"Back in session"
SIKESTON -- With a year in office under their belts, local state representatives are ready to get back to work in Jefferson City.
The next legislative session begins Jan. 9.
Steve Hodges, 161st District's state representative, said while he spent time back home in his district productively, visiting elementary schools and attending civic meetings, he is looking forward to returning to Jefferson City on Jan. 6 for presession meetings on education appropriations.
"I'm ready to go back," he said.
Hodges said he is filing legislation for the first time now as during his first year in office he "concentrated on serving my constituents" and had no specific specific issues for which to file legislation on behalf of constituents.
Ellen Brandom, 160th District's state representative, said she, too, is ready to get back to work but does not yet have any legislation filed.
"I have things I'm exploring and researching," Brandom said. If, after researching an issue, it becomes clear legislation is needed, "then I'll introduce it."
She explained that often research will show there is already a law on the books.
"I don't want to say for sure new legislation is needed until I see what is already there and how it may be utilized," Brandom said. "I am researching a few issues I know are important to people."
Hodges said one bill he has filed deals with insurance coverage for fertility treatment.
While some may argue this would be a burden on insurance companies, he explained if a couple is so enthusiastic about parenthood that they are seeking fertility treatment, money should not be a barrier and that those people are sure to be good parents.
Another piece of legislation filed by Hodges is called the "heartbeat legislation."
This bill would mandate that before someone can consent to having an abortion, they are required to have an ultrasound and hear the heartbeat of the baby.
"It's been a popular bill in some of the southern states," Hodges said.
Hodges has also filed legislation which would dedicate a portion of a highway near Matthews to the late Gene Curtis, a longtime mayor of Matthews, for his constituents there.
Hodges said he is also filing legislation on behalf of the city of Charleston as part of the process to establish a hotel bed tax there.
"In smaller counties like Mississippi County, the legislature has to approve it and then it's put to a vote by the public," Hodges said. "This is a user tax and it will be decided by a vote of the people. ... The only thing I'm doing is allowing them to have a vote."
Brandom said an important issue she believes will be addressed by the state legislature this session is the need to increase teacher salaries.
"That I'm certainly going to support," Brandom said. "It is very difficult to recruit and keep good teachers; Missouri teachers are underpaid. We are going to work to increase teacher salaries from the time they start until they retire."
Another teacher-related issue that came up last year and Brandom believes will be up for consideration again this year is a teacher protection act to provide liability insurance for teachers who are falsely accused.
"We need to make sure they're protected," Brandom said. "We will continue certainly to protect education overall."
The Access Missouri scholarship program for higher education will probably also receive additional funding, according to Brandom.
"Last year it was increased by over $50 million," she said. "I think this will be addressed again this year to make it possible for even more students to attend college."
Immigration is also likely to be a hot topic, she said.
"I think without question immigration issues will be addressed," Brandom said. "There have already been a number of bills introduced."
There are three main issues, Brandom said: employers knowingly hiring illegal immigrants; state services for illegal immigrants; and police officers being able to detain and deport illegal immigrants.
Another issue Brandom predicted will be addressed by the state legislature is real estate property assessments.
Some homeowners in the St. Louis County have seen valuation increases as high as 50 or even 80 percent in recent years, Brandom said.
"Homeowners need to be protected from exorbitant increases," Brandom said. "I do know this is an issue that's going to be addressed."
Brandom said while she has not seen the 911 committee's final report, she would like to see 911 funding problems be addressed.
"Something needs to be done," she said, noting there are 18 Missouri counties without 911.
The governor's proposed Insure Missouri program "will certainly be a program that we will have a lot of exposure to and learn about," Brandom predicted.
The program is supposed to enhance opportunities for small businesses to offer health insurance for their employees, Brandom said, "but I have not had the opportunity to see the proposal as written."
Brandom noted the University of Missouri has requested an additional $37 million in funding to increase the number of openings for medical students, nursing programs and other health-related professions.
"We have such a shortage in those fields," Brandom said. "I certainly think this is a real important thing."