At least one of the three bills pre-filed by newly elected State Representative Rocky Miller, R-Tuscumbia, last month could have a direct effect on one of the biggest parts of the Lake Area's economy - tourism.
Miller, who will be sworn in today, Wed. Jan. 9, introduced the bills last month with the help of recently re-elected State Representative Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton. Miller said he decided to introduce House Bill 51 after he learned that Missouri has some of the strictest laws in the nation governing allowable E. coli levels at public beaches.
"Missouri has one of the strictest, if not the strictest, beach closure laws in the nation," Miller said. "Our laws are even stricter than the federal law and the way the testing is done to determine if a beach is safe for swimming doesn't even give the public a clear picture of what is going on in the test area and whether or not the water is actually safe for swimming."
According to the Missouri House of Representative website, if passed, Miller's bill would require the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to "utilize a standard that measures E. coli using the federal Environmental Protection Agency's Method 1603, or an equivalent method, that measures culturable E. coli, at a geometric mean based on weekly sampling over a 30-day period of a specified number of forming units and statistical threshold values."
"Basically, the DNR would have to do a series of tests and come up with an average level of E. coli bacteria for that particular location before they could close the beach," Miller said. "The acceptable average for closing the beach would have to be the same as those set by the EPA."
Miller said in writing the legislation he enlisted the help of both Franklin and newly elected State Representative David Wood, R-Gravois Mills.
"Diane was invaluable in using her experience with the legislature to help me write the bill and take all the necessary steps to make sure we did all the research necessary to write something that would protect the public," Miller said. And, Wood agreed with what we were doing and signed on as a co-sponsor."
Miller said before penning the bill, the three legislators visited with the DNR and got that agency's input on how it should be written to ensure that the final language "was something they could live with," Miller said. "They (DNR personnel) approved the language before I filed the bill."
Miller said his reason for adding language requiring the DNR to figure an average reading for E. coli levels during a 30-day period was to avoid having public beaches closed because of a single high-level reading.
"Here at the Lake we know, and so does the DNR, that the E. coli levels will spike immediately after a heavy rainfall," Miller said. "But the way the language of the current state law reads it only takes one high reading to shut a beach down and in many cases those high levels go down within a few hours. That's why we want a series of readings taken and averaged out before a beach can be closed."
Under the terms of Miller's bill, "If (the water at a) beach exceeds the established geometric mean standard, the DNR must post signs stating "Swimming is not recommended.' If a beach exceeds the established statistical threshold value standard two additional tests are required. If either of the retest exceeds the standard the DNR must post signs stating "Swimming is Not Recommended" until both tests are below standard."
The bill also gives the DNR the right to close a beach "in the event of a documented health risk including, but not limited to, wastewater by-pass, spills of hazardous chemicals, or localized outbreaks of an infectious disease."
Miller said although he did not add an emergency clause to insure that the bill would become law immediately upon passage he did have the assurance of the DNR that as soon as it is given the go ahead by both houses of the General Assembly, the agency will amend its E. coli testing policy for public beaches to reflect the requirements of the bill.
A second bill, introduced by Miller, would allow nonresident students attending a college, university or technical in Missouri to obtain hunting, trapping and fishing license at the same rate as do resident students.
Miller said he believes allowing out-of-state students attending college in Missouri to obtain hunting and fishing license at in-state rates would bring more revenue into Department of Conservation coffers.
"We are currently study the impact of the bill to determine exactly what fiscal impact its passage would have on state revenues," Miller said.
The third bill introduced by Miller would change state law to give individuals involved in divorce proceedings the right to petition the court to receive reimbursement for insurance premiums paid for the other spouse during the period bill of divorcement is in litigation.
Miller said the idea for that bill was brought to him by a female constituent who was forced to pay her husband's insurance premiums throughout the time the divorce settlement was still in the hands of the court.
"The problem with this case, and some others I learned about, was that the wife worked for the state and had been insuring the entire family through her job," Miller said. "It took most of her salary to pay the premium on both the children and the husband, but they did it because the coverage was so much better than they could get through his work. Unfortunately, when they filed for divorce she was required to continue paying her husband's premiums until the final settlement and, as you know some of these divorces can take more than a year. So she had to continue to pay his premiums even though he had moved out and she wasn't allowed to petition the court to force her ex to reimburse her for the cost of those premiums."
Under Miller's bill, the person paying the premiums would be allowed to petition the court to order the non-paying spouse to reimburse the policyholder for the cost of any premiums that were paid between the time the divorce papers were filed with the court and the final divorce degree was issued.
"I was really glad that this constituent came to me with her problem, and gave me the chance to try and do something about it," Miller said. "I would like to encourage all my constituents to do the same. That's what I'm here for."