Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tim Jones outlines "biggest legislative accomplishments" of 2014

In his latest newsletter, Speaker of the House Tim Jones, R-Eureka,

Over the course of the session I have detailed many of the key pieces of legislation we worked on this year. Now that the session is over and the dust is cleared I thought it would be helpful to provide a brief overview of the major items that made it across the legislative finish line. Many of our biggest legislative accomplishments are listed below.

Broad-Based Tax Relief (SB 509) – SB 509 will provide tax relief to Missouri families and businesses by reducing the state’s personal income tax for the first time in nearly a century. Beginning in 2017, the legislation will phase in a half-percent cut to the income tax over a period of five years and increase the personal income tax exemption amount for low-income Missourians by $500. The bill also allows Missouri businesses, especially small businesses, to keep more of their income by gradually phasing in a 25 percent deduction for income tax over a period of five years. The bill contains safeguards that require revenues to increase by at least $150 million each year for five years in order for the tax cut to be fully implemented. In addition, the bill requires Missouri’s income tax brackets to be adjusted for inflation.

Data Center Tax Credit (SB 584) – SB 584 creates new tax incentives to encourage the establishment of data centers in Missouri. Data centers are facilities that house computer systems and associated components, such as telecommunications and storage systems. The fast growing industry has caused states to compete to attract these businesses and the high-paying jobs they provide. SB 584 will encourage data centers to locate in Missouri by creating a tax exemption for the costs associated with setting up a data storage center.

Capital Improvement Projects (SB 723) – SB 723 allows the state Board of Public Buildings to issue an additional $600 million bonds for the purpose of renovating and repairing public infrastructure around the state. The bill increases the bonding authority of the board from $775 million to $1.175 billion for renovation and repair of existing buildings and facilities. The bill also designates that funds may be used for the construction of a new Fulton State Hospital to house the mentally ill. In addition, the legislation increases the cap from $175 million to $375 millionon the amount of revenue bonds that may be issued by the board for repair and renovation projects at Missouri public colleges and universities.

Stopping the economic border war (SB 635) - Legislation I handled this year would propose a truce with Kansas in the escalating war of tax incentives that has resulted in a loss for both states. Combined we have waived hundreds of millions in tax revenue to move jobs back and forth across the border. Our bill would prohibit the use of incentives in an eight-county area around Kansas City so long as Kansas enforces a similar ban.

Unemployment Benefit Reform (SB 673) – SB 673 makes the amount of time a Missourian can receive unemployment benefits dependent on the total number of unemployed workers in the state. The bill allows workers to continue with the current maximum of 20 weeks of benefits only when the state’s unemployment rate is 9 percent or higher. The maximum duration for benefits decreases as the unemployment rate drops with a minimum of 13 weeks of benefits when the unemployment rate falls under 6 percent.

Because Missouri businesses receive a reduced federal unemployment tax credit when the state owes money to the federal government for unemployment benefits, the bill requires the Board of Unemployment Fund Financing to consider the issuances of bonds to help repay the debt. The consideration of bonds or other borrowing would only take place when the state owes more than $300 million. Currently, Missouri owes approximately $257 million to the federal government and plans to repay the debt by the end of the year.

Unemployment System Reform (SB 510) – SB 510 will make it more difficult for workers fired for misconduct to obtain unemployment benefits. The bill changes the standard of misconduct to a knowing disregard of an employer’s interests and a knowing violation of the employer’s rules or standards. Misconduct also will include such actions as chronic absenteeism or tardiness and will apply to conduct that is connected to work but takes place outside the workplace. Under the act, a violation of an employer's rule is misconduct unless the employee demonstrates that he or she did not know and could not reasonably know the requirement, the rule is unlawful, or it is not fairly or consistently enforced.

Helping Missourians with Epilepsy (HB 2238) – HB 2238 will give Missourians with epilepsy access to a new treatment option that has been successful in controlling seizures in some patients. The option to access what is known as CBD Oil will be available only to patients that have not responded to other treatment options. Because CBD Oil is derived from hemp the manufacture and distribution of the product will be heavily regulated by the state.

Oral Chemotherapy Parity (SB 668) - SB 668 will make it more affordable for cancer patients to obtain life-saving oral chemotherapy pills. Currently, many insurance providers view the pills as a pharmacy benefit rather than a medical treatment. The end result is that patients in Missouri on average pay between $2,000 and $5,000 for a month’s supply of pills. In contrast, an intravenous treatment is available at the cost of a co-pay for a doctor’s visit. SB 668 will require financial parity for both oral and intravenous chemotherapy. Under the bill, a patient won’t be charged more than $75 for a month’s supply of oral chemotherapy pills.

Right to Try (HB 1685) – HB 1685 is commonly referred to as “Right to Try” legislation and is designed to give Missourians battling a terminal illness better access to potentially life-saving treatments. The bill allows terminally ill patients under the care of licensed doctors to access investigational drugs that have passed basic safety tests but whose efficacy is not yet conclusive. The bill expedites the process for patients fighting a terminal illness who don’t have the time to wait for the full FDA approval process that can often take as long as a decade.

72-Hour Abortion Waiting Period (HB 1307) - HB 1307 will require a woman to take additional time to consider her decision before obtaining an abortion. Currently, Missouri requires a 24-hour waiting period between the time a woman seeks her first consultation and exam from a physician and the time she returns to undergo an abortion procedure. The bill will lengthen the waiting period to 72 hours.

