Capitol Report | April 18, 2019

House Approves Legislation to Protect Land Owners from Eminent Domain Abuse (HB 1062)

 As hundreds of concerned land owners gathered in the State Capitol this week to rally in support of their property rights, the Missouri House of Representatives took action to prevent the misuse of the state’s eminent domain law. House members approved a bill that would specify that a private entity cannot use the power of eminent domain for the purposes of constructing above-ground power lines.

The bill comes in response to the proposed Grain Belt Express transmission line that would carry power generated by wind turbines in Kansas across Missouri to other states in the Midwest and neighboring states. The 750-mile line would run across eight northern Missouri counties – Buchanan, Clinton, Caldwell, Carroll, Chariton, Randolph, Monroe and Ralls – and would deliver a portion of the power it transmits to utilities and customers in Missouri.

In March the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) approved a request made by Grain Belt Express to construct the high-voltage transmission line. As a result of the decision made by the PSC, developers would have the authority to utilize the power of eminent domain to obtain easement rights from landowners who are unwilling to sell.

The legislation approved by the House would prevent the use of eminent domain for the purpose of constructing the Grain Belt Express transmission line. Supporters of the bill said it is important to prohibit private companies from using eminent domain to maximize their profits for a project that will provide little benefit for Missouri consumers. They say less than 12 percent of the electricity carried by the transmission line would be sold to Missouri consumers.

As the sponsor of the bill told his colleagues, “The issue here is this is a private company wanting to use private property for private profit.”

House Speaker Elijah Haahr said about the bill, “As someone who grew up on a family farm, I care deeply about the rights of landowners. The idea of government – an unelected quasi-government body at that – telling one private owner to share their land and follow unreasonable regulations for another private company is a violation of the core beliefs this country was founded on. Private property rights are a cornerstone of our freedoms and the framers of our constitution knew from their experiences that when private property rights are not protected, our freedoms are at risk.”

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

 House Approves Bill to Improve License Renewal Process (HB 679)

Members of the Missouri House have approved legislation that would make it easier for residents to renew a driver’s license or a motor vehicle license. The legislation also would allow drivers to obtain a secure digital driver’s license in addition to the physical card-based license.

The bill would authorize the Missouri Department of Revenue to design and implement a remote driver’s license renewal system that would be accessed through the department’s Internet website, or through self-service kiosks that would be available at one or more locations within the state. Missourians would also be able to use the kiosks to renew their motor vehicle license just as they currently can through the department’s website. This option would be available to residents who live in a county where property tax records are kept online.

The bill’s sponsor said the plan would be to roll out a handful of kiosks in select locations initially as a pilot project. If the kiosks prove successful and cost efficient, they would then be made available in more fee offices throughout the state. The expansion of the self-service kiosks would be subject to appropriation. Supporters say the change would help streamline services offered by the department and allow consumers to use the kiosks so they can get renewals completed faster.

Under the bill, a Missourian who opts to renew a driver’s license remotely would be exempted from vision and road sign tests. Applicants who have applied in-person and received a driver’s license would be able to remotely apply for one three-year or one six-year renewal. The bill would require the department to have a remote renewal system in place by January 1, 2021.

The bill also authorizes the department to design a secure digital driver’s license program that allows applicants to obtain a digital version of their license in addition to the physical card-based driver’s license. The bill’s sponsor said the bill will give Missourians the option to have an electronic license on their phone or mobile device that works in the same way as their current license for all applications. He noted that users would pay an additional fee to obtain the electronic version.

The bill is now under consideration by the Senate.

Lawmakers Approve Bill to Crack Down on Carjackers (HB 966)

 Members of the Missouri House gave approval this week to legislation that would create and define the crime of carjacking. Supporters say the bill would give consistency and clarity to Missouri law.

Proponents of the bill say it is necessary because Missouri does not currently have a law for prosecutors to charge vehicle hijacking under. Instead, prosecutors have to charge under a similar offense, such as robbery or theft. Supporters say carjacking has become an epidemic that needs to be addressed. They note that St. Louis had 350 carjackings in 2018.

The bill’s sponsor said, “If you are carjacked the prosecutor has to find some other crime to stuff it under – robbery, stealing, maybe assault. That’s crazy and it leads to a lot of inconsistency.” He added, “I’ll tell you what’s even crazier is if someone attempts to carjack you, they fail, what do you charge them with? I don’t even know. We have to get real creative. We don’t have an actual statute that would easily charge attempted carjacking.”

The bill creates the offense of “vehicle hijacking.” It would be considered a “dangerous felony,” and would carry a penalty between 5 and 15 years. If the crime is committed with the use of a weapon, if a victim is seriously injured, or if one of the victims is a child or “special victim,” the crime would be a class A felony with a penalty of 10 to 30 years, or life.

The sponsor said his bill would make the penalty for an armed carjacking very similar to that for first-degree robbery, which is comparable to the charges faced by people who commit carjackings now.

The sponsor said, “Here’s the message I want to send. You carjack in the State of Missouri and you use a deadly weapon or threaten to use a deadly weapon, you’re going away. I think we send a very, very clear message. Carjacking will not be tolerated in the State of Missouri.”

The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

 Signed by the Governor

HB 14 is a supplemental appropriations bill that allows for the continued current operations of Missouri state government. The bill allocates nearly $468 million, including $189 million in General Revenue, $183 million in Federal Funds, and $97 million in Other Funds. Among other things, the bill provides funding for the Time Critical Diagnosis Unit and for the state’s Medical Marijuana Program.

HB 77 fixes a problem with the school retirement system that was created by language that was passed last session. The bill adds a provision that exempts anyone that retired as a teacher under the public school retirement system who is now employed by a public community college.

Bills Sent to the Senate

HB 1094 prevents penalties for delayed payments on outstanding income tax liabilities for the 2018 tax year, as long as a taxpayer timely files their return. There may be interest assessed on outstanding income tax liabilities, provided that no interest will be assessed before May 15, 2019 and any interest already paid will be refunded. Supporters say that with the new federal tax laws and Missouri withholding issues, taxpayers’ Missouri withholding may have been reduced causing unexpected tax liability due when they file their tax returns. This bill gives a taxpayer more time to pay his or her tax bill, without hurting the fiscal year for the state.

HB 301 requires certified nursing assistant training programs to be offered at skilled nursing or intermediate care facility units in Missouri veterans homes and hospitals. It also requires advanced practice nurses (APRNs) to be licensed by the Missouri Board of Nursing and sets out the requirements for that licensure. Supporters say the bill will allow the Board of Nursing to give APRNs a separate licensure, instead of just a document of recognition, which will allow the board to have better oversight and discipline for APRNs. They say the bill will streamline and simplify APRN licensure.

HB 379 allows the Department of Natural Resources to award grants to preserve, protect, or restore historic county courthouses and historic county courthouse grounds. Supporters say that this bill would clarify the use of the Historic Preservation Revolving Fund to specifically allow for the use of the funds to help protect and maintain historic courthouses. The department currently issues grants for this purpose but this bill would expressly authorize the use of the fund for this purpose.

HB 349 provides that the practices of cosmetology and barbering do not include shampooing. Supporters say the bill will allow shampooists to practice without having to get a full cosmetology license, which is a hardship to acquire for someone who isn’t going to be practicing full cosmetology.

HB 338 designates May 26th of each year as “Battle of St. Louis Memorial Day” to commemorate the only battle of the American Revolution fought in Missouri. Supporters say  it is important to recognize that Missouri had a role in the American Revolution and bring greater recognition to the painting in the Capitol that also commemorates this battle.

HB 816 allows an embalming apprentice to continue to be employed by the funeral establishment where the apprenticeship took place, for up to six months after the apprentice has completed the apprenticeship program but has not yet completed the examination or other requirements of licensure. Supporters say the bill will prevent hardships on workers who would otherwise have to find another source of income while they are taking their examination.

HB 932 allows prosecuting attorneys to develop multidisciplinary adult protection teams that protect elderly and other dependent persons from abuse. Supporters say that most of the things discussed in this bill are being done which is why the fiscal note indicates no cost. However, this bill addresses the practices, procedures and coordination of the activities for these teams and all the people and agencies involved. This legislation was modeled on best practices from other states and what we know works well in Missouri and the sponsor is bringing this bill forward to protect our most vulnerable elderly population.

HB 758 adds provisions relating to hospital inspections. Supporters say that this bill will ensure that there are no conflicts of interest between the department and the hospitals that they regulate and that the inspections will be unbiased and trustworthy. The bill also establishes the “Authorized Electronic Monitoring in Long-Term Care Facilities Act.” Supporters say this provision will give nursing homes the protection they need to begin experimenting with electronic monitoring to give families peace of mind that their loved ones are being appropriately tended in the facility.

HB 191 designates portions of specified State Highways as a Memorial Highway. It would designate a portion of Highway E in Lafayette County as the “Firefighter Jeff Sanders Memorial Highway.” The bill also designates a portion of State Highway 6 in Buchanan County as the “Firefighter Travis Owens Memorial Highway.” Additionally, it designates a portion of State Highway A in St. Charles County as the “Ralph Barrale Memorial Highway.”

HB 937 allows legislative liaisons, who are appointed to communicate between state agencies and departments and members of the General Assembly, to be exempt from the definition of “legislative lobbyist” under state law. Supporters say that the bill will clarify the responsibility of members and employees of the General Assembly and ensure that lobbyist principals are well-defined entities.

HB 930 allows the Commissioner of Administration to hold a reverse auction to procure merchandise, supplies, raw materials, or finished goods if price is the primary factor in evaluating bids. Supporters say reverse auctions happen in the private sector and would be a big money saver for the state.

HB 769 removes the requirement for the attorney general to reside in Jefferson City. Supporters say the bill removes an obsolete residency requirement that does not apply to any other statewide elected officials.

HB 1057 changes provisions relating to infection control data reporting. Supporters say the bill eliminates needless regulation and gets rid of duplicate or triplicate reporting requirements. This bill does not make it more difficult for anyone to access the data needed.

HB 186 provides that a person who is injured by a product has 10 years after the sale or lease of the product to bring a suit for damages. Supporters say there needs to be certainty for manufacturers and distributors. They note that the United States Supreme Court has held that statutes of repose are legitimate limitations on bringing claims. They say Missouri defendants should be free from worry about liability after a certain amount of time has passed.

HB 1206 would modernize the bidding process for contracts for private entities to operate facilities or supply services on a state park. Supporters say it would allow the Department of Natural Resources to provide park visitors with more options for services through short-term commercial use permits.

HBs 281 & 570 allows school districts to implement alternative methods of instruction to avoid make-up days. Beginning with the 2020-21 school year, the bill allows a district to use an alternative instruction plan approved by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for up to 36 hours due to inclement weather.

