Jim Hansen’s Capitol report
House Takes Reasoned Approach to Common Core Issue (HB 1490)
While the discussion on the federal Common Core education standards has generated some passionate debate among families and educators across the state, this week the Missouri House took up the subject and had a well-reasoned discussion on how to handle the standards going forward.
For those who don’t know, the Common Core standards are meant to provide a consistent means for states to evaluate student achievement in key areas such as math, reading and writing.
The standards angered some who felt the federal government was taking local control of curriculum decisions away from school districts. They also were angered that the State Board of Education decided to implement the standards without consulting the General Assembly.
Supporters countered that the new standards would help ensure students receive an education that prepares them for success in college and the workforce.
Keeping all sides of the discussion in mind, we approved legislation on the floor this week that would create a committee to extensively study the Common Core standards and to develop our own Missouri-based assessment standards.
Originally the bill was designed to prevent the standards from being implemented in Missouri, but as we weighed all of the factors and took into consideration that many school districts had already spent money to put the standards into place, we opted for a different approach.
The end result is a bill that would give our state the flexibility to use all or parts of the Common Core standards if they prove to be effective, or to go an entirely different route with our own set of standards.
Specifically, the bill would allow Missouri school districts to proceed with testing students with the current standards, but it also would protect the districts and teachers from being penalized if students perform poorly in the assessments. This change would ensure we take a cautious approach to these standards rather than diving in headfirst.
In the meantime, a work group made up of parents, elected officials and education professionals would work to develop Missouri’s own academic performance standards to present to the State Board of Education by October of next year. By the 2016-2017 school year, the State Board of Education would be responsible for putting the new standards in place.
With this compromise we feel that have a good approach that will alleviate the worries of the many Missourians who have issues with the Common Core standards. Missouri school districts will be able to move ahead as planned for the coming school year, but we also will be on a path toward ensuring we have assessment standards written by Missouri teachers and parents who best understand the needs of Missouri students.
House Approves Criminal Code Overhaul (HB 1371)
This week, my colleagues and I in the Missouri House approved the first extensive re-write of the state’s criminal code since 1979.
During the last 35 years many bills have been signed into law that have revised and updated various areas of the code, but previous legislatures have not taken a comprehensive approach to updating our criminal laws.
The end result is a criminal code that is now too large, too inconsistent, and too confusing. The bill we approved this week would streamline and modernize Missouri’s criminal code to better serve both victims of crime and practitioners of the law.
One key area of change made by the bill would be the creation of a new class of misdemeanor, as well as a new class of felony. The new misdemeanor classification would provide a penalty more severe than a simple infraction, but would consist of a fine only.
The new felony classification would give Missouri what has been a missing rung on the felony offense ladder, and would allow for punishment to appropriately correspond with increasing levels of severity of criminal activity.
The criminal code also would increase the fine schedule for all crimes for the first time since the last major revision.
As the fines have not increased with the rate of inflation over the years, they have fallen woefully behind and become a less effective deterrent for misdemeanor offenders. The approved revision would double the current fines in many cases.
The bill also greatly strengthens punishments for assault crimes; deals much more harshly with habitual drunk drivers who endanger others on the road; gives prosecutors more tools to put child molesters in prison; and creates a stair-step approach for drug-related crimes that would give additional flexibility to prosecutors, defense attorneys and courts in the disposition of drug-related cases.
The overall impact of the bill would be to create a code that represents a consistent, cohesive approach to dealing with crime in our state. It is a code that would reflect the realities of today’s society and better allow the criminal justice system to effectively deal with both violent and non-violent offenses.
The Missouri Senate has already worked on their own version of the revision that has some minor differences from the version we approved. In the coming weeks we will work together to iron out those differences with the goal of getting this bill across the finish line before the final day of the 2014 legislative session.
As always, please feel free to contact me with any questions, comments, or concerns you might have. It has been a pleasure serving as your state representative.