Column for the Week of Feb. 12, 2015
Senator Schatz introduces his job shadow Hunter Wilkinson, FCCLA member and Hermann High Student, on Wednesday, Feb. 11.

This week, the Senate continued taking early action on priority bills, including ethics reform, municipal court and fines reform, and work-for-welfare, or workfare reform. These reform bills are part of our ongoing effort to make government more efficient and accountable to the taxpayers of our state.

Senate Bill 11 deals with ethics reform, as I have discussed in this column in recent weeks. This bill will limit lobbyist gifts to legislators and require a two-year “cooling off” period before a legislator may become a registered lobbyist, among other reforms. While we “perfected” Senate Bill 11 last week, meaning we finished adding amendments and tweaking the language of the bill, we “third read” and passed the bill onto the House, where it was first read this week as well.

Senate Bill 5 has received a lot of attention early in session and passed through the Jobs, Economic Development, and Local Government Committee, on which I sit. Senate Bill 5 seeks to reform municipal courts and fines by limiting the amount of income a municipality may receive from traffic fines to 10 percent of their total budget. Any funds over 10 percent must be given to local school districts.

This measure seeks to limit what many see as municipal court abuse, where local courts become a substantial funding source by using speed traps and other citations to generate income from local residents and travelers passing through.  I voted in favor of SB 5 to reform municipal court abuse, but I want to ensure that rural communities that happen to have a major highway running through them are not punished for simply enforcing the law. This measure has been approved by the Senate and is now being sent to the House.

Senate Bill 24 is a welfare reform package that will require able-bodied recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to work, seek work or enter job training in order to retain their benefits. These reforms were originally allowed through bipartisan welfare reform in the 1990s under President Bill Clinton. Missouri is one of the last states to adopt “workfare” requirements. Senate Bill 24 is not an effort to cut this program, but rather an attempt to encourage recipients to attend job training and begin searching for jobs so they can better their own lives rather than be dependent on state handouts.

Missouri is currently last in all states in workforce participation of TANF recipients and this legislation will incentivize recipients while saving state dollars and ensuring that welfare benefits go to the neediest Missourians. After lengthy and passionate debate SB 24 was perfected on Thursday. I look forward to voting in favor of this legislation on its final passage and sending it on to the House of Representatives for consideration.

In the coming weeks we will discuss more legislation I have filed and other matters that are important to you, a constituent of the 26th Senatorial District.

Thank you for reading this weekly column. You can contact my office at (573) 751-3678 if you have any questions.