HB 749 creates the “Towing Task Force” to make recommendations on overcharges, customer complaints, and the process for nonconsensual towing used by law enforcement. Supporters say the bill will help regulate overcharging in the towing industry. The task force outlined in the bill will give recommendations and a framework to help eliminate price gouging.

HB 1151 removes an exemption from registration on the Sexual Offender Registry when a registrant is no longer required to register and his or her name must be removed from the registry under the provisions. The bill also removes sexual misconduct involving a child under Section 566.083, if it is a first offense and the punishment is less than one year, from Tier I of the registry. Supporters say the legislation is meant to correct and clarify language regarding the registration of sexual offenders that was passed last year.

HB 756 requires health care professionals to utilize the process outlined in statute for claims for charges for unanticipated out-of-network care. Supporters say the bill is necessary for transparency purposes. If you go to a hospital that is in your health care plan then everything should be treated like in-network for your health insurance coverage. People often get bills for out of network from physicians that work in the hospital and this is a lot more expensive.

HB 943 allows the Board of Accountancy within the Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration to obtain information regarding peer review from any approved American Institute for Certified Public Accountants peer review program. Supporters say the bill modernizes state law to reflect current standards by allowing the board to obtain information from firms that provide reviews or audits for the public.

HB 951 specifies that the Missouri Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the county sheriff for the county in which the facility is located, the United States Department of Agriculture, and any other federal or Missouri state agency with statutory or regulatory authority have exclusive authority to inspect the grounds or facilities in Missouri used for the production of eggs, milk or other dairy products, raising of livestock, or the production or raising of dogs or other animals not used to produce any food product. Supporters say the bill would clarify which agencies have the authority to inspect certain agricultural facilities. The bill would protect Missouri farmers from other states and outside organizations attempting to gain access to the facilities without legal authority. However, it also allows for the farmer or producer to authorize other agencies to inspect, if the farmer or producer so chooses.

 

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Capitol Report | April 11, 2019

House Members Continue to Stand in Defense of Missouri Taxpayers (HB 1094)

The House has given preliminary approval to legislation that would give Missourians a break on late payment of taxes. The bill comes in response to issues within the Department of Revenue that have resulted in many Missourians owing more income tax or getting smaller tax refunds this year.

For months a special House oversight committee has investigated issues within the department. The House Special Committee on Government Oversight found not only that the department had an error in its withholding tables, but also that the department had failed to alert Missourians about how the tax code was changed and what it could mean for them.

The vice-chairman of the oversight committee said the department’s explanations have changed, and he blames its former director, who resigned last month amid the crisis.

He said, “We still don’t really know the true cause of what is happening. We’re still digging and trying to figure that out, but I think this is one way that we can lessen this tax burden on these people.” He added, “Dollars count to these people, whether it’s diapers, groceries.”

The bill would block late payment penalties on tax debt owed to the state by individual taxpayers through the end of this year.  It would also waive any interest owed on such debt until May 15. For those who might pay penalties before the bill would become law, it would require that those Missourians receive refunds.

Supporters of the bill said it’s important to note that while some Missourians could see greater tax bills this year, changes in the federal tax code mean their overall debt is down.

“Missourians are keeping more money in their pockets, so we’ve got to fix this withholding thing but at the end of the day Missourians, as they should, are keeping more of their hard-earned money. That’s what I think people need to realize,” said one supporter of the legislation.

The legislation now requires a final vote in the House before moving to the Senate. The Speaker of the House has said the House Special Committee on Government Oversight will continue to investigate what caused the withholding problems and how the department responded.

House Approves Bill with Campus Carry Provision (HB 575)

 The House has voted to allow individuals with concealed carry permits to carry firearms on college campuses in Missouri.  That provision is part of a broader bill that would also allow colleges and universities to designate faculty or staff members as campus protection officers.

Supporters say the legislation would help students protect themselves from sexual assaults and other threats on campus. Opponents argued that allowing campus carry would not make college campuses safer.

The sponsor of the campus carry provision responded by saying, “I can’t believe that I’m being lectured on this floor for offering something to protect women, saying that my daughter – my three daughters – would be less safe if they were able to protect themselves in a situation where they’re being raped and possibly murdered. The audacity to tell me or to tell women in this state that they cannot protect themselves in one of those situations is beyond me.”

Supporters also said that allowing students to carry concealed guns would make campuses safer from active shooter situations.

The sponsor of the provision said, “When Kansas passed this a few years ago they saw a 60-percent decrease in violent assaults on campus. You know why? It’s because there was a deterrent.”

He added, “This is another gun-free zone where people think that they can go carry out their attack and not be stopped, because it is right now.  People can’t defend themselves in these situations, but if we give them that ability … even if the criminal thinks there’s a possibility of that, it is a deterrent immediately.”

The legislation also allows higher education institutions to designate and train staff members to be campus security officers who may carry concealed firearms. Other provisions would create a STEM studies enhancement scholarship program, and bar colleges and universities from requiring students other than first-time freshman to live in campus housing.

 Lawmakers Legislation to Legalize Needle Exchange Programs (HB 168)

The Missouri House of Representatives has passed a bill that would legalize programs already operating in the state that give drug abusers clean needles. Supporters say the programs fight the spread of intravenous diseases and expose drug users to treatment options.

Currently, those running needle exchanges in Missouri could be charged with violating the state’s drug paraphernalia law. They are protected only by handshake agreements with local law enforcement who recognize the benefit of the programs.

The legislation approved by the House would provide an exemption for needle exchange programs that are registered with the Department of Health and Senior Services. The exemptions would allow such programs to operate legally in Missouri.

The sponsor of the legislation touted the benefits of needle exchange programs by saying, “Syringe access programs have been found to cause a 13-percent reduction in use.  They play a very large role in referral for treatment, and they’ve also been found to decrease needle sharing by 20-percent.”

The sponsor also noted that the CDC has identified 13 counties in Missouri as ripe for an outbreak of Hepatitis C and HIV. She said needle exchange programs can help to prevent an outbreak, which would save lives and save the state money.

“In 2016 the cost to the state for Hep-C and HIV treatment was $70-million. In 2017 it was $63-million, and in 2018 it was $80-million,” she noted.

Supporters say in places with needle exchange programs, drug users are five times more likely to enter treatment.  That’s because when users go to get needles, they’re getting them from a health care professional who can tell them about treatment options.

“This could be the entryway into someone getting treatment.  This could be the first health care professional that one of these IV drug users ever meets,” said one lawmaker who supports the bill.

The bill’s sponsor said, “So often people who are using, once they get to using needles, they don’t have anyone in their life that knows how to get them help, that knows how to get them plugged in when they reach out for help. Having this person who meets them where they’re at, becomes their friend, and becomes that medical professional with the knowledge to get them plugged in, and that’s who they go to reach out to when they’re ready for help.”

The bill is now under consideration in the Missouri Senate.

 Other Bills Sent to the Senate

HB 584 would increase specified motor vehicle and trailer registration fees. Supporters say these fees have not been increased since 1999. They say that without an increase some of the state’s license bureaus may close.

HB 400 would expand the Missouri Returning Heroes Act to include combat veterans that served prior to September 11, 2001 and combat veterans who are eligible to register to vote in Missouri, registered to vote in Missouri, or are current Missouri residents. Additionally, this bill would place a cap of 30% on tuition and fees for qualified combat veterans pursuing graduate degrees, but not professional degrees, for a period of 20 years after an honorable discharge. Supporters say the bill would offer financial assistance to veterans pursuing graduate degrees at public universities in Missouri. Additionally, supporters say the bill would incentivize veterans to move to Missouri to attend public universities and would assist public universities if they are experiencing a shortage of students.

HB 485 requires the state board of education to modify accreditation standards for special school districts. Supporters say the special school district is not looking for a “free pass” and has been fully accredited, but the current Missouri state improvement plan does not mesh with the district and a more appropriate assessment should be used.

HB 559 specifies that no law, ordinance, or rule may be enacted by any village, town, city or county to terminate, ban, or effectively ban, by creating an undue financial hardship, the job of working animals or animal enterprise in commerce. Supporters say that working animals are inspected and regulated to ensure proper care for the health and welfare of both the animal and the people the animal serves. It is improper for a political subdivision to regulate an industry out of business, which is what is happening. This bill would allow reasonable regulations without terminating legitimate business.

HB 728 specifies that except if the party in interest is a minor, in any action involving the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution or Article I, Section 5 or 7 of the Missouri Constitution, such action must be prosecuted in the name of the real party in interest. Supporters say the bill would require plaintiffs to be named in cases where people want to sue to remove religious symbols because such plaintiffs currently hide behind unknown names. They say the bill would treat claimants the same no matter the viewpoint, which would hopefully reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits.

HB 269 authorizes the Secretary of State to use subpoena power for specified investigations. The bill also requires candidates to pay filing fees directly to the treasurer of the appropriate political party committee whenever a declaration of candidacy for a particular office is required to be filed with the Office of the Secretary of State. Supporters say the bill gives appropriate enforcement authority to the Secretary of State which only involves the production of documents and physical items.

HB 501 designates the Missouri “Show Me” tartan, as registered with the Scottish Tartans Authority in Pitlochry, Scotland, as the official tartan of the state of Missouri. Supporters say the official tartan is recognized by a majority of the states and Missouri’s was created by a Missouri resident based on Missouri symbols and the state flag.

HB 229 establishes a rebuttable presumption that child custody arrangements that award equal parenting time are in the best interest of the child. Supporters say that even with the passage of the shared parenting legislation, mothers are still presumed to be the better parent and fathers are not given equal parenting time. All cases should be looked at in the best interest of the child, not in the best interest of each parent.

HB 346 would allow the Department of Economic Development under the Missouri Works program to offer industrial development authorities, that have entered into a formal “memorandum of understanding” with an entity of the United States Department of Defense, tax credits for a “qualified military project” in an amount equal to the estimated withholding taxes associated with the civilian and military new jobs located at the facility and directly impacted by the project. Supporters say the bill would allow the United States Department of Defense to be on equal footing as private employers. Also, this would bring Missouri on par with other states that currently use economic development tools to attract the Department of Defense to operate within their boundaries. Supporters also pointed out that this bill has clawback provisions to ensure that agreements are carried out.

HB 700 says that grandparents may file a motion to modify a decree of dissolution when they have been unreasonably denied a right to visit their grandchildren for a period of 30 days. Supporters say there are numerous societal problems leading to grandparents raising grandchildren for large portions of their grandchildren’s lives and terminating that relationship, or making it difficult, does not benefit the young children. This bill still leaves actual visitation orders up to a judge, but shortens the time at which a family can ask for intervention.

