Things are back in full swing in Jefferson City this week. Several committees met for the first time and the Senate chamber saw some substantive debate.
I'm taking my first tour on the Appropriations Committee and so far it has been an incredibly educational experience. This week we heard testimony from the Missouri Department of Revenue and the Missouri Department of Transportation. Each department presents their budget requests and the committee is allowed to question the department heads about their budgets and priorities. We are not making any spending decisions at this time -- we are simply gathering information.
Three other committees that I sit on this year were busy this week.
The Judiciary Committee heard testimony on a bill related to work comp. SB8 restricts co-employee liability in workers' compensation cases and has been amended to include restrictions on occupational health claims. As one of only seven lawyers in the senate, there was a lot of traffic in my office this week on both sides of the issue. All sides are continuing to work toward a compromise.
The the theme was voting in the Financial & Governmental Organizations & Elections Committee on Monday. We heard testimony relating to early voting (a bill I am co-sponsoring) and photo ID. Both issues remain controversial and politically charged. I anticipate prolonged negotiation and debate on both issues.
The issue of drug-testing for TANF recipients was the number one priority for the Health, Mental Health, Seniors & Families Committee this week. I've heard and argued against versions of this bill every year I've been in the Senate. It makes a great sound bite and is obviously a great public policy goal to help families break the addiction cycle, but the realities of implementation are difficult to resolve. The cost of drug tests, lack of treatment for those who test positive (the waiting list for treatment beds in Missouri is in the thousands) and the difficulty of making sure the children of the recipients are taken care of are all tough questions with no easy answers.
Other hot topics in Jefferson City this week included the repeal of Proposition B (the puppy mill voter initiative that passed in November) and local control of the St. Louis police department. The dog issue is moving quickly to the Senate floor, where we will be able to have a substantive discussion about the wishes of Missouri voters and what, if any, changes should be made to the law. Like Kansas City, the St. Louis police department is controlled by a police board that is appointed by the governor. Unlike Kansas City, however, there is a critical mass of people in St. Louis who want the mayor and City Council to control the police. The issue is quite controversial for my friends on the eastern side of the state, but so far, Kansas City has stayed out of the discussion.
I filed two more bills this week. The first was a proposed constitutional amendment to make it harder for wealthy individuals and organizations to buy a law or constitutional amendment in this state. The bill would require signatures to be gathered in every congressional district in the state rather than just 2/3 of the congressional districts. I was excited to hear from senators from across the state who want to work with me to raise the bar and send the message that Missouri laws are not for sale.
For the fifth year in a row I also filed a resolution, asking Missouri to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment which was passed by the United States Congress in 1972. I realize that the effort is largely symbolic at this point, but I am happy to carry the torch for the hundreds of thousands of women who have been fighting the fight for equality for my entire life.
The Senate floor wasn't quite as busy this week as the committee rooms, but we did debate two issues. On Thursday the Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill that would expand the legislature's authority to subpoena people and records within state government. Senator Mayer sponsored the legislation and explained that it will give us more authority to assist with our efforts to reorganize state government.
Earlier in the week, we also revisited the Renewable Energy Standard known as Proposition C that was approved by voters in 2008. The Public Service Commission finally issued the rules this summer, after 18 months of discussion.
The sticking point seems to be whether renewable energy must be manufactured in Missouri, or whether utility companies will be able to discharge their obligation under the law by purchasing renewable energy credits from other states or countries. The PSC agreed with Missouri renewable energy companies that the purpose of the law is to create renewable energy in Missouri, thus creating Missouri jobs and reducing our dependence on coal. Unfortunately, the legislature disagreed with the PSC's rulemaking and the PSC's rule was rejected.
It will now be up to the renewable energy companies and environmental groups to work with the utilities to craft new legislation that addresses the issue of homegrown renewable energy.
On a personal note, thank you so much for the outpouring of thoughts and prayers as my father remains in the hospital this week. I'm sorry that we were not able to meet for our weekly Coffee Break, but I hope to resume our regular meetings in the next week or so. Until then, I hope you send me your questions, thoughts and concerns via Twitter, Facebook or on my blog. You are always welcome to call, e-mail or visit me in Jefferson City.
Thanks for staying tuned in and in touch!