As the current legislative session moves into full swing at the Missouri Capitol, lawmakers prepare to address a number of issues ranging from Medicaid expansion to education funding. But often eclipsed by these higher profile concerns is the work being done to support a small subset of the state's population.
During a recent interview in their Capitol offices, two state representatives discussed proposed legislation affecting the military community and veterans.
"I have received calls from military members who have had child custody arrangements modified or removed while they were serving overseas," said Rep. Charlie Davis, R-Webb City, who has been recently appointed as chairman of the House Veterans Committee.
In response, the U.S. Navy veteran filed HB148, legislation that would prevent a court from modifying the terms of an existing custody arrangement or visitation order until 90 days after the military parent's deployment ends.
The lawmaker also explained that an additional provision for this bill is being drafted that would prevent deployed military parents from being denied communication with their children while they are serving overseas.
Davis added: "I believe it's important for us to protect the parent-child bond and provide our deployed servicemembers with the security of knowing they will still have custody of their children when they return home."
Rep. Sheila Solon, R-Blue Springs, is the spouse of a Navy veteran and serves as co-chair of the House Veterans Committee. Guaranteeing adequate funding for the state's veterans homes, she explains, is one of her priorities this legislative session.
"We're working on a special veteran's lottery ticket that could generate between three to six million dollars that would go to support the veterans' homes, cemeteries and outreach programs," Solon said.
"Other states that have implemented lottery tickets in support of veterans programs have seen it re-energize their entire lottery program ... an increase in overall sales."
Both Davis and Solon also note the establishment of veterans' courts as a priority this session.
Veterans' courts are based upon the drug court model in which a client receives treatment under a court-monitored program rather than receiving sentence through a traditional adjudication process.
Last year, Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, filed HB1110, which would have established a state veterans' court model. The bill overwhelmingly passed the house with a 149-1 vote, then languished in a Senate committee and perished at the end of the legislative session.
This year, the issue of veterans' court has garnered an increased level of support and awareness as evidenced by the number of bills already in the Missouri General Assembly: one in the Senate and three in the House.
Solon, who filed HB309 to establish a Military Veterans and Servicemembers Court Program in the state, clarified her support for such legislation.
"Our veterans have been strengthened through their military service, but sometimes return home suffering from a mental health issue that leads to their involvement with the criminal justice system.
"The recidivism rates associated with other veterans' court programs is extremely low and this is a fantastic way the state can let our military members and veterans know how much we appreciate their sacrifices."
To review proposed legislation, please visit Missouri House and Senate Joint Bill Tracking website at house.mo.gov/billcentral.aspx?pid=26.
Jeremy P. Amick is the public affairs officer for the Silver Star Families of America.