HB 761 specifies that any fine received by a political subdivision for failing to timely file an annual financial statement shall not exceed 10 percent of the total sales and use tax distribution for the fiscal year of the statement filed. Supporters say the bill limits the amount of fines a political subdivision will pay for not timely filing their annual financial statement to not more than 10 percent of the total sales and use tax distribution for the fiscal year the statement was filed.

HB 563 makes all employees of the Missouri Housing Development Commission and of the Environmental Improvement Energy Resource Authority eligible for membership in the Missouri State Employees’ Retirement System. Supporters say the bill is a technical change that allows the commission’s and the authority’s employees to retire under MOSERS.

HB 1061 authorizes a tax exemption for certain transactions with a port authority. Supporters say all of Missouri’s 15 ports will financially benefit from the bill because the sales and leases of both real and personal property by or to any port authority involving the issuance of bonds will be exempt from taxation.

HB 265 requires all nonfood items sold in the state capitol to be made in the USA. Supporters say it makes sense for the people’s capitol building to sell products made by Missourians, when possible, but to at least be made in the United States.

HB 266 creates the designation of “Missouri Historical Theater” and specifies criteria to apply for and achieve such designation. Supporters say this will be a good vehicle to help promote and recognize Missouri’s historic theaters.

HB 272 changes the laws regarding the Small Business Regulatory Fairness Board. It provides that all state agencies shall involve affected small businesses in the development of rules. The bill further provides that the Small Business Regulatory Fairness Board shall be an autonomous entity of the Secretary of State’s office. Supporters say the Secretary of State is willing to take over this board and provide administrative support to restore it to its original function serving as a voice of and intermediary for small businesses in regulatory matters.

HB 374 requires after August 28, 2019, any political subdivision imposing a sales tax increase that requires voter approval to place certain information on every ballot associated with the proposed increase. Supporters say Missouri is currently the 14th highest state in the nation when compared to other states’ combined local and state sales and use tax. It was pointed out that Missouri has the 5th most taxing districts when compared to other states. Also, supporters claimed that a cap of 14 percent on the combined sales and use taxes in the state would be appropriate considering there is no taxing district in the state that is currently at 14 percent. Supporters also say this type of tax places the tax burden on individuals with lower incomes.

HB 723 modifies provisions relating to public employee retirement benefits. Supporters say the bill will allow divorced retired school teachers who elected a joint and survivor option at retirement to remove the ex-spouse from the retirement benefit so that the benefit will pop-up to a normal annuity as long as both parties agree.

HB 898 creates a “Back the Blue” license plate which will be available for a $10 contribution to the Missouri Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation and a $15 fee in addition to normal registration costs. Supporters say many people are looking for some way to support law enforcement, and this is a good way to do it.

HB 841 designates September 9th as “Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma Awareness Day” to bring awareness of this childhood cancer. Supporters say there is very little invested in research for this disease and this recognition might help remedy that situation.

HB 831 authorizes a special license plate with the official lineman emblem of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives. The license plate requires an annual $25 contribution for emblem use to the association which shall be used for lineman training programs and administrative costs. Supporters say the bill would help support training programs for linemen who work all hours of the day to provide reliable electric service.

HB 815 increases the maximum duration of a credit transaction that is subject to regulation under the statutes governing credit insurance. Currently, insurance written in connection with a loan or other credit transaction with a duration of more than 10 years is not subject to regulation. This bill increases the time period from 10 years to 15 years. Supporters say the bill changes the limit for credit life insurance, which will help for an RV purchase or other large transaction by allowing the credit life insurance to be extended to cover the period of the loan, which can often be more than 10 years.

HB 160 authorizes the Public Service Commission, during a general rate proceeding, to set a separate, lower fixed charge or customer charge for low-income customers of water corporations and sewer corporations. Supporters say that there are currently programs in place to help low-income customers with gas and electric utilities, but there is not a program to help water or sewer customers.

HB 159 exempts the current $250 outdoor advertising fee and biennial inspection fee for certain highway signs when a sign is displayed by a landowner who also owns the business advertised on the sign and where the business has a physical location within 750 feet of the sign. Supporters say the bill will allow reasonable use of one’s own property to advertise a small business located in the same area.

HB 844 extends the liability waiver of lodging establishments to articles lost from safe deposit boxes. The bill also specifies that any lodging establishment that publishes current rates electronically on a public Internet platform does not have to post a written copy of the rates charged for each guest room. Supporters say the bill addresses an antiquated law that needs to be updated to current practices, both in posting rates and in new security box systems that hotels are utilizing instead of the old large single safe.

HB 873 establishes the “Jake Beckley Memorial Highway” in Marion County and the “Waylon Jennings Memorial Highway” in St. Charles County.

HB 1127 requires products labeled “Missouri Bourbon” or “Missouri Bourbon Whiskey” to be made using corn grown in Missouri; mashed, fermented, distilled, aged, and bottled in Missouri; and aged in oak barrels manufactured in Missouri. Supporters say the bill will protect Missouri’s bourbon industry in a manner similar to other states such as Kentucky.

HB 942 allows multiple employer self-insured health plans having a certificate of authority approved by the Director of the Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration to offer such plans to the public. Supporters say the bill will allow insurance brokers to actively market and sell these association self-insured health plans. Currently, they are prohibited from marketing these plans. This will help small businesses to be able to get less expensive health insurance because they will be joining with other small employers making a larger group of insureds thereby sharing the risk with a larger pool.

HB 83 exempts short-term major medical policies from several health insurance mandates and allows such policies to have a term of less than one year. Supporters say the bill will exempt short-term policies from many health insurance mandates and increase the term limit from six months to a period of less than a year. This could help families get more affordable health insurance coverage.

HB 705 standardizes language regarding physician assistant supervision agreements to be consistent with advanced practice registered nurse collaborative practice arrangements. It also prohibits any licensure board, commission, or committee within the Division of Professional Registration from using any occupational fees for the purpose of offering continuing education classes. Additionally, it requires psychologists to take three hours of professional ethics continuing education classes every two years. The hours can count toward the existing total 40 hours of continuing education required for psychologists.

HB 65 adds powdered alcohol to the definition of intoxicating liquor used in state liquor control laws. Supporters say the bill will help prevent alcohol abuse and poisoning in children and young adults. This product can be consumed in various ways and is in need of regulation similar to liquid alcohol products. Many other states regulate powdered alcohol in a similar manner.

HB 674 authorizes several cities to levy a transient guest tax upon voter approval.

HB 106 provides that a real estate licensee shall not be liable for the accuracy of any information about the size of a property or improvements on the property, as long as the licensee discloses the source of the information before an offer to purchase is transmitted to the seller, unless the licensee knew the information was false or the licensee acted with reckless disregard as to whether such information was true or false. Supporters say this is an attempt to solve an issue that has existed in the real estate licensing industry. If a licensee uses information from a third party and names the third party, the licensee is immune from liability as long as he or she acted in good faith.

HBs 746 & 722 specifies that other persons specially appointed to serve orders of court shall also receive $10 for orders they serve. The additional $10 shall be deposited in the Deputy Sheriff Salary Supplementation Fund. Supporters say sheriffs in the areas that receive money from these funds can barely afford to keep good employees because they cannot afford to pay them a competitive salary, so this fund helps a lot. Many sheriffs were able to get off government assistance because of this fund. In the same areas, most people know the sheriffs, so it can be difficult to serve individuals, which is why private process servers are used. Supporters say it would be very helpful to be able to charge the additional $10 for those, too.

HB 606 authorizes school boards to contract with municipalities to transport high school children for a primary bus route. Additionally, the bill prohibits districts from the use of self-driving or autonomous school buses for transportation of students. Supporters say the  bill allows a district a measure of local control over the district’s transportation costs. This bill also encourages collaboration between a municipality and a district to save tax dollars in a safe efficient manner. This bill will also help both the city and the school district to develop routes that will benefit students and allow for buses to serve a new population.

HB 407 designates Cryptobranchus alleganiensis, also known as the hellbender salamander, snot otter, or lasagna lizard, as the official endangered species of Missouri. Supporters say this is an important endangered indicator species, and not particularly attractive. They would like to promote recognition of this species so that citizens and visitors to Missouri know not to harm or interfere with them if they are encountered in our waterways.

HB 745 requires courts to notify school administrators of any change in a child’s custody, where a child is a person under 18 years of age, within one business day of the change, and for the school to acknowledge the change notification within one business day. Supporters say the bill will help prevent child endangerment and ensure that custody orders are enforced promptly to prevent harm.

HB 372 modifies provisions relating to employment security. A claimant may not be determined ineligible for unemployment benefits because of not actively and earnestly seeking work if the claimant is temporarily unemployed through no fault of his or her own and has a definite recall date. This bill changes the definite recall date from eight to four weeks, which the Director of the Division of Employment Security may extend to eight weeks. Supporters say the bill promotes people getting back to work as soon as possible.

HB 568 authorizes a political subdivision to hold a vote on whether to cover emergency fire and police tele-communicators, jailors, and emergency medical service personnel as public safety personnel members in the Missouri local government employee’s retirement system (LAGERS). Supporters say the bill will authorize political subdivisions to cover emergency fire and police tele-communicators, jailors, and emergency medical service personnel as public safety personnel under LAGERS.

HB 112 requires school districts to establish a state-approved gifted program if 3 percent or more of the students are determined to be gifted.  Supporters say gifted children deserve specific appropriate programs and that those programs need to be supported. Prior legislation made modifications to gifted funding and since that time districts have cut gifted programs across the state. Supporters say it is a moral imperative to ensure that all students receive an appropriate education and this bill would further that goal.

HB 287 defines “electric vehicle charging station” and exempts from the definition of “electrical corporation” municipally owned electric utilities, rural electric cooperatives, and any person or corporation that is not engaged in the sale of electricity at wholesale or retail, that owns, operates, or manages equipment that supplies electricity exclusively for the service of charging an electric vehicle as that term relates to the Public Service Commission. The bill also specifies that when municipally owned electric utilities or rural electric cooperatives are providing electric service to structures outside their service boundaries, an electric vehicle charging station reasonably close to the structure is considered a contiguous or adjacent addition. Supporters say the bill reduces uncertainty for those who own and operate electric vehicle charging stations by specifically exempting them from regulation by the Public Service Commission.

HCR 6 designates November 7th as Victims of Communism Memorial Day.

 

Capitol Report for April 4, 2019

House Approves Bill to Protect Children from Sexual Misconduct in Schools (HB 739)

The House has approved legislation that would allow school districts to open up lines of communication with one another as a way to stop employees with a history of abusing students from moving from one district to another.

