We picked up the pace again last week.

We picked up the pace again last week. Now, with only two more weeks of regular session, we must finalize a lot of work. Some of the bills have been a work in progress since this time last year. SB1 is one of those. As you can tell by it’s designation, this was the first bill filed in the senate for this session.

We started making rough plans for dealing with the Second Injury Fund last year when it failed to pass the Senate on the last week of session. We decided to let the Senate bring the bill up first this year in the hope that they would work out all their differences early on. With a herculean effort, the bill sponsor in the Senate got it passed out and sent to us six weeks ago. The Second Injury Fund is a terribly complicated law, but to make it simple, it was designed to help employers find a way to put injured World War II vets to work and not be penalized on their Workman’s Comp Insurance if a worker received a second injury. The fund served its purpose for many years until in 2005, we decided to lower the surcharge rates because the fund had an excess.

What we didn’t anticipate was the law was also relaxed for trial lawyers to draw an increased amount from settlements from the fund. This created a flurry of activity and we suddenly found ourselves with a huge backlog of cases that had been awarded settlements and no money in the fund to pay them. Then the fun began. We started trying to find a fair way to raise the additional funds to pay the awards. Big business interests didn’t want to shoulder all the burden and small business didn’t think they should have to pay for problems they didn’t cause. Everyone forgot that it was an insurance policy and sometimes you have to pay a premium when you don’t have a claim against the policy. The trial lawyers were also screaming like mashed cats that they weren’t getting compensated for their efforts. So began seven years of negotiations.
Last week, we finally sent the House version of the Senate bill back and we will go to conference early this week. Keep us in your prayers that we can finally iron out the differences and those who are due settlements can finally be paid.

I’ve been getting lots of correspondence about the education reform efforts. First, let me set the record straight. There are no attempts in the General Assembly to take away teacher tenure, raid their pension funds, or create an evaluation system that is unfair to teachers. There is a wealth of misinformation floating around and most of it is either scare tactics by special interest groups or good old rumors. Having said that, there have been two bills addressing education reform. The first one was a house bill that had fatal errors and was defeated soundly a month ago. The second is a Senate bill that we heard in the House last week and it has undergone so many amendments and changes that I doubt if the Senate will even recognize it, let alone pass it. Now, you can ask yourself, “why do we need changes in education?”

There are many, many reasons and darned few of them point fingers at good teachers. Our quality of education has deteriorated in this country for a lot of reasons. Some of them are social, and there isn’t much the educators can do about that. Some of them are “bad experiments” and we can correct them. We are told over and over again that we just need to allocate more money for education and all the problems will disappear. Phooey to that.

If that were true, St. Louis schools, at $13 thousand per student per year would be churning out Rhoades Scholars right and left. Seneca, East Newton, and McDonald County at less than $7,000 are performing at levels near the top of the state. That doesn’t even take into consideration that a lot of our money has to go for transportation that city schools don’t have to pay. When I graduated nearly 50 years ago, our vocabulary was twice that of today’s grads. We were number one in the world in every subject including physical education and we put men on the moon using slide rules. There were no computers. Try working those calculations today without the use of our electronic wizards! I don’t presume to know all the answers to the education dilemma, but I do know that we are fooling ourselves if we think we are the best in the world anymore. Our math, science, language arts, and history scores are deplorable compared to most “third world” countries.

So whose fault is it? All of us! Parents, teachers, administrators, legislators, and the taxpayers who keep putting up with it. It’s time to quit pointing fingers and dreaming up new programs and work together to solve what is probably the most critical problem we face. As a final note, when I first ran for office, an old timer who had been in the House many years ago told me,”when you have to vote on education proposals, vote in the children’s interest every time” They are the ones who get cheated if we don’t do it right.
I had the opportunity to present House Resolutions to several McDonald County educators on Friday. Mrs. Collingsworth, Mr. Price and Mr. Davis are all retiring and the Principal Kim Harrell got a surprise Resolution also. It was really an honor for me to be able to take a small part in the ceremony honoring them for their years of service.

Saturday, we were at the Seneca Junior High for their gigantic rummage sale. I found some bargains and some really great white chocolate cookies and was able to help out the Seneca Library fund. Finally on the “Food For Thought Forum” If your government believes that the best way to eradicate trillions of dollars in debt is to spend trillions more.... you might live in a country founded by geniuses but run by idiots. Until next week, 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 bill.lant@house.mo.gov.