Sunday, May 15, 2016
Ron Richard: We did a great job on ethics reform
The 2016 legislative session has officially concluded. From day one, my Senate colleagues and I set out to tackle some of the state’s toughest issues. Through honest debate, public input, compromise and a committed effort to treating each other with respect, I am proud to say we have found meaningful, innovative solutions to a wide range of complex issues affecting the Show-Me State.
In any given session, passing the state budget is the single-greatest task we undertake. The state’s $27.1 billion budget for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2017 includes record-level foundation formula funding for the state’s K-12 public schools, increased funding for early childhood special education, a 4 percent across-the-board increase in performance-based funding for higher education and a 2 percent pay increase for state employees, effective July 1. Of course, the fact that we were able to defund the state’s only abortion prover is one of the most notable aspects of this year’s budget. Fiscal Year 2017 will run from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017.
One of the major highlights of this session is that we were finally able to move smart, substantive ethics reform legislation across the finish line. House Bill 1979 imposes a six-month rule for lobbying by former members of the General Assembly, former statewide elected officials and former holders of an office that required Senate confirmation; the measure applies to all current and future legislators. House Bill 1983 specifies that no statewide elected official or member of the General Assembly shall serve as a paid political consultant. Finally, House Bill 2203 will help curb corruption of campaign funds by requiring former public officials to dissolve their candidate campaign committees before registering as lobbyists. It also restricts former lawmakers from converting campaign funds into personal gains. All three ethics reform bills have been approved by the governor.
Turning to education, the Legislature voted this session to override the governor’s veto of Senate Bill 586, a bipartisan measure that will help save the state’s public education funding formula. Very simply, SB 586 reinstates the 5 percent cap on current operating expenses that was removed in 2009. The cap was removed based on projections of approximately $75 million annually in new gaming revenue, but the extra money never materialized. Unfortunately, the formula continued to grow at such an accelerated rate that it’s now all but impossible to fully fund in its current state. Today, we are looking at a gap in school funding of more than $500 million. Senate Bill 586 will take fully funding the formula from an unrealistic goal to an attainable goal within the next few years, preserving the formula for the foreseeable future. Most importantly, it will give Missouri school districts the predictability they need to effectively plan their budgets and provide a quality education to our students.
Despite having broad bipartisan support, the governor vetoed SB 586; however, the Legislature was ready to respond, which we did when we quickly and easily overrode the veto. Senate Bill 586 will take effect on July 1.
State lawmakers also approved Senate Bill 620, establishing minimum graduation requirements for a career and technical education (CTE) certificate that a student can earn in addition to their high school diploma. Providing students with both technical and core academic skills, CTE is an important piece of our education system. In addition, students who earn CTE certificates generally have more options upon leaving high school: they can choose to start their careers, continue on with their technical education or attend a two- or four-year college or university. Having a strong network of CTE programs is also a win for Missouri’s economy, as it produces a highly skilled workforce. If signed into law, students entering high school in the 2017-2018 school year and thereafter will be eligible for a CTE certificate.
Addressing Missouri’s unfair and outdated civil judicial system has been another one of our chief concerns this session, which is why I’m pleased to say we have passed two common-sense tort reform bills that will go a long way toward improving the Show-Me State’s legal climate and economy. Senate Bill 591 aligns Missouri’s standard for expert witness testimony with the updated Daubert Standard, allowing judges to act as gatekeepers so that only those individuals who are truly expert witnesses may provide expert witness testimony. A second reform bill, Senate Bill 847,modifies provisions relating to the collateral source rule and establishes that the appropriate recovery for medical expenses is the actual cost or amount paid, rather than the value of the medical care rendered. Both SB 591 and SB 847 are now on the governor’s desk, awaiting his signature.
Without a doubt, one of the greatest successes of the 2016 session has been passing voter ID legislation in order to bring greater integrity and fairness to Missouri’s public elections. House Bill 1631 requires voters to provide a valid photo ID at the polls, such as a non-expired Missouri driver’s license or non-expired military license. If a voter doesn’t have a valid ID, that person can still vote by signing a statement, under penalty of perjury, attesting they are who they claim to be. If no statement is signed, the voter can vote provisionally. As part of a compromise to ensure no eligible voter is disenfranchised, the state and all fee offices will be required to provide a free photo ID to any voter who does not possess one and any underlying documents necessary to obtain it.
House Bill 1631 will help prevent in-person voter fraud by improving security at the polls, ensuring Missouri voices are heard and giving our citizens confidence in the election process. The measure will only go into effect if Missouri voters also approve House Joint Resolution 53, which will appear on either the upcoming August or November ballot.
Finally, state lawmakers voted today to pass legislation expanding gun rights in Missouri. Among other provisions,Senate Bill 656 allows an alternate method of certification with regard to training requirements for concealed carry applicants, expands the state’s “castle doctrine” and provides that individuals not engaged in unlawful activity may use deadly force to protect themselves in public areas as well as on private property.
These are just a few of the roughly 110 bills passed by the Legislature this session. The governor has the option of signing them into law or vetoing them. Missouri lawmakers will have the opportunity to override any of the governor’s vetoes during September’s annual veto session.