Being in the Legislature gives me the opportunity to become familiar with many issues.
House Bill 1330, which is my original bill and was signed by the governor this past week, allows for the transfer of land to the Heartland Port Authority of Central Missouri. River traffic is going to change as technology develops. The Panama Canal has been expanded to allow for vessels holding up to 19,000 containers to go through it, allowing more direct traffic to the east and west coasts and internationally. Because the Panama Canal is so important to both national and international trade, the Panama Canal expansion allows us to expand our river transportation here in Missouri. This expansion of our river transportation capabilities will help to make it more economical to send goods by water rather than by truck and trailer.
Patriot Holdings is developing a very large port on the Mississippi River in New Orleans, which will coordinate the traffic up and down the Mississippi and all of its tributaries. The new vessels can support approximately 1,750 containers equivalent to 775 tractor-trailers. This will replace most of our existing barges. These new ships travel 13 miles per hour, travel 365 days a year and carry refrigerated transportation, while being highly fuel-efficient, environmentally improved for river usage, and can travel in shallower waters.
This port will allow Central Missouri and surrounding areas to become part of a massive system that will open up our markets for international trade and trade on the east and west coasts without the necessity of over the road trucking. While many over-the-road trucking jobs will be eliminated, many jobs will be created at our ports and in short-haul trucking, as fewer trucks will have to leave here to travel coast to coast, allowing truck drivers more opportunities to work close to home. It also has the potential to create many manufacturing jobs and to help Central Missouri to develop plants here that can easily and cheaply ship goods to the east and west coasts and internationally.
The governor has called for a special session. I have reviewed the areas that we will be covering as outlined by Gov. Mike Parson. These bills deal with the crime problems we are having, particularly in St. Louis and Kansas City.
One of the issues is witness protection. That is even an issue here in Central Missouri that needs to be addressed. Criminals are doing violent acts as part of groups, gangs, etc. They can intimidate others to not speak to law enforcement, leaving murders and crimes unsolved. Improved witness protection will offer some assistance. Another part of the bill allows certain witness statements into evidence at trial if the witness is absent because of the acts of the defendant, which will discourage defendants from intimidating witnesses.
I have sat on the Judiciary Committee and have heard discussion on the other things in this bill. While the other issues dealt with in this bill are important, I have already used more space than I am supposed to, so I will just say that these are important issues for curbing crime in our big cities.
I have been talking with different school districts regarding the problems that COVID-19 is causing with the reopening of schools and the financial cost imposes on schools. Cole County was given approximately $9 million in COVID-19 aid, and we want to encourage our county to work with our schools to help address some of these issues. Simple things like water fountains have to be replaced with water stations for filling bottles, walls have to be taken out to allow for more separation, and additional teachers have to be brought in to teach those who by choice or by requirement are in isolation or quarantine.
It is hard enough for the school districts themselves to come up with a right answer to these problems without generalized statements that every child should be in school or that no child should be in school. I believe each individual school district is in the best position to make decisions about what is best for their students rather than the state. That is why we have school boards and school administrators to address how they can best educate the children in their communities.
We have to recognize no matter how each school district handles COVID-19, they face serious challenges. It is a serious challenge for families that are working to home school their children. It is a serious challenge to provide adequate facilities to prevent schools from becoming super-spreaders of the disease and to provide an adequate education for children who are forced into isolation. Because these challenges affect each district differently, decisions need to be made by the school district with the financial support of the state and the U.S. government.
This week, I also had the chance to listen to the Fraternal Order of Police in Jefferson City do their presentation to the City Council Finance Committee. I truly wish every citizen of Cole County, not just Jefferson City, had an opportunity to look at the statistics they gave us regarding the number of crimes, types of crimes and growth of the crime rate. It would be shocking to everyone. It would be the wakeup call I think we need to understand why we need to not defund police departments but, rather, fund our police departments better, particularly in Jefferson City and our Cole County Sheriff's Department. We are losing good officers to other jurisdictions at a massive rate because of pay. When we invest four or five years of pay in a young officer, much of the investment we have made in them is years of experience, connections and skill, and it is lost if they leave.
While it is certainly true there are bad officers out there — and we need to improve procedures for reporting officer misconduct, whether reported by the public or by other officers, to the proper authorities — this does not mean we need to defund or cut funding to the police. If anything, we need to make sure our police are sufficiently staffed to deal with the crime in our community and that they have enough funding to retain the officers that they know are good and beneficial to our community.
As we are told, being in law enforcement is not a career, it's not a job. It's a lifestyle. They give their whole life to their job and the risk that goes with it. In return, we owe them respect and at least a living wage so they can provide for their families. I have had the opportunity to learn a lot about our local police and sheriff's departments recently. The one thing I am certain of is they are under-appreciated and underpaid, but they doing a great job with the resources they have available.
As always, feel free to contact me with your thoughts and concerns. I appreciate and invite your calls and emails, as this is an important part of how I do my job. Thank you.
State Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Jefferson City, represents the 59th District and shares his perspective on statehouse issues twice a month.