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Taking Time to Honor Those Who Serve

While many may not realize it, this week marked the first observance of Veterans of Operation Iraqi/Enduring Freedom Day. The day was created with the passage of legislation last year that designates March 26 as the day to give special honor and recognition to veterans who have served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Desert Storm.

Missouri is blessed to have a large population of veterans who we strive to honor and appreciate for the sacrifices they have made for our nation. We also have a new generation of brave individuals who have served in the modern day conflicts that have taken place in the Middle East. Just as we honor those who served in World War I and II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, we must also take time to recognize the tens of thousands of Missourians who have risked their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan to protect our way of life.

I hope you will join me in putting this important day on your calendar so that we will not allow the sacrifices made by our veterans and their families to ever be forgotten. Let us never forget they deserve our daily respect and admiration.

House Completes Balanced, Fiscally Responsible Budget

This week was budget week in the House as we approved the 13 appropriations bills that make up the state spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year. In total, the bills contain more than $24.8 billion in funding for our various state departments and agencies. I’m proud to say the budget represents a balanced spending plan that forces our state to live within its means. Yes, there are certain areas of the budget where we would have liked to increase funding, but the end result is one that represents the best we can do considering the amount of revenues that will be available to fund our priorities.

We have made education a top priority in all of our budget discussions and I am happy to report the spending plan we approved includes an additional $65 million in funding for the formula that funds our system of K-12 education. That brings our total funding for the formula to nearly $3.1 billion, which is a record level for education. Keep in mind the total does still fall short of the funding level called for by the formula, but I’m happy to see we are moving in the right direction by increasing education funding as our revenues allow. The education budget also includes a $7 million increase for the High Needs Fund that supports the needs of special education students; a $5.4 million increase for the Missouri Preschool Program; and a $1.5 million increase for the First Steps Program that provides families with the tools they need to help their children be successful.

The budget approved by the House also includes an additional $20 million in funding for our public institutions of higher learning. We also increased funding to our A+ Schools Program by $2 million, which will allow the program to expand to every school in the state. The program has been a huge success in helping to prepare high school students for success in college and beyond. In addition, the budget increases funding by $2.4 million for the Bright Flight Scholarship Program and by $1 million for the Access Missouri Scholarship Program. Increases to both will allow even more Missouri young people to achieve the dream of obtaining a college education.

Another item of interest in this year’s budget is a new program created to provide tuition assistance to the men and women who so ably serve in our Missouri National Guard. As you may know, the federal government’s inability to pass a budget led to the Sequester cuts that are impacting the lives of many around the country and right here in Missouri. The cuts include a decrease in funding to tuition assistance for the members of our military. Because we want our men and women in uniform to continue their academic pursuits, this year’s budget includes $1.5 million in state funding for tuition assistance. These dollars will help more than 900 National Guardsmen who will lose their federal tuition assistance at the end of the current semester.

Additionally, we added $7 million to the tourism budget for marketing and attracting visitors to our state. Tourism is an important economic driver in our state, especially in our region. Tourism and travel is the state’s second largest industry providing thousands of jobs and revenue for our state and local economies.

These are just a few of the highlights of this year’s budget, which includes funding for everything from the Missouri Department of Public Safety to the Department of Economic Development. The thing all Missourians should feel good about with this budget is that it represents a fiscally responsible spending plan that doesn’t saddle our state with financial obligations we cannot afford to meet.

House Moves to Reinstate Reasonable Malpractice Liability Limits

Also this week, the Missouri House approved a bill designed to contain the costs of health care and retain the state’s best doctors. HB 112 would reinstate the $350,000 limit on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases.

Missouri had liability limits in place thanks to legislation passed by the Republican-led legislature in 2005. While the limits were praised by the medical community for helping to hold down health care costs, they were struck down by the Missouri Supreme Court in July of 2012. Our medical community is now fearful that limitless damages will drive up malpractice insurance premiums and force many doctors out of the state.

The bill we approved would replace the common-law right to sue over health care services with a statutory right to sue. The move would address the Supreme Court’s ruling that liability limits violate the common-law rights of Missourians to seek damages for medical malpractice claims. The end result would be a reinstatement of the limits approved by the Missouri General Assembly in 2005. The change is an important one if Missouri hopes to compete for doctors with states like Kansas, which saw its Supreme Court uphold $250,000 damage limits last year.

Reasonable liability limits worked well for years here in Missouri and will work well again. In fact, we have seen where the caps helped reduce the cost of liability insurance for health care providers by more than $44 million over a five-year period. This is a move supported by the entire medical community because it is the fairest way to contain costs while still allowing Missourians to recover damages against doctors who are negligent in their duties.

As always, it is an honor to serve the good folks of the 153rd District. If you would like to discuss any issue, please call 573-751-1066 or you can e-mail me at steve.cookson@house.mo.gov .

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