Southeast Missourian: Burn bans, pension reform among bills filed early

The following was published in the December 10 edition of the Southeast Missourian:

By Erin Ragan ~ Southeast Missourian

New laws that could originate from Southeast Missouri during the upcoming state legislative session range from one that could allow county commissioners to fine those who don’t abide by burn bans to another that would require judges to take a harder look at how to handle juvenile offenders who are tried as adults and found guilty.

Local members of the Missouri Senate and House of Representatives are among state legislators who have pre-filed bills for the session, which begins Jan. 9. Bills can be filed until Feb. 28.

State Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson, has filed two bills and plans to file two more within the next few weeks. One, House Bill 28, would let counties enforce burn bans. The filing comes after one of the hottest, driest summers on record in which fire danger was high, and burn bans were instituted in Cape Girardeau County. Lichtenegger’s other bill would require health carriers to reimburse physical therapists in the same amount paid to a licensed physical therapist for rendering the same services regardless of the setting or venue of treatment.

Lichtenegger is out of the country and was not available for comment during the weekend, but wrote in a report released Thursday that one of the other two pieces of legislation she will file “will not be popular with many of my legislative colleagues; but then, I wasn’t elected to gain new friends.”

The bill would eliminate pensions for members of the state legislature starting in 2014. Lichtenegger wrote legislators should find ways to ease a burden in a time when state revenue shortages continue.

Rep. Steve Hodges, D-East Prairie, called the effort by Lichtenegger “just a start” to a process that would do away with pensions for all state employees and said he would oppose the legislation.

“I think if we did that it would be thumbing our nose at state employees,” he said. “There are too many people in Missouri living paycheck to paycheck already, and with any job, you’ve got to be getting more than just a paycheck. There’s got to be perks to working for the state or we will be losing good people who deserve good jobs.”

The other bill Lichtenegger plans to file would put participation in labor organizations to a vote.

“That is, whether employees should have the right to refuse to join a labor organization, pay dues, fees, assessments and other charges,” Lichtenegger wrote.

If the legislation were to pass, it could mean Missouri would be on its way to joining other states with “right-to-work” laws.

The effort to pass such legislation would not be a new idea. State Sen. Jason Crowell has filed similar bills in recent years but had no success. Opponents of right-to-work say workers would have less protection from their employer and make less money.

Sen.-elect Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, has filed four bills, including one he hopes will push reforms in the juvenile justice system.

Wallingford said Senate Bill 36 would change current law, which terminates the jurisdiction of a juvenile court forever if a juvenile is tried as an adult and found guilty. If passed into law, courts would have to consider imposing a juvenile sentence and suspending imposition of an adult criminal sentence if the juvenile is less than 17 1/2 years old. The court also would have to determine why the juvenile division was not appropriate for the offender, if the court chooses not to impose a juvenile sentence before imposing an adult criminal sentence.

“This changes the age a little bit to try to alleviate people getting caught in the process,” Wallingford said.

Through the legislation, Wallingford said, he wants to see juvenile offenders become more likely to make it into treatment centers as opposed to adult jails, where they aren’t as likely to be rehabilitated and they experience a higher risk of danger posed by other inmates.

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