The Missouri General Assembly reached the unofficial halfway point in the 2016 legislative session the week of March 21st. Over the past 2 ½ months, the Senate has crafted and advanced legislation that will improve communities across our state. We have also fought to protect the rights of our citizens and moved forward on ethics reform.
Early in session, the Senate approved two tort reform bills that will help foster a stronger, more resilient economy and improve the state’s legal environment for businesses. Senate Bill 591 will align Missouri’s outdated expert witness testimony standard to the federal standard — a modification that will allow judges to consider the reliability of an expert witness. Senate Bill 847 provides that parties in a personal injury lawsuit may introduce evidence of the actual cost, rather than the value, of the medical care rendered. This bill will restore fairness to personal injury litigation and help reduce the cost of insurance for doctors and businesses.
The Legislature is also working to find ways to reduce costs and increase access to health care in rural areas of the state. As the cost of health care continues to rise, the discussion about how to offer better, more efficient and affordable care becomes more imperative.
Welfare spending now takes up one-third of our state’s budget. Costs are reduced when best practice care is provided in a timely and coordinated fashion. The Senate has approved several bills that aim to reduce costs, such as Senate Bill 608. The measure authorizes MO HealthNet health care providers to charge a minimal fee for missed appointments and will create an emergency room copay system. Senate Bill 607 will help reduce fraud and abuse in Missouri’s welfare system. Senate Bill 875 removes barriers to lower the cost of prescription drugs and ensures patient safety. Other bills will help improve access to health care, especially in rural areas. Senate Bill 621 will allow for doctors to practice remotely via a computer or telephone connection, otherwise known as telehealth.
We are also moving forward on ethics reform. Our goal this session has been to tackle ethics one step at a time to make sure we get focused and substantive ethics bills across the finish line. House Bill 1979 imposes a one-session rule for lobbying by former members of the General Assembly, by former statewide elected officials and by former holders of an office that required Senate confirmation. House Bill 1983 specifies that no statewide elected official or member of the General Assembly shall serve as a paid political consultant. House Bill 2203 changes the laws regarding the investment of campaign funds.
During my time as a legislator, a personal priority of mine has been protecting our civil liberties from the overreach of big government. Once gone, these liberties are very difficult for citizens to recover. I am sponsoring two bills this session aimed at protecting these liberties. Senate Bill 811 prohibits law enforcement from collecting data from cell phones using a cell site simulator without a warrant. Senate Bill 1040 places restrictions on the use of data collected by automatic license plate readers used by police, when currently there are none.
A huge amount of work remains to be done once we return from the legislative spring break. The Senate will begin considering the 2017-2018 state operating budget, and we will work with the House to compromise on a final version of bills. The 2016 session will end on May 13 at 6p.m.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns at any time. We look forward to hearing your comments and suggestions, and will try to answer any questions you may have. You can reach us by phone at 573-751-1464, or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Senator Will Kraus serves Eastern Jackson County in the 8th State Senatorial District.