MO RX Prescription Drug Program Extension (SB 754) – SB 754 extends the MO RX Prescription Drug Program that provides prescription drug assistance to more than 200,000 low-income and disabled seniors. The program was set to expire this year, but the bill extends it until 2017. The bill also clarifies that income limits for eligibility will be subject to appropriations, but strictly prohibits applicants with an income greater than 185% of the federal poverty level.

Strengthening Gun Rights (SB 656) – SB 656 will lower the age requirement for a concealed carry permit and make several other changes to strengthen the gun rights of Missouri citizens. The bill lowers the current age requirement to obtain a concealed carry permit from 21 to 19. The bill also simplifies the process to obtain a permit by eliminating the need for applicants to physically demonstrate proper use of both a semiautomatic pistol and a revolver. Instead, the legislation allows an applicant to demonstrate his or her ability to successfully load and unload only one firearm, either a revolver or a semiautomatic pistol. In addition, the bill allows Missourians with a concealed carry permit to open carry. Specifically, the bill states that local governments are not allowed to prohibit the open carrying of a firearm by an individual with a valid concealed carry endorsement.

Another provision in the bill allows Missouri school districts to designate teachers or administrators as school protection officers that would be responsible for promoting safety in the school environment. A school protection officer is required to have a concealed carry permit and to complete a school protection office training program established by the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission.

In addition, the bill specifies that a person commits the crime of unlawful use of weapons if he or she knowingly possesses a firearm while also knowingly in possession of a controlled substance that is sufficient for a felony violation. The bill also allows court-appointed special prosecutors to carry in a courthouse setting; prohibits public housing authorities from banning firearms by residents who are law-abiding citizens; and protects doctors from being forced to document or maintain information about a patient’s gun ownership.

Limiting the Governor’s Authority to Restrict Funding (HJR 72) – HJR 72 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would provide the legislature with oversight of the governor’s decisions to withhold or restrict funding. If approved by voters, it will allow the legislature to override decisions made by the governor to restrict funding. The authority would work in much the same way as the ability the legislature has to override a gubernatorial veto. It would require a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate in order for the funding restrictions to be overturned.

Criminal Code Revision (SB 491) – SB 491 comprehensively revises the state’s criminal code for the first time in more than three decades. The bill creates a new classification of misdemeanor and a new classification of felony to better allow the punishment to appropriately fit increasing levels of severity of criminal activity. The bill also greatly increases the punishments for individuals who sexually abuse children and for assault crimes in general. In addition, it deals much more harshly with habitual drunk drivers who endanger others on the road, and creates a stair-step approach for drug-related crimes that would give additional flexibility to prosecutors, defense attorneys and courts in the disposition of drug-related cases.

Child Abuse Investigations (HB 1092) – HB 1092 will give child abuse investigators more time to complete their work and task a joint committee with looking for ways to improve abuse and neglect proceedings. The bill allows caseworkers in the Children’s Division to have 45 calendar days to complete investigations rather than the current limit of 30 days. The bill also requires the Joint Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect to recommend improvements for abuse and neglect proceedings including examining the role of the judge, Children’s Division, the juvenile officer, the guardian ad litem and the foster parents.

School Transfers (SB 493) – SB 493 revises the 1993 school transfer law that has produced an exodus of students from unaccredited school districts in the St. Louis area. The bill is designed to control the costs associated with transferring students by making the costs of transportation optional and by providing receiving districts with incentives to reduce the tuition amount paid by unaccredited districts. The bill also provides receiving districts with additional authority to regulate the number of transfers they receive. In addition, it gives students in districts in the Kansas City and St. Louis areas that have been unaccredited for three consecutive years the option to transfer to a private, non-sectarian school.

Student Religious Liberties Act (HB 1303) – HB 1303 establishes the Missouri Student Religious Liberties Act, which prohibits a school district from discriminating against a student or parent on the basis of religious viewpoint or expression.

Developing Missouri-Based Education Standards (HB 1490) – HB 1490 allows the state to reject the federal Common Core standards and begin a process of developing Missouri-based student achievement benchmarks. Specifically, the bill allows districts to continue with the Common Core standards that are already in place, but would create teams to develop new standards to be put in place by the 2016 academic year. Under the bill, the work groups will be made up of teachers, parents and other experts who will work to develop standards for English, math, science and history. The bill also protects schools from being penalized for poor performance on the Common Core tests while they remain in place.

Preschool Funding (HB 1689) – HB 1689 will implement a plan to better prepare many of the state’s young people for academic and future success. The bill allows the state to fund preschool programs for children who are eligible for free and reduced lunches. The funding will be available for the state’s unaccredited school districts beginning with the 2015-2016 school year. Provisionally accredited districts will be eligible for funding a year later. All other districts will be eligible only when the state fully funds the K-12 School Foundation Formula.

Performance-Based Funding for Higher Education (SB 492) – SB 492 requires the state’s universities and colleges to develop performance-based measures that will help determine how funding is allocated in years when the legislature increases funding to higher education. Schools will work with the Missouri Department of Higher Education to develop goals that would be used in part to determine their funding. In addition, they will develop and additional institutional performance measure to gauge student job placement.

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