Moving Priorities Forward
The fourth week of the 2021 legislative session included a number of highlights for me personally, but these moments occurred in the background of the major event for the week. On Wednesday, the governor delivered his annual State of the State Address inside the Senate chambers. The event, usually held as a joint-session of the General Assembly, was moved from the House chambers out of fears related to COVID-19. Cabinet members, Missouri Supreme Court judges and a few invited guests took seats and listened to the governor deliver mostly upbeat news.
Despite a significant downturn in the economy due to the pandemic, state revenues remain strong. Missouri’s economic recovery outpaced most of the nation, with employment showing strong gains from the initial shock of the coronavirus. Also, a large influx of cash through the federal CARES Act gave Missouri the flexibility to weather budget shortfalls and meet obligations. The governor highlighted a number of successes over the past year, including business expansions and continued progress on road and bridge projects.
Looking forward, the governor again declared workforce development and infrastructure improvements to be priorities for his administration. He asked the Legislature to fully fund the state’s Education Foundation Formula and requested increased funding for universities, as well as job training and retention programs. Among his proposals were additional money for rural broadband, capital improvements at river ports and upgrades and maintenance at state parks. I was also pleased to hear him call for expanded mental health and substance abuse services.
In legislative activity this week, I had the honor of presenting my Senate Bill 64 to the General Laws Committee. Previous versions of this legislation, which would allow health departments to spring into action with a safe syringe program if an HIV or Hep C outbreak were to occur, passed three times out of the House. The evidence is overwhelming that safe syringe programs drastically reduce the spread of these diseases, and those who participate are five times more likely to seek treatment.
These programs are also fiscally conservative, HIV and Hepatitis-C, together cost Missouri’s Medicaid program nearly $50 million each year. These programs cost the state nothing, but could save the state millions in health care expenses.
On Thursday, I had the opportunity to present Senate Bill 63 to the Governmental Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee. This legislation establishes a statewide prescription drug monitoring system (PDMP) for narcotics. I have fought for passage of a statewide PDMP throughout my time in the General Assembly. Last year we came close to getting it done, but we time ran out before the bill was passed. This current version of the bill is the final compromise from last year. My hope is that we will allow this important legislation to finally cross the finish line.
I’m also encouraged that we are having a different conversation than in years past. It’s no longer a question of whether Missouri should have a PDMP program, because more than 85% of Missourians are now covered by the St. Louis County system. It’s now a question of which PDMP system do we want. This legislation would provide legislative oversight of a statewide system and impose a number of important privacy protections. The current language requires a three-year rolling purge of the data and specifically prohibits prescription information from being used to restrict firearms purchases, a concern which caused some legislators to oppose previous versions of the bill. Evidence across the US has shown PDMPs to be a critical tool to help physicians identify addictive behavior before it gets out of control. We had a productive committee hearing, and it’s my hope this is the year we finally get a PDMP bill passed.
I always appreciate hearing your comments, opinions and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-2459. You may write me at Holly Rehder, Missouri Senate, State Capitol, Rm 433, Jefferson City, MO 65101, send an email to Holly.Rehder@senate.mo.gov or visit www.senate.mo.gov/Rehder.