Capitol Report | April 14th, 2016

Voter Disenfranchisement in STL County

I was honored last week when House Speaker Todd Richardson asked Rep. Shamed Dogan and me to chair and vice-chair, respectively, a task force with a group of our colleagues to investigate the ballot issues that disenfranchised numerous voters in St. Louis County on Election Day. The newly formed House Task Force on Election Procedures and Accountability held its first hearing this week.

Speaker Richardson said, “It was extremely disappointing to see the failure of the election system in St. Louis County that resulted in so many voters being turned away from their polling places. My hope is that Rep. Dogan, Rep. Chipman, and the other members of the task force can thoroughly investigate the problems that occurred that day with the goal of ensuring they do not happen again in future elections.”

It was on Tuesday, April 5 that the St. Louis County Board of Elections delivered incorrect ballots or failed to provide a sufficient number of ballots to more than 60 precincts across the county. As a result, many voters were turned away from their polling places, and a court order eventually required polling places to stay open an additional two hours. However, many poll workers had already gone home before the court order was issued, and election officials say they are unclear on how votes cast during the extended time period will be treated.

“Missouri voters certainly deserve answers and are entitled to a system that will not disenfranchise them. I will work with my fellow colleagues to examine the mistakes that led to the Election Day mishap with the foremost goal of ensuring the rights of voters are protected not only this August and November, but in all elections from this point forward,” said Chipman, R-Steelville.

You may read more about what is happening at your Capitol below. As always, I will work diligently and tirelessly for you as your State Representative.

-Jason

Missouri House Moves to Ban Donation of Fetal Tissue from Abortions (HBs 2069 & 2371)

The Missouri House advanced legislation this week to prevent fetal tissue from abortions from being donated for medical or scientific use. The bill specifically prohibits an individual from knowingly donating the fetal organs or tissue resulting from an abortion to any person or entity for medical, scientific, experimental, therapeutic, or any other use.

The bill stems from the recommendations made by two House committees that met during the interim to investigate allegations that Planned Parenthood sold the tissues and organs from aborted fetuses. It was last year that an anti-abortion group released video that appeared to show a Planned Parenthood executive discuss how the organization disposes of the tissues and organs from aborted fetuses. Pro-life activists claim the video proved that Planned Parenthood sold the tissues for profit, which is illegal. Planned Parenthood claims the allegations are not true and any costs associated with the tissues are there to cover related expenses.

In addition to the ban on the donation of fetal tissues from abortions, the legislation approved by the House would establish a tracking system for fetal remains. Specifically, it requires all tissue removed from an abortion to be sent to a pathologist. Currently, only a representative sample of tissue removed at the time of abortion must be sent to a pathologist. Each fetal tissue specimen must be given a unique identification number to allow the specimen to be tracked from the abortion facility or hospital where the abortion was performed to the pathology lab and its final disposition location.

The bill also requires the department of health and senior services to conduct annual, unannounced, on-site inspections and investigations of abortion facilities.

House Approves Education Reform Bill (HB 1943)

The House approved and sent to the Senate a piece of legislation that would institute several important reforms for Missouri’s system of education. One provision in the bill would put back in place a cap on the amount the state needs to provide to the foundation formula that funds public schools in Missouri.

Currently, the funding formula increases each year, but even as the legislature increases school funding, it falls short of the amount called for by the formula. The funding plan previously had a five percent cap in place to control the rate of growth, but the cap was removed by the legislature in 2010. The sponsor of the bill said putting the cap back in place would give the legislature a realistic chance to fully fund the formula in future years.

Despite the fact the legislature has proposed an increase of more than $70 million for the foundation formula in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget, the formula calls for an additional $550 million in funds. In addition, without the cap, the formula would grow by another $400 million next year. Lawmakers who supported the change said the cap will put an attainable level of funding in place for the legislature going forward. They said setting an attainable target for funding and hitting that target will have positive results for schools, students, and the state.

The legislation approved by the House also contains provisions to allow school districts to adjust the length of school days, change the criteria a district uses to determine if a student is gifted, and limit the number of summer school days for which a district can be reimbursed.

Providing Children with Dyslexia with Adequate Resources (HB 2379)

The House approved legislation to provide additional resources and assistance to young people with dyslexia. This bill requires each public school to screen students for dyslexia and related disorders at appropriate times. In addition, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education must develop guidelines for the appropriate screening of students and the necessary classroom supports. The requirements and guidelines must be consistent with the findings and recommendations of the Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia, which is also created by this bill.

