The month of March has flown by and a quick look at the calendar indicates there are only 7 weeks remaining in the 2017 legislative session.

Typically, we think of Spring Break as marking the halfway point for second semesters. This same idea applies to the state’s legislature, and this past week was Spring Break for Missouri’s General Assembly.

Though I did not head anywhere to frolic on a beach (and I strongly suspect most of my other legislator companions did not), my Spring Break did allow me the opportunity to participate in Neosho’s Business and Industry Review event, to take part in Eggs and Issues (a forum updating area residents and business leaders about the legislative session), and to be in the 160th District’s 4th grade classrooms.

It is always an enjoyable time for me when I have the privilege of discussing state government with 4th graders. Being able to spend more time in the district has also given me the opportunity to visit with many of my constituents concerning state issues. As session resumes, passing the FY18 state budget is now top priority.

The House Budget Committee will be finalizing the thirteen appropriations bills that are to make up the FY18 state budget. Under the House’s proposed spending plan, the K-12 School Foundation Formula could be fully funded — for the first time.

In addition to the $48 million to fully fund the formula, the proposed plan will restore cuts to K-12 transportation funding, and will appropriate $6 million in funding to increase broadband internet access for Missouri schools. Something greatly needed in numerous districts, especially rural ones.

Furthermore, the House Budget Committee’s proposed spending plan will restore $21.75 million in cuts for the state’s institutions of higher learning and seeks to restore approximately $52 million in suggested cuts that will have impacted 20,000 seniors and disabled Missourians who currently qualify for state funded in-home care and nursing home services.

Another funding recommendation present in the House Budget plan includes $3.5 million to fulfill the state’s commitment to the Biodiesel Producer Incentive Fund. The House Budget Committee will work to finalize the budget bills, then send them on to the House floor.

House leadership has allotted floor time to discuss and debate all thirteen appropriations bills and have them out of the House and on their way to the Senate by April 6. The Senate and the House will then have until May 5 to agree on a spending plan and send it to the Governor for his consideration.

Before leaving for Spring Break, the Missouri House approved changes to the state’s circuit breaker tax credit, which will free up funds for vital in-home care and nursing home services.

In early February when Governor Greitens released his budget plan, he proposed saving $52 million by changing the eligibility standards for home and community-based services. As a result, approximately 20,000 seniors and disabled Missourians will no longer quality for state funded care.

House leaders responded by working to find a solution of how to continue to fund these programs, thus creating and approving the Missouri Senior Services Protection Fund. The fund is to provide for services for low income seniors and disabled persons.

Legislation will end the renter’s portion of the senior citizens’ property tax credit, but just ending the renter’s portion of the tax credit is expected to generate up to $56 million in funds that, in turn, will be used to provide services for Missouri’s most vulnerable citizens.

Those in opposition to eliminating the renter’s portion of the circuit breaker tax credit argue that it will impact the senior citizens who use this money to purchase goods and services not covered by Medicaid. However, the Senior Service Protection Fund will allow the state to reinvest money to more effectively serve low income seniors and disabled individuals and ensure persons who need care will have the ability to receive it.

Two additional pieces of legislation are now on their way to the Governor’s desk. First, House Bill 662 is legislation meant to stop illegal use of herbicides that caused widespread crop damage in SEMO during the 2016 growing season. Some farmers used herbicides not specified for the new variety of dicamba soybean and corn crops, but, instead, used other herbicides not labeled for these products.

Under the bill, the Missouri Department of Agriculture may issue a fine of up to $10,000 per violation when a product is spread illegally. A fine could escalate to $25,000 per violation for those individuals who repeatedly break the law and fail to follow label directions. The bill will also give the Department the ability to investigate claims of illegal herbicide usage.

Another bill that is on its way to the Governor’s desk is the Expert-Witness Legislation. This is legislation meant to improve reliability of expert evidence presented to juries in Missouri state courts. The bill would implement an established standard for determining when expert witness testimony is admissible as evidence at a trial and is an important component of the General Assembly’s tort refund efforts this session.

Supporters say the bill will ensure that testimony from someone designated by lawyers as an “expert” can be relied upon by citizen juries.

House members showed their support for the thousands of Missourians with developmental disabilities by supporting Missouri’s Sheltered Workshops. Sheltered Workshops provide a controlled work environment and a program designed to enable individuals with disabilities to enjoy working and being productive.

More than 6,300 Missourians with developmental disabilities are currently employed by our states’s 92 Sheltered Workshops, with another 1,100 individuals seeking employment.

Missouri does not use federal dollars to fund the Sheltered Workshops; instead, the workshops generate about 70% of their funding from contract services and receive additional funds from county and state governments. I am very proud to be one of the supporters of our local Crowder Sheltered Workshop.

Finally, our state’s annual Vietnam Veteran’s Day is on March 30 at the Capitol in Jefferson City.  Members of the Missouri House of Representatives will be recognizing several Vietnam veterans for their service, with those being recognized to receive an official House Resolution honoring their service to our nation.

Vietnam Veteran’s Day commemorates the sacrifices of those veterans and their families and is a part of our nation’s efforts to recognize the men and women who were denied a proper welcome upon returning home more than 40 years ago.

Most Vietnam veterans celebrations are held on March 29 or March 30 each year, because it was on that date in 1973 that the last combat troops were withdrawn from Vietnam and the last prisoners of war from North Vietnam arrived back on American soil.

It was also on that date in 1974 that President Nixon designated it as the first Vietnam Veteran’s Day. In 2012 our state’s legislature declared March 30 as Missouri Vietnam Veteran’s Day. It is with respect and admiration that we say to all these veterans, Thank You.

Spring Break 2017 is now behind us, and it is time for all of us in the General Assembly to focus on the 2018 budget and other pressing issues in Missouri. I will continue to keep you informed as the session moves forward.

If I can help you with any state matter, please contact me.

By Bill Reiboldt

(State Rep. Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho, represents the 160th District of Missouri, which includes Neosho, Diamond, and Granby. He can be reached at his Capitol office at (573) 751-9781 or by email at bill.reiboldt@house.mo.gov.)

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