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Perspective: Redistricting, supplemental budget dominate session early

by State Rep. Dave Griffith, R-Jefferson City, Mo. | January 16, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

Greetings from your Missouri Capitol as we finish our first full week of the 101st General Assembly second half 2022. The priorities of this chamber are going to be redistricting and the supplemental budget and in that order. In this coming week, we will know more about how the redistricting maps will look and what we will be sending to the other chamber. It is my hope that we can resolve the issues at hand in this building and not rely on the courts to draw the maps. Only time will tell how this story ends. But I must say that this first week has been marked with some great work in the hearing rooms.

The Veterans Committee met for the first time and heard a bill on a memorial highway and had a special presentation from Jon Sabala, the veterans services director with the Missouri Department of Mental Health. He and I talked earlier this month concerning veteran suicides and what his department is doing to address this serious issue. In his testimony, he told us that Missouri veterans are dying by suicide at a rate higher than both the Missouri suicide rate and the National veteran suicide rate (43.4/23.2/31.6 respectively ref: Missouri Veteran Suicide Data Sheet, 2019., U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs).

One of the ways Missouri is addressing this public health issue is to educate people on how to recognize the warning sign of suicide and how to provide help through the Veterans Suicide Prevention Team. This is a team of volunteer, military-connected, suicide prevention trainers that offer no-cost training in their communities.

Their certified trainers offer an evidence-based, nationally recognized suicide prevention course called Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) Gatekeeper Training. It is a 1-2 hour training where participants learn to:

• Recognize the warning signs of suicide

• Provide hope for the individual in crisis

• Find him or her immediate help

At the completion of this course, trainees receive a QPR booklet and wallet card as a review and resource tool that includes local referral resources. If we are going to make any significant impact on veteran suicides, or for that matter on suicides in Missouri, it has to begin at the community level. These resources are available at no cost, and if you would like more information, please give my office a call.

I also had the opportunity to testify before the Emerging Issues Committee on HB 1563. To refresh your memory, this bill is referred to as the Diligent Searches bill, which will require the Children's Division within the Department of Social Services to make diligent searches for the biological parent or parents in a timely manner after a child is placed in its custody. Additionally, when an initial emergency placement of a child is deemed necessary, the Children's Division is to diligently search and locate grandparents for placement of the child. If grandparents are deemed unavailable or unfit, then the Children's Division must make a diligent search to locate other relatives for placement of the child within 30 days from the time the emergency placement is deemed necessary for the child.

Staff members from the Central Missouri Foster Care and Adoption Association (CMFCAA) testified in favor of the bill supporting efforts for a deeper search of family members prior to placing the child/children in the traditional foster care system. They have a program that has been adopted across Missouri called 30 Days to Family and has had great success in doing what is best for the child/children. At issue in part is when the Children's Division finds one relative, let's say a grandparent, they pretty much stop the search for additional relatives that very well may be a better fit for that child/children. An additional problem is the division is short-staffed and their workloads are growing daily, so providing a deeper search is made difficult. This is where agencies like CMFCAA can be a great resource. The tools that they have along with other similar not-for-profit agencies have and assist the department in doing a deeper dive to find the right person to take this child/children. These outside agencies already have a contract with the state and should be utilized more than they are.

This bill has a large fiscal note and faces an uphill battle to address the cost, but the reality is that children's lives are being impacted and it is our responsibility to make sure each child is in a stable/safe environment and not just a place to stay. I will keep you informed as to the progress of this bill.

Since my last column, I filed two additional bills, HB 2023 which will eliminate the Personnel Advisory Board (PAB). Currently, (PAB) provides oversight of personnel issues within all state departments and agencies. Employee appeal rights were transferred from the PAB to the Administrative Hearing Commission in 2010. Given that the Division of Personnel is already performing the work of the PAB in its entirety, eliminating the PAB would make for more efficient government by removing bureaucratic red tape that slows down the implementation of new initiatives.

And finally, HB 2090 this bill allows the salaries of state employees to be paid in biweekly installments, as designated by the commissioner of the Office of Administration.

That is all the space I have for this column but as always my office is available to assist you with any state issues you may be facing and welcome your call or email. May God bless you and your family in this coming year.

State Rep. Dave Griffith, R-Jefferson City, represents Missouri's 60th District and shares his perspective on statehouse issues twice a month.

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