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Tax Policy Evaluated at Joint Interim Committee Hearing - 11/14/2007

Jefferson City - The Missouri Joint Interim Committee on Tax Policy met in the State Capitol on Tuesday to discuss tax credits and property taxes.

The committee has met several times during the interim to consider existing tax credits and their effectiveness. According to committee member Rep. Sutherland, R-Warrenton, the committee has not yet seen instances of abuse or misuse, but is seeing some non-use and will develop recommendations accordingly. He says he hopes progress will be made in the upcoming session.

“I think that it’s very important… to take it as a real responsibility to make changes in our tax policy so we have a policy that’s fair, that’s simple and that’s equitable - and that’s what we’re going to try to accomplish with our recommendations and hopefully with the legislation we put forward,” Rep. Sutherland said.

On Tuesday, much of the discussion centered on property taxes, an issue currently on the forefront of the minds of many Missouri taxpayers.

“Definitely on the issue of property tax, we need to address the complexity, that’s a lot of the problem, and also the fact that the system is not necessarily operating smoothly,” Rep. Sutherland said.

He said during the 20 years since any significant changes have been made the burden has shifted from commercial and agriculture property owners to residential owners. House Speaker Rod Jetton also appointed a Task Force on Property Tax Reform, a group made up of legislators in addition to other Missouri citizens, which plans to develop recommendations for property tax reform.

The Tax Policy committee plans to meet again in early Dec. to draft its policy recommendations for the upcoming legislative session.

House Interim Committee Discusses Second Injury Fund - 11/9/2007

Jefferson City - The Missouri House Interim Committee on the Second Injury Fund met in the State Capitol on Tuesday to hear a presentation from PricewaterhouseCoopers about the fund and its pending bankruptcy, and met again Wednesday to discuss possible solutions.

The Second Injury Fund covers instances in which workers' existing disabilities are combined with a work-related injury. The employer is responsible for only the new injury while the fund currently covers the remaining compensation.

PricewaterhouseCoopers said the Second Injury Fund will be insolvent in 2009. Possible options for avoiding this include lowering payments that go out or raising the surcharge currently assessed to insurance companies and self-insurers, which is now capped at 3 percent. PricewaterhouseCoopers said discontinuing the fund would still leave it responsible for millions in liabilities to be paid during the next several decades.

On Wednesday, the committee, chaired by Rep. Steve Hunter, R-Joplin, heard testimony and suggestions from multiple stakeholders. Preliminary suggestions ranged from eliminating the fund all together to limiting eligibility for the fund to raising the surcharge for insurance companies and self-insurers.

Rep. Hunter says the committee plans to tackle the issue during the upcoming session.

House Interim Committee Discusses Poverty Causes and Solutions - 11/5/2007

The Missouri House Interim Committee on Poverty met in the State Capitol on Monday to examine the causes of poverty and discuss possible policy solutions.

The committee chaired by Rep. Cynthia Davis, R-O’Fallon, heard testimony from Michael Cannon of the CATO Institute who discussed the low wage trap. Cannon says many low-income individuals fall into the trap as they begin to make more money but lose government benefits and pay more taxes.

Cannon suggested a focus be placed on providing assistance to the poor but to do so without creating disincentives for them to climb the economic ladder. One of his recommendations to the committee was to allow Missourians to purchase health insurance from other states.

Representative Robert Schaaf, R-St. Joseph questioned this approach fearing it might lead to Missourians receiving inadequate coverage. He did agree the low wage trap causes a challenge and that government solutions need further exploration to create incentives for people to work harder.

“I’ve had people turn down extra work. I’ve seen them do it,” said Rep. Schaaf. “I’ve seen them not taking better paying jobs because if they do then they lose benefits.”

The committee also heard testimony from Anthony Bradley, Research Fellow for the Acton Institute. The committee plans to meet again in December to continue their dialogue on the issue.

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House Interim Committees Prepare For Eventful Week - 11/2/2007

Jefferson City – A number of interim committees charged with addressing a wide array of issues will meet in the coming week to obtain testimony from Missourians who may be affected by the legislative proposals that result from the recommendations of the committees.

