Perspective: Responding to session’s shifts

With each legislative session, I learn more and more about the inner workings of the Missouri legislative system. I believe I now have a good understanding of the systematic and statutory processes. I have also come to recognize the additional rhythmic ebb and flow of emotions by lobbyists and interests groups. While far from a hard-and-fast rule, the month of January tends to generally be optimistic and cordial. However, somewhere in early to mid-February, that widespread optimistic and cordial outlook often disappears. Unfortunately, the next step from positivity and politeness can sometimes be panic.

Very little is set in stone in the middle of February. Bills will change, momentum will shift, ideas will be discussed. This is the essence of the legislative process, and while it can be frustrating at times, there is great wisdom to the system. This is not to say that one should not pay attention to what is going on in February, but rather it should be a reminder that there remains a great deal of work to do in the session.

Much of this work will take the entire five months and will be the result of diligent and steady focus of efforts on important topics. It is rare that a piece of legislation looks the same on the last day of session as it does in the middle of February. My Senate colleagues and I, as well as those in the House, would do well to keep this fact in mind, and we wish that editorial boards and fly-by-night political experts would do the same.

On Wednesday, SB673, which would make much needed changes to Missouri’s unemployment insurance system, was voted out of committee. SB673 ties the number of weeks an employee can receive unemployment benefits to the state’s unemployment rate. The higher the unemployment rate is, the longer an individual can receive benefits, up to the current 20 weeks of benefits. Similarly, the lower the unemployment rate, the shorter the term of benefits. SB673 requires the state to bond to pay off the debt of a large, outstanding loan balance to the federal government. Like almost every other bill, I am certain that SB673 will change in the coming weeks and I look forward to continued discussions to improve it from its current form in a manner to better help small businesses across the state.

The one thing that the constitution requires the Legislature to do every session is to pass a budget. The appropriations committee is meeting daily to craft the Fiscal Year 2015 budget. In the course of budget discussions this week relating to bonding and debt, I learned an interesting fact about the good financial stewardship of Missouri in comparison to the federal government. Missouri’s percentage of debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is approximately 1.6 percent. The federal government’s ratio is approximately 106 percent. I found the contrast alarming. As the appropriations process advances, we will continue to have debates and discussions about how to best accomplish the core functions of government in a fiscally responsible manner. Fortunately, Missouri’s responsible work in the past, as evidenced by the low ratio of debt to GDP, means that we can stretch your tax-dollars farther and maximize expenditures in a manner that the federal government cannot.

On Thursday, I was pleased to help send two important measures to the House for their consideration. SB668 recognizes the medical advances that make oral chemotherapy treatments as effective as intravenous or injected chemotherapy in many instances and requires oral chemotherapy to be treated the same as others for insurance purposes. I, like many of you, have friends and family affected by cancer, and SB668 will enable individuals to better fight this terrible disease. SJR36 enhances the constitutional protections of Missourians to keep and bear arms by adding a new section to the constitution which specifically includes ammunition and accessories typical to the normal function of firearms. Additionally, SJR36 clearly states that these rights are inalienable and that the state has an obligation to uphold these rights and to protect against their infringement. When passed by both the house and senate, proposed changes to the constitution then go to the ballot for Missourians to decide. If passed, this constitutional change would be on the November 2014 ballot.

As a matter of perspective, I read on Friday that the last surviving Medal of Honor winner from D-Day actions passed away at the age of 91. I never met SSgt Walter Ehlers, but having read his Medal of Honor citation, I am certain that he had a perspective on life and freedom that few men have ever had. We celebrate “heroes” of all sorts on a daily basis, but I often wonder whether or not many of our modern “heroes” are at all worthy of the title. Having read about SSgt Ehlers actions in France, I believe we have cheapened the term today. I am thankful for men like SSgt Ehlers who fought on my behalf in World War II, and I am continually thankful for the men and women who do so today.

My purpose and my intent is to serve the constituents of the 6th District. If you are in the Capitol during the coming weeks and months, please stop by your office in Room 220.

State Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, represents the 6th District.

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