A new year is here. Therefore a new legislative period will begin. We have about 40 new members in the legislature, and so we now have new personalities and new people with possibly different priorities than their predecessors. As a lawmaker, it is my responsibility to get to know these new members, understand their priorities, and see how we can work together to achieve the best for my district and the state at large.
I introduced 10 invoices and am working on several other larger invoices with other representatives. This may seem like a lot of bills, but a lot of these are bills that are needed to keep our state and county governments running. I’ll go through the bills as the session progresses.
One of the main bills I sponsor is House Bill 557, known as the Child Residential Home Notification Act. This bill addresses the issue of children’s housing facilities that are supposedly run by religious organizations. As I discussed in previous columns, we have heard many hours of testimony, many horror stories, about what happened in some of these houses. This act is a step towards eliminating the bad actors in business.
Currently, anyone who wants to run a religious childcare facility that can accommodate children 365 days a year, 24 hours a day does not need to have a fire and safety inspection, background check of staff, or notification of their existence done by the state. According to the law, there are no requirements for them as they purportedly claim to be a religious organization. This invoice is required because of the misuse of this system.
Just stating that you are a religious organization does not mean that you are a religious organization. Individuals use this as a method to run some facilities that result in horrific injuries and abuse of children. Again, keep in mind that 95 percent or more of the homes affected by this bill are already doing whatever this legislation requires and are a huge asset to our society. There are a few bad apples that can ruin everyone’s reputation and lead to a much stricter licensing requirement, etc. This bill is designed to allow religious organizations to practice their beliefs and culture while preventing people who claim to be religious from engaging in activities that are gross, disgusting and criminal because they have no state control.
I am working diligently to include this in the floor calendar as early as possible so that it can be discussed and addressed openly. While we haven’t seen situations of horrific abuse in Cole County, it is widespread in other parts of the state. Since Missouri is one of the few states that does not require supervision, we are a prime place for bad actors from other parts of the country to come, set up facilities, and tarnish the reputations of the good houses.
Another proposed bill is to renew the surcharge tax on the Second Injury Fund. While this is boring for most, it is important for our industries and companies that we maintain a viable Second Damage Employee Compensation Fund to solve problems for workers who are permanently and completely disabled due to the combination of their workplace injuries and their work are preconditions. The Second Injury Fund currently protects employers from paying permanent total disability benefits for employees with pre-existing disabilities that contribute to their permanent full disability status. Without the Second Injury Fund, the final employer will be liable for these benefits regardless of any pre-existing disabilities the employee may have. While employers and employees may disagree on the value of the existing Employee Compensation Act, I think that employee compensation is required to have an effective business world. Employers need protection from civil claims arising from employee compensation, and workers need the quick benefits that employee compensation offers.
The legislature will resume its session and we will need to look at the new CARES law and other budgetary issues to ensure that our state’s needs are properly addressed during these challenging times. One such budgetary issue is that last year’s budget did not provide Cole County with adequate funding for its new Associate Judge Clerk.
There will be opening activities over the next two weeks, which are important as it is an honor and a privilege to be elected. We should celebrate this, but it is also a reminder of the responsibility we have taken as legislators. However, with COVID-19, all things have to be done in moderation. We will limit the number of people who can be in the chambers when we are sworn in. We’ll split the house into separate groups when they are sworn in. The governor will conduct his activities on the front lawn. We cannot ignore the historical significance of change, but we must prepare for that change with sensible approaches in order to address COVID-19.
Hopefully we can have a good session, prepare for COVID-19 and still get what we need to achieve. Since my space is limited, I will try to discuss one or two bills per column during this legislative period. As always, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, feel free to call or email.
R-Jefferson City Rep. Rudy Veit represents the 59th Ward and shares his views on State House issues twice a month.