The House Interim Committee on Senior Nutrition chaired by Rep. Joe Smith, R-St. Charles, will hold meetings in Marble Hill and Sikeston on November 5 and 6. The committee is charged with finding ways to improve services provided by Missouri’s Senior Nutrition Program and ensuring sufficient and adequate are being provided to Missouri’s senior population.

The House Interim Committee on Poverty chaired by Rep. Cynthia Davis, R-O’Fallon, will meet in Jefferson City on November 5. The committee is tasked with examining the root causes of poverty and exploring possible policy solutions to address the issue.

The House Interim Committee on the Second Injury Fund will meet on November 6 and 7 in the State Capitol. The committee chaired by Rep. Steve Hunter, R-Joplin, is charged with seeking solutions to insure Second Injury Fund solvency in 2008 and in the future.

The House Interim Committee on Veterans Services chaired by Rep. David Day, R-Dixon, will meet in Overland on November 7 and Independence on November 8. The committee has been tasked with finding solutions for long-term funding for veterans homes as well as ensuring the quality of services received by veterans in Missouri.

The public is invited to attend the hearings. For specific time and location information please refer to the official Hearing Schedule.

House Gives Approval to Economic Development Package - 8/23/2007

Jefferson City – The Missouri House of Representatives today concluded their initial approval of two legislative priorities called for by the Governor during a special session of the general assembly.

The economic development package, known as HB 1, contained several provisions aimed at increasing job creation in Missouri. The primary provision in HB 1 was an expansion of an already successful Quality Jobs Program that has attracted multiple employers and meant thousands of high paying jobs to the state. Supporters of the bill note the innovative nature of the program, where employers are required not only to pay above average wages but also provide 50% of employees’ health insurance costs, as reasons the program has become so popular.

Another provision in the bill however was the topic of a great deal of debate. This provision would provide tax credits for developers to assemble land parcels in North St. Louis City. Despite large portions of the area currently sitting uninhabited and other structures in the area being condemned, critics were hesitant to support the measure because they said no clear development plans existed.

Even with a small group of opponents the measure received overwhelming bipartisan support passing 129-20. The economic development bill will now pass to the Senate where committee work is expected to start early next week.

House Approves Bridge Plan - 8/23/2007

Jefferson City – The Missouri House today gave approval to a bond authorization plan that would pave the way for an inventive program aimed at repairing or replacing more than 800 of the worst bridges in the state.

House Bill 2 fixes an area of Missouri law that has prevented the Missouri Department of Transportation from awarding a single bid to repair or replace the damaged bridges. Current law would require the contractor with the winning bid to obtain billion-dollar performance bonds lasting for 30 years – something that does not exist. With passage of House Bill 2 the bonding restriction would be reduced and the Missouri Department of Transportation could proceed with its program which has been entitled the Safe and Sound Bridge Improvement Program.

The Safe and Sound Program has the goal of repairing or replacing 802 bridges by 2012. The project will be awarded to one contractor who will have until that date to renovate all of the damaged bridges. In addition the contractor selected will be responsible for maintaining the bridges in good condition for an additional 25 years.

The legislation now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Economic Development Package and Bridge Bill Receive Committee Approval - 8/21/2007

Jefferson City – Today two House Committees passed legislation addressing the call for a special session of the General Assembly by the Governor.

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Opening of Special Session - 8/20/2007

Jefferson City – Today marks the first day of the legislative special session called by Governor Matt Blunt to revisit an economic development package previously vetoed by the Governor.

Excessive cost and an unknown future fiscal impact were major concerns with the bill as legislators loaded up the economic development bill before sending it to the Governor. However, since the Governor’s veto, House and Senate leaders from both sides have been working together to craft a paired down version of the bill that all sides can agree to.

