We had an interesting week for this early in the session. It is usually very quiet until about the first of February because of all the start up procedures prior to sending bills to committees. We had to first approve the Rules of the House, which we accomplished the week of the Jan. 14.
The speaker's office assigned bills to the various committees and we were ready to start hearing them on Tuesday, Jan. 22. There was a lot of activity on Tuesday with various groups visiting us in our offices and expressing their opinions on upcoming legislation. Wednesday morning the chief justice gave his State of the Judiciary report to both houses and we then adjourned to committee hearings.
I chaired my first hearing and it couldn't have been more fun. We heard a bill proposing to give school boards the option of using local labor on building projects instead of paying the "Prevailing Wage." The bill sponsor lives in the northern part of the state and has 19 school districts in his territory. Many of them are getting old and need a lot of repair, but the patrons of the district cannot afford to do the work. His solution to the problem was to allow them to opt out of prevailing wage rates if the school board voted to do so.
We listened to everyone present who wished to present their point of view and then we voted to send it to the floor to be heard. As chairman of the committee, I felt that this issue deserves to be fully discussed by the entire general assembly. The speaker made these workforce issues one of his priorities and I am doing everything I can to accommodate the bill handlers that he assigns to me. We are going to hear a bill dealing with paycheck protection next week and I'll bet that gets really interesting.
I have been inundated with questions about gun control also. I can't imagine any changes that will be seriously considered in the Missouri legislature. Instead of focusing on more laws for gun owners, we really need to spend our time working on providing better procedures for identifying and treating mental health problems. I heard the analogy that taking guns away from lawful owners to solve these problems is much like banning automobiles in order to stop driving while intoxicated.
Many years ago we made a decision to do less to help mentally ill people, I think we need to take a fresh look at these policies and provide the help they desperately need.
At the McDonald County Republican Club meeting Thursday evening, we heard a report from Grant and Stacy Hendricks about their trip to Washington for the Presidential Inaugural. It seems as if the band won so many awards they thought they were going to need a U-Haul trailer to bring them all back! It really ought to make us proud to have such a fine group of young people representing us. We have some great schools in the southwest part of our state. I sometimes shudder when I hear representatives from other areas talk about their school districts and the problems they are encountering.
Page 2 of 2 - People here tend to get more involved in their schools and help head off difficulties before they become unmanageable. We have a talented and dedicated teaching and administrative staff and they are doing a marvelous job!
When I left the capitol, the senate was in the middle of a hot debate over the governor's new airplane. He spent $5.7 million on a new plane and didn't even use a bid process. Their rationale was that the factory in Kansas was the only place they could buy a King Air. I fully understand his need for a new one. He wore the other one out flying back and forth to Joplin. Stay tuned for what he cuts out of the budget to pay for that sucker!
Finally, please be aware of your neighbors during the cold winter weather. There are elderly all over the area who should be checked on regularly. Maybe offer to pick up groceries for them and make sure they have propane or firewood. Until next time, I am and remain, in your service.
Bill Lant represents the people of Southwest Missouri in the Missouri House of Representatives. Contact him locally at 437-8223 or at his Jefferson City office at (573) 751-9801 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.