Going Public: 2017 Legislative Session Revives Right-to-Work Debate

Jan 13, 2017

With the 2017 legislative session in full swing, rumblings of right-to-work legislation have surfaced yet again. Now with backing from new Gov. Eric Greitens, Republicans are likely to get it passed this time. State Rep. Kathy Swan spoke with KRCU's Marissanne Lewis-Thompson to talk about this and much more.

 

Lewis-Thompson: Eric Greitens is now our new governor. And when we last met we were talking about him being a political outsider and also him bringing these new ideas. So what are you looking forward to most about him being in office?

 

Swan: Well we are a citizen government or at least that is what our founding fathers wanted. They wanted a citizen government so that we are governed by the people. So he's not being a career politician. He comes to this as a citizen governor, and approaching the issues from a different perspective and from his experience being a citizen and being in the military, and the other work that he's done. So it will be very very interesting to see his new approach. We will certainly learn more Tuesday evening with the State of the State Address when he has the opportunity to lay out some of his plans.

 

Lewis-Thompson: He's pretty fast about it. Within a couple of hours of him being sworn in. He was making moves. Is that something that you're excited about or a little worried about?

 

Swan: I would say definitely mostly excited about. And of course we always want to make good decisions. And behind good decisions there's planning and forethought and brainstorming and discussing with others. And obviously he certainly has done that to date with the actions that he's taken. So, we shall see. I would anticipate that he continues that process of implementation and action on the other issues as they come up.

 

Lewis-Thompson: One thing that has been a hot button issue is right-to-work legislation. In the past there was a push for right-to-work legislation during our former governor's time in office. And he stopped that. But now with Gov. Greitens he's been pretty vocal about signing into law. What are your thoughts on that?

 

Swan: Well, there were five bills that were heard yesterday [Tuesday] in the Economic Development Committee and they are noticed up for an executive session. So anticipate there will be some action this afternoon [Wednesday] on those bills by that committee. So we'll see what develops from that.

 

Lewis-Thompson: Well there are those who are adamantly opposed to this idea of right-to-work and they're saying that it'll lower their wages of workers and it will also impact union rights. As an elected official how are you all trying to address those concerns of your constituents?

 

Swan:  Well this bill presents an option. An option that a worker does not have to belong to the union and pay dues to the union in order to have the job. So it's not an elimination. It is an option for workers.

 

Lewis-Thompson: And is that one of the bigger misconceptions about this right-to-work?

 

Swan: It perhaps is. I have not heard anyone say that we would be eliminating them. You know and obviously reading the bill could be helpful in getting the message out for those who who may have that misconception. I have not heard that from many sources, but I think that the opposition may just be in general. We have...a list of items that economic development recruiters look at and weigh when they are seeking to expand and look for other states for their businesses that they represent to move in to. Right-to-work is not necessarily the number one item, but it's certainly is in the top 10. And we have been told as the state of Missouri if that box is not checked it really doesn't matter what else is on that application it will go into the trash. So we are out of the running on the first shoot if we are not a right-to-work in the minds of some recruiters and in the minds of some businesses who are seeking to expand their businesses to other states. So it's a tool. It's one of the economic development tools that we can use and try to create more jobs in this state.

 

Lewis-Thompson: And to be fair there have been mixed results from other states who currently have right-to-work legislation. Are there any concerns that you have with possible right-to-work legislation coming through?

 

Swan: You know since it is an option that a worker can work for a company an employer and not be required to belong to the union, if it were a mandate that would be much more comprehensive than what we're looking at at this point. Unless things have changed in committee and I'm not aware they were. I was not at the hearing yesterday. And you can always find a survey and results to support what your belief is. So we have heard as you indicate we hear mixed reviews as to whether it increases wages and increases jobs or it does the opposite. So we hear both.

 

Lewis-Thompson: I want to change gears here just a little. We're in a new legislative session and you introduced a few bills this year. The first one I want to talk about is the one on music therapy. Could you tell me a little bit about that?

 

Swan:  Sure. I started on that about three years ago. Music therapy the first bill I had was a resolution recognizing music therapy as a valid health care provider service. And then nationally music therapists are working toward licensure of their profession. And primarily due to recognition as valid health care therapy and for insurance to pay and Medicaid to cover music therapists treatments that they provide. We have two gaps right now that I am aware of in the state regarding music therapist and patients access to care. One is they are they are not recognized to provide therapies to ages birth to three, which is first steps program and Medicaid. It is administered by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Initially when I started filing the bill it was strictly a music therapy licensure bill, and last year I had the licensure bill as well, and I may file it again this year I need to talk to music therapy professionals. The bill decided to get specific on that and actually filed the amendment that I had was trying to add on last year as a standalone bill this year, so that it would require the department recognize music therapist for that program from birth to age three and first steps. The other gap that we have that I need to do some research on is not all insurance companies have continued to pay for music therapy for children. So they did previously but they're not necessarily now. So I need to determine what's going on there. If the music therapy profession wishes me to continue to pursue licensure for them I will certainly do so. But I need to have a conversation with them.

 

Lewis-Thompson: Moving right along to the next one here, which is HB 572. Now this particular bill would prevent registered sex offenders from being within 500 feet of places that serve as educational or entertainment location for children. How did that bill come about?

 

Swan: Well as I had not mentioned, but as the previous bill we discussed on music therapy at least half the bills that I file are in response to constituents, someone from our district coming to me with an issue. This one is the same thing. We realized that there are some areas where children congregate that are not covered in statute that sex offenders may visit. And one of those places is a museum, or a zoo, or any place that's not covered in statute. When we start listing areas like schools and other areas and statutes sometimes situations arise and we don't realize that we're not covered. So right now we're not covered with children's museum like Discovery Playhouse. So therefore I have asked the drafters and filed it today [Wednesday] as you had indicated to make sure that we cover a museum, a zoo, or any area. And I didn't want to specifically enumerate because there might be another area like the Butterfly House or somewhere in St. Louis that we may forget and may not be included in the definition of what's in statute language. So that's why we included any entity that it has the mission of educating or entertaining children under the age of 18.

 

Lewis-Thompson: And what do you think the likelihood of success for this to become a law would be?

 

Swan: I think it's very likely, because we currently have laws on the books that will not allow them to congregate around areas where there are children. And I think this--children's museums are not new obviously, but since that was not included in the statute language there again that was a gap in the law that needed to be closed.

 

Lewis-Thompson: And finally I want to talk to you about this next piece that you filed for the Career and Technical Education Certification Program.

 

Swan: Yes.

 

Lewis-Thompson: That is a pretty interesting thing. I want you to talk a little bit about it, and then explain to me how this could help Missouri students who choose alternative methods of learning?

 

Swan: Okay. Last year, we did pass the career and technology education certificate. The bill started out as a separate diploma a couple of years ago and working with the educational community I changed the bills so that it would be a certificate that would accompany the diploma. And that means if a student completes an industry recognized credential type of career and technical coursework program of coursework in our K-12 system that they would earn current technology certificate. Well now this goes the next step. This provides some additional direction for the department in schools to follow and [recognize] what would a program like that look. So this gives them a little bit of direction or a sense of steps that they would need to go through or could go through to establish what the programs are going to look like in their school. And what that means is a student who graduates with a certificate through one of these programs is either recognized as being ready to go to work at an entry level position for a company that is familiar with that particular program in that school, or they're ready to be accepted into a little bit higher level of training for perhaps an associate level degree or a higher certificate in a career or technology area or field.