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State Leaders Announce Special Session on Economic Development Bill and Bridge Repairs - 8/10/2007

Jefferson City – Today, House Speaker Rod Jetton joined Governor Matt Blunt and Senate President Pro Tem Michael R. Gibbons as the governor announced the call for a special legislative session. According to today’s announcement, legislators will be asked to focus on two objectives during the special session: the expansion of economic development initiatives and a legislative fix to speed the repair and replacement of more than 800 Missouri bridges.

“I’m really excited about this,” said Speaker Jetton. “To me this economic development bill is ... going to be a huge positive boon for the state of Missouri’s economy, for creating jobs.”

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9-1-1 Service Lacking, House Committee Told - 8/6/2007

Jefferson City – The House Interim Committee to Evaluate the 9-1-1 System began taking testimony in a public hearing in Jefferson City this afternoon. According to early testimony, the committee faces the significant challenge of recommending a funding that accounts for advancing technologies.

The 9-1-1 system “is in definite need of evaluation,” said the committee’s chair, Rep. Mark Bruns (R-Jefferson City). “It’s in desperate need of funds. Frankly, the most important thing that will come out of the committee is [determining] how we can go about appropriating the funds.”

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House Seeks Compromise on Economic Development Package - 7/19/2007

Jefferson City – Speaker Rod Jetton (R-Marble Hill) announced the intended compromise to proceed with an economic development package vetoed earlier by the Governor.

“Gov. Blunt had some legitimate concerns about the fiscal impact of HB 327 and the implications those costs may have in the long term on the state budget,” said Jetton. “But we also want to put together an economic development package that will help Missouri right now. I support the Governor calling a special session because I believe we have a good compromise and the sooner we can get to it the sooner we start making positive changes that will move Missouri forward.”

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Bi-Partisan Coalition Receives Overwhelming Response During Statewide Tour Promoting Senior Tax Cut - 6/22/2007

Jefferson City – Hundreds of supporters from all areas of Missouri turned out to voice their approval of the Senior Tax Justice Act during a statewide tour that concluded on Thursday. The tour, led by Speaker of the Missouri House Rod Jetton (R-Marble Hill), consisted of a bi-partisan coalition of legislators and senior advocates who traveled to all corners of the state to promote the act that puts an end to the state’s tax on non-private retirement income like Social Security, military pensions and teacher’s retirement income.

“I was overwhelmed by the amazing turnout and response we had on this tour,” said Speaker Jetton. “I think it goes to show how excited seniors and retirees are about ending this unfair tax.”

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Statewide Tour Continues; Hundreds Gather - 6/20/2007

Jefferson City - Crowds gathered in Poplar Bluff and Cape Girardeau today to welcome a bi-partisan group of legislators and senior advocates. The group, led by Speaker Rod Jetton (R-Marble Hill), is traveling the state promoting a tax cut for Missourians age 62 or older.

Today crowds of at least a hundred people each welcomed the group in Poplar Bluff and Cape Girardeau. The bi-partisan coalition included Speaker Jetton, Representative Ron Casey (D-Crystal City); Senator Ryan McKenna (D-Crystal City); former Representative Jack Jackson (R-Wildwood); former House Speaker Jim Kreider (D-Nixa), who is now with the Missouri Retired Teachers Association; Jo Walker of the Silver-Haired Legislature; and Bob Whitlock of the Missouri Kidney Foundation. Area legislators were also in attendance.

The legislation passed this year, called the Senior Tax Justice Act, puts an end to the state’s tax on nonprivate retirement income, like Social Security income, military pensions and teacher’s retirement income. Senior Missourians with incomes under $85,000 if they’re single or $100,000 if they’re married qualify for the tax cut. It will be phased in over 6 years.

Supporters of the tax cut have made note that Missouri has been one of only 15 states that tax seniors’ Social Security income. Now, with Missouri ending the tax and two other states—Iowa and Wisconsin—doing likewise, states taxing Social Security benefits are a shrinking minority.

The group was meeting in Festus at press time. Tomorrow they make their final stops in Hannibal, Kirksville, and St. Joseph.