The bill would allow for school districts to contact an employee’s former employers from a list supplied by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  A school would be required to disclose the actual violation of the school’s regulations as it pertains to sexual misconduct with a student.

The legislation has the support of various child advocacy groups, who told lawmakers that right now, schools cannot share such information about former employees.  This often allows individuals with a history of abuse to find jobs in other districts and to abuse more children.

One lawmaker who supports the bill said, “This will free up HR directors and assistant superintendents to speak the truth.  It will allow people not to be hired in other districts when they were fired from a different district. I think what we’re doing is not only saving children but affording school districts an opportunity not to be sued at the rate they are being sued at this point.”

One provision added on the House Floor would require criminal background checks of anyone who volunteers with a school district, if that person will have regular or one-on-one contact with students or access to student records.

Another piece added by the full House extends the definition of those who can be found guilty of abuse to include any person who developed a relationship with a child through school, even if the abuse did not occur on school grounds or during school hours.

 

The sponsor of the provision said it would close a “loophole” child advocates had identified.

The sponsor said, “If the offense would happen on school grounds that’s easy enough to take care of, but when the offense happens off those school grounds, there’s been four cases in the last two years that [investigators have] had a lack of a preponderance of evidence.”

The bill adds two-and-a-half hours to the training required of new school board members, which would be focused on identifying signs of sexual abuse and potentially abusive relationships between adults and children.  It would also require an hour of refresher training, annually.

Finally, the bill requires schools to offer students trauma-informed, developmentally appropriate sexual abuse training for grades six and above.  Parents who don’t want their children to receive that training could choose to opt-out of it.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration. 

House Approves Bill to Give Elderly Inmates a Chance at Parole (HB 352)

The House has voted to ensure that Missouri inmates who are at least 65 years old get a chance at parole. The legislation would apply to a small number of inmates who have served at least 30 years of a sentence, who have no prior violent felony convictions, are not convicted sex offenders, and are serving a sentence of life without parole with a 50-year minimum.

The sponsor of the bill noted that the 50-year minimum was replaced with a 30-year minimum in the 1980s.

He said, “We are trying to give these folks, who have become elderly in prison and are a burden on the Missouri department of justice health system the same opportunity for parole that they would’ve had if they had committed their crimes a few years after they were convicted.”

Another supporter said the legislation reflects how the state’s law has changed to eliminate overly harsh prison terms. She said, “This is an opportunity to correct some of the miscarriage of justice that we’ve had in the past.”

Those who opposed the bill said the victims of the crimes committed by the inmates the bill would affect deserve justice by having the original sentences carried out.

One opponent said, “When someone is sentenced under a statute that says, ‘Life without parole means a 50-year minimum,’ that’s the promise that we made to the family at the time. The promise doesn’t change just because our philosophy changes.”

In response the sponsor said, “The [legislature] has already made the change in the sentencing law. Therefore this is not breaking a contract with the jury, but rather allowing equivalent sentencing across the board.”

Under the bill, an inmate receiving a parole hearing must be found by the parole board to have met certain criteria to be eligible for parole. He or she must have a record of good conduct while in prison; must have demonstrated rehabilitation; must have an institutional risk factor score of no more than one and a mental health score of no more than three; and must have a workable parole plan that includes the support of family and community. An offender who is not granted parole would be reconsidered every two years.

The bill now moves to the Senate.

House Approves Million Dollar Boondoggle Act to Protect Taxpayer Dollars (HB 1088)

The Missouri House of Representative has approved legislation to protect taxpayer dollars from expensive projects that run over budget or behind schedule. Known as the Million Dollar Boondoggle Act, the bill is meant to increase transparency for taxpayers so they are aware of what the state is doing with their tax dollars.

House Bill 1088 requires the Office of Administration to submit a report on specified projects that are one year behind schedule or $1 million or more over original cost estimates to the General Assembly. The report will also be posted to the Office of Administration website.

The bill would require the Office of Administration to report on capital improvement, building, renovation, or construction projects or any information technology project of any type that is funded by an executive agency using only funds appropriated by the general assembly.

The sponsor of the bill said, “It’s a bipartisan bill that simply creates an automatic alert system to the General Assembly to address these problems before they become a bottomless money pit of taxpayer dollars. With this we can identify projects that are significantly over budget or behind schedule to hopefully stop future boondoggles.”

The legislation now moves to the Senate for consideration.

 Legislation Sent to the Senate this Week

HB 456 creates a STEM diploma endorsement for high school students who demonstrate mastery in the STEM disciplines. Supporters say the bill will help encourage students to consider STEM fields of study, and that bringing focus to STEM is important as it brings job skills to areas of need. They also support students that may not be college bound to have the opportunity to get endorsements like the bill would provide.

HRB 1 repeals various obsolete statutes that have been endorsed by the Joint Committee on Legislative Research. The bill is prepared by the Joint Committee on Legislative Research after hearings and consultations from any government agency or entity subject to the bill’s scope. The bill is limited to the repeal of obsolete, expired, sunset, and terminated sections of law.

HB 278 allows the Division of Employment Security to serve, by certified mail, written notice to an employer that has failed to file certain reports required by law. Supporters say that allowing the use of certified mail without requiring a return receipt will provide a significant cost savings with no loss of effectiveness.

HB 604 establishes the “School Turnaround Act.” Supporters say schools and children are our most precious resource and if the current structure is failing, we need more options beyond school takeovers and lack of local control. This bill will provide high accountability with high local buy in.

HB 703 allows taxpayers to donate a portion of their income tax refund to the Kansas City Regional Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation. Supporters say the bill provides taxpayers an option to voluntarily support the effort taking place in Kansas City for a Law Enforcement memorial garden. It would allow individuals to deduct from their refund or add to their amount owed.

HB 124 allows the circuit court in St. Louis City to collect a fee not to exceed twenty dollars, rather than fifteen, to go toward the law library. Supporters say the bill will help maintain the law library and increase the retention rate of good employees by increasing their pay.

HB 462 creates certified teacher externships. Supporters say the purpose of the bill is to enhance discussion with students regarding employment opportunities after graduation. It addresses a skills gap issue by bringing practical experience into the classroom. In addition, externships are an important piece of workforce development.

HB 973 requires the nonpartisan state demographer to establish a “Redistricting Public Comment Portal,” to accept comments, maps, or other communications from the general public or interested parties. Supporters say the bill is a good government proposal that requires the nonpartisan demographer to disclose communications about redistricting to the general public in a readily available format.

HB 959 repeals an existing provision of the Motor Vehicle Franchise Practices Act regarding coercion of franchisees to alter their facilities, and enacts new prohibitions against coercion. Supporters say the bill is a product of reasonable compromise between franchisors and franchisees. It will allow franchisees to spend more profits on technology, salaries, and product lines instead of infrastructure repair and construction projects.

HB 355 modifies provisions for appealing orders and decisions of the public service commission. Supporters say the bill would make the process of appealing a decision issued by the Public Service Commission more efficient.

HCR 16 urges Congress to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Ghost Army of World War II. Supporters say the resolution would help honor and recognize members of the “Ghost Army” who actively assisted in deception operations during World War II, and these operations saved the lives of countless individuals and helped expedite the end of the war through the unit’s efforts.

HB 762 establishes the Missouri Municipality Government Expenditure Database. The database must include extensive information about a given municipality’s expenditures and the vendors to whom payments were made. Supporters say the bill will provide public access to local government expenditure data. The Office of Administration will provide a template so political subdivisions can easily send information.

HB 1029 modifies the state treasurer’s authority to invest in linked deposits. Supporters say the bill is a correction and extension to a program that is currently working well. The program is working better than they thought it would, so the bill will expand the program to allow the investment into more small businesses.

HB 628 prohibits a dentist from writing a prescription for long-acting or extended-release opioids for the treatment of acute dental pain, unless, in the professional judgment of the dentist, the use of said opioid is necessary to treat the patient’s acute pain. Supporters say the legislation is important in attempting to prevent opioid abuse and protect patients, as research shows that in preventing opioid dependency, it is important to limit the duration and dosage of an opioid prescription. However, the legislation still allows the dentist to exceed the parameters if they feel it is in the best interest of the patient.

HB 982 authorizes the Missouri State Capitol Commission to employ Missouri Capitol Police Officers for public safety at the seat of state government. Supporters say this reorganization is needed to provide optimal safety for the capitol and create better “community policing” for the building and surrounding area.

HB 824 modifies the requirements relating to the production of industrial hemp. Supporters say the federal government has completely legalized the growth and sale of industrial hemp. The acreage limitations were part of the pilot program and are no longer needed. Expanding the program and allowing more farmers to take advantage of the new crop would allow for more economic opportunity throughout the state.

HBs 812 & 832 designates the “Trooper John N Greim Memorial Highway” on a portion of U.S. Highway 50 in Johnson County and the “Trooper Fred L Walker Memorial Highway” on a portion of State Highway A in Clinton County. Supporters say the memorial highways honor troopers killed in the line of duty in the 1940’s. Both individuals were noted for their civic virtue and the excellent example they set for their communities. Mr. Greim was a pilot and died in a plane accident while pursuing a car across state lines into Arkansas. Mr. Walker was a noted high school athlete and a teacher.

HB 626 requires any person, company, or corporation engaged in the business of renting or leasing motor vehicles, trailers, boats, or outboard motors, which are to be used exclusively for rental or lease purposes, and not for resale, to apply to the Director of the Department of Revenue for authority to operate as a leasing or rental company and pay an annual fee of $250 for such authority. Supporters say the bill will create efficiencies for licensing in massive rental car operations and will likely result in a positive overall fiscal note because most vehicles will be passenger cars, which produce a small fiscal gain, rather than trucks, which produce a small fiscal loss.

HB 715 removes the sunset provision for the Wartime Veteran’s Survivor Grant Program. Supporters say the bill would remove sunset provisions to the Veteran’s Survivors Grant Program, but would still leave the program subject to appropriations. Supporters also say that this program does not cost that much money and the program should be extended.

 

Capitol Report | March 28, 2019

House Sends Fiscally Responsible FY 2020 State Operating Budget to the Senate (HBs 1-13)

This week the members of the House of Representatives put their stamp of approval on a balanced, fiscally responsible state operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year that starts in July. The 13 appropriations bills that make up the state spending plan contain approximately $29.25 billion in funding allocated among the state’s departments and programs.

One of the key points of emphasis in the budget is funding for the state’s K-12 public schools. As it heads to the Senate, the budget fully funds the school foundation formula with $3.94 billion in funding. The total represents an increase of more than $61 million in funding for the formula. The education budget also includes a $5 million increase for a total of $108 million in funding for transportation expenses for local school districts. Additionally, the budget includes a $3 million increase for the Parents as Teachers program. In total, funding for pre-K-12 education is increased by $116 million in the spending plan approved by the House.

