With issues such as tax cuts, methamphetamine, and sex offender laws, this year’s legislative session could have a big impact on Franklin County.
The session started Wednesday, and local state Reps. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, and Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, spoke with The Missourian this week about the issues they will be working on in Jefferson City.
State Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, did not return phone calls seeking comment about what his legislative priorities will be.
Juvenile Offender Bill
Hinson plans to file a new version of a bill dealing with sex offenders who committed their crimes while they were juveniles.
Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a similar bill last year.
Hinson said the new bill will be different in that it will not automatically remove sex offenders who committed their crimes as children from the state registry.
Instead, it will allow them to petition the court for removal, which they cannot do now. This way the prosecutor and victim will still have a say in the matter, Hinson said.
He said he has been working with the governor’s staff over the interim to get a bill worked out.
Sex offenders who commit their crimes as juveniles should be given a chance to be removed from the registry so they can go forward in life, according to Hinson.
A tax-cut bill may also come up in this year’s session after the governor vetoed last year’s attempt. Nixon said the tax cut proposed last year would have drained the state of needed revenue.
Hinson said he is looking at issues around income taxes.
Schatz is not sure what a tax-cut bill may look like this year. But in general he thinks it is better for taxpayers to keep the money rather than it going to the government.
The idea that tax cuts help attract business seems to be supported by others, Schatz said. This was evidenced by the recent special legislative session in which tax incentives to attract a Boeing jet plant were approved, Schatz noted.
As a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, Curtman said he will probably be invested in some type of tax cut or tax reform bill. It may not focus on income taxes but on other state taxes and fees, Curtman said.
Expanding Medicaid in Missouri is also expected to be a big issue in the session.
Curtman said the Medicaid system should be reformed before it is expanded. It could cost the state more than $1 billion over a decade to expand it, and that may be too much to bear, Curtman said.
He said it is likely that about a third of the program is open to fraud, waste and abuse and that people who truly need the program can be helped if the problems are fixed.
Hinson agreed the system needs to be reformed, adding that some people are taking advantage of it.
Schatz also supports reforming the system before expanding it. Some reforms could include making Medicaid recipients good stewards of tax dollars by allowing them to have “skin in the game” through health savings accounts. This way the beneficiaries may think twice about going to the more costly emergency room instead of a more affordable clinic, Schatz said.
Reaching a compromise on pseudoephedrine limits is also needed, Schatz said, noting that the current limits are too high. Currently, Missouri residents can buy up to 9 grams of pseudoephedrine each month, or 108 grams per year. That is more than anyone could ever need he asserted. The limit should be set lower to help put a damper on the methamphetamine problem in the state, Schatz said.
If the Legislature cannot agree to go to a prescription-only requirement for pseudoephedrine, the limits should at least be reduced, Schatz added.
Even if it were lowered to 3.5 grams per month, it would still be more than people needed, he said.
Other drug problems, such as heroin, also need to be addressed, Schatz said. He suggested that a prescription drug monitoring program could help keep narcotics out of the hands of teenagers.
The issue of school transfers, in which students from failing districts are transferred to other districts, will also be on Hinson’s agenda. He wants to look at transfer issues related to tuition, transportation and funding.
He has proposed a fairer tuition instead of taking away money that could be used to make failing school districts accredited.
Issues dealing with staff and classroom space may also be addressed in his bill. And he also proposed allowing school districts to solicit bids for transportation services to save money.
In addition, Hinson said he plans to file a bill to extend a portion of court costs that go to pay for a law library for courts in Franklin County. He is looking to extend the court costs for five more years so the law library can be paid off, Hinson said.
Curtman said he has a bill to adjust tax brackets for inflation. He said the brackets were set up in 1931 when $9,000 was the highest tax bracket.
The fact that the brackets have not been readjusted means the state is collecting $2.45 billion each year in an “inflation tax,” Curtman said.
Curtman said he will also be doing a lot of work on the Downsizing State Government Committee, which he chairs.
The committee will hold a series of hearings with government departments and then bring in similar private sector businesses to see if efficiencies can be created.
“I don’t think the government should be competing with private sector,” Curtman said.
Schatz plans to work on some workers’ compensation issues to allow businesses to better control costs.