Perspective: Senate acts on range of issues

This week, I had the great fortune of being in attendance as the governor presented four Missouri heroes with Silver Star Banner Awards in recognition of their service and sacrifice in defense of our freedom. I was honored to be in the presence of these four men, who served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, as well as their families.

It is very easy for me to get wrapped up in the day-to-day activities of the Legislature and lose a bit of perspective on those things that are really important. Honoring the service of these men is one of those truly important events. I would like to thank Sen. Wayne Wallingford, Jim Shipley, Ed Gross and Bill Stroud for their service and congratulate them on their awards. I am fortunate to be able to call Sen. Wallingford a friend and I enjoy watching him represent Southeast Missouri as an officer and a gentleman on a daily basis. Mr. Gross and Mr. Shipley are both constituents of mine and Mr. Shroud is a former constituent. As a senator, it is humbling to represent these men, and all other veterans who have sacrificed much on my behalf.

On Wednesday, SB673 passed the House and was sent to the governor for signature. SB673 makes much needed changes to Missouri’s unemployment insurance laws and is critically important to small businesses across the state. In 2008, the state borrowed money from the federal government to cover the influx of unemployment claims. It was intended for these funds to be repaid to the federal government by 2011.

Unfortunately, Missouri failed to do so (still has not done so) and as a result employers are being forced to pay a per-employee penalty every year. These penalties have increased $21 per year for the past three years, and are absolutely killing small business owners. These assessments are actually a tax on small businesses, and as we all know from basic economics, when a business incurs more costs or taxes that cost ultimately gets passed onto the consumer — that’s you and me. Instead of being able to hire more employees, pay their current employees more, or buy new equipment, small businesses are paying for Missouri’s failure to pay off the balance to the federal government in a timely manner.

SB 673 also makes changes to Missouri’s unemployment insurance program by marrying the length of time an individual is eligible for unemployment benefits to the state’s unemployment rate. When Missouri’s unemployment rate is high, benefits are available for a longer period of time, up to the state maximum of 20 weeks. As the unemployment rate goes down, the length of time to receive unemployment compensation will also be reduced. This follows a common sense line of thought that if there are more jobs in the market, there is less need for extended weeks of unemployment compensation. Even the fewest weeks allowed under this plan are still equal to the average that unemployed Missourians needed when the economy was running smoothly in the early 2000’s.

Lastly, SB673 requires the Board of Unemployment Financing Fund (comprised of the governor, attorney general and lieutenant governor) to meet and consider bonding the balance of unemployment insurance debt if it reaches $300 million. This will stop employers from having to pick up the tab for reckless government spending. I am grateful to Rep. Jay Barnes for his leadership on this issue in the House, and I look forward to the governor acting quickly to sign this bill into law.

On Tuesday, House Joint Resolution 68, relating to funding for transportation infrastructure improvements, passed the Senate by a vote of 22-10. HJR 68 originally proposed a temporary one-cent sales tax on the November ballot for voters to decide how to fund transportation. After much thoughtful discussion, the Senate reached a bipartisan compromise which reduced the rate from one cent to three-fourths of a cent.

HJR 68 will now go back to the House for approval of the changes made in the Senate. If approved by the House, the issue will go straight to the 2014 ballot. It is always rewarding to see a piece of legislation that I have been working on all session live to see another day, especially when it is something that will truly benefit Missourians and something Missourians get to vote on versus having a politician decide for them.

This week, the Senate passed its version of the FY2015 budget. Now that the Senate version has passed, the budget will move to conferences to work out the differences between the House and Senate drafts. The budget is still on track to be completed by the constitutional deadline of May 9. I am confident that the final FY15 budget will be on the governor’s desk for his signature by that date.

On Wednesday, I participated in a conference call with superintendents across the district. We discussed a variety of issues, got feedback from each other and were able to dissect the complexities of Senate Bill 509. SB509 is the tax cut bill that would responsibly return some of your tax dollars according to a specifically articulated timeline that also includes revenue target requirements. The returns would only occur after priority services, such as education, were funded.

The governor has called SB 509 an “assault on education,” which is nothing more than a political scare tactic to keep the Legislature from overriding his veto of the bill. I understand and appreciate the superintendents’ concern over the welfare of their students and the quality of their education. It was beneficial to have an open discussion with them to communicate that education funding is not being threatened by SB509. The tax cut will not cause calamity to Missouri education. Rather, it will curb wasteful and unnecessary government spending and return some of YOUR money to you.

On Thursday the Senate passed HB1490 sending it back to the House for consideration. Widely known as “the Common Core bill”, the Senate version of HB1490 represents a Missouri solution for education standards. Instead of being told by the federal government what schools are to be taught, HB1490 enables Missourians to make these determinations. This was not an easy bill, nor should something of this significance be easy. Instead, it passed after hours of discussions on the floor and many more hours of discussions and input by stakeholders statewide.

Many of the amendments added to SB1490 in the Senate came as a direct result of input from school districts across the state. Even school districts in the 6th Senate District provided input that helped to make this legislation better, and truly a document that was created from stakeholders themselves. I have always believed that education is best controlled locally, not by a bunch of bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. The Senate version of HB1490 puts Missourians right back into the driver’s seat of determining what our children are being taught.

With less than three weeks left in session this year, the Capitol is unsurprisingly a busy place. It was a nice change of pace to take some time out of my day on Thursday to reflect and participate in the National Day of Prayer. I would like to thank Pastor Doug Crader for organizing this event and for all who participated in making it a great way to begin the day. Prayer is a necessary and important part of my daily life, and it was good to participate in fellowship with my friends, colleagues and constituents. I desire and greatly appreciate your continued prayers on my behalf and on behalf all state government.

I had a number of you ask how I could compare my chief of staff to a blind hog. Truth be told, I owe an apology to blind hogs everywhere for short-changing their abilities by stooping to compare them to his hunting skills. I would bet on a blind hog every day, every time. The euphoria of last week has, predictably, given way to lamentations of bad weather, wind, and a head-cold as the reason why turkey number two remains elusive. Watching this drama gets funnier and funnier every year and I am already preparing jokes and jabs for the soul-crushing, turkey-less end I believe to be imminent.

My purpose and my intent is to serve the constituents of the 6th Senatorial 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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