Bi-Partisan Coalition Tours State to Promote Senior Tax Cut - 6/19/2007

Jefferson City – Today, Speaker of the Missouri House Rod Jetton (R-Marble Hill) and a bi-partisan coalition of legislators and senior advocates kicked off a statewide tour promoting the Senior Tax Justice Act. The legislation puts an end to the state’s tax on nonprivate retirement income, like Social Security income, military pensions and teacher’s retirement income.

The group first stopped in Jefferson City, where Speaker Jetton commented on the legislation’s impact.

“We want to make Missouri a place where our seniors are proud to live, proud to stay,” said Jetton. He also hopes seniors will “want to be here and that we can be proud that we’re doing the very best we can to take care of them.”

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Landmark Legislative Session - 5/18/2007

Jefferson City – Speaker Rod Jetton (R-Marble Hill) flanked by fellow Representatives, members of the Missouri Senate, and Governor Matt Blunt announced a landmark legislative session.

“This is absolutely one of the most historic sessions for Missouri,” said Speaker Jetton. “Our economy has been booming and because of that we were able to do a number of things including cutting taxes for more than 220,000 Missourians.”

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Medicaid Will Become MO HealthNet: Missouri’s Healthcare Safety Net Will Be Revamped - 5/18/2007

Jefferson City – In the eleventh hour of the legislative session, the Missouri House approved a new healthcare program for the state’s most vulnerable citizens. The new program, called MO HealthNet, emphasizes wellness, prevention, and responsibility and increases access to healthcare. The new provisions are found in Senate Bill 577.

Much of SB 577 aims to increase access to healthcare. The new MO HealthNet program will extend healthcare coverage for foster care children aged 18 to 21. It restores dentistry and optometry services and durable medical equipment if they are medically necessary and if the state appropriates sufficient funds.

Others who will have increased access to MO HealthNet include children whose parents do not have access to affordable health insurance, children with parents participating in the state’s drug court program, and women with incomes at or below 185% of the federal poverty level.

Rep. Charles Portwood (R-Ballwin) characterized the new MO HealthNet as “an extremely generous program.”

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Protections for the Elderly and Disabled Clear Missouri House - 5/17/2007

Jefferson City – Long-term care facilities licensed by the state will be required to install extensive fire protection systems, including sprinkler systems, under legislation given final approval in the House today. The legislation, House Bill 952 & 674, coupled with another bill passed this afternoon, significantly increases the protections Missouri law grants the disabled and elderly.

Rep. Kevin Wilson (R-Neosho), sponsor of HB 952 & 674, said his bill comes in response to a fire at an Anderson, Missouri care facility that claimed 11 lives last November.

“I urge my colleagues to please support this bill so that we can make sure that those people that depend upon us know that when they go to bed at night they are as safe as they can possibly be,” said Rep. Wilson.

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House Extends Medicaid Sunset As Negotiations Continue - 5/17/2007

Jefferson City – The House today amended a bill that extends the sunset of the state’s healthcare program for the needy. House and Senate members on a conference committee have not yet reached an agreement on a bill that reforms Missouri’s Medicaid program, which is scheduled to terminate June 30, 2008. The amendment’s sponsor said the measure is necessary.

“If [Senate Bill] 577 doesn’t happen, this [amendment] provides us a safety net to continue to provide Medicaid through 2010,” said Rep. Ryan Silvey (R-Kansas City). “If 577 does happen and we have this as well, my understanding is 577 will preempt this statute and create MO HealthNet which will be a completely new program.”

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Castle Doctrine Receives Final House Approval - 5/15/2007

Jefferson City – House and Senate members have come to an agreeable compromise on a bill that reinforces a person’s right to defend himself.

A House version of Senate Bills 62 & 41 would have removed the duty to retreat and given Missouri citizens the right to match force with force if they were attacked and had reason to believe their lives were in danger. This version of self-defense legislation has commonly been called “Stand Your Ground.”

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House Requests Compromise on Seat Belt Legislation - 5/15/2007

Jefferson City – A compromise may be reached on a controversial proposal that would allow police officers to pull over drivers for not wearing a seat belt. Currently, law enforcement officers can enforce the seat belt law only if a driver is pulled over for another violation.

