Moving Missouri Forward Through an Extraordinary Session
Earlier this month, the governor issued a proclamation convening an extraordinary session of the Missouri General Assembly to address two important issues that are vital to moving our state forward. During the week of Sept. 10, lawmakers returned to the State Capitol to pass legislation intended to expand and reform Missouri’s drug treatment courts and to approve legislation promoting careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). While these are two different issues, I believe each of these bills play an important role in making Missouri a better place for all Missourians.
House Bill 2 aims to expand and reform Missouri’s drug treatment courts. These courts play an important role in encouraging offenders to become productive citizens, while keeping them out of prison. Through this legislation, circuit courts will have the ability to establish special treatment court divisions to serve as an alternative for the judicial system in certain cases. These special courts are designed to handle cases involving alcohol, drugs and other forms of substance abuse. By allowing every circuit court in the state to establish treatment court divisions, we are giving local communities the ability to best decide how to rehabilitate substance abuse offenders. Statistics indicate that these special court divisions have the ability to lower recidivism rates when compared with both incarceration and probation. By expanding these successful treatment courts, I believe we are allowing individuals to receive the vital, life-saving treatment they need instead of being incarcerated in Missouri’s already over-crowded prison system.
The goal of House Bill 3 is to encourage high school students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. This legislation requires the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to develop a STEM Career Awareness Program for students in grades six through eight. Through this online-based program, students will be introduced to numerous career opportunities available in STEM-related fields. The legislation also requires DESE to develop a graduation policy that allows students to fulfill one unit of academic credit with a district-approved computer science course in place of any math, science or practical arts unit required for high school graduation. By allowing computer science courses to count toward graduation, we are incentivizing students to learn valuable computer skills that will prepare them to succeed in today’s technology-driven economy. Computer science-related jobs are growing at a rate faster than any other career in our country. In Missouri, there are more than 10,000 available computer science jobs. These are good-paying jobs, and I believe this legislation has the potential to encourage and prepare our students to succeed in today’s modern workforce.
In addition to approving these two important pieces of legislation, the Missouri Senate also approved several of the governor’s appointments to various state boards and commissions. These groups play an important role in overseeing several health and safety aspects that daily affect the lives of all Missourians. The Missouri Senate approved the appointment of Sandy Karsten to serve as the director of the Department of Public Safety. Prior to her appointment, Karsten served as the superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. During her 33-year career with the Highway Patrol, Karsten fulfilled numerous roles within the Patrol and was also heavily involved in the responses to every major disaster in our state over the past three decades. She is also the only female superintendent in the history of the Highway Patrol, and I am confident that she will provide steady and sound leadership in her new role as the director of the Department of Public Safety. In addition, the Missouri Senate approved the appointments of three highly-qualified individuals to the State Board of Education. Following approval from the Missouri Senate, Kimberly Bailey, Donald Claycomb and Carol Hallquist will each serve on the State Board of Education. With these new appointments, the State Board of Education is within a few members of being fully staffed. I look forward to working with each of them in their new roles as we continue to work to provide a world-class education for all Missouri students.
As always, it is an honor and privilege to be your State Senator, and my door is always open to your concerns, questions or comments. Please feel free to contact me at (573) 751-2757 or visit my web page at www.senate.mo.gov/riddle.