As I reflect on the achievements of the 2016 Session and write to share those with you, I first want to take the opportunity to thank you for giving me the privilege to serve you in Jefferson City. I understand the trust and responsibility you placed in me, and am very grateful for your continued support.
When we started the Session in January, the Senate had a list of priorities it hoped to accomplish, including: reforming Missouri’s ethics laws; improving the business and legal climate; reforming health care; protecting the integrity of elections; passing a balanced budget; fighting back against the atrocities of Planned Parenthood; and protecting religious liberty, among other issues of importance. I am happy to report that we delivered on those priorities.
Following the 2015 Session, Missourians expressed the importance of reforming ethics laws in our state. In 2016, the Legislature heard citizens and delivered. We passed a bill to prevent legislators from becoming lobbyists upon leaving office. Instead, the legislator will have to serve his or her entire term and complete a waiting period, sometimes referred to as a cooling off period, before becoming a lobbyist. Both chambers also passed legislation to prevent lawmakers from being paid political consultants while serving in office and to prevent elected officials from turning the money they raise during campaigning into lobbying slush funds. The bill requires a legislator to divest of those funds so they cannot be used for purposes of lobbying. While I would have preferred to see additional ethics reforms, these are extremely positive steps in the right direction, and ones we can build upon in the future.
Both chambers also sought to reform Missouri’s legal climate. Two pieces of reform legislation passed, including a bill that would ensure that only those individuals who are truly expert witnesses may provide expert testimony. The second bill modified the current collateral source rule by providing that parties may introduce evidence of actual cost, rather than the “value” of medical care rendered, thereby requiring that the amount owed is the amount paid.
Much was accomplished in the area of health care, including the passage of legislation that would require a third party to verify whether recipients actually qualify for Medicaid in Missouri. Other states that have passed similar legislation have found thousands of people receiving assistance despite the fact that they did not actually qualify for Medicaid. This bill will help to ensure that Missouri is not spending valuable resources on those who do not meet program requirements. The Legislature also passed a bill that specifies the licensed individuals who shall be considered eligible health care providers for the provision of telehealth services for MO HealthNet participants. Telehealth has the potential to expand access to health care for Missourians who need it most, especially those in rural areas where specialists are in short supply.
The Legislature also placed protecting the integrity of elections at the forefront of its work this Session by passing what is commonly referred to as the Voter ID law, which requires an individual to have a valid photo ID in order to vote. A valid photo ID includes a non-expired Missouri driver’s license or a military license. If a voter does not have a valid photo ID, that person can still vote by signing a sworn affidavit. Voters without valid photo ID can obtain one paid for by the state under this bill.
Other priority legislation included passing an on-time and balanced budget, which both chambers worked vigorously to do. Through the budget this Session, the Legislature chose to defund Planned Parenthood while increasing funds to rural and community health centers that provide more comprehensive services for women. Given the findings of the Senate Sanctity of Life Committee following the release of Planned Parenthood videos last year, I support the Legislature’s decision to fund our community health centers as opposed to Planned Parenthood.
The Senate also made protecting religious liberty a priority, enduring a historic filibuster and passing my Senate Joint Resolution 39. While some misrepresented SJR 39 as discriminatory, the amendment would have provided protection for pastors, religious organizations and in a very narrow context, private business owners from being penalized by government. It is unfortunate that the House defeated this legislation in committee, rather than debating and voting on it on the floor to give the people of Missouri the opportunity to vote to protect religious liberty.
As we’ve seen across the country, business owners have been prosecuted and literally sued out of business for refusing to act in a manner inconsistent with their religious beliefs. I am disappointed that Missourians will not have the protections that SJR 39 would have afforded.
The final day of Session also saw the passage of constitutional carry in Missouri. The bill would allow those with a clean background to carry a gun without a permit in the state, in areas where doing so is not expressly prohibited. I believe strongly in Second Amendment rights and agree that law-abiding citizens should have the ability to protect themselves.
The Legislature also made protecting and supporting our veterans and armed forces a top priority. Legislation that would allow individuals to deduct income earned through active military duty from their Missouri adjusted gross income passed this Session, along with a bill that would allow members of the National Guard and reserve components of the Armed Forces to receive in-state residency for purposes of tuition at institutions of higher education. Our veterans put their lives on the line daily to protect this country, so it’s always important that we find ways to support them.
Despite the many advancements this Session, much more work remains to be done. Over the coming months I will be working on my legislative package for the 2017 Session, which will include increased education options for students across our state and ways to bring more jobs to our state through the passage of a bill similar to one I sponsored this Session, which would expand Uber and other ride sharing opportunities to all areas of the state. I invite you to contact me and share your thoughts on how we can move our state forward.
As always, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve you and welcome your comments and suggestions. I hope you had a wonderful Memorial Day, and best wishes for a wonderful summer!
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.