In the past, the House has held up any effort to make seat belt enforcement primary. Consequently, the Senate version of a large transportation bill, House Bill 744, would face insurmountable opposition in the House because it incorporates primary enforcement.

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Crime Bill Establishes Several Protections for Missourians - 5/15/2007

Jefferson City – An already large crime bill was amended to include a host of other measures during debate on the Missouri House floor today. Senate Bill 429, if approved by the Senate and signed into law by the governor will

• require rape crisis centers to maintain confidentiality of the individuals they serve;
• prohibit sexual offenders from being within 500 feet of a child care facility;
• increase penalties for possessing child pornography;
• align state law with the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Act;
• increase penalties for drunk drivers who are repeat offenders;
• allow jailers to carry firearms;
• make it harder for a person with a history of meth-related offenses to get back on the streets.
• change the threshold for boating while intoxicated so that it is consistent with the threshold for driving while intoxicated; and
• modify the Missouri law governing the State Highway Patrol.

The House version of SB 429 will be delivered to the Senate. If the Senate fails to accept the House changes, a conference committee will be called to work out differences.

House Considers Legislation Impacting Local Government - 5/14/2007

Jefferson City – An “omnibus” local government bill was heavily amended by the Missouri House today. As is often the case at the end of a legislative session, a bill is brought up and is used as a vehicle for several amendments that mirror legislation that may have stalled. The legislation considered today was Senate Bill 22.

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Key Healthcare Measures Approved in House - 5/11/2007

Jefferson City – Two measures that alter the state’s approach to healthcare received attention in the Missouri House today. One bill addresses the ability of the 700,000 uninsured Missourians to afford healthcare, while the other makes substantial changes to the state’s healthcare program for the needy.

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Tax Cut for Seniors Receives Final Approval - 5/11/2007

Jefferson City – Approximately 220,000 older Missourians will receive a tax break under a bill passed by the Missouri House today. Called the “Senior Tax Justice Act” by its sponsor, House Bill 444 eliminates a “double tax” over six years for Missourians age 62 or older. Currently, the Social Security retirement income Missourians receive is included in their state taxable income.

“Why should I give [my money] to the government to hold for me and then when I get it back, now I have to pay taxes on it again?” asked Speaker Rod Jetton (R-Marble Hill), sponsor of HB 444.

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House Concludes Its Work on the State Budget - 5/10/2007

Jefferson City – Members of the Missouri House cast final votes on the state’s budget tonight. Work on the first nine budget bills concluded yesterday. Today, House members gave their final approval to House Bills 10 through 13. The Senate has been picking up budget bills and giving the last required measure of legislative approval throughout today.

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Quality Jobs Will Go to the Governor; House Returns to Amended Senate Version - 5/10/2007

Jefferson City – Today, the Missouri House voted to accept a previous version of a comprehensive package of economic development incentives, giving it another chance at becoming law. The fate of the legislation, House Bill 327, now rests with the governor.

“The governor may or may not sign this legislation because of this or that,” said Rep. Ron Richard (R-Joplin), sponsor of HB 327. “Frankly, I believe we need to put it on his desk and go from there.”

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Final Approval of Missouri Budget Gets Underway - 5/9/2007

Jefferson City – With a constitutional deadline just three days away, members of the Missouri House began final discussions on the state’s budget. Conference committee reports for 9 of the 13 budget bills were approved by the House. House leaders anticipate bringing the remaining bills up for a vote tomorrow. The Senate must approve the bills before receiving the governor’s signature.

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Enrollment in Missouri Virtual Schools Kick Off; House Secures More Funding for Innovative Program - 5/9/2007

Jefferson City – Additional funds secured by the Missouri House will give the state’s up and coming virtual schools program a needed boost. The House today put the final legislative seal of approval on an appropriations bill providing $5.2 million for the Missouri Virtual Instruction Program (MoVIP).

Rep. Brian Baker (R-Belton) has been the primary member of the House in support of forming a virtual public school in the state. He worked with House members and Senators last year to lay the groundwork for the program, and this year, he secured an additional $5.2 million for the program.

