Tuesday, Feb. 26 2013 9:22AM
The capitol report
By Mike Cierpiot
School accountability (HB 388)
We’re used to our kids receiving letter grades at school, but if the Missouri House passes HB 388 this year, our schools may receive letter grades as well. Known as the Parent and Community School Information Act, the legislation would put a letter grade system in place that would be used to evaluate every public and charter school in the state. Information that is already collected by the state such as attendance and dropout rates would be used to formulate grades ranging from A to F.
The idea is to give parents easily understandable information about the schools their kids are attending. It’s an approach that several other states have taken. In fact, Florida put a similar system in place in 1999. At the time, 12 percent of Florida’s schools got an A grade. After eight years in the system, that number increased to 53 percent of schools receiving an A. It’s this kind of dramatic improvement that proponents of this idea point to when talking about why it would be good for Missouri.
Opponents of the idea are concerned that a letter grade system is oversimplified and may not present a fully accurate report of an individual school’s accomplishments. They say such a ratings system would create a culture of blame that puts additional pressure on both teachers and students that would ultimately be unproductive.
I’m interested to know what you think about this proposal. Is it a good idea to grade our schools just as they grade our children? I encourage you to contact my office by phone or email to let me know your thoughts on this issue.
Second amendment threatened
Gun control has become one of the most salient issues throughout the country and the Missouri House of Representatives is no different. I am proud to say, however, that Missouri lawmakers are among the strongest in pushing back against the Obama administration’s attempts to confine gun owners.
Unfortunately, some members across the aisle even here in Missouri agree with the President. Rep. Rory Ellinger proposed House Bill 545 this week that makes essentially any connection to an assault weapon a Class C felony. Any person or corporation that manufactures, imports, possesses, purchases, sells or transfers an assault weapon or large capacity magazine could be tried as a felon and serve up to seven years in prison.
We absolutely know it is our duty to work in the Legislature to keep Missourians safe. But writing laws that threaten Constitutional rights and make people felons simply because they currently own a gun is ludicrous. Republicans in the House have largely shrugged this political gimmick off, knowing Rep. Ellinger’s bill has no chance to pass through the Republican majority General Assembly. Rep. Eric Burlison went to talk to his constituents in Springfield about this bill to see their thoughts. He’s now gaining national attention as some at the gun range he visited made copies of the bill to use as target practice.
I have the utmost confidence that we will continue to work for a safer Missouri, but one that protects the individual freedoms our country was founded on. There are many proposals made by Republicans that we will discuss this session, but you can be sure any more proposals like HB 545 will be shot down just as quickly as this one.
House advances tax amnesty
The Missouri House voted to send the Senate a new revenue policy being championed by budget hawk Representative Tom Flanigan (R-Carthage). Rep. Flanigan initially proposed the idea of tax amnesty in the 2011 legislative session as a way to help increase revenues without raising taxes. I think it’s a smart idea and it will help us fund many critical services.
Upon its passage and the Governor’s signature, the Department of Revenue will begin working to advertise and implement the necessary program requirements to offer the general public an amnesty opportunity. That is, if you owe back taxes, you can make arrangements with the Department to pay them with all interest and penalties will be waived.
Rep. Flanigan and the rest of the Republican-led legislature understands that some folks want to make right on their tax bills. But we also know that we can’t provide amnesty without expecting taxpayers to continue to pay their taxes just like their neighbors, you, and I. We added some safeguards to encourage those who have a debt to pay it, but also to ensure they don’t fall back into the red later down the road. In fact, if in any of the eight years after a taxpayer participates in the amnesty program they fall behind again, all prior interest and penalties will be reapplied. Additionally, language was added that will ensure that a taxpayer who receives amnesty on a certain tax will not be able to participate in any future amnesty programs for that same tax. We think this is a good way to encourage positive changes, be considerate of those burdened by tough times from the recession, and bring folks up to par and paying their fair share like their neighbors.
Estimates have ranged from $55 million to more than $70 million in additional revenues that the state will receive if it offers the amnesty program. Those funds will help balance the budget without a tax increase – a promise you’ve asked for, we’ve made, and we continue to keep.
Senator Blunt visits general assembly
On Wednesday, February 20, 2013 the Missouri House of Representatives welcomed U.S. Senator Roy Blunt into the House chamber to address the body. Senator Blunt spoke about his dealings in Congress, the different roles of federal, state and local governments, and most importantly, budget issues facing the federal government and Missouri.
The senator said he felt strongly that those two concepts can work best together. Prioritizing how government best serves the people should be one of government’s most important functions. Taxpayer dollars are spent most effectively when they are used closest to the people they are intended to serve. Senator Blunt is in favor of Congressional proposals that give more money back to the states to use.
Republicans, especially, appreciated Senator Blunt saying he also signed a bill that eliminates pay for Congressional leaders if they do not pass a budget this year. This type of legislation, which holds elected officials accountable is something we can learn from in Missouri. Governmental spending is out of control at all levels and we need to keep an eye on those at the federal level and in our own building in Jefferson City. Why should government be able to spend taxpayer money when the taxpayers can spend it themselves more efficiently? It was refreshing to hear that Missouri remains a leader at the federal government and I look forward to taking what Senator Blunt has said about prioritizing governmental spending and applying it to our own House in Jefferson City.