House Gives First-Round Approval to Important Workforce Development Bill (HB 225)
 
Members of the Missouri House of Representatives gave initial approval this week to legislation meant to put thousands of Missourians on a fast track to develop the skills they need to obtain good-paying jobs. The bill would create a new state financial aid program known as Fast Track that would address workforce needs by encouraging adults to pursue an industry-recognized credential in an area designated as high need.
The sponsor of the bill told her colleagues, “Fast Track is a creative solution that could impact nearly 16,000 eligible students providing training, meeting specific workforce needs, improving the economy, and benefitting Missourians in all regions of our state.”
The bill sponsor told her colleagues that Missouri has the seventh most diversified economy and ranks among the top 10 states in high school graduation rates, but lags in post-secondary degree or credential attainment.  She noted that around 755,000 Missourians have some college experience but no degree, meaning there are thousands of individuals who could take advantage of the innovative Fast Track program.
The goal of Fast Track is to provide community colleges, tech schools, and universities with the means to equip students for the high-paying, high-demand jobs of the future. It is designed to open up higher education opportunities for hard-working, middle-class families looking for a boost to pursue their dreams. It is also meant to help Missouri businesses find workers with the training needed to fill their workforce demands. 
Fast Track is a needs-based scholarship targeted at adults age 25 and older who are working toward a certification, undergraduate degree or industry-recognized credential for a high demand occupation.  To be eligible, a student must be at least 25 years of age, not have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, and have an adjusted gross income of less than $40,000 for an individual and $80,000 for a married couple filing jointly.  If approved, a Missourian could attend an approved Missouri postsecondary institution of their choice and have their tuition and fees paid for by the program.  The program is a “last-dollar” program and will be applied after all federal non-loan aid, state student aid, and any other governmental student financial aid are applied.
Supporters say Fast Track is a wise investment that will open doors for Missourians across the state to help continue building a stronger economy. The say the state’s business climate remains strong, but in order for businesses to succeed into the future, the state must take steps to create a more skilled workforce that is ready for the jobs of tomorrow. 
The bill now requires a final vote in the House before moving to the Senate.
House Sends Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Legislation to the Senate (HB 188)
 
The House gave final approval this week to legislation that would create a statewide monitoring program for drug prescriptions. Supporters say the bill would combat the abuse of prescription drugs and help prevent conflicts between medications. Opponents question how effective such a program is in fighting the opioid epidemic, and worry that it would violate Missourians’ constitutional right to privacy.
Known as the Narcotics Control Act, the bill would require the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to establish and maintain a program to monitor the prescribing and dispensing of all Schedule II through Schedule IV controlled substances. The bill would require information on these drugs being prescribed and dispensed to be reported within 24 hours. By the year 2022 the information would be updated in real time.In response to the security concerns, supporters say the bill contains numerous protections to ensure data is encrypted so that private information remains private.
 
The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.
 
House Approves Legislation to Raise Awareness of Celiac Disease (HB 72)
 
House members gave approval this week to legislation meant to raise awareness of celiac disease, which is an immune disorder that leaves a person unable to eat wheat, rye, or barley. A person with celiac can go through a broad variety of uncomfortable symptoms, but a lack of awareness about the disease can cause it to go undiagnosed for years.
 
The legislation would designate the second Wednesday in May as “Celiac Awareness Day” in Missouri.  The date would fall during national Celiac Awareness Month.  Under the bill, citizens of the state would be encouraged to participate in appropriate events and activities that increase awareness of celiac disease.
 
The sponsor of the bill, whose daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease, said, “My intent for this bill would be to help raise awareness for everyone including doctors, because it seems like it takes doctors a long time to say, ‘You know what, it might be celiac disease.’”
 
There is no treatment or cure for celiac disease. The only thing sufferers can do is closely watch what they eat and avoid even the smallest amounts of gluten. Supporters hope that passing the legislation would make more people – particularly doctors – aware of celiac and shorten the time it takes for a person to be tested for it.
 
The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.
           
Legislation Approved to Create Mental Health Awareness Month (HB 108)
 
The House gave approval this week to legislation that would have Missouri join the federal government in making May “Mental Health Awareness Month,” and in making July “Minority Mental Health Awareness Month.” 
 
The sponsor said it is important to raise awareness because untreated mental health issues contribute to things like unemployment, disability, homelessness, incarceration, substance abuse, and suicide.
 
She said, “Early identification and treatment of mental illnesses have proven to be vital to any recovery process.  Stigma association with mental illness prevents many individuals from seeking the necessary treatment.”
 
Another member who spoke in support of the bill said it is “very important, and it’s not just about an awareness month.  It’s about education and empowering people to let them know it’s okay to not be okay, but it is okay to seek help.”
 
The sponsor of the bill added, “The perception of mental illness won’t change unless we act on it, and one way to do this is for us in Missouri to enact the Mental Health Awareness Month.”
 
The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.
 
House Approves Bill to Enact “Hailey’s Law” (HB 185)
 
Another bill headed to the Senate is meant to better protect children by improving the state’s Amber Alert system. The bill is known as “Hailey’s Law” in honor of Hailey Owens, who was abducted and murdered at the age of 10 while walking home from a friend’s house.
 
Soon after the arrest of her killer, state officials and lawmakers turned their attention to the Amber Alert System.  Though witnesses saw Owens being abducted, more than two hours passed before an Amber Alert was issued to let authorities and the public statewide know to look for her, and what her kidnapper and his vehicle looked like.
 
Legislators then and now said that faster issuance of an Amber Alert is unlikely to have changed the outcome in Owens’ case. She is believed to have been killed too soon after her abduction. However, the tragedy highlighted a need to expedite the issuance of alerts.  
 
The sponsor of the bill said, “What we are saying is that we have these safeguards in place, we have these systems in place to try to save lives.  They should operate as effectively as possible.”
 
The legislation would require the Amber Alert System to be tied into the Missouri Uniform Law Enforcement System (MULES), which is the computer system that allows all law enforcement in Missouri to communicate.  That means once an officer enters information about a missing child into MULES, it would at the same time be available to the Amber Alert system.  
 
The bill would also require the state’s Amber Alert System Oversight Committee to meet at least once a year to discuss ways to improve the system.  Currently there is no requirement for that committee to meet. The sponsor said that having the committee meet regularly to evaluate the system means there will be an ongoing effort toward getting alerts out more quickly.
 
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