Another priority expressed in the budget is a commitment to workforce development. The spending plan funds the reorganization of the Department of Economic Development so that the department can streamline and improve efficiency. It also provides approximately $18.5 million in funding for a new Fast Track Scholarship Program that will target adults over 25 who are working toward certification or a degree in a high demand field. The budget plan includes $30 million for the Missouri One Start program that will help businesses train their workers and upgrade their skills. Additionally, the budget proposed by the House provides $19 million in funding for the Missouri Excels Workforce Initiative that provides funding to institutions of higher education to develop and expand employer-driven education and training programs. Furthermore, the budget provides $8.5 million to support Missouri’s adult high schools that were created by legislation passed in 2018.

Other budget highlights include:

  • $1 million of spending approved to make improvements to the Missouri School for the Blind
  • Funding of Missouri scholarships
    • $500,000 increase for A+ Scholarships
    • Nearly $1 million increase for Access Missouri Scholarships
  • $11 million to perform maintenance and repairs at Missouri colleges and universities
  • $100 million for statewide bridge repairs (according to the Missouri Department of Transportation’s Statewide Transportation Improvement Program)
  • $8 million for major water reservoir projects
  • $440,000 to initiate new plant industries program (industrial hemp)
  • $300,000 for the new Missouri Military Community Reinvestment Program
  • $13.5 million of Volkswagen settlement funds appropriated to clean air projects and grants
  • $2.5 million to expand access to broadband Internet service in unserved and underserved areas of rural Missouri
  • $6.4 million for port projects along Missouri rivers
  • $5 million for alternatives to jail program (pre-trial electronic monitoring to save counties and the state millions in prisoner per diem costs)
  • $9 million in rebased rates for developmental disability providers (improving access to services)
  • $1 million to start an Extension for Community Health Care Outcomes (ECHO) for autism
  • $153,000 to fund the Time Critical Diagnosis Unit inside the Department of Health & Senior Services
  • $500,000 increase of the State Public Defender’s Office to address a backlog of cases in some counties
  • $1.1 million to fund juvenile justice offices (in Kansas City & St. Louis) operated by the State Public Defender’s Office
  • Consolidation of two prisons in Northwest Missouri
  • Savings of prison closure to fund critically needed pay plan adjustments for Department of Corrections personnel

Legislation to Honor Former Rep. Cloria Brown Signed into Law (HBs 448 & 206)

Missouri House members have taken time this session to honor one of their own.

The House and Senate have agreed on legislation to rename a portion of U.S. 61/67/50/Lindbergh Boulevard in St. Louis County the “Rep. Cloria Brown Memorial Highway.” Brown was a state representative representing part of south St. Louis County for more than five years. She died in March of last year after a battle with cancer.

The legislation was signed into law by Governor Mike Parson, who was accompanied by Brown’s family and approximately 100 legislators.

Parson said it was significant that so many lawmakers stepped away to witness the signing while the busy legislative session is still underway. “What she accomplished, the goals she had in mind, with the representation she made of her family that are here today, and a representation of you – of all of us that work in this building when you have people like that come along sometimes and show us all that there’s a higher road to take,” he said.

Brown has been remembered by colleagues and even political rivals as hard working, tough, and compassionate. She worked on the House’s budget committee; proposed a ban on texting while driving; and backed measures aimed at fighting human and sex trafficking.

In 2017, Brown sponsored a bill to require the development and display in certain workplaces of posters with the Human Trafficking Hotline. The posters are meant to provide information on how victims can be helped and how to fight trafficking. A similar bill became law last year, with Brown considered one of the driving forces behind its passage. Brown also co-sponsored legislation that expanded Missouri’s law against sex trafficking to include advertising a child participating in a commercial sexual act.

The sponsor of the bill to name the “Rep. Cloria Brown Memorial Highway” said, “As a State Representative, Cloria Brown served with strength and grace as a legislator for her district and state. She leaves a legacy, for others to follow, in her work against human trafficking.”

Brown was buried in St. John’s Cemetery, which overlooks Lindbergh Boulevard, a portion of which will now be named for her.

The sign designating that section of road in her name will be paid for by private donations.

 House Approves Fresh Start Act (HB 564 and HB 472)

Legislation approved in recent weeks by the House would make it easier for people with criminal records to reintegrate into society by getting a job. The bill is also designed to save Missourians from spending time, effort, and expense to get a job only to find out their offenses will disqualify them.

Known as the “Fresh Start Act of 2019,” the bill would keep people from being barred from a job for committing crimes that have no relation to the work of that job.

The sponsor of the legislation said, “If you want to cut hair and be a cosmetologist, the cosmetology board can’t say you will not be allowed to get a license because you were convicted of mortgage fraud ten years ago. It just doesn’t make sense and it prevents people that want to get to work from getting to work.”

The bill would also require applicants to be told in a timely manner whether their record will preclude them from getting a given job.

“We’ve actually had specific examples in this state where people have gone through the training, spent the time, energy, and money to get the training and go through the courses to get a license, and at the very last step they apply to the board and they are denied the license,” said the bill’s sponsor.  “In some cases people have spent six months to a year and tens of thousands of dollars to get that training only to find out later that they don’t qualify. Well, I think that’s wrong. I think we need to fix that.”

The sponsor noted that Missourians now must be licensed in order to work in one out of five jobs.  He said while licensure is supposed to be about protecting the health, safety, and wellbeing of the public, industry groups have turned it into something of a “protectionist strategy.” “These occupational licenses have gone far beyond the original scope and intent of what they were created for,” he said.

Two bills passed by the House contain the “Fresh Start Act of 2019” provision. Both bills are currently under consideration by the Senate.

 Other Bills Sent to the Senate

 HB 341 allows certain marijuana-related offenses and violations to be expunged if the offenses or violations occurred in Missouri prior to the issuance of a patient identification card. Supporters say the bill allows qualified patients who have received a marijuana card and have previous marijuana offenses to have the records for those offenses expunged.

HB 451 modifies the inspection requirement for non-commercial motor vehicles which is currently required in order to renew a motor vehicle license. New motor vehicles after being sold will not have to have an inspection until after 10 years or the vehicle odometer reads 150,000 miles.

HB 677 modifies provisions relating to certain tourism infrastructure facilities. Supporters say the bill is necessary to keep Missouri’s tourism infrastructure facilities world-class venues to attract events such as collegiate sports tournaments, concerts, and other unique events. Supporters say the facilities could use the improvements for public safety reasons. They also claim the bill would have a positive fiscal effect for the state, because these facilities bring in tourists that spend money that turns into tax revenue.

HB 107 revises the term “service dog” to include a “psychiatric service dog” or “mental health service dog” that is trained to do work or perform tasks for an owner with a psychiatric disability, medical condition, or developmental disability recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Supporters say the bill provides clarification about the laws relating to service and assistance animals and protects those with invisible disabilities who use a service animal.

HB 257 allows the Board of Pharmacy to enter into a voluntary compliance agreement with a licensee, permit holder, or registrant to ensure compliance with statute and the rules of the board, in lieu of discipline. Supporters say the bill will give the board an alternative option for enforcing compliance before a patient has been harmed or has been put at risk for harm.

HB 80 reduces the maximum term for probation for a misdemeanor or municipal ordinance violation to 18 months. The bill prohibits a person sentenced to serve probation with a private entity providing probation services from being required to submit to drug or alcohol testing unless the person is on probation as a result of a drug or alcohol related offense or unless ordered by a judge for good cause shown. Supporters say the bill expands on legislation passed last year and this provides much needed reform to the private probation sector. This limits arbitrary drug and alcohol testing.

HB 169 establishes the “Internet and Social Media Awareness Program” to increase awareness of appropriate online behavior and skills among students in public schools. Supporters say the bill is important for all students and would empower teachers to do the right thing regarding the instruction of online classes. Supporters also indicate this is an example of real world learning and that allowing school boards to develop policies is an important aspect.

HB 763 defines “private schools” as any non-public school or school operated by a religious organization and specifies that private schools shall not be required to increase their minimum wage to $8.60 or the applicable federal rate on January 1, 2019 or increase it annually as required by current law. Supporters say private schools often have a smaller budget and less room to absorb annual increases to payroll. Supporters point out that often the costs are passed on to the consumer, so private school tuition costs might be increased to cover the minimum wage worker’s pay raise.

HB 472 adds several new provisions, relating to medical marijuana card disclosure; applicants for license with a criminal record; apprenticeship programs; the use of occupational fees; cosmetologists; plumbers; and licensure of spouses of active military members. Supporters say the bill will make it easier for people who want to work to be allowed to work. Supporters say the current dietitian law creates a monopoly and prevents nutritionists and practitioners from practicing their profession without a license, even though there has never been a case of harm from an unlicensed person providing nutritional information. The bill would allow apprentices to train and learn a trade locally.

HB 356 extends the expiration date, from January 1, 2020 to January 1, 2026, for the state law that allows a brewer to lease portable refrigeration units to a retail licensee. The bill allows employees of licensed wholesalers to unload liquor for retail delivery if under the supervision of a vehicle driver who is at least 21 years of age. Supporters say the bill is an agreement by many parties to reasonably satisfy customer demand for craft brewing. Retailers retain control over the content of their refrigeration units and are not bound by advertising on such units.

HB 655 defines the term “landowner’s agent” for the purposes of who may take, attempt to take, or kill a feral hog with the use of an artificial light. Supporters say the definition needs to be clarified. Many farmers and landowners work all day and cannot be up all night searching for feral hogs. Many times landowners bring others in to combat the damage the hogs cause and they need all the tools possible to eradicate the hogs.

HB 450 allows a donor to make an anatomical gift by placing a donor symbol sticker authorized and issued by the Department of Health and Senior Services on the back of the donor’s driver’s license or identification card. Supporters say the bill will bring awareness to organ donation and the lives that can be saved. Only about half of the people who could sign up to donate do so.

HB 694 allows qualified entities, under certain circumstances, to receive individuals’ criminal history information from the central repository as part of the “Missouri Rap Back Program” as well as the National Rap Back Program. The Missouri program includes automatic notifications made by the State Highway Patrol about whether an individual, specifically an applicant who is employed, licensed, or otherwise under the purview of the entity, has been arrested for a reported criminal offense in the state. Supporters say the bill cleans language up from legislation that was passed last year. It separates out public and private entities and this was language approved by the FBI.

HB 438 lowers the minimum age requirement to 21 years for holding various county offices and special district board memberships. Supporters say the bill tries to streamline the minimum candidate age for many elected offices and reduces the filing fee to make it easier for people to run for smaller boards and offices.

