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One day ahead of the constitutional deadline, the House and Senate agreed to a state spending plan for the next fiscal year. The 13 bills that make up the state operating budget for Fiscal Year 2014 contain nearly $25 billion in funding and represent a fiscally responsible approach to using your tax dollars.

One of the most exciting developments with the budget is that it contains the largest level of funding for K-12 education in our state’s history. We reach that record level by providing an additional $66 million to the foundation formula that provides funding to public schools around the state. These additional dollars will make a huge difference for the schools in our area, as well as all public schools in Missouri.

Higher education also is a big winner in the budget we approved. Our four-year universities and colleges will see a funding increase of $25 million. These additional funds will be distributed to schools in accordance with a new performance-based model. We also increased funding by $1 million for our Access Missouri Scholarship Program and by $2.4 million for the Bright Flight Scholarship Program. Both increases will help even more Missouri young people achieve the dream of obtaining a college degree.

The budget we approved also reflects our disappointment with the way the state revenue department has handled the controversy surrounding its new document scanning and sharing policy. Our spending plan cuts funding for the department’s Division of Motor Vehicles by 33 percent, which will allow the division to operate as normal for 8 months. Our plan is to revisit the issue in January of next year and appropriate the additional funding for the department if it has changed its policies to prohibit the scanning and sharing of Missourians’ personal information.

Other funding highlights in this year’s budget include:

  • · $1m increase in tourism funding.
  • · $750k for STL prisoner re-entry program that reduces recidivism rates and violent crimes.
  • · $8.9m for developmentally disabled provider rate restructuring in Department of Mental Health.
  • · The first provider rate increases in years for nursing homes, mental health services and home and community-based services.
  • · $10m for expanded medical school at the University of Missouri in cooperation with Springfield hospitals.

All 13 appropriations bills now move to the governor’s desk to be signed into law. The governor does have line item veto power with budget bills. Our hope is that he will support our funding decisions with few, if any, changes.

House Approves Second Amendment Preservation Act (HB 436)

My colleagues and I gave final approval this week to a piece of legislation that not only strengthens the existing gun rights of Missourians, but also rejects all federal acts that infringe on our Second Amendment Rights. Known as the Second Amendment Preservation Act, the bill says that any past, present or future federal acts, laws or orders that infringe on our right to keep and bear arms will be considered null and void and of no effect here in Missouri. In fact, the bill makes it the duty of the courts and law enforcement agencies of Missouri to protect the rights of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms within the borders of the state. The bill essentially works a shield that we can use to protect Missourians from the overreaching attempts of the federal government to infringe upon our Second Amendment rights.

The bill also makes a number of important changes to our existing state gun laws. One would allow schools to designate certain personnel as “protection officers.” The officers would be allowed to carry concealed weapons as long as they have a valid permit and register with the state Department of Public Safety. The also would require them to complete a training course established by a state peace officer training commission. This is a way of providing our schools with another way to protect children from those who might do them harm.

Other provisions of the bill would lower the age requirement to carry a concealed weapon from the current age of 21 down to 19, and allow concealed weapon permit holds to “open carry” with firearms less than 16 inches in length.

The bill now moves to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.

House Speaker Creates Committee to Investigate Ongoing Department of Revenue Scandal

This week House Speaker Tim Jones announced the creation of an independent, bipartisan investigative committee to look into the Department of Revenue Scandal. Their charged goal is to help develop solutions to ensure the department never again violates the privacy rights of Missourians.

The Bipartisan Investigative Committee on Privacy Protection will be made up of lawmakers as well as former law enforcement officials from across the state. These former prosecuting attorneys and sheriffs will work with House members to find the truth about why license documents were being scanned and stored and why a complete list of concealed-carry weapons permit holders was shared with the federal government. Our hope is that the governor will work with the committee so Missourians can finally have the answers they deserve, and so we can ensure something like this never happens again.

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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