Friday, February 24, 2017
House deals with legislation expanding access to virtual schools
The House took action this week to ensure access to quality education for Missouri children, reform Missouri’s unemployment insurance program and ensure pregnancy resource centers receive much-needed support. Information on these and other important House issues can be found below.
As the pace of technological change quickens, rapidly shifting the makeup of our workforce and economy, it is more important than ever that we ensure every student has access to advanced courses, especially in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.
House Bill 138, sponsored by Rep. Bryan Spencer, will ensure every student in Missouri has access to the courses necessary for a quality education. The measure, if enacted, would establish "The Missouri Course Access Program" (MCAP) and allow any K-12 student to enroll in MCAP courses, to be paid by the school district or charter school. This will ensure every student in a public or charter school in Missouri will have access to advanced coursework regardless of economic status.
Currently, more than half of the school districts in Missouri do not offer students access to any Advanced Placement course. No students are enrolled in physics courses in 40 percent of Missouri schools and no students are enrolled in chemistry courses in 20 percent of schools. In order to fulfill our promise to ensure every Missouri student is afforded a high quality education, we must guarantee all students have access to the courses necessary to prepare them for higher education and to participate in the workforce of tomorrow.
The House passed HB 138 with strong bipartisan support by a vote of 124-31. We continue to strongly support reforms to our state’s educational system to ensure every Missouri child is provided access to a quality education.
House Bill 288, sponsored by Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, would tie the number of weeks individuals are eligible for unemployment benefits to the Missouri average unemployment rate. If the unemployment rate falls below 6 percent, recipients would be allowed 13 weeks of benefits. The eligibility period would increase by one week for every one-half percent increase in the unemployment rate up to 9 percent unemployment. If the unemployment rate reaches 9 percent or higher, recipients would receive benefits for 20 weeks.
Maintaining a fair, low and simple tax system in Missouri is one of the top priorities of the House. In order to accomplish this, we must investigate every aspect of Missouri government to ensure all taxpayer-funded programs are operating in the most efficient manner possible. The common sense reforms included in Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick’s measure will make sure unemployed workers receive the benefits needed to support their families while working to reduce the tax burden holding our economy back.
The House passed HB 288 this week and the measure will now move to the Senate for consideration. We will continue to investigate ways to reform taxpayer-funded programs to ensure your tax dollars are being spent effectively and efficiently.
Pregnancy Resource Centers
The Missouri House continued its commitment to ensuring expecting mothers have access to counseling and support services necessary for carrying pregnancies to term this week. House Bill 655, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Engler, reauthorizes tax credits for donations to maternity homes and pregnancy resource centers which do not perform, induce, or refer for abortions and do not advertise abortion services. These facilities are essential to ensuring mothers with crisis or unplanned pregnancies in Missouri are afforded pregnancy testing and counseling, as well as the emotional and material support necessary to assist in carrying pregnancies to term.
Our chamber chose to proudly stand to support every Missourian’s Right to Life. The House perfected Rep. Engler’s legislation this Wednesday and should soon give final approval to send it over to the Senate.
House Approves Legislation to Stop Illegal Herbicide Use
House Bill 662, sponsored by Rep. Don Rone, would allow the Department of Agriculture to fine any individual who knowingly applies a herbicide to a crop for which the herbicide is not labeled for use. The department could fine violators up to $1,000 per acre in violation and the per-acre fine would be doubled for those who repeatedly violate the new law. The current flat fine of $1,000 has proven to an ineffective deterrent of illegal herbicide use. The money collected in fines would go to the local school district in which the violation occurred.
This legislation is meant to stop the illegal use of herbicides that caused widespread damage to crops in the Southeast Missouri last year. According to experts from the University of Missouri, 150 farmers in Southeast Missouri lost an average of 35 percent of their crops when neighbors utilized an outdated Dicamba product. Wind and temperature changes caused that product to drift onto nearby fields, damaging crops.
The bill would also give the Department of Agriculture additional powers to investigate claims of illegal uses and hold violators accountable for the damage of personal property. House Bill 662 passed the House this week and will be sent to the Senate for consideration.