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That’s why I look forward to working with you to address this most urgent of needs and issue bonds to support the construction of a new mental hospital in Fulton.

Interest rates are low. Our credit rating is high. And the need is undeniable. Friends, let’s roll up our sleeves, work together, and for the safety of all our communities, get it done this year.

And as we intensify our efforts to make sure that Missourians with mental illness and developmental disabilities get the appropriate care - it’s clear that we need more qualified professionals to provide that care.

Just look at the numbers - 104 of Missouri’s 114 counties are designated as mental health professional shortage areas; 72 counties lack even a licensed psychiatrist.

These are good jobs that are in demand now - we just need the qualified professionals to fill them. That is why my budget includes a $20 million investment to help our community colleges and universities train 1,200 more mental health professionals.

From teaching a child with autism how to interact with peers, to helping law enforcement respond to individuals in mental health crisis, these health professionals will help keep our communities safe - and make sure all Missourians have the opportunity to live up to their God-given potential.

The priorities I’ve just laid out are by no means the only issues that require our attention this session:

We need to restore the public’s faith in what we do here by reinstating strict campaign contribution limits and passing comprehensive ethics reform.

We need to rein in the tax credit programs that don’t deliver a solid return on our investment.

And we need to end discrimination against LGBT Missourians in the workplace. No Missourian should be fired because of who they are or who they love. Last year, the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act passed the Senate with bipartisan support, but failed to get to my desk. Let’s get it done this year.

We need to fix the law that’s led to so much stress and uncertainty for families and schools, as thousands of students are transported from one district to another.

We need to have a robust discussion about our state’s long-term transportation infrastructure needs - and how to pay for them.

We need to develop a comprehensive energy plan for our state: one that balances the need for low-cost, reliable energy with our duty to be responsible stewards of the environment.

And we need to reauthorize the Missouri Rx program, to prevent more than 200,000 seniors and Missourians with disabilities from paying more for their prescription drugs. Let’s work together, as we did just three years ago, to extend this essential help for Missourians in need.

But the most significant improvement we could make to the health and wellbeing of our state is Medicaid, and it needs to get done this year.

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