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Capitol Report: Fairness in filing, Bright Flight expansion on agenda

By State Sen. Joe Don McGaugh

Equality in election filing (HB 1125)
Committee hearings continue to make up the bulk of our work at the Capitol, but this past week we did pass our first bill of the session on the House floor. The legislation will allow men and women who serve in our Armed Forces, as well as disabled Missourians who run for office, to be treated fairly when having their names placed on the ballot.
Deployed military members and folks with disabilities can file by certified mail rather than appearing in person. However, current law does not allow them to be in the drawing to see whose name appears at the top of the ballot. This usually results in their names being placed last on the ballot by default. The legislation we approved would allow such individuals to send a proxy who will be included in the draw for placement on the ballot. It is a small but important change that would allow all Missourians who run for office to be treated equally.

House committee eyes Bright Flight expansion (HB 1308)
Also this past week, the House Higher Education Committee listened to discussion on a bill that would make college more affordable for some of our state’s best students and hopefully entice them to stay in Missouri rather than attend college in another state. The bill would improve the level of financial assistance received by our highest performing students by adding a forgivable loan program to our existing Bright Flight scholarship. The loan amount would be up to $5,000 per academic year and would be forgiven on a year-for-year basis after graduation if the graduate stays and works in Missouri.
The goal with this idea is to keep our best and brightest here in Missouri both for school and for the workforce. Right now our Bright Flight scholarships award only $2,500 to students who score in the top 3 percent of the ACT or SAT. While that was a significant amount years ago when this program was put in place, it is now just a small percentage of total tuition costs and a minimal enticement for kids to stay in-state for school. By bolstering the amount our best and brightest can receive we hope they will be more inclined to say no to out-of-state institutions and receive their education right here in Missouri.

Propane Price Investigation
It’s during this time of the year when the bitter cold persists and we do our best to stay warm that many Missourians dread receiving their utility bill. This is especially true for the many people who heat their homes with propane. In the span of a week propane prices tripled to in excess of more than $5 per gallon. This dramatic and sudden rise in pricing has caused both House and Senate members to call for an immediate investigation to determine if the gas industry is engaging in price gouging.
Already our Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has announced that he is launching an investigation. His office is coordinating with nine other Midwestern states to get to the root of this problem. In addition, the U.S. Department of Transportation has issued emergency declarations to allow more propane to be shipped to our state. The hope is that the additional propane will help drive down some of these exceedingly high prices.
For anyone who uses propane this has been an extremely tough time. Please know that your state legislature will continue to stay involved in this issue until we reach a resolution that protects Missourians and helps them to afford the price of providing heat for their home or for their livestock.

Special visit from Military Order of the Purple Heart
Some of our state’s most outstanding patriots made their way to the state Capitol last week to present a plaque to members of the House and Senate in honor of Missouri’s distinction as a Purple Heart State. The members of the Missouri Department of the Military Order of the Purple Heart stopped by the office of House Speaker Tim Jones to present the plaque and to visit with legislators. It was a great opportunity to spend time with these amazing individuals who have provided such selfless service to our nation.

I am proud of the fact the House and Senate have worked together in recent years to honor our veterans, and specifically our Purple Heart recipients. It was in 2012 that the Missouri General Assembly designated Interstate 70 as part of the “Purple Heart Trail.” Last year, we approved a resolution to designate Missouri as a Purple Heart State; a move that strengthened and reaffirmed Missouri’s commitment to its veterans.

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