Legislative Column for the Week of March 26, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY — It is hard to believe we are more than halfway through the 2015 Legislative session. The first days were filled with the swearing in of myself and five other Senators, attending meetings, events and settling into my new role in the General Assembly.

Some of the first official Senate work included Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, announcing committee assignments, I was honored to have been assigned to the following committees: Jobs, Economic Development and Local Government;  General Laws and Pensions; Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy, and the EnvironmentGubernatorial Appointments, and vice-chair of  Transportation, Infrastructure, and Public Safety. I am the only new senator on Gubernatorial Appointments and I am glad to be serving as the vice-chair of the Transportation Committee.

There has been quite a bit of public interest on some key legislation we have worked on in the first half of session. On Feb. 5, I joined most of my colleagues in voting to disallow a planned pay raise for legislators. House Concurrent Resolution 4 (HCR 4) is unique because we had to act on it before Jan. 29, to block the pay raise proposed by a state commission. After some back and forth and potential threats of a filibuster, we finally had the opportunity to vote on the pay raise issue and it was overwhelmingly defeated with a 31 – 3 vote. Now is not the time for legislators to accept a pay hike while many Missourians are still struggling to recover from the recession.

Ethics reform is one of the hot topics this year. Senate Bill 11 does just that. The measure was hotly debated and passed by the Senate in February and now sits on the House calendar. This measure would end out-of-state trips paid by lobbyists and would also ban lawmakers from becoming lobbyists until at least two years after they leave office.

Senate Bill 5 has received a lot of attention early in session and has 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 legislation targets “taxation by citation,” the practice of raising revenue through traffic and other citations. I was glad to vote for the bill.

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 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 in order to better their own lives rather than be dependent on state assistance.

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. As of March 18, this legislation was on the House calendar for third reading, and I suspect it will soon return to the Senate for our final vote.

There is still much vital work to be done in the coming weeks. The Senate has to send the Fiscal Year 2016 budget through the committee and debate process; then it will go back to the House and finally return to the upper chamber for our final passage before the constitutional deadline of May 8. These final weeks are like the race to the finish line; we want to ensure legislation is crafted and enacted in a timely manner, but we also want the best result for each and every Missourian. The work to be done by all legislators is vital, especially in these final weeks, when the days get longer and debate becomes more passionate here in the Missouri Senate.

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