Over the past two and a half months, the Missouri State Senate has been hard at work crafting and advancing legislation aimed at improving the lives of Missourians. We’ve focused on creating a strong, job-creating business climate, improving access to health care, protecting the rights of our citizens and cleaning up the business-as-usual by moving forward on ethics reform.
Early in the Session, the Senate approved two tort reform bills aimed at helping to foster a stronger, more resilient economy by addressing the state’s antibusiness legal environment. Senate Bill 591 will align Missouri’s outdated expert witness testimony standard to the federal standard, while Senate Bill 847 will modify provisions relating to the collateral source rule by providing that parties may introduce evidence of the actual cost, rather than the “value” of the medical care rendered. This bill will help restore fairness to personal injury litigation and help reduce the cost of insurance for individuals and businesses.
My fellow senators and I also worked on several reforms to our state labor policies, including that of House Bill 1891, known as paycheck protection. The bill prohibits public employees from being required to pay dues or other fees to a labor organization without their consent. Unfortunately, the governor vetoed this legislation on Friday, thereby setting up the possibility of an override vote by both chambers following the legislative spring break.
The Senate also made great strides in finding ways to reduce costs and find better access to health care, especially in rural areas of the state. As the cost of health care continues to rise, the discussion about how to offer better, more efficient and affordable care becomes more imperative. Senate Bill 875 removes barriers to lower cost of prescription drugs and ensures patient safety while other bills will help improve access to health care especially in rural areas. Finally, Senate Bill 621 will allow doctors to provide medical services remotely via an electronic connection, otherwise known as telehealth.
Senators also considered ways to lower the cost of welfare spending, which now takes up one-third of our state’s budget. The Senate approved measures that aim to reduce costs, like Senate Bill 608, which authorizes MO HealthNet health care providers to charge a minimal fee for missed appointments and will create an emergency room co-pay system.
In addition to these policy accomplishments, I’m sure you’ve heard or read about the Senate passing a resolution aimed at protecting religious freedom, the cornerstone on which our country was founded. After days of debate, the Senate successfully advanced the measure by a vote of 23-7. The resolution would prevent pastors, religious organizations and a narrow group of individuals who are asked to provide services of creative or artistic expression to a wedding ceremony from being penalized by the government. The resolution submits this question to the voters of Missouri to decide. It awaits consideration by the House following the legislative break.
The Senate also moved several pieces of ethics reform forward. House Bill 1979 aims to reduce the “revolving door” between legislating and lobbying by imposing a one session “cooling off period.” The version passed by the Senate differed from that passed by the House, so the bill will ultimately be considered in more detail when a conference committee comprising House and Senate members meets following the legislative spring break.
The Senate also passed House Bill 1983 which provides that no statewide elected official or member of the General Assembly shall serve as a paid political consultant, and House Bill 2203, which changes the law regarding the use and investment of campaign funds. The bill includes a requirement that a member must divest of his or her campaign account prior to becoming a lobbyist, among other provisions. While we still have additional measures to consider, I think it’s a positive step that both chambers saw the need to consider and pass meaningful ethics reform.
When the Senate returns after break, one of the major focuses will be on the fiscal year 2017 budget, which sets forth the spending priorities of the state. Each year our Appropriations Committee members in the House and Senate take on this very difficult task of divvying up the roughly $26 billion state budget. I am sure there will be much to report on in the coming weeks.
As you can see, the first half of session was quite full. I hope there will be many more accomplishments to report on as we move forward after the legislative break. As always, it is a pleasure to serve you in the Missouri Legislature. Thank you for your continued interest in the process.
Best wishes to you and your families for a wonderful Easter!
Contacting Sen. Onder
Throughout this session, I will do my best to keep you informed of our work here in the Capitol. I encourage you to contact my office if you have comments, questions or concerns.
For constituent questions, scheduling and general questions, please contact my Scheduler and Director of Constituent Services Theckla Spainhower at Theckla.Spainhower@senate.mo.gov.
For questions pertaining to legislation, please contact my Chief of Staff and Legislative Director Jennae Neustadt at Jennae.Neustadt@senate.mo.gov.
You can reach my Capitol office at (573) 751-1282. You can also e-mail me personally at Bob.Onder@senate.mo.gov.
I would like to encourage you to sign up for my weekly capitol reports so we can inform you of our work each week. Please email Theckla Spainhower at Theckla.Spainhower@senate.mo.gov to be added to our mailing list.
Thank you again for your support. I look forward to serving you.
Robert F. (Bob) Onder, Jr.