Last week's agenda was chock full of economic development proposals. Missouri has an export business that reaches more than $14 billion and that number is poised to grow rapidly in the next few years. We have an extraordinary amount of agricultural products that are just waiting for additional export markets.
Last year, we heard several different proposals for an export hub. Unfortunately, these proposals were based on flawed plans that didn't include enough guarantees that tax dollars would not be wasted. There are now some new proposals that take these important safeguards into account. We would all be happy to see additional business for our agriculture economy and I am expectantly awaiting the floor debate on the new bills. We were asked to provide some tax incentives for data storage facilities. This is a relatively new industry and we have some very attractive sites for new facilities. We are approaching the proposal very carefully however, and making sure that the tax dollars are limited to the net fiscal benefit to the state. This is a 30 billion dollar industry that is growing by 8 percent per year and with high paying tech jobs, the local economies would benefit greatly. Once again, we need to be cautious that tax dollars are spent wisely and in a way that benefit local economies as well as the state in general.
We spent some time debating and passing a piece of legislation that adds transparency and accountability to the initiative petition process. In the past few years the initiative petition process has been infiltrated and abused by out-of-state special interest groups with unlimited funds. Their purpose has been to skirt our legislative process by submitting multiple versions of the same measure in an attempt to confuse the voters and pass a measure that has been disguised as something entirely different. The new law will state that signature gatherers must disclose whether they are being paid for each name, those convicted of forgery cannot gather names, and signing another person's name makes one guilty of a misdemeanor. We deserve to know the real issues and who is responsible for trying to change our laws.
We passed the School Construction Act out of the House. This act was the first bill I heard in Workforce Committee this year and it simply empowers school districts and Missouri taxpayers, except in counties with a charter form of government (St. Louis and Kansas City), to exempt themselves from prevailing hourly wage rates requirements.
Independent contractors conducting work under this act must show proof of workers compensation coverage.
The bill handler did a good job of explaining how many small school districts that are in need of repair, maintenance, and new construction, couldn't afford to pay prevailing wages to get these jobs done. He also pointed out that there are hundreds of school buildings in the state that are in real need of repair, but cannot afford to do the necessary work. We, in Southwest Missouri, don't have to look too far to find some of those buildings!
Page 2 of 2 - My sub committee on Child Abuse and Neglect met at the Division of Children's Services headquarters for a tour and demonstration of the Hotline Reporting System. The department employees 47 operators who work a rotating shift covering 24 hours and seven days. The heaviest traffic is on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. That is when the bulk of reports from mandated reporters come in. An average day consists of nearly 500 calls. We were allowed to listen in on a random call. The call was from a mandated reporter, in this case a counselor, who had been told by an 11 year old boy of an abuse situation between his 11 year old cousin and his 4 year old sister! I'm telling you the truth, they couldn't pay me enough to have to take those calls! Most of my preconceived ideas of the call center disappeared over the next hour and a half. The system is set up for the operator to record the answers to set questions by computer. Depending on the answer to a question, the computer shows the operator what to ask next. This way, the required information is made available for use by the children's services workers in the county or to law enforcement if required.
The training and supervision that we saw was much better than I expected. It's good to be surprised that way.
This week is going to be a challenge as we are having to wrap up the budget before our Spring Break. When the budget is ready for the Senate to start their work, we take 7 days off to give them a head start. Most of the time they need all the time they can get, but with Senator Richard in the drivers seat, they are moving along at a much nicer pace. Once again, good old Southwest common sense prevails! More next week, until then, I am and remain, in your service.
Bill Lant represents the people of Southwest Missouri in the Mo. 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.