Legislative report: Jan. 31, 2018

Greetings from your state Capitol. The governor’s budget was released Monday afternoon, Jan. 23, via the governor’s website. The number of people visiting the website was apparently huge, and the website became unresponsive to requests. The problem was solved, and most everyone has now had their first look at the proposed budget.

I, along with other members of the House Budget Committee, will be taking a close look at the governor’s proposals and making suggestions for changing some areas. This process will be lengthy and will take us well into March before we finalize a budget to be approved and sent to the Senate.

In floor debate this week we passed out these five bills:

HB 1465 is meant to address the lack of skilled workers in certain fields in various parts of the state. To address the workforce shortage, a community college could apply to the Coordinating Board of Higher Education to offer a four-year degree in a field that is underemployed. Community colleges would need to meet several standards in order to be approved and would need to show there are no other available options like collaborating with a four-year university.

HB 1408 modifies provisions relating to virtual education. Supporters say the bill gives students the opportunity to take courses their school does not offer, especially in the case of small schools unable to hire teachers for advanced or specialized subject areas. They say it is meant to make education fair, equitable and accessible.

HB 1287 would specify that commercial insurers are exempt from filing rates and policy forms with respect to certain lines of commercial insurance. Supporters say the bill is necessary to update and modernize the regulations for large-premium highly complex insurance policies.

HB 1381 would establish procedures relating to financial accreditation standards for insurance companies and an insurance group’s corporate governance. Supporters say the legislation is a model act from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners that will make reporting consistent across the board. They say it is necessary for company accreditation in Missouri.

HB 1531 would modify the circumstances in which a party may be joined in a civil action. Supporters say the bill will solve a problem created by case law that would allow an insurance company to be sued for bad faith and be required to pay a sum in excess of its policy limits. The bill would allow an insurance company to use an interpleader to defend the insured and pay its policy limits.

Complete bill information can be found on the House website at .house.mo.gov.

Members of the House and Senate gathered in the House chamber last week to listen to the annual State of the Judiciary Address. Delivered by Missouri Chief Justice Zel Fischer, the address provided lawmakers with an overview of the state’s court system and the challenges it faces.

Fischer used his speech to highlight the need for expanded drug treatment courts to help fight against the abuse of opioids in Missouri. He noted that drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States and that the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids continues to rise. Missouri saw a significant increase in overdose deaths with 1,066 people losing their lives in 2015 and 1,371 in 2016. Fischer said drug courts are more cost-effective than any other criminal justice strategy to address the growing problem, but 15 counties in Missouri currently have no access to any type of treatment court. He pledged to work with lawmakers to help make the treatment courts available in every jurisdiction in the state.

Fischer also called on legislators to work with the court to develop solutions for the challenges faced by the state’s criminal justice system. He explained that Missouri is not seeing a decrease in violent crimes as has been the trend nationally. Fischer also pointed out that Missouri is spending more than ever before on corrections as the incarceration rate continues to be well above the national average. He said a task force has spent time looking at ways to keep spending for corrections in check and reinvest those savings in evidence-based strategies to reduce recidivism. He asked legislators to work with the court to support legislation that will produce “significant, sensible and meaningful improvements.”

As always, it is a privilege to represent you in state government.

Ozark County Times

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Gainesville, MO 65655

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