By Susan Redden
Economic development for job growth, energy policy and education funding and reform will be among the top priorities in the Missouri legislative session to start next month, Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones told a crowd Tuesday in Joplin.
Jones, of Eureka, is outlining his agenda in a two-day, 40-stop tour of the state. Speaking to about 40 people at Continental Banquet Center, he pointed to competition from neighboring states, including Kansas, as among reasons Missouri needs to do more to improve the state’s climate for business and jobs.
He said reforms of the state’s medical malpractice system, workers’ compensation and tax credit programs are needed along with measures to make the state more energy-independent. He also emphasized the importance of education funding, adding “education today means job creation tomorrow.”
A ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court that overturned caps in medical malpractice awards has put Missouri at a disadvantage, when compared to neighboring states, said Jones, who is an attorney.
He said Kansas law capped medical malpractice claims at $250,000 — lower than the $350,000 set in Missouri, adding “but the Supreme Court kicked ours out and they were upheld in Kansas.
“If you’re a medical professional living close to the state border, you’ll probably question whether you want to practice in a state where your (liability) exposure is unlimited. It can have a dramatic, negative effect,” he said.
He said Missouri needs reforms in workers’ compensation and employment law. He said a workers’ compensation bill passed last session, but was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon. He said the veto-proof Republican majorities in the House and Senate this session could make the governor more willing to negotiate on such measures as prevailing wage reform.
He also said lawmakers need to protect education funding in Missouri from spending increases for expanded entitlement programs, noting a recent proposal by Nixon to expand Medicaid rolls.
Missouri also needs to rebuild its infrastructure — but without a tax increase or toll roads, Jones said.
“We have a AAA bond rating and we need to use it,” he said.
Jones praised as “a very strong delegation” Joplin area members of the House — all on hand at Tuesday’s gathering. State Rep. Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, currently is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee on Health, Mental Health and Social Services, while Rep. Charlie Davis is vice chairman of the House Veterans Committee, and Bill Reiboldt, Neosho, of the House Agriculture Policy Committee.
New committee assignments and appointments of committee chairmen and vice chairmen will be announced soon, he said.