“It is imperative that we recognize that the virtual school is a unique and innovative way to reach children around the state,” said Rep. Baker. “It truly is an investment in education. It is an investment in students.”

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House Sends Legislation Funding Scholarships and Higher Education Projects to Governor’s Desk - 5/8/2007

Jefferson City – Today’s passage of a supplemental spending bill in the House brings closure to efforts by the governor and legislature to increase access to quality higher education and improve infrastructure at campuses across the state.

“This has been a long process, but I think we’ve got a solution that will benefit all of Missouri,” said Speaker Pro Tem Carl Bearden (R-St. Charles).

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House Votes in Support of Missouri Students and Colleges - 5/7/2007

Jefferson City – The Missouri House today cast a vote in favor of increasing college scholarships, funding college building and maintenance projects, and stabilizing tuition costs. Senate Bill 389 was approved without any changes in order to expedite the bill’s approval and get it to Governor Blunt for his signature. The measure is considered comprehensive and far-reaching.

“This is, without any doubt, ... the largest, biggest, and best higher education reform that will take place in this legislature for some time to come,” said Speaker Pro Tem Carl Bearden (R-St. Charles) who carried SB 389 on the House floor.

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Social Security Tax Cut Approved; Negotiations Still Likely - 5/3/2007

Jefferson City – A tax-cut priority of Missouri’s governor and House Speaker received initial approval in the Senate this week. Speaker Rod Jetton (R-Marble Hill) is pleased with the bill’s passage, especially after it failed to move for nearly two months, but with changes made to the bill, that success is bittersweet.

“Some of the amendments I like,” said Speaker Jetton. “Some of them I don’t like. The main thing is we got it passed.”

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Speaker Asks Senate to Pass Quality Jobs - 5/3/2007

Jefferson City – House Speaker Rod Jetton (R-Marble Hill) echoed the frustration of House members for the Senate’s failure to move on a forward-thinking economic development bill, HB 327.

“We think this bill is important for the state. It’s going to revitalize and promote jobs all over the state,” said Speaker Jetton. “For some reason we’ve got a few Senators who are holding the whole show up ... it’s very discouraging to us House members.”

HB 327 cleared the House with unanimous support in late February. Then, the bill removed the caps on tax credits for two successful economic development programs (Quality Jobs and Enhanced Enterprise Zone) and extended the sunset date of jobs training programs at community colleges.

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UPDATE: House Stands Firm on Quality Jobs Expansion - 5/2/2007

Jefferson City – Members of the Missouri House of Representatives sent a strong message to their counterparts in the Senate before recessing this evening.

Frustrated by the Senate’s failure to accept a conference committee version of the Quality Jobs Act, Rep. Ron Richard (R-Joplin) asked House members to join him in refusing to further debate the details of House Bill 327—a bill that establishes several economic development incentives. When coupled with the Senate’s failure to adopt similar changes last year, the Senate’s defiance this year was too much for Rep. Richard.

“I ... think this is the defining moment,” said Rep. Richard. “If not we’re going to end up closer to the end of session and this is going to end up just going away in a filibuster ... Now, there’s time ... Now’s the [time] we send a message.”

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House Seeks to Prevent Virginia Tech Incident from Happening in Missouri - 5/1/2007

Jefferson City – The Missouri House of Representatives gave approval to Senate Bills 62 & 41, measures that protect a person’s right to use defensive force and added a key provision to make it more difficult for people committed to the state’s mental health system to obtain a firearms permit.

Under today’s legislation, Missourians who are obeying the law and are attacked in a place where they have a legal right to be may stand their ground and match force with force if they reasonably believe doing so will prevent death or bodily harm to themselves or to another. Currently, a property owner can use deadly force only if an intruder is in the act of breaking into his home. If an intruder has already entered one’s home—even if it is done illegally—a property owner has a duty to retreat and could be held civilly liable for using deadly force against the intruder. SBs 62 & 41 remedy this situation, and include a provision aimed to prevent shootings like those at Virginia Tech University.

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