Senator Holly Thompson Rehder's Legislative Column for May 8, 2023
Monday, May 8, 2023
Fulfilling our Duty
The General Assembly actually only has one duty specifically assigned by the Missouri Constitution. We must send a balanced budget to the governor. We fulfilled that obligation this past week, meeting the constitutional deadline of 6 p.m. on the first Friday in May. The Legislature is in an enviable position this year. Revenues from corporate and individual income taxes remain strong and we have a healthy surplus of money from federal initiatives passed by Congress. Unlike some years in the past, when money was tight, we have the freedom to not only fund essential services but also finally address needs that have been greatly underfunded — state employee pay, our elderly services and our veteran’s homes — to name a few. We accomplished all this without raising taxes.
In addition to fully supporting the school foundation formula for K-12 classrooms, the Fiscal Year 2024 state budget increases teacher pay, provides more money for pre-kindergarten and school nutrition programs and, for the second year in a row, funds the state’s share of school transportation costs. This is a huge deal for our rural schools. Funding for higher education also increases, with public colleges and universities receiving 7% more than last year. Answering the governor’s call to address a chronic shortage of childcare providers in Missouri, the budget raises reimbursement rates for childcare facilities. The state’s previous reimbursement rate has been some of the reason that we’ve seen so many childcare closures in the past. The Department of Social Services’ Children’s Division will add 100 employees to serve on the front lines, protecting children from abuse and ensuring the safety of children in foster care. As we have delved deeper into existing problems, we have continually found that the lack of trained people has greatly harmed an already exploding foster care system. Funding for public libraries, originally stripped from the budget by the House, has been restored as well.
Our budget surplus this year allows the state of Missouri to invest in facilities that will serve citizens for generations. The FY ’24 budget authorizes a historic project to widen Interstate 70 to three lanes across the state. Also included in next year’s budget is funding for access improvements along Interstate 55 and preliminary work that could lead to future improvements along Interstate 44 and Highway 63. Our information superhighway also gets a boost, with continued support for rural broadband expansion. The budget also includes funding for improvements at our ports and along levees. An aging mental health hospital in the Kansas City area will be replaced, and there are capital improvements projects funded throughout the state. I’m also very excited that our funding to expand the EPICC substance abuse program that I mentioned last week into southeast Missouri was also approved as well!
With the work on the budget concluded, the General Assembly also passed legislation that directly improves the lives of Missouri families. Senate Bill 106 expands postpartum health care for low income women enrolled in the Mo HealthNet system for up to one year after the birth of their child, compared to the 60 days of care provided by current law. The legislation is aimed at addressing Missouri’s awful maternal mortality rate, which currently places us 12th from the bottom among all 50 states. The money that we can spend on the front end of this issue, prevents money being spent for generations to come on many of the children left behind. I’ll write more about these statistics in a future newsletter. Also included in SB 106 is a provision prohibiting prostate, anal or pelvic examinations of an anesthetized or unconscious patient without prior approval or medical necessity. I felt so strongly about this legislation when it was introduced, I asked to sign on as a co-sponsor.
Also, now on the governor’s desk is our legislation to make fentanyl testing strips legal in our state. Those on the front lines of helping others fight addiction have been at a loss due to our state statutes that include “testing” and “analyzing” in our paraphernalia laws. I’m so thankful that we were able to get this across the line!
The Legislature cleared a critical hurdle this week with the passage of the budget. With the First Regular Session of the 102nd General Assembly coming to a close on May 12, I expect the next few days to a flurry of activity. This will be our last chance to move priority legislation across the finish line. Keep an eye on my social media posts and watch for further updates and I’ll let you know what happens.
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 Thompson 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.