Legislative Column for the Week of April 23, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY - This week, the Senate took up legislation that could someday change our U.S. Constitution, sent welfare reform to the governor, and continued working on budget and other legislative items.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 21 may prove to be one of the most important pieces of legislation in 2015 as it has the potential to transform our federal constitution and finally rein in Washington, D.C. Senate Concurrent Resolution 21 is Missouri’s application for Congress to call an Article V convention for the express purpose of reining in federal spending and bureaucracy through a balanced budget amendment.

Missouri, and most states, have balanced budget amendments and must pass a budget that does not include deficits every year. This simple practice (called “living within your means” to normal people) restricts government growth and gives the legislature a budgetary check on the bureaucracy. Congress’ repeated failure to pass any budget, let alone a balanced budget, is forcing the states’ hands and Missouri is only one of many states requesting a constitutional convention on a balanced budget amendment.

Some constituents have written with concerns about a “runaway” convention that would get off topic. Senate Concurrent Resolution 21 is part of a multi-state compact which is limited to restricting government growth. The exact language states the convention is:

“for the calling of a convention of the states limited to proposing amendments to the
United States Constitution that impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit
the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its
officials and members of Congress.”

Any product of the constitutional convention will have to be approved by ¾ of the states, as any amendment must be. I was proud to vote for SCR 21 because I know it will not lead to a runaway convention and because the looming crisis of the federal deficit and debt must be addressed so that we do not saddle our children and grandchildren with a legacy of indebtedness to foreign powers.

Finally, earlier this week Senate Bill 24 - a welfare reform package that will require able bodied recipients of TANF to work, seek work or enter job training in order to retain their benefits - was delivered to the governor. The reforms in this legislation were originally allowed through bipartisan federal welfare reform in the 1990s. Missouri is one of the last states to adopt “workfare” requirements. Senate Bill 24 is 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. This legislation will incentivize recipients while saving state dollars and ensuring that welfare benefits go to the neediest Missourians. After lengthy and passionate debate in both the Senate and House chambers and in committees, we were able to come up with legislation that allows Missourians to still receive benefits during their time of need; but also ensures they are doing all they can to guarantee the assistance does not become a way of life but a tool to help them get back on their feet. I believe it is important to help those struggling families as long as they know there is an expectation that they help themselves.

As of this writing, the Senate is still working on the state budget. The Senate and House budget conference committees worked late into the night Wednesday and both chambers have been working on the final version of the budget all day on Thursday. I will have more details on the state budget next week.

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