Editor’s Note: Below are articles on recent Missouri General Assembly moves provided to Springfield Business Journal by the Missouri Press Association.
Jeb Bush pushes charter schools for Missouri
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush visited Missouri’s Capitol on Thursday to promote school choice and virtual education in the Show-Me State.
In a news conference, Bush emphasized how Florida was able to turn its education system around by implementing charter schools, school vouchers and virtual schools. All are issues currently are under discussion in the Missouri General Assembly.
Bush talked about how Florida schools are ranked in the top 10 in the nation, but several published rankings have the state much lower. For example, in the Quality Counts reports published by Education Week, Florida last ranked in the top 10 three years ago. In 2017, the state ranks 29th.
Bush opened his speech by talking about how the world is changing and new technologies are being produced, but the country's education system is still behind. Gesturing to the painting of a child in a historic mural on the wall of the room where he was speaking, Bush said the governing system that child had is the same one still present today.
"It's fascinating to me, and frustrating to me, that the governance model for educating children in the world we're moving into — we're already there in fact — is the same one that child had 110 years ago," he said.
Currently, there are bills that are making their way through the General Assembly that would expand charter schools throughout Missouri. Right now, charter schools are only allowed in Kansas City and St. Louis.
Proposed amendment would reduce size of legislature
Missouri has the seventh-largest General Assembly in the United States, with 197 members in the House and Senate combined.
A proposed amendment would decrease the size of the legislative body and increase term limits for legislators.
Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, proposed a constitutional amendment that would decrease the number of legislators in the General Assembly by 37. The amendment would require voter approval.
"We need a structural change in how the assembly operates," Holsman said in a brief hearing on Feb. 28. "These numbers would have the effect of having each senator represent 150,000 [people] and each House member representing 50,000."
Bill would help first-time homebuyers
The American dream of owning a home is, for many Missourians, just that — a dream.
State Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, hopes to change that. His Senate Bill 444 would provide an income-tax deduction to help people purchase a first home. The bill was the subject of a hearing Feb. 28 before the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
“First-time homebuyers have been struggling to find affordable properties," Rowden said. "Millennials are entering into the market, but mostly entering into the rental market. Many struggle to save for houses because of the student-loan burden they are incurring.”
According to a Jan. 31 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, the nationwide homeownership rate was 63.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2016.
Rowden's bill, also known as the First-Time Home Buyer Savings Account Act, would allow individuals or couples filing joint tax returns to save up to $16,000 or $32,000, respectively, toward the purchase of a home in a special savings account. They then could deduct from their income taxes of 50 percent of the amount they save.
House passes bill would create steeper fines for illegal use of herbicides
After more than 40,000 acres of crops were damaged in Missouri last year by herbicides meant to battle "superweeds," lawmakers, industry representatives and even chemical companies are behind a bill that would increase fines for farmers who illegally use certain herbicides.
Farmers in recent years have seen a rise in technology for weed-killing chemicals. Monsanto, a St. Louis-based agribusiness, is known for both its high-tech herbicides and herbicide-resistant genetically engineered seeds. Roundup, one of its well-known products, was introduced in 1974, and other glyphosate-based herbicides have followed. But this class of herbicides has been overused, according to proposed legislation.
There has been a rise in weeds that have become resistant to herbicides like glyphosate. Newer classes of herbicides have been created, including ones that contain a compound called dicamba.
Those newer herbicides kill the weeds but also harm the crops. So some agribusiness companies are developing crops that are genetically modified to be resistant to those new chemicals and making it safe to spray them.
"Down home, probably 80 percent of crops will be GMO next year," said state Rep. Don Rone, R-Portageville, whose district is in southeast Missouri.
In 2015, Monsanto released genetically engineered cotton, soybean and corn seeds resistant to dicamba, according to Missouri Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Sarah Alsager.
These seeds were meant to be paired with two new formulations of dicamba-based herbicides, Xtendimax with VaporGrip Technology and Engenia Herbicide, said Kevin Bradley, an associate professor in the Division of Plant Sciences at MU.
But the dicamba-resistant seeds were released before the new herbicides were approved by the Environment Protection Agency. That meant some farmers violated federal regulations by improperly using existing versions of the herbicide, which are prone to drift and weren't labeled for use on the new resistant plants. That put nearby crops at risk.
The new herbicides were designed to help combat drift, a problem that occurs when certain herbicides aren't used properly and spread beyond the crop they are intended to treat. In high humidity, herbicide particles may not be absorbed by the plant, allowing the particles to vaporize and drift, according to MU Extension's Weed Science website.
Herbicide and pesticide drift can cause damage to nearby crops sensitive to the compounds. The new dicamba formulations are said to be less volatile and less prone to drift.
Last year, more than 40,000 acres of crops in Missouri were damaged by dicamba drift, pitting farmer against farmer in accusations of misuse of the compound. According to the Department of Agriculture, 98 pesticide drift complaints were investigated in fiscal 2017. Ninety-two of those were allegedly dicamba-related. In fiscal 2016, only 27 complaints were dicamba-related, according to the department's website.
The majority of cases of drift last year were found in southeast Missouri. Rone represents some of the districts that were investigated for dicamba misuse, and he's the sponsor of House Bill 662.
Current law says offenders can receive up to $1,000 in fines for misuse of dicamba. Rone's bill would allow the state to fine offenders up to $1,000 per acre.