Session Preview: Talk is cheap; action is rare — in life and in government

Perspective

With the 2014 legislative session gearing back up, talk will be abundant about legislative proposals and goals. Most will not become law.

While there are only a few ways to pass a bill, there are dozens of ways to kill them. That’s frustrating for anyone trying to pass legislation. But this paralyzing process is part of the great genius of the American system of government. The checks-and-balances guard against legislative haste and short-term passions.

Over the next five months, these are the issues on which you’ll hear a whole lot of talk.

Medicaid Reform — Missouri has an opportunity to remake its Medicaid system in a conservative mold. We can use federal dollars to create the most market-based public health care welfare system in the history of our country — using Missouri as a laboratory of democracy to prove to the country how to run Medicaid in a way that achieves better results for participants and taxpayers. Or we can do nothing, continuing with a broken system and foregoing the use of our own tax dollars. I’m in favor of reforms combined with increases in eligibility for some and decreases in eligibility for others.

Broad-based Tax Relief — For the past decade, Missouri has tried economic development through the barrel-of-money route. We put a whole bunch of money (in the form of tax incentives) in a barrel, and we promise companies savvy enough to hire lobbyists and consultants who know how to work the Department of Economic Development that if they expand here, Missouri taxpayers will give them the barrel. This is a failed path for economic development. The better approach is broad-based tax relief making Missouri a more affordable place to do business for everyone — not just those who know how to game the government. I’m in favor of broad-based tax relief to replace the barrel-of-money baloney.

Tax Credit Reform — We’re also going to hear a lot about tax credit reform. Unfortunately, most of the talk won’t be about the so-called jobs tax credits that have failed to produce as advertised. Instead, they’ll focus on tax credits that actually worked — like historic tax credits which have helped revitalize many buildings in downtown Jefferson City. I believe serious tax credit reform must reform the so-called jobs tax credits. For example, we should cap how many jobs tax credits a company can stack together. On this issue, the devil is really in the details, and it’s impossible to say where I’d line up on any potential legislation at this point.

Education — Current Missouri law allows students in failing schools to escape by enrolling in nearby schools. There’s valid concern about the lack of specificity in this law regarding the process for these transfers. There’s probably universal agreement that this is the top issue facing elementary and secondary education in Missouri. And a number of different “fixes” have been offered. As vice chair of the House Education Committee, I will only support legislation that keeps options open for students in these failing districts who seek a better education. Efforts to re-close the trap door on these students, such as one by Missouri Association of School Administrators which simply changes definitions in state statutes to nullify existing law, are unacceptable.

That’s the talk — we’ll see about the action.

Investigating the SOAU in Corrections

In November, Haley Harrison of KMBC9 News, reported that hundreds of convicted sex offenders in Missouri have received an early release from prison after just 120 days in a sex offender assessment unit. As a result of her story, I requested a batch of documents from the Department of Corrections related to that program. The House Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability will be investigating whether this program adequately protects the rights to victims of sexual predators.

Protecting your personal privacy

Do you think people you’ve never met should be able to buy lists of everything you’ve purchased — including medical purchases? Should companies be able to sell your private information without your consent? I don’t think they should. Your personal information should be kept private — unless, and only unless, you consent to it being shared with someone else. That’s why I’ve proposed five separate bills to protect your sensitive personal information from disclosure without your consent. I expect that the private industry equivalents of the NSA will vigorously object to the bill, but pledge to fight for your right to privacy.

Republican State Representative Jay Barnes represents the Missouri House 60th District.

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