A new year is here. Therefore, a new legislative session will be beginning. We have about 40 new members of the Legislature, and therefore we now have new personalities to deal with and new individuals with potentially different priorities from their predecessors. As a legislator, it is my responsibility to try to get to know these new members, understand their priorities, and see how we can work together to achieve what is best for my district and the state as a whole.
I have introduced 10 bills and am working with other representatives on several other larger bills. This may seem like a lot of bills, but a majority of those are bills needed to continue the operation of our state and county governments. I will go through the bills as the session progresses.
One of the significant bills I am sponsoring is House Bill 557, known as the "Child Residential Home Notification Act." This bill addresses the issue of children's residential facilities that are allegedly operated by religious organizations. As I discussed in previous columns, we have heard many hours of testimony, many horror stories of what has happened in some of these homes. This act is a step in the direction of eliminating the bad actors in the business.
Presently, someone who wants to operate a religious child residential care facility, which can house children 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, does not need to have a fire and safety inspection, background checks on employees, or notification of their existence to the state. By law, there are no requirements on them since they allegedly state they are a religious organization. This bill is needed because of the abuse of that system.
Merely stating you are a religious organization does not mean you are a religious organization. Individuals use that as a method to operate some facilities that result in horrendous injuries and abuse to children. Again, keep in mind 95 percent or more of homes that this bill will affect already do everything this legislation will require and are great assets to our society. It is a few bad apples that will destroy the reputation of all of them and could lead to a much stricter licensing requirement, etc. This bill is designed to allow religious organizations to practice their beliefs and their culture and, at the same time, prevent people purporting to be religious, carry out activities that are gross, disgusting and criminal due to a complete lack of any government oversight.
I am working diligently to get this on the floor calendar as early as possible so it can be openly discussed and addressed. While we have not seen situations in Cole County where there have been horrible abuse, in other parts of the state this is prevalent. Since Missouri is one of the few states that does not require any type of supervision, we are a prime location for bad actors from other parts of the country to come here, set up facilities and tarnish the reputation of the good homes.
Another bill being proposed is the renewal of the surcharge tax on the Second Injury Fund. While this is boring to most, it is important to our industries and businesses that we maintain a viable workers' compensation Second Injury Fund to address issues for employees that are permanently and totally disabled as a result of the combination of their injury on the job and pre-existing conditions. The Second Injury Fund currently protects employers from having to pay for the permanent total disability benefits for employees that have pre-existing disabilities that contribute to their permanent total disability status. Without the Second Injury Fund, the last employer is liable for these benefits regardless of the pre-existing disabilities that the employee may have had. While employers and employees can disagree on the value of existing worker's compensation law, I think worker's compensation is needed to have an effective business community. Employers need the protection against civil lawsuits provided by worker's compensation, and employees need the quick benefits provided by worker's compensation.
The Legislature will go back in session, and we will have to address the new CARES Act and other budgetary issues to ensure our state's needs are properly addressed during these challenging times. One such budgetary issue is that last year's budget failed to provide proper funding to Cole County for its new associate judge clerk.
The next two weeks will have inaugural activities going on, which are important in that it is an honor and privilege to be elected. We should celebrate that, but it also a reminder of the responsibility we have taken as lawmakers. However, with COVID-19, all things need to be done in moderation. We will be placing limits on the number of people that can be in the chambers when we are sworn in. We will be dividing the House into separate groups when they are being sworn in. The governor will conduct his activities on the front lawn. We cannot ignore the historical significance of change, but we must adapt to that change with reasonable approaches to address COVID-19.
Hopefully, we can conduct a good session, adjust to COVID-19, and still accomplish what we need to accomplish. Since I have limited space, I will try to discuss one to two bills per column during this legislative session. As always, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, always feel free to call or email.
State Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Jefferson City, represents Missouri's 59th District, and shares his perspective on statehouse issues twice a month.