HB 267 allows a school district to offer an elective social studies unit on the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament of the Bible, or the New Testament of the Bible. Supporters say adding Bible literacy courses will bolster education and make society a better place. Current trends in college indicate that students need Biblical literature as understood by American founders as alliterations that are referenced during that time were greatly influenced by the Bible, along with the impact on arts and philosophy in western civilization.

HB 240 creates the Joint Committee on Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment. Supporters say that the committee will provide a more comprehensive way for the legislature to better understand and investigate ways to positively impact this major issue.

Capitol Report | March 21, 2019

House Approves Tougher License Revocation Laws for Those Who Hit Workers, Emergency Responders (HB 499)

 Before House members headed home for a week of work in their legislative districts, they approved legislation to allow the Department of Revenue  to revoke the license of a driver who hits a road or utility worker in a highway work zone, or an emergency responder at the scene of an emergency.

The legislation was written in response to the death of a highway worker nearly three years ago. The man who struck and killed Lyndon Ebker in a work zone near New Haven was later revealed to suffer from macular degeneration that impaired his eyesight, but he was still driving more than two years later. Ebker’s family and the Department of Transportation pushed for the legislation. Lawmakers heard that the workers who’d been on Ebker’s crew felt unsafe because they knew the man who’d killed him was still on the road.

One of the supporters of the bill said it’s important to, “let Missourians know that when you get to a work zone you need to slow down. You need to pay attention and be extra cautious.”

Under the bill an officer investigating a work zone or emergency zone accident in which a worker or emergency responder was hit can file a report to the Department.  The director will revoke a driver’s license if he finds, based on that report, that the driver was at fault. The driver then will have 15 days to prove competency by retaking and passing the driver’s test or by appealing to courts local to where the accident happened.  If the court finds the driver was involved in hitting a worker; the work or emergency zone was properly marked; and the investigating officer found probable cause that the driver was at fault, the license revocation would stand.

The legislation was sent from the full chamber back to a House Rules committee for more work after some legislators raised concerns that earlier versions of it would deny a person of due process.  The bill sponsor said the changes made in committee address the concerns raised by his colleagues.

The sponsor said, “We added some language in there that states whether the investigator had probable cause to believe the person’s negligent acts or omissions contributed to his or her vehicle striking that individual.”

The bill is now under consideration in the Senate.

House Passes Bill to Require Veterans Courts in All Jurisdictions in Missouri (HB 547)

 Another bill approved by lawmakers before the break would require every circuit court in the State of Missouri to have at least one veterans treatment court in its jurisdiction.

Treatment courts utilize an intensive program of court supervision, drug or alcohol testing, and rehabilitation to help defendants overcome substance abuse, mental, emotional, or behavioral issues and keep them from re-offending. Veterans treatment courts specifically focus on those who have served or currently serve in the military. Many of their needs, including drug testing, utilize the Veterans Administration’s services.

House Bill 547 would require every circuit court in the state to establish a treatment court division.  For courts in which resources are not available for a veterans court, it would allow defendants who are veterans to have their cases transferred to any court in the circuit.

The sponsor of the bill, who served in the Army as a Green Beret, said “When a soldier, a sailor, a marine, or an airman goes into battle that experience changes who they are, and many of them come out of that experience and that situation different people.  They make decisions they very well would not have made prior to going on the battlefield.  Many turn to alcohol or drugs and because of those choices they can find themselves on the wrong side of the law.”

He added, “The veterans treatment courts throughout the state will give these men and women an opportunity to clear their names, to get a clean record, and give them a second chance at life, but more importantly it will show them that we have not given up on them.”

The bill specifies that veterans who have been in combat would be given preference by courts in determining whether to have their cases handled by a veterans court.  That provision was by a lawmaker who is a retired Naval Officer and decorated combat veteran.

In adding the provision, he said, “Let’s face it.  Men were never meant to kill men. Every individual that goes into combat is changed psychologically.  They are never the same again, and the part that’s hard about this is the assimilation when we come back home.  For those that haven’t been in combat they don’t understand, coming into a room like this is not the same.  We’re forever changed. Some can cope and some cannot.”

The legislation would give courts until August 28, 2021 to establish a treatment court division.  The bill is now in the Senate.

Streaming of House Committees

 Missourians interested in following the activities in the House of Representatives will now have expanded options for observing the legislative process. In conjunction with Sunshine Week, House Speaker Elijah Haahr announced that the vast majority of committee hearings will now be live video streamed at (www.house.mo.gov)

The feeds will be available on our House website through Hearing Room Feeds link under the Media Center tab, or by accessing your hearing notice under the Hearings tab. Each hearing notice will have a “live feed” link that leads to your stream.

The Missouri House of Representatives has audio streamed House proceedings for more than a decade, and added video streaming in 2017. At that time the House also began streaming and archiving all House Budget Committee hearings, and select hearings in other House Committees.

Prior to the start of the 2019 legislative session, Haahr directed House Staff to implement a system to allow for video streaming for a majority of the House Committee Hearings, and it has been completed. All hearings in Hearing Rooms 1, 3, 5, and 7 can be streamed for public viewing.

“Many Missourians are interested in the legislative process but don’t have time to make the trip to Jefferson City to participate, By expanding our streaming services we can bring the process to them and make sure they are informed about the decisions being made here in the Legislature that will impact their lives” Speaker of the House Elijah Haahr.

 

Capitol Report | March 14th, 2019

House Reaches Session Mid-Point with Numerous Legislative Successes

House Speaker Elijah Haahr began the 2019 legislative session by asking his colleagues to be bold as they tackle a number of the critical issues facing the state. The Speaker called on his colleagues to work together to implement policies to strengthen Missouri’s workforce, provide full funding for K-12 schools, confront the opioid epidemic raging across the state, reform the state’s criminal justice system, and protect the lives of the most vulnerable Missourians.

As the legislative session reached its mid-point, House members were able to celebrate a long list of accomplishments that include most of the Speaker’s legislative priorities. In total, the House has sent nearly 70 bills to the Senate and the two chambers have worked together to see one bill already passed and signed into law by the governor.

House members will now spend time in their districts during their annual spring break and will return to the State Capitol on March 25. When they return they will focus their efforts on approving the state operating budget. Lawmakers have a deadline of May 10 to complete the state budget. The bills sent to the Senate by the House have until May 17, when the legislative session officially concludes, to receive approval from both chambers.

Highlights of the First Half of the 2019 Session:

Developing Missouri’s Workforce

 Fast-TrackHB 225 is meant to put thousands of Missourians on a fast track to develop the skills they need to obtain good-paying jobs. The bill would create a new state financial aid program known as Fast-Track that would address workforce needs by encouraging adults to pursue an industry-recognized credential in an area designated as high need. The goal of Fast-Track is to provide community colleges, tech schools, and universities with the means to equip students for the high-paying, high-demand jobs of the future. It is designed to open up higher education opportunities for hard-working, middle-class families looking for a boost to pursue their dreams. It is also meant to help Missouri businesses find workers with the training needed to fill their workforce demands.

 Missouri One StartHB 469 would allow the Missouri Department of Economic Development to improve and consolidate its workforce development programs. The bill allows the department to consolidate three workforce training programs into the Missouri One Start program. The consolidation of the programs will allow for more flexibility and efficiency, and will allow more businesses to take advantage of the program.

 Missouri Works – HB 255 would give the Missouri Department of Economic Development an additional tool to bring new jobs to Missouri. The bill would modify an existing state program to establish a closing fund the department can use to make agreements with companies to create new jobs in the state. The bill would enhance the existing Missouri Works Program, which helps businesses access capital through withholdings or tax credits to embark on facility expansions and create jobs.

Protecting the Most Vulnerable

Standing for the Unborn – HB 126 was approved by the House as the strongest piece of pro-life legislation in the nation. The bill would prohibit physicians from performing an abortion after a fetal heartbeat or brain function is detected, which is typically around 6-8 weeks gestational age. Because similar provisions have been struck down in other states, the bill contains additional clauses to protect the lives of the unborn. Should the fetal heartbeat requirement not stand, Missouri law would prohibit all abortions past 14 weeks gestational age. If that provision doesn’t stand, the bill would implement a “Pain-Capable” standard that would prohibit abortions past 18 weeks gestational age. The legislation also states it is the intent of the state of Missouri to prohibit all abortions in the state under any circumstances.

Fighting Sex Trafficking – HB 397 is meant to protect underage victims of sex trafficking from prosecution. Lawmakers endorsed the change to ensure young people who are forced into prostitution aren’t further traumatized by facing criminal charges. Current law in Missouri makes it an affirmative defense for a minor charged with prostitution to have been acting under coercion at the time of the crime. House Bill 397 would remove the coercion requirement and make it an affirmative defense that the defendant was under the age of 18.

Hailey’s LawHB 185 is meant to better protect children by improving the state’s Amber Alert system. The bill is known as “Hailey’s Law” in honor of Hailey Owens, who was abducted and murdered at the age of 10 while walking home from a friend’s house. The legislation would require the Amber Alert System to be tied into the Missouri Uniform Law Enforcement System (MULES), which is the computer system that allows all law enforcement in Missouri to communicate.  That means once an officer enters information about a missing child into MULES, it would at the same time be available to the Amber Alert system.

Simon’s LawHB 138 would prevent do-not-resuscitate orders from being issued for Missouri children without a parent being aware. Commonly referred to as “Simon’s Law”, the legislation would prohibit a health care facility, nursing home, physician, nurse, or medical staff from putting such an order in a child’s file without a parent’s permission. That permission may be written, or given orally in the presence of at least two witnesses.

Reforming Missouri’s Criminal Justice System

Sentencing Reform – HB 113 would give judges greater discretion when sentencing non-violent offenders. The bill is meant to both help non-violent offenders get a second chance, and to slow the growth of Missouri’s prison population. The bill would allow judges to issue sentences below Missouri’s current minimum sentencing requirements except in crimes that involved the use, attempted use, or threat of physical force, or certain non-consensual sex crimes against a minor.

Preventing Debtors’ PrisonHB 192 would keep judges from putting people back in jail for failing to pay for the cost of previous stays in jail. The bill would keep a person’s failure to pay a jail for housing that person from resulting in more jail time that would result in additional housing costs.  Instead, a local sheriff could attempt to collect such costs owed through civil proceedings, or a judge could waive those costs.

Fighting the Opioid Epidemic

Narcotics Control ActHB 188 would create a statewide monitoring program for drug prescriptions. Supporters say the bill would combat the abuse of prescription drugs and help prevent conflicts between medications. Known as the Narcotics Control Act, the bill would require the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to establish and maintain a program to monitor the prescribing and dispensing of all Schedule II through Schedule IV controlled substances.

