse to be transparent about their profits, consumers cannot be sure their rates are fair. Utility earnings, which are set by the PSC, should be made available to the public throughout the year. There is very little consumers can do if utilities are earning more than authorized. Ratepayers have even less recourse if utilities can keep this information hidden from the general public.

Capitol Visitors

This week was the annual Missouri Farm Bureau banquet, and Mike Smody from Butler County attended. The event celebrated the importance of agriculture and our hard-working farmers. Teresa McCulloch, Cinda Bryant, and Shelly Crane visited representing the Visiting Nurse Association of Southeast Missouri to discuss issues about in-home care. Mary Ann Allen with Haven House, and Melissa Morgan and Bobby Baugh with Ozark Family Resource Agency, visited for the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence awareness day. These organizations do amazing work, and I strongly encourage you to go online to learn more about them. I also had a nice visit from Chrissy McCormick from Kennett, and Mary Howell and Andrea Loafman from Malden. They were here with the Missouri State Teachers Association day at the capitol, and we had a productive and engaging discussion about education.

Lastly, the first day of filing for state offices began this week. A few of our new candidates for state representative in southeast Missouri and the Bootheel visited my office.

If you would like to read more about the legislation or committees mentioned in this column, 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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