The bill also requires that the school board of each district and governing board of each charter school must provide reasonable support for any student determined to have dyslexia or a related disorder.

The bill establishes the Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia to make recommendations for a statewide system for identification, intervention, and delivery of supports for students with dyslexia including the development of resource materials, professional development activities, and proposed legislation. The task force must hold its first meeting before October 1, 2016 and must submit a report within 12 months of the meeting.

Supporters say the bill is necessary because many children with dyslexia are seeing their educational opportunities adversely impacted due to a lack of proper treatment. Currently, many schools don’t or can’t screen for dyslexia. Proponents say the bill will be a step toward ensuring proper screening and resources for children with dyslexia, which will lead to improvements in school and in other aspects of their lives.

Missouri House Approves Bill to Help Veterans Suffering from PTSD (HB 1428)

The Missouri House this week gave overwhelming bipartisan support to legislation that would provide additional assistance to veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). House members approved HB 1428 to change Missouri law to recognize mental health service dogs on the same level as traditional service dogs.

The bill would revise the definition of “service dog” to include animals that provide support or therapeutic functions for individuals with psychiatric or mental disabilities. The sponsor said the change is necessary to provide additional support to the many combat veterans who returned home with PTSD or a traumatic brain injury. The sponsor also noted that the global war on terror has created 2.7 million veterans with 20 percent of these individuals estimated to have post-traumatic stress disorder, and more than 300,000 estimated to have a traumatic brain injury.

By adding the definition of the mental health service dogs to current statutes, the Missouri House hopes to help returning veterans suffering from PTSD, as well as individuals struggling with Alzheimer’s, brain injuries, and an array of mental health diagnoses. Mental health service dogs are individually trained to perform tasks that mitigate the psychiatric disabilities of their disabled partners. Therapy dogs can guide a disoriented handler to safety, find a family member for assistance, and stop obsessive compulsive disorder actions.

Despite their benefits, mental health service dogs have not been recognized and treated on the same level as traditional service dogs. However, mental health services dogs are already recognized by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Federal Aviation Administration.

House Moves to Increase School District Accountability (HB 1427)

The members of the Missouri House approved legislation this week to increase accountability and transparency in every school district in the state. The legislation requires all school districts and charter schools to maintain an accountability portal for the public. By September 1, 2017 each public school district and charter school must develop, maintain, and make available all publicly available budget, income, expenditure, and disbursement information for the current fiscal year. The data on the portal must be updated quarterly and remain available for at least 10 years.

Supporters of the change say it will bring more accountability to school districts and impose public access and accountability standards that are similar to those already followed by state-level entities.

Raising Awareness of the Need for Work Zone Safety

It was on Thursday, April 7 that the members of the Missouri House paused in memoriam of Lyndon Ebker, who was struck and killed in a construction zone on Highway 100 in Franklin County. Ebker was retired after 30 years of service with the Missouri Department of Transportation and was working part-time in his retirement when his life was tragically taken by an inattentive driver.

Ebker was remembered with a moment of silence on the House floor. His passing also preceded National Work Zone Awareness Week, which runs from April 11-15. The event is held to bring national attention to motorist and worker safety and mobility issues in work zones. Missouri also uses the week to remind motorists of the 2012 “Move Over” law, which protects law enforcement, emergency response vehicles and MoDOT vehicles parked on the side of the road.The law requires motorists to slow down or change lanes when approaching these vehicles.

MoDOT urges drives to please pay attention and drive safely in work zones. Wait to merge and take turns with the other drivers on the road. Motorists should be constantly alert and prepared for dynamic changes in and around work zones.

 

Capitol Visits

I was honored to visit with Jon & Dionne Haskell and their daughter, Lacey, who were at the Capitol for Miss Missouri High America 2016. I also enjoyed visiting w/ Mr. Richard Brummett and Crawford County FFA students for Farm Bureau Youth Leadership Day.

I am committed to serve the constituents of the 120th District, so please feel free to contact my office anytime at 573-751-1688. Your District 120 Capitol office is 201 W Capitol Ave, Rm 115H, Jefferson City, MO 65101. If you wish to unsubscribe from this report, please email Dylan Bryant at dylan.bryant@house.mo.gov

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