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Boone County legislators outline goals for the 2013 session

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 | 8:14 p.m. CST; updated 11:27 a.m. CST, Thursday, January 10, 2013

JEFFERSON CITY — Boone County has sent five men to the GOP-controlled state House this session, three veterans and two newcomers.

The new representatives, John Wright, D-Rocheport, and Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, were sworn in with 159 others Tuesday as the General Assembly convened in the capital.

Wright and the two returning Democrats in the House, Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, and Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, seem aligned with the party's agenda, which is targeting Medicaid expansion under Gov. Jay Nixon's oversight.

The two Republicans, Rowden and Rep. Caleb Jones, R-California, join their colleagues in looking for ways to be business-friendly and improve education.

Here is a look at goals for the county's five state representatives:

Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia

Webber said he will continue to work on legislation he has tried to get passed in previous sessions while also taking up Medicaid expansion. 

Webber has filed bills in each of his five sessions as representative that would make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. He said he will file another this session. Although he doesn't expect it to pass, he is confident his effort will help push forward what he believes to be the inevitable passage of this bill or one like it.

"The issue of tolerance and acceptance has only been moving in one direction," he said. 

Webber, who served two tours in Iraq, also said he will file bills that would benefit current and former members of the military.

Among them is a bill that would ensure salary security for members of the National Guard or reserve armed forces who also have jobs working for the state. If they are activated and their military salary is lower than their state salary, the state would pay the difference between the two.

"We're saying as a society that you're not gonna earn any less by serving in the military," he said.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia

For five years Kelly has been backing a resolution to put a bond issue to pay for higher education and state buildings and for state park improvements before Missouri voters. He'll keep trying this session, he said, but he believes Medicaid expansion is more urgent.

If Medicaid isn't expanded, it will cost Boone County $25 million, he said.

Kelly also said he will try to eliminate the second injury fund, which he says is obsolete and insolvent. The fund provides benefits to employees who have pre-existing injuries that are aggravated through a workplace injury. 

Missouri currently owes more than $100 million in compensation through this fund, Kelly said. Finding money to pay those benefits is why it's hard to get rid of the program; those owed money must be paid before the fund can be eliminated.

Rep. John Wright, D-Rocheport

Besides for working with his party to pass Medicaid expansion, Wright said he will focus on early childhood education.

The research and work he did before coming to the legislature – such as establishing the nonprofit organization Rollins Reading – has convinced him that a major reason for social and economic inequalities in Missouri is a lack of access to early childhood education.

Wright said he would like to make education for 3- and 4-year-olds as accessible as kindergarten, a goal he said he will continue to pursue throughout his legislative career. 

Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia

Like other members of his party, Rowden would like to attract business to Missouri, and he's got some of his own ideas on how to do it.

Based on a program he has seen implemented successfully in Louisiana and other states, Rowden would like to create taxpayer funded training programs for jobs such as manufacturing.

The hoped-for effect is that companies would choose to hire Missouri residents as opposed to moving employees from other states.

Rowden also believes companies would be attracted to a state where they wouldn't have to pay to train all of their employees.

Rowden said he plans to file the bill in the House within the next three weeks.

Rep. Caleb Jones, R-California

Jones said he will focus on infrastructure and education funding, while also hoping to revamp the public defender system.

Jones, who represents Boone County for the first time because of redistricting, would like to see two bond issues passed this session, one for transportation and one for higher education buildings, state buildings and state parks.

He expects both bond issues to be on the November 2014 ballot because of a great need for funding.

Education is also a priority for Jones. The system has underlying problems that need to be addressed, he said, but he would first like to earmark the failing school districts in Kansas City and St. Louis. 

Jones, who is an attorney, also wants to change the structure of the public defender system. He believes it was unacceptable to stop accepting cases.

The bill he said he would file in two weeks would restructure the system in such a way that that situation will not repeat itself, though he would not elaborate.


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