Over the course of session, there are numerous opportunities for senators and representatives to work together and support each other’s legislation. This is especially true for lawmakers hailing from the same district, who often face many of the same challenges and whose paths often cross outside of the Capitol. At this point in session, there is a continuous stream of House bills making their way over to the Senate. One of those is a bill I am handling in the Senate for fellow southeasterner, Rep. Kevin Engler, of the 116th House District.
House Bill 1776 reduces the amount of time a bona fide member of a licensed organization must wait before they can participate in conducting or managing a bingo game from two years to six months. Bingo games are a social staple in many Missouri communities, most especially in our service organizations, and I am happy to assist in making it a little easier for these organizations to staff their events. Since bingo is permitted by the Missouri Constitution, the Legislature is also considering House Joint Resolution 58, which would bring the issue to a vote of the people in the upcoming November election.
Legislation I filed that will help high school student get a jump on completing their college degrees and local businesses find qualified workers has been passed by the Senate Education Committee. Senate Bill 857 has two parts. First, it allows students from low-income households to apply to the Access Missouri Financial Assistance Program for scholarship money to cover their portion of fees for any dual credit courses. And since research has shown that promoting personal responsibility traits in our students leads to a higher completion rate, SB 857 also requires students to meet the same eligibility criteria as Missouri’s A+ Scholarship Program.
Second, it creates a local scholarship program for dual credit students, whereby businesses can provide scholarships to students who, in turn, will take dual credit courses the businesses believe are useful. The program is funded through a tax credit program that has been modeled after the Innovation Tax Credit we passed two years ago.
On Tuesday, the Senate took up and perfected Senate Bill 998. Subject to appropriations, this act requires the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to subsidize the fee for those taking the High School Equivalency (HSE) exam for the first time. The HSE replaced the GED in January 2014. The bill also requires DESE to give HSE certificate applicants the opportunity to voluntarily submit their contact information for the purpose of evaluating the college and career placement rates of applicants; however, DESE will not be able to maintain the contact information for longer than two years following the exam date.
The equivalency exam costs $95. For many young people, as well as adult test takers, that cost can be the one reason they are unable to earn their certificate. We know that folks who do not possess a high school degree, or its equivalent, very often struggle to obtain employment; therefore, one of our main goals should be making sure Missouri citizens have the opportunity to take the exam, so they can find stable, decent-paying jobs and become productive members of society. If signed into law, DESE estimates SB 998 will help some 15,000 test takers afford the exam in its first year.
Turning to other legislative news, more than a month after the Senate endured a historic 37-hour long filibuster on its way to passing Senate Joint Resolution 39, the measure has now been heard by the House Emerging Issues Committee. The resolution is a proposed constitutional amendment that prohibits the state from penalizing a religious organization or individual who acts in accordance with a sincere religious belief. Protected acts include refusing to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony or allow the ceremony to be performed on the organization’s property, as well as declining to provide goods of expressional or artistic creation for the ceremony.
As I have previously stated, SJR 39 is about religious liberty and ensuring that Missouri citizens are not persecuted or prosecuted for remaining faithful to their values. With only four weeks of session remaining, I hope the House will act quickly to pass this incredibly important bill.
The Senate has also not given up on its efforts to hold the Planned Parenthood organization accountable for its questionable practices relating to the sale of fetal tissue. Earlier this week, the Senate began considering separate resolutions (SR 1793 and SR 1794) pertaining to two individuals’ failure to comply with properly executed subpoenas.
The subpoenas were issued by the Senate Interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life in November 2015, during the course of their investigation into the business practices and horrendous allegations against Planned Parenthood’s treatment of fetal tissue. Just today, the Senate voted to adopt the two resolutions. The Planned Parenthood and Pathology Services, Inc. employees will now be summoned to appear before the body to demonstrate cause for why they should not be punished for their contemptuous behavior.
Missourians have also made it clear that they are tired of their hard-earned taxpayer dollars funding organizations that provide abortion services. Through the Fiscal Year 2017 budget, Missouri lawmakers have been able to effectively defund Planned Parenthood, the only abortion provider in the state. Missouri women will still be able to get affordable, high-quality health care at one of the Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), rural health care clinics (RHCs) or county health departments located throughout Missouri.
Finally, I was pleased to meet with the following individuals and groups this week: Jefferson County Developmental Disabilities Resource Board and Developmental Disability Providers Angie McGoveran, Linda Wolf, Russ Kuttenkuler, Annie Winkler, Sara Sucharski and Andrea Wolf; Ste. Genevieve FFA Chapter members Hannah Donze, Halie Kalb, Beth Pfaff, Thomas Boland and Tyller Arnold; Randy Weith and Holly Lintner, of Ste. Genevieve; Prevention Support Specialist Danna Squires and students from DeSoto High School, who were attending the Speak Hard Youth Conference regarding substance use prevention; and Virginia Blaine, Robin Winter and Brian Currington, who were here for Bike Day at the Capitol.
I was also happy to welcome Karen Knowles with Bismarck R-V, Jacob Bollinger with Central High School and Erica Dement with Farmington High School, who brought students in JAG (Jobs for American Graduates) — a school-to-work transition program focused on helping at-risk youth graduate from high school.
With so many guests this week, I have probably missed a few names, but I want to thank you for taking an active interest in state government and stopping by.
I always appreciate hearing your comments, opinions and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-4008. You may write me at Gary Romine, Missouri Senate, State Capitol, Jefferson City, MO 65101; or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org; or www.senate.mo.gov/romine.