On this Wednesday, the 97th General Assembly of the state of Missouri will officially be sworn in, signaling the beginning of the new session. Republicans will hold 110 of the 163 seats in the House and 24 of the 34 seats in the Senate. This means that Republicans will be the ones setting the legislative agenda, and Tim Jones, our new Speaker of the House of Representatives, has set forth legislative priorities for the 2013 Session. Included in this agenda is what is being termed the "Three-E's:" economic development, energy, and education reform and funding.
One of the priorities under economic development will be an attempt to restore medical malpractice protection. On July 31, 2012, in a four to three decision, the Missouri Supreme Court struck down the 2005 medical malpractice protection known as the Tort Reform Law. This decision removed the $350,000 maximum cap that could be awarded for "pain and suffering" in medical malpractice lawsuits.
Because lawsuits were leading to substantial increases in medical costs, tort reform laws were passed in 2005. Prior to this, Missouri was ranked among the 10 worst states for medical lawsuits. Consequently, some doctors were forced to leave our state because of the high cost of malpractice insurance. This expense for doctors significantly raised the costs for healthcare for not only individuals but also for Missouri businesses.
Since the reforms passed, Missouri has had its fewest medical-related lawsuits in more than 30 years, according to a report published by the Missouri Department of Insurance. Premiums for malpractice insurance have declined by a total of $26 million. This savings has benefitted doctors and medical professionals, as well as patients.
Additionally, tax credit reform will be getting a lot of attention this session. Most people realize that some reform is needed to the tax credit system, as this system has gotten totally out of control. In Missouri, there are 61 different tax credits, totaling more than $550 million. The most popular is the Low-Income Housing tax credit, which had authorized credits equaling approximately $170 million in 2012. The Missouri Quality Jobs credit and the Historic Preservation credit follow with $100 million appropriated for each. Discussions will center around reducing, capping, or placing sunsets on these tax credits.
Other economic development issues that will be dealt with are workmen's compensation, solvency of the second injury fund, prevailing wage, small business tax cuts, corporate income tax phase-outs, right-to-work and, possibly, taxing of Internet sales. Legislation will most likely emerge from discussions focused on these topics.
Energy will be another major subject with which we will be dealing, specifically, the use of small modular nuclear reactors in Missouri. Discussions will also address using renewable and existing resources — including coal and natural gas — to generate electricity for our state. By federal law, our state is required to meet the renewable energy standards, which means that a set percentage of our state's energy must come from a renewable source.
Page 2 of 2 - Finally, education funding and reforms are certain to be much-discussed topics. The Missouri Constitution requires that 25 percent of the state's budget go to education funding, though we are now over the 30 percent funding mark and are still not able to fully fund the foundation formula. To try and get more money into the classrooms, a constitutional amendment to increase from 25 percent to 40 percent the amount of money going to classrooms may be proposed. While some of the education debate will most certainly concern funding, standards for teacher evaluations, tying of student performance to funding, merit pay, teacher tenure, and setting standards for schools to evaluate teacher performances will be in the mix. In addition, encouraging greater parental involvement in schools, looking at possible solutions for unaccredited schools in St Louis and Kansas City, and attempting to strengthen local control of schools will be on the agenda.
As we move through this new session I will do my best to keep you updated on legislation and areas of interest. Feel free to share your concerns or questions with me.
If I can be of help to you with these or any other state matter, please do not hesitate to contact me by one of the following means:
Mail: Bill Reiboldt, Office 235-BB, State Capitol, 201 W. Capitol, Jefferson City, MO 65101. Telephone: (573) 751-9781. Personal cell phone: 456-0441. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. My website is www.billreiboldt.com
Find me on Facebook at facebook.com/morepbill or follow me on Twitter @MORepBill.
Bill Reiboldt represents the people of Southwest Missouri in the Missouri House of Representatives.