Capitol Report 01/29/2015

Rep. Chipman Co-Sponsors Bills
With the legislative session now underway, many of my fellow colleagues have begun filling pieces of legislation that they believe will make Missouri a better place. I have recently selected two of those bills, HB 527 and HB 574, and signed my name as a Co-Sponsor. HB 527 changes the laws regarding health benefit plan open enrollment periods and HB 574creates the Missouri Civics Education Initiative.

Another important topic of concern this week on Capitol Hill is unemployment benefits. HB 150 modifies the duration of unemployment compensation, the method to pay federal advances, and raises the fund trigger causing contribution rate reductions.

Also, this week our state auditor released a report showing the state has far too many airplanes and that these planes have often been used in wasteful and inefficient ways.

You may read more about what is happening at your Capitol below.

Feel free to contact my office any time at 573-751-1688, email jason.chipman@house.mo.gov or visit me at the Missouri State Capitol, 201 W Capitol Avenue – Room 115 H, Jefferson City, MO 65101.

As always, I will work diligently and tirelessly for you as your State Representative.  -Jason

HB 527 and HB 574
HB 527 changes the laws regarding health benefit plan open enrollment periods by adding the following sections to law: Any health carrier or health benefit plan that offers or issues individual health benefit plans which are delivered, issued for delivery, continued, or renewed in this state shall release and make available to the public its individual health benefit plan rates and designs no later than forty-five days prior to the beginning of the annual enrollment period, in accordance with federal law.

HB574 creates the Missouri Civics Education Initiative. The bill states: Every high school student attending any public, charter, or private school except private trade schools or a student seeking to complete a general educational development (GED) equivalency shall, as a condition of high school graduation or its equivalent, take and receive a passing grade on a basic civics test similar to the United States Citizenship Civics Test, produced by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Unemployment Benefits
While our state’s economy is slowly but steadily growing and unemployment numbers are dropping, we continue to deal with the after effects of the economic downturn that was extremely difficult for families and businesses throughout Missouri. One of the areas of state government that was stretched to its limit, and beyond, during our nation’s economic woes, is our system of unemployment.

Because so many people were out of work, our unemployment system had to provide benefits to more folks than the state could afford. The result was a need to borrow money from the federal government to afford the benefit payments to the many Missourians who were out of work. The state has already repaid the debt, but If you are like me, the idea of borrowing any money from the federal government is disturbing. To make matters worse, when states are forced to take this route, it also penalizes job creators by taking away a portion of a federal tax credit they normally receive.

Because we don’t want to be in a position where we borrow money from the federal government or put additional financial burdens on our business owners who create family-supporting jobs, a piece of legislation with common sense unemployment benefit reforms is currently working its way quickly through the House.

HB 150 received approval from two separate House committees this week and is scheduled for discussion on the floor next week. HB 150 is designed to make sure the state has enough money in its unemployment trust fund so that businesses don’t have to pay a penalty. Specifically, it would increase the minimum amount of money in the fund before employers’ contribution rates decrease. For example, Missouri businesses would see their contribution rates decrease by 12 percent if the fund has a balance greater than $870 million.

The bill also ties unemployment benefits to the average unemployment rate so that more benefits are available when unemployment is high. If the state were in a position of high unemployment (9 percent or higher) benefits would be available for 20 weeks. In periods of low unemployment (lower than 6 percent) benefits would be available for 13 weeks. It’s a system that is already in place in states like Florida, Kansas and North Carolina, and is an important step toward ensuring our state can afford to help Missourians during times when they are without work.

Auditor’s Report
This week our state auditor released a report showing the state has far too many airplanes and that these planes have often been used in wasteful and inefficient ways. For example, the six passenger planes (out of 19 total planes) owned by the state were used to capacity during only 51 business days in a two-year period from 2011 to 2013. As another example, the state employs 16 pilots, which costs the state $1.5 million. Furthermore, the state spent hundreds of thousands in additional dollars to fly governor-appointed commission members around the state rather than reimburse them for driving.

All of these findings prompted the state auditor to recommend the state conduct a “comprehensive statewide analysis of state agency flight service needs and how to most efficiently provide those services to state agencies.” As we dive deeper into the budget this year, you can rest assured many of these numbers will be heavily scrutinized and discussed. Our goal is to eliminate wasteful use of taxpayer dollars and it appears there is a significant amount of unnecessary spending we can target.

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