Stopping Fentanyl Abuse – HB 239 would make it a felony to possess or distribute the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl and certain date-rape drugs. The measure would make it a first- or second-degree felony to possess or traffic fentanyl — which can be up to 50 times more powerful than heroin — and derivatives such as the even more powerful carfentanil. Penalties range from three years to life in prison, depending on the amount of the drug. The legislation would not apply to people with prescriptions for fentanyl. The legislation also would make it a felony to possess or traffic the date-rape drugs GHB and the drug commonly known as Rohypnol.

 House Budget Committee Finalizes FY 2020 Spending Plan

The members of the House Budget Committee have worked long hours during the course of the session to craft a fiscally responsible state spending plan. This week they concluded months of work by finalizing the appropriations bills that will make up the Fiscal Year 2020 state operating budget. When they return from their annual break on March 25, House members will work to approve the appropriations bills and send them to the Senate so that both chambers are on track to complete the budget by the May 10 deadline.

When House members bring up the budget plan on the floor, it’s important to note that any changes made to the budget must remain revenue positive or revenue neutral. If a member wants to add money to a specific area of the budget, he or she must first find another area of the budget from which the funds can be transferred. There is no way to simply add funding to a particular program without first cutting it from somewhere else in the budget. This process ensures the budget remains in balance.

As the budget comes to the House floor, it is balanced, and leaves approximately $133 million on the bottom line for FY 2020 supplemental expenses. Funding highlights include:

Education:

  • $61 million increase to fully fund the school foundation formula at more than $3.94 billion
  • $3 million increase for Parents As Teachers program
  • $5 million increase for transportation expenses for local school districts
  • $700,000 increase to bring funding for school safety grants to $1 million
  • $1 million of spending approved to make improvements to the Missouri School for the Blind
  • Funding of Missouri scholarships
    • The newly proposed workforce development scholarship (Fast Track funded at $18 million)
    • $500,000 increase for A+ Scholarships
    • Nearly $1 million increase for Access Missouri Scholarships
  • $11 million to perform maintenance and repairs at Missouri colleges and universities
  • Funding of higher education workforce development initiatives (MoExcels projects = $17 million)
  • $8.5 million to support adult high schools

Infrastructure and Economic Development:

  • $100 million for statewide bridge repairs (according to the Missouri Department of Transportation’s Statewide Transportation Improvement Program)
  • $8 million for major water reservoir projects
  • $440,000 to initiate new plant industries program (industrial hemp)
  • $30 million to fund the governor’s One Start initiative
  • $300,000 for the new Missouri Military Community Reinvestment Program
  • Funding and transfers to reorganize the Department of Economic Development across DHE, DNR, DIFP, and lieutenant governor’s office
  • $13.5 million of Volkswagen settlement funds appropriated to clean air projects and grants
  • $6.4 million for port projects along Missouri rivers

Miscellaneous:

  • $5 million for alternatives to jail program (pre-trial electronic monitoring to save counties and the state millions in prisoner per diem costs)
  • $9 million in rebased rates for developmental disability providers (improving access to services)
  • $1 million to start an Extension for Community Health Care Outcomes (ECHO) for autism
  • $153,000 to fund the Time Critical Diagnosis Unit inside the Department of Health & Senior Services
  • $1.1 million to fund juvenile justice offices (in Kansas City & St. Louis) operated by the State Public Defenders Office
  • Consolidation of two prisons in Northwest Missouri
  • Savings of prison closure to fund critically needed pay plan adjustments for Department of Corrections personnel
  • $23 million of new general revenue spending to pick up the loss of federal funds that previously supported critical mental health programs at certified community behavioral health clinics
  • 1.5% rate increases to Medicaid providers (returning to FY17 reimbursement levels)

Other Bills Sent to the Senate this Week

HB 399 prohibits any third-party payer for health care services from limiting coverage or denying reimbursement for treatment for physical, cognitive, emotional, mental, or developmental disabilities in specified situations. Supporters say the bill will help provide additional services for many children with developmental disabilities. Currently, children don’t have enough access to therapeutically necessary services. Getting therapy early is important to these children and having access to the right kinds of therapy is so important to help them for the future.

HB 78 designates July 7th of each year as “Missouri Sliced Bread Day” and encourages citizens to participate in appropriate activities and events to commemorate the first sale of sliced bread in 1928 in Chillicothe, Missouri.

HB 204 changes the laws regarding the confiscation of animals. Supporters say the bill requires a speedy disposition hearing to determine if an owner is liable for animal abuse or neglect and will save money. Often animal owners forfeit their rights to the animals because they cannot pay the bond or the costs associated with the legal challenge.

HB 565 designates November 9 as “Stars and Stripes Day” to commemorate Missouri’s role in the creation of the newspaper of the United States Armed Forces.  Supporters say the first edition of the paper was published in Bloomfield, MO and the town would like this recognition of its place in history.

HB 487 allows a pharmacist to dispense self-administered oral hormonal contraceptives to a patient who is 18 years old or older. The patient will need to have a prescription from a health care practitioner but it shall have no expiration date. Supporters say birth control is one of the safest drugs on the market, but also one of the hardest to get, causing women to overcome significant obstacles to stay healthy and prevent pregnancy.

HB 250 allows wholesalers to employ persons 18 years of age to unload delivery vehicles and transfer liquor into retail premises with supervision. Supporters say that 18 year olds are never on the distribution trucks without someone 21 or older. This would allow both individuals to unload large orders and accounts.

HB 270 authorizes the Department of Agriculture to assess civil penalties for violations of provisions regarding the sale of eggs. Supporters say that currently the only administrative option the department has for a violation of the laws relating to the sale of eggs is to suspend the individual’s license. This bill would allow the department to assess a civil penalty instead of suspending the license.

HB 532 authorizes the city of Portageville to levy, upon voter approval, a sales tax whose revenues are dedicated to public safety. Supporters say the bill will help keep cities that pass the sales tax safer and this will help to increase wages and benefits to help retain the lower paid employees that do such an important job.

HB 523 changes the penalty provisions for knowingly violating the law relating to the no-call list. The bill creates a $2,500 to $5,000 civil penalty for the first violation, a $5,000 to $10,000 penalty upon a finding of a second violation, and a $7,500 to $15,000 penalty upon a finding of a third violation. Supporters say the bill will enhance penalties for violation of the no-call list and encourage greater enforcement by encouraging the reporting of violations with the restitution provisions for individuals.

HB 730 creates the Electronic Monitoring Reimbursement Fund. Any person who receives a not guilty verdict from a judge or jury or is exonerated through DNA evidence on or after August 28, 2022, for all offenses he or she was placed on house arrest with electronic monitoring will be reimbursed for the fee and any of his or her costs associated with the monitoring. Supporters say that individuals who are awaiting trial on house arrest have to pay for electronic monitoring. The issue is that after trial for someone who has been found not guilty, the fees remain paid, though the defendant would not have had to pay for his or her time in jail if he or she were placed there instead.

HB 612 transfers the Missouri State Council on the Arts by type II transfer from the Department of Economic Development to the office of the Lieutenant Governor. Supporters say the bill is part of the governor’s reorganization plan. The Department of Economic Development is not as competitive and efficient as similar departments in other states because it currently has many additional functions. The goal is to reduce the size of the department from 862 persons to 177. The Office of the Lieutenant Governor strongly supports the transfer because the Missouri Council on the Arts provides many services and benefits to senior citizens and veterans.

HB 466 adds structured family caregiving as an agency-directed model to the MO HealthNet Program to ensure the availability of comprehensive and cost-effective choices for a MO HealthNet participant who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or a related disorder to live at home in the community of his or her choice and to receive support from a caregiver of his or her choice. Supporters say the bill will provide a significant savings in keeping patients out of Medicaid beds and giving them their preferred option of being cared for at home, by a family member.

HB 470 establishes the “Expanded Workforce Access Act of 2019.” Beginning January 1, 2020, licensing authorities are required to grant a license to any applicant that has completed the 8th grade, completed a federally-approved apprenticeship program, and passed any necessary examination. Supporters say the goal of the bill is to expand alternative paths to licensure through apprenticeship programs and reduce barriers to professional licensing.

HB 757 changes provisions relating to mortgage loan originators. Supporters say the bill will get Missouri in line with federal requirements. The education requirements in the bill are based on best practices from the industry and federal regulators.

HB 926 allows use of specified motor vehicle dealer license plates on cars used by customers while their vehicles are being serviced or repaired by the motor vehicle dealer. Supporters say customers typically expect this service which is offered by most out of state dealerships. The bill will help Missouri businesses compete.

HB 410 changes the laws regarding physical therapists so that physical therapists no longer need a prescription or referral from a doctor in order to treat a patient. Supporters say the bill cuts unnecessary time and cost for patients by allowing a patient to go directly to a physical therapist without needing a referral first. Allowing more access to physical therapy will help reduce the need for opioid medication to treat pain.

HB 499 allows the Director of the Department of Revenue to order the revocation of a driver’s license upon notification by the investigative officer that the license holder was involved in a physical accident involving a highway worker within a designated construction zone or work zone. Supporters say the bill is necessary to prevent situations where dangerous drivers remain licensed to drive for years at a time because of faulty testing procedures or other issues with the current suspension and revocation process. The bill provides for due process and immediate reinstatement of a license upon passage of the driving test and only requires revocation upon a serious accident in a properly marked work zone where an investigation determines that the driver is likely to have violated traffic rules.

HB 564 establishes the “Fresh Start Act of 2019.” A person cannot be disqualified from licensure for any occupation solely or in part because of a prior conviction of a crime, unless the criminal conviction directly relates to the duties and responsibilities for the licensed occupation. Supporters say the bill provides transparency for boards and will correlate offenses to professions. Supporters believe the bill will help create productivity in the state and help remove potential barriers for those individuals who have paid their debt to society. Furthermore, supporters feel the bill would close up the loopholes and exceptions by clarifying and giving advance notice if an individual would qualify for a license.

HB 547 requires each circuit court to establish a treatment court division before August 28, 2021, and preference will be given to combat veterans. Supporters say these veterans go to battle and end up with PTSD and end up addicted to drugs, but they need to be looked at differently than other people in drug court. This changes veterans’ lives.

HB 646 modifies provisions relating to sheltered workshops. Supporters say the bill clarifies the dollar amount that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education pays to sheltered workshops for the work being completed by a handicapped worker so that moneys payable can be pro-rated based on the amount of time such person worked.

HB 829 requires the costs of any litigation arising under Article XIV Medical Cannabis of the Constitution of Missouri to be paid out from the Department of Health and Senior Services’ portion of the funds collected on sales of medical marijuana. Supporters say the bill will help to offset the cost of litigation arising from medical cannabis legalization using funds derived from the licensing and regulatory process for cannabis.

