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Home » Opinion » Capitol Update from Gary L. Cross

Capitol Update from Gary L. Cross

Capitol Update from Gary L. Cross

August 8, 2015

Gary L. Cross

Human Trafficking Task Force Set to Begin Work

During the 2015 legislative session the Missouri House gave unanimous, bipartisan approval to legislation that establishes the Human Trafficking Task Force in an effort to combat what is a rapidly-growing criminal industry. Just a few days ago the membership of the task force was appointed by leadership in the House and Senate and members are now gearing up to begin their work.

Worldwide, the human trafficking industry generates $150 billion in annual profits, which are made on the back of an estimated 21 million victims, including 5.5 million children. The task force was created to ensure that Missouri is at the forefront of the war on human trafficking by organizing and augmenting Missouri’s efforts to prevent heinous trafficking crimes from occurring within the state’s borders.

Specifically, the task force is charged with raising awareness of the human trafficking problem in Missouri and providing a central place to share information for the organizations and agencies that enforce human trafficking laws and assist victims. The task force is responsible for reporting a summary of its activities and making any recommendations for legislation to the General Assembly by January 1, 2017.

Special Elections for Vacant Seats

The governor recently set the date for special elections to fill the three House seats that are currently vacant. Missourians in districts 29, 36 and 89 will now have the opportunity on November 3 to elect new representation in the Missouri House of Representatives.

With the call for the special elections, the governor acted more promptly than he has in the past. Missourians in these districts will go without representation for only a matter of months rather than a much longer period of time, which has happened in the past. In fact, the 120th House District sat vacant for more than a year because of the governor’s failure to call for a special election.

The fact that current law allows the governor to set the special elections at his convenience has prompted several members of the House to propose a change. Legislation that was filed last year would have required the governor to call for a special election within 30 days of a seat becoming vacant. While the bill was filed too late in the process to make it across the legislative finish line, its sponsor plans to file and push for the bill’s passage when the legislature returns for the 2016 session.

Supporters of changing Missouri law to ensure prompt special elections have said it promotes good government and ensures Missourians receive adequate representation.

New Emissions Standards Could be Costly for Missourians

As a state that relies on coal to provide over 80 percent of its electricity, Missouri has traditionally seen utility rates below the national average. However, with the release of the EPA’s new Clean Power Plan, many fear the excessive regulations will soon drive up utility costs for Missourians. In fact, a study done by Energy Venture Analysis indicates Missourians could see their utility bills rise by as much as $1,000 annually by the year 2020 because of new regulations being handed down by the federal government.

The impact in Missouri could be even more dire because of the effect higher rates could have on citizens in impoverished rural areas. Missouri has 13 rural counties with persistent poverty and all of them are served by rural electric cooperatives. By putting new regulations in place, the EPA could cause rates to escalate to a point that many rural Missourians simply cannot afford. Furthermore, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association has said that even a 10 percent increase in electricity prices would result in 1.2 million jobs lost in 2021 across the nation, with nearly 500,000 of those in rural communities.

The new plan has led to a public outcry from many of Missouri’s public officials. U.S. Senator Roy Blunt pledged his support to fight against the Clean Power Plan in an effort to protect families, workers, and consumers in Missouri and around the nation. He noted that, “middle and low-income families are hit the hardest by bad energy policies resulting in higher utility bills, as these families already spend a larger part of their paycheck on their energy bills.”

State Revenues Dip Slightly

Missouri had seen a string of months with revenues at higher-than-predicted levels, but recently received a bit of bad news as revenues for the month of July came in at a level lower than last year’s. Missouri collected approximately $506.9 million in revenues last month, which is down from the $512.9 million collected during July 2014. 

Fortunately, the decline in revenues is due primarily to a new process put in place by the Department of Revenue to crack down on an issue at the federal level. The new procedure slowed down the refund process and caused many refunds that would have been paid out in June to instead be paid out in July.

Revenues were also down because of lower-than-expected collections of sales tax. In July 2014 the state collected $150.9 million in sales tax. This July that figure dropped to $148.2 million. Considering wages continue to increase and job growth continues to be healthy, the slight decline can likely be attributed to Missourians being hesitant to spend more of their earnings.

On a positive note, the state saw gross personal income tax collections increase by 5.1 percent. The state collected $373.4 million in July 2014 and $392.3 million this year. Corporate income and corporate franchise tax collections also increased by 19.2 percent. This year’s total collection was $20.6 million, which is up from $17.2 million in July of last year.

If, at any time, you have questions, concerns or ideas to improve our state government and the quality of life for Missouri citizens, please feel free to contact me at 573-751-1459 or e-mail me at gary.cross@house.mo.gov.

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