PERSPECTIVE: First half of session has been productive

Spring break represents the halfway point for the Missouri Legislature, with about 10 weeks behind us and eight weeks left to go.

It may seem as though less is accomplished during the first half of the session, but there's actually a lot of work going on in the committee process. We spend time hearing bills in committee, discussing legislation and taking public testimony. This vetting process gives us a chance to learn about the issues that led to a bill being filed and to hear from both sides of these issues. It is one of the most important things we do in the Legislature. This process is designed to be slow and deliberate, but we have already passed several important pieces of legislation this year.

Both chambers of the Legislature passed House Bill 14, the first supplemental budget bill of the 2023 session. This legislation addressed immediate state budgetary needs and went into effect as soon as the governor signed it. It included funding for school safety programs, mental health facilities and sexual assault forensic exams. House Bill 14 also raised pay for all state workers by 8.7 percent. The state currently has more than 7,000 job openings, and the free market has driven wages up across all sectors of private employment. Missouri ranked second-to-last in state employee pay in 2020, and we have to do better for our state workers. I'm proud of our efforts to remedy that situation.

Another important bill passed out of the upper chamber was Senate Bill 45. Missouri currently ranks 12th highest in maternal mortality rates, measured through one year after the birth of a child. A study estimated the majority of those deaths were preventable. Senate Bill 45 expands health care benefits for mothers for one year after birth. This measure gained widespread bipartisan support, uniting groups that would almost never be expected to see eye-to-eye. I think this illustrates both the seriousness of this issue, and the importance of the measures we're taking to remedy the situation.

I have several important bills that are due to be heard on the Senate floor in the coming weeks. My Senate Bill 21 has made it out of committee and should be debated by the full Senate soon. This legislation would tie the length of unemployment benefits in Missouri to the state's unemployment rate.

Businesses across the state still report difficulty finding employees, and "help wanted" signs seem to be out everywhere. My bill is a commonsense measure that will ensure people are working when there are jobs to be had. It will be better for the economy, better for businesses and better for taxpayers.

Another important measure, my Senate Bill 22 addresses the issue of parole for juvenile murderers. Currently, anyone under the age of 18 convicted of murder in the second degree is eligible for parole after serving 15 years. It doesn't matter how heinous their crimes or how long their sentence, they can be let out after just 15 years. While I think that policy may make sense for some crimes, I do not believe it makes sense for murder. Prosecutors and families agree to guilty pleas because they believe justice is being done. They do not expect the rug to be pulled out from under them. My bill would ensure dangerous people stay behind bars, where they belong. I look for the bill to be debated on the Senate floor soon.

It is an honor to serve as your state senator, and I consider my office to be a solemn responsibility. I look forward to the next half of the legislative session, and I'm committed to making more positive changes for our state.

State Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, represents Missouri's 6th District and shares his perspective on statehouse issues twice a month.