 

 

Capitol Report | March 7th, 2019

House Budget Chairman Unveils Plan to Fund Road and Bridge Improvements without Raising Taxes or Incurring New Debt (HB 4)

House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith unveiled a spending plan this week that makes a significant investment in state transportation infrastructure without raising taxes or incurring new debt for the state. Smith rolled out the committee substitutes for the appropriations bills that make up the Fiscal Year 2020 state spending plan, which includes a $100 million appropriation to pay for road and bridge improvements.

Smith said the $100 million in general revenue will be dedicated to the State Road Fund for bridge projects in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, which sets the transportation projects the Missouri Department of Transportation will undertake. Smith emphasized the importance of crafting a plan that provides adequate funding for Missouri’s transportation needs without putting the state further into debt.

“Our state transportation department already has a heavy debt load and has paid more than $700 million in debt payments in just the last two years. The solution to fix our roads isn’t to go further into debt, but instead to invest wisely and responsibly in our transportation network with the funds we have available,” said Smith, who noted that the department’s 5-year average debt payment is $313 million per year.

Smith added, “Missourians need and deserve roads and bridges that are safe and reliable, and it’s our duty as the crafters of our state budget to provide a plan that doesn’t raise their taxes or force them to make payments on debt we didn’t need to incur. This $100 million investment is the most fiscally responsible solution for Missouri taxpayers.”

The funding allocation for transportation infrastructure is contained in House Bill 4, which is one of the 13 appropriations bills that make up the Fiscal Year 2020 state operating budget. The House Budget Committee will work through the bills next week and consider potential amendments. The House will then take up the bills on the floor during the week of March 25-29.

House Approves Legislation to Prevent Debtors’ Prisons (HB 192)

The Missouri House this week approved legislation to keep judges from putting people back in jail for failing to pay for the cost of previous stays in jail.

The bill would keep a person’s failure to pay a jail for housing that person from resulting in more jail time that would result in additional housing costs.  Instead, a local sheriff could attempt to collect such costs owed through civil proceedings, or a judge could waive those costs.

The bill had broad, bipartisan support, as members of both parties agreed that being jailed for failing to pay so-called “board bills” only created a cycle of debt that some Missourians have been trapped in for years.  Legislators gave examples of individuals who had stolen items like makeup or candy, and years later owed tens of thousands of dollars to the local jails that had housed them.

One supporter of the bill said, “When somebody gets thrown in jail, their time is their punishment.  That’s the point of it … but the money that’s accrued for your care – for your food, your clothing, the shelter over your head that the county’s providing – that’s money owed for a service provided incidental to your punishment.”

The bill would do away with hearings in which the court requires a defendant to show why he or she shouldn’t be jailed for failing to pay board bills. Lawmakers heard that defendants are often required to appear monthly for such hearings and a warrant is issued for them if they fail to appear.

The bill is now under consideration in the Missouri Senate.

House Members Move to Create Stiffer Penalties for Poaching (HB 260)

Members of the House of Representatives have approved legislation that would create stiffer penalties for poaching certain animals.

Supporters say the bill will address an issue that currently exists where it’s cheaper for a non-Missourian to come into the state, poach an animal, and pay the fine than it is to buy an out-of-state hunting tag. The bill would increase the fines for poaching wild turkeys, deer, elk, black bears, or paddlefish in Missouri. Specifically, it would make the fines range from $500 to $1,000 for poaching a wild turkey or paddlefish; between $2,000 and $5,000 for poaching a white-tailed deer; and between $10,000 and $15,000 for poaching a black bear or elk.

“What I want to do is I want to make people think twice before they pull the trigger,” said the bill’s sponsor.

Missouri in 2011 began bringing elk into the state from Kentucky with an aim of reestablishing the population of the animal here, and an eventual goal of having an elk hunting season. The Department of Conservation says elk hunting could begin as early as next year and that could bring millions of dollars into the state, but the sponsor said poaching is hurting the chances of that happening, and the current fines for poaching are not a deterrent.

“We’re spending on average about $30- to $40-thousand dollars per elk when we brought them back to Missouri to reintroduce them and the penalty to poach an elk is about $150 to $200 right now, if you’re caught,” said the sponsor.

The poaching of paddlefish has been very lucrative because paddlefish roe is often sold on the black market as caviar. This means one fish can be worth thousands of dollars. Supporters say they are happy the bill includes increased fines for poaching those fish.

When a fine is collected under HB 260 that money would go to the school district in which the poaching incident occurred.

 Missouri House Approves Important Workforce Development Bill (HB 469)

Legislation is now headed to the Senate that would allow the Missouri Department of Economic Development to improve and consolidate its workforce development programs. House members approved the bill that allows the department to consolidate three work force training programs into the Missouri One Start program.

The bill sponsor said the consolidation of the programs will allow for more flexibility and efficiency, and will allow more businesses to take advantage of the program. He noted that the changes will be possible without the need for additional funding. “This is our Department of Economic Development coming to us asking us to allow them to be more efficient and run better,” he said.

Currently, the program allows administrative expenses to 15 percent of total training costs. The bill approved by the House limits such expenses to a reasonable amount determined by the Department of Economic Development. In creating rules and regulations governing the Missouri One Start Training Program, the bill requires the department to consider such factors as the potential number of new jobs to be created, the amount of new capital investment in new facilities and equipment, the significance of state benefits to the qualified company’s decision to locate or expand in Missouri, the economic need of the affected community, and the importance of the qualified company to the economic development of the state.

The bill also allows the department to require a qualified business to repay all benefits if such business fails to maintain the new or retained jobs within five years of approval of benefits or if such business leaves the state within five years of approval of benefits.

Other Legislation Third Read by the House

HB 588 requires the Department of Agriculture to convene a work group every five years to review all fees charged by the department and submit a report to the General Assembly on any recommended changes to the fees. The bill also increases the fees for several programs and licenses within the department’s Plant Industries Division. Supporters say it is important to adequately fund the Department of Agriculture because it provides important services to the largest industry in the state. Many of the fees have not been increased since the 1980’s and are not covering the cost of implementing the associated programs. It is also important to review the fees associated with the programs regularly and ensure the department is fully funded.

HB 114 requires a dangerous sex offender when changing residence to turn over his or her driver license to the law enforcement official with whom the offender was last registered. The offender would then have 3 days to register with the law enforcement official in the new area of residence, which would result in the driver license being returned. Failure to re-register would result in a felony offense. It would also cause the offender’s driver license to be suspended, and the individual would be required to be electronically monitored for 2 years. Supporters say the state loses track of offenders when they move, so this is just a mechanism to keep track of them while they are relocating and hopefully it incentivizes them to re-register.

HB 333 extends the sunset date for an income tax credit for surviving spouses of public safety officers who are killed in the line of duty from 2019 to 2027. The bill subtracts interest received on deposits held at a Federal Reserve Bank from a taxpayer’s Missouri adjusted gross income. Supporters say right now banks are paying both corporate tax and bank tax on interest held in the Federal Reserve Bank and this bill removes the tax they have to pay on corporate tax. Under this bill, Federal Reserve Bank interest is reported clearly in only one place and will eliminate any confusion.

HBs 161 & 401 prohibits local school districts from setting an opening date for the school term that is more than 14 calendar days prior to the first Monday in September. Supporters say that as school start dates have become earlier, students who participate in fall sports and agricultural education have had to choose between the two activities. It has hurt more than just those students participating in agricultural education events; it has hurt the tourism industry as well.

HB 821 establishes the “Land Bank Act,” which allows certain cities to establish a land bank agency for the management, sale, transfer, and other disposition of interests in real estate owned by the land bank. Supporters say the bill will help improve neighborhoods. This is an ongoing issue with abandoned properties that are deteriorated and derelict and no one wants to purchase these properties. This will help get these properties in the hands of responsible owners and help to clean up the city and make it a better place to live.

HB 220 specifies that any real or tangible personal property associated with a project which uses wind energy directly to generate electricity shall be valued and taxed by any state and local authorities having jurisdiction. Supporters say the bill would allow the tax revenue generated by the wind energy project to stay in the local jurisdiction. Local governments used tax incentive programs to attract wind generation projects knowing that the project would bring additional tax revenues to the area. Without this bill, that additional tax revenue would be spread across the state, with little to no revenue remaining in the local jurisdiction.

HB 587 repeals the Missouri Treated Timber Law. Supporters say Missouri is the only state left to have a program similar to this. A national wood products association also offers certification. Many retailers are inspected by the department and the association.

HB 14 appropriates money for supplemental purposes for several departments and offices of state government. The bill includes approximately $11.5 million in additional funding for education, funding to reinstate Time Critical Diagnosis (TCD), and funding for an opioid response grant.

HCR 18 urges public schools to institute JROTC in their schools. Supporters say very few schools in the state currently offer the program which includes many skills that would help a participant gain employment.

HR 210 encourages and urges Major League Soccer to give serious consideration to placing one of its expansion teams in St. Louis.

REAL ID-Compliant Driver Licenses to Soon Be Available

Missourians received good news this week as the Missouri Department of Revenue announced that it is on schedule to offer REAL ID-compliant driver licenses and nondriver identification on March 25. The REAL ID-compliant forms of identification will be necessary effective Oct. 1, 2020 for residents to fly domestically.

It was during the 2017 legislative session that Missouri General Assembly approved legislation to give residents the option to obtain a photo ID that is compliant with the federal REAL ID Act. Because the current version of the Missouri driver license is not compliant, DHS announced in January of 2016 that Missourians would not be able to enter federal facilities and would not be able to fly domestically beginning in 2018. The federal government has since granted multiple extensions to give Missourians additional months to utilize their existing licenses.

The revenue department director said, “We look forward to being able to start offering REAL ID-compliant driver licenses and ID cards on March 25. However, we want to stress to our customers that there’s no immediate need to rush to apply because the current Missouri-issued license and ID card will afford the same access as a REAL ID-compliant license or ID card until October 2020.”

Effective Oct. 1, 2020, individuals will also be required to present a REAL ID-compliant driver license or ID card, or another form of acceptable ID, to access federal facilities, including military bases and federal courthouses, and to enter nuclear power plants.

The Department anticipates increased foot traffic and longer wait times at license offices in the weeks immediately following the start of REAL ID-compliant license and ID card availability.

The transaction and processing fees for a REAL ID-compliant license or ID card, new or renewal, will be the same as they are currently.

Visit dor.mo.gov/drivers/real-id-information/ for a complete listing of acceptable documents for REAL ID-compliant license and ID card processing, as well as other important information regarding REAL ID. For more information about the REAL ID Act, visit the U.S. Department of Homeland Security website at dhs.gov/real-id.