As vice chair of the Veterans Committee in the Missouri House of Representatives, Sheila Solon has pushed for more funding for the state’s veterans homes and cemeteries.
Solon, R-Blue Springs, wants to see a new lottery ticket to raise money specifically for that work. Her bill easily clears the House each year but not the Senate.
Legislators sometimes say it takes several sessions before enough legislators get to know and get comfortable with a particular bill.
“They tell us it takes four years to pass a bill. This is the fourth year,” Solon said Friday. She said she’s found an ally in the Senate and has high hopes.
She said the money is badly needed. The state has seven veterans homes, with 1,350 residents and another 1,690 waiting to get in. That works out to a nine-month wait. The home in Mexico, Mo., doesn’t meet federal standards.
The special lottery ticket, which would need voter approval, would go on sale July 1, 2015. The money would go for capital improvements at the homes and cemeteries and, eventually, an added veterans home. Solon said the lottery ticket is the top legislative priority of the Missouri Association of Veterans Organizations.
Some of the lottery money would be spent on outreach to veterans, putting them in touch with available services. Solon said $1 spent on outreach brings an average of $256 in benefits for veterans.
Solon was among four local legislators who spoke Friday morning at a Blue Springs Chamber of Commerce breakfast. Other issues addressed included:
• A tightening of the rules for eligibility for unemployment benefits.
“I think we’re close on getting something the governor will sign,” said Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit.
• Rep. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit, raised the issue of students transferring out of unaccredited districts, such as Kansas City’s, to accredited districts nearby. State law allows for that, and a wave of transfers this fall is considered likely unless legislators alter the law.
Cierpiot said already there are at least a dozen bills to address the issue – many would let districts set caps on how many students they have room for – and he plans to file one as well.
He points out that legislators tend to be sharply split on education – reformers vs. the establishment is how he has characterized it – but that there are signs middle ground can be found.
“I’m trying to come up with a bill that nobody loves but, more important, that nobody hates,” he said.
• Rep. Jeanie Lauer, R-Blue Springs, mentioned legislation addressing tax credits for education in the area called STEM – science, technology, engineering and math.
“The purpose of it is to get our folks trained for the kinds of jobs we want to have,” she said.
• Kraus continues to push his plan to cut state income taxes, which Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed last year.
That can happen, Kraus said, “without cutting core budgets.” His plan includes triggers before any tax cut would go into effect. State revenues, which tend to rise over time as the economy grows, would have to rise at least $100 million a year, tracked over three years, before phases of the tax cut would kick in.
Kraus said that means his plan “guarantees that it will be paid for by new revenues.”
• Kraus also mentioned Republicans’ recent criticism of the Democratic governor.
One area is the appointment of state department heads requiring Senate approval. In many instances, those appointments are made when the legislature is not in session, and the appointee begins serving in the interim, before confirmation.
“How are we going to change the process? Because the process, we believe, is broken,” Kraus said.
Also, Republicans have a beef with Nixon over not calling elections to fill legislative vacancies – three in the House, one in the Senate – until August, long after legislators adjourn in mid-May. Republicans have solid majorities in both the House and Senate, but it’s often a close call – especially in the House – on finding enough votes to override the governor’s veto.
Republicans have been upset over Nixon’s delay in setting the special elections to fill the vacancies.
“We feel that’s an abuse of power,” Kraus said.