Perfecting Education Savings
As we near the half-way mark in the 2021 legislative session a number of important bills continue to be heard in committee, while others are being brought up for deliberation in the Senate chamber. Monday was the last day to submit new Senate bills, so any new proposals will have to come in the form of amendments or bill language substitutes.
This week, my Senate Bill 152 was brought up for perfection on the floor of the Senate. This legislation, which was requested by the state treasurer’s office, makes several changes to Missouri’s 529 education savings plan. Renamed the Missouri Education Program, the provisions allowing Missourians to put money aside for education expenses free of state income taxes will now more closely mirror the federal 529 program. Senate Bill 152 also allows repayment of student loan debt through the education savings plan, and money in the plan can also be used to pay for apprenticeship expenses.
The substitute version of this bill approved by the Senate includes the provisions of my Senate Bill 151, which received a unanimous “Do Pass” recommendation from the Education Committee earlier in the day. This legislation requires schools to provide programs for gifted students whenever more than 3% of students in the district are determined to be gifted. Missouri is one of only seven states that does not have a statewide requirement ensuring the best and brightest students have access to classes appropriate for their extraordinary potential. Several other provisions were added to the bill as amendments. The most notable addition creates “The Show Me Success Diploma Program,” which would allow schools to issue diplomas based on demonstrated competency.
In other legislative activity this week, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved my Senate Bill 98, a comprehensive package of legislation relating to gaming in Missouri. This bill includes one provision allowing sports wagering under supervision by the Missouri Gaming Commission, while another portion authorizes the State Lottery Commission to implement a system of video lottery terminals. The lottery terminals would be allowed at veterans’ and fraternal organizations and truck stops.
I also presented Senate Bill 465 to the Economic Development Committee. This legislation establishes the Missouri Rural Workforce Development Act, which provides a tax credit for investment in rural businesses. Similar to legislation proposed in previous sessions, this bill is intended to address the economic disparities that exist in small towns and rural areas of our state. Under the provisions of the bill, the Department of Economic Development could approve up to eight rural opportunity growth funds, which would raise capital and invest in rural businesses. Investors would receive a tax credit for their contributions to these funds. Similar programs in Georgia and other states have resulted in increased investment and expanded economic activity in rural areas.
The Senate Appropriations Committee continued to meet this week, with presentations from the departments of Commerce and Insurance, Natural Resources, Conservation and Economic Development. We also heard budget requests relating to Missouri’s judiciary and public defenders, as well as those for capital improvements, maintenance and repair of state facilities. There’s a lot of information to process as the Appropriations Committee reviews Missouri’s statewide operating budget. The governor has recommended spending $34 billion in Fiscal Year 2022. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives will review every dime of the governor’s requests as each chamber develops its own budget proposal. That work will continue through May 7, the last day the Senate can take action on appropriations bills.
The governor has announced more Missourians will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines beginning March 15. Missouri’s vaccine plan will be expanded to include Phase 1B – Tier 3 individuals. That group includes K-12 educators, school employees, child care providers and a variety of essential workers, including employees in the energy, food, and agriculture industries. You can find more information about Missouri’s COVID-19 vaccination plan or register to get the vaccine at www.covidvaccine.mo.gov. Individuals who lack internet access can sign up by calling 877-435-8411.
I was pleased to welcome a number of visitors from the 21st Senatorial District to my Capitol office this week. Among those who stopped by were a group of school superintendents who came to Jefferson City to discuss education priorities. I also enjoyed visiting with Marshall Municipal Utilities Manager Jeff Bergstrom who testified on an energy bill before the Commerce Committee.
As always, I appreciate hearing your comments, opinions and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-4302. You may also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.