Legislative column

It was another busy week in the Missouri State Capitol. One of the great things about this time of year is getting to talk with a variety of groups and organizations who come to the Capitol. This week, I was pleased to have the opportunity to learn more about some of the services the Missouri Department of Corrections offers to offenders.

The department is working hard to reduce recidivism and provide education and training for offenders in order to provide them with the skills needed to succeed once they are released. The department offers a variety of programs, which teach skills and trades. There are 20 career and technical programs offered at 10 institutions throughout the state. Automotive mechanics, building trades, woodworking, culinary arts, business technology, web design, welding, plumbing, gardening and several other programs are offered to offenders. The department partners with several state technical colleges to offer programs and certificates, and the Department of Labor provides certificates for all of those who complete career and technical classes. Offenders work side-by-side with skilled professionals in order to learn and fine-tune their skills, which will help them find meaningful employment upon their release. In addition, the department utilizes several heavy equipment simulators that provide offenders with the ability to gain hands-on experience with heavy machinery. It was amazing to hear the numerous success stories because of these programs, the department has done a phenomenal job providing opportunities to help offenders improve their lives and prepare them for life outside of our prison system.

The department also offers educational opportunities for those who have not received their high school diploma. Those offenders can attend classes and receive their high school equivalency certificate. Anyone under the age of 22, who has learning disabilities, are given the opportunity to participate in appropriate educational services tailored to their needs.

Education and vocational training are key factors in helping an offender build a better life. Statistics from the department show recidivism decreases by 12 percent for those who receive their high school equivalency certificate while incarcerated.

These programs and other rehabilitation opportunities represent a great opportunity to keep current offenders from returning to Missouri’s prison system. At the current rate of incarceration, Missouri will need to build two additional prison facilities in order to house those who choose to break our laws. If these programs succeed over the long term, I believe they could save the state countless tax dollars as a result of slowing down the rate of incarceration and not forcing the state to build any new prisons.

However, our state’s prisons are not meant to be country clubs. Our prison system is intended to reform offenders while offering them an opportunity to be productive members of society once they fulfill their legal obligations. I applaud Director Anne Precythe and her staff for the phenomenal job they are doing, and I am excited to watch these types of programs grow under her watch.

Spring is almost here and it is time, once again, to think about filing your state and federal taxes. The April 17 deadline to file or request an extension on your taxes will be here before you know it. While many have already filed their taxes, statistics show that most of us wait until closer to the deadline to file our taxes.

In recent years, the way people file their taxes has changed. Filing electronically is the fastest growing alternative to mailing in paper returns. The Missouri Department of Revenue (DOR) received more than 2.6 million electronically filed returns in 2017. Convenience, accuracy and the ability to direct deposit your refund are just a few of the reasons why electronic filing is becoming the most popular filing method. Thanks to direct deposit and other options for receiving a person’s refund, most refunds are processed in less than two months.

This year, DOR has a new tool available to help Missourians track the status of their tax return. Missourians can now sign up to receive automatic text or email alerts each time the status of their state tax return is updated. Instead of having to wait on the phone for a customer service representative or check online every day to see their status, those who choose email or text alerts will be informed as soon as something changes.

To enroll in alerts, you only need three pieces of information: Social Security number, filing status and anticipated refund or balance due. Return information will be available within 48 hours of filing electronically or four weeks after mailing a paper tax return. Those who sign up will receive easy-to-read graphics that indicate the current status of their return, as well as the anticipated refund issue date.

To access the Missouri Return Inquiry System and sign up for automatic text and email alerts, please visit dor.mo.gov/return status/.

A similar system is available to check on federal tax returns. To check the status of your return, you will need the same three pieces of information: Social Security number, filing status and anticipated refund or balance due. To check the status of your federal tax return visit: https://sa.www4.irs.gov/irfof/lang/en/irfofgetstatus.jsp.

Mike Cunningham is a Republican member of the Missouri State Senate, representing District 33. Contact him at 573-751-1882 or www.senate.mo.gov/cunningham

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