The Capitol Report | September 8th, 2016

Shared Parenting, Social Services, & Amber Alert

Next Wednesday House and Senate members will travel back to the Capitol in order to reconvene for the Annual Veto Session. Last week, I concluded the summary of vetoed bills that may be reheard during Veto Session. There will surely be many updates after Veto Session concludes next week, but in the meantime, I would like to share an update on the Amber Alert system and a few bills that are now state law as of August 28th.

One of the bills that took effect this month seeks to equalize custody and visitation rights for divorced parents with their children. The legislature approved HB 1550, sponsored by Rep. Neely, to address the fact that some courts routinely award less parenting time to fathers. The legislation will ensure the courts do not presume a parent is more qualified to be a guardian simply based on gender. In effect, it will put the best interests of the child first so that the child will maximize time with both parents when they are fit and willing.

Another bill that took effect August 28 allows the state to more efficiently and proficiently verify applicants and recipients of welfare services. SB 607, sponsored by Sen. Sater, authorizes the Missouri Department of Social Services to hire an outside vendor to conduct the verification process for applicants for the state’s various welfare programs.

State and local law enforcement agencies will be able to get Amber Alerts out more quickly through the use of money added to the state budget in response to the kidnapping and murder of a Springfield girl in 2014. Hailey Owens was killed February 18, 2014. It took about two hours after her abduction for an Amber Alert to be issued. This was in large part because of inefficiencies in getting information from local authorities to the State Highway Patrol, who issues Amber Alerts.

In response, lawmakers decided what was needed was a way for the system local law enforcement uses to talk to the one the Highway Patrol uses so that information wouldn’t have to be entered a second time. Their goal was to ensure law enforcement would not have to search for the process of how to activate an Amber Alert. Instead it would be part of the system that used by law enforcement, and it would not require information to be re-entered. The legislature ultimately approved $120,000 to be added to the Highway Patrol’s budget for Fiscal Year 2015. The money was used to fund the development of the needed software. Now, the software development and upgrades to the system are nearly ready. Law enforcement hopes the new system will be up and running in the next month or so.

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

-Jason

Next Wednesday House and Senate members will travel back to the Capitol in order to reconvene for the Annual Veto Session. Last week, I concluded the summary of vetoed bills that may be reheard during Veto Session. There will surely be many updates after Veto Session concludes next week, but in the meantime, I would like to share an update on the Amber Alert system and a few bills that are now state law as of August 28th.

Bill to Enact Shared Parenting Becomes Law (HB 1550)

One of the bills that took effect this month seeks to equalize custody and visitation rights for divorced parents with their children. The legislature approved HB 1550, sponsored by Rep. Neely, to address the fact that some courts routinely award less parenting time to fathers. The legislation will ensure the courts do not presume a parent is more qualified to be a guardian simply based on gender. In effect, it will put the best interests of the child first so that the child will maximize time with both parents when they are fit and willing. Supporters of the bill have said shared parenting is important for the healthy growth and development of young people. One supporter noted that federal statistics show single-parent homes account for 63 percent of teen suicides, 70 percent of juveniles in state-operated facilities, 71 percent of high-school dropouts, and 85 percent of children in prison. With the new law in effect, courts will now begin custody proceedings with the assumption parents should share custody of their children.

Ensuring Welfare Recipients are Properly Verified (SB 607)

Another bill that took effect August 28 allows the state to more efficiently and proficiently verify applicants and recipients of welfare services. SB 607, sponsored by Sen. Sater, authorizes the Missouri Department of Social Services to hire an outside vendor to conduct the verification process for applicants for the state’s various welfare programs. In addition to screening applicants, the company hired by the state will work to re-verify current enrollees. In effect, the vendor will work to ensure recipients and applicants are in fact eligible for programs such as the supplemental nutrition assistance program, temporary assistance for needy families, child care assistance, and MO HealthNet. In cases where the vendor finds suspected cases of fraud, it will then notify the department, which will investigate. The bill is meant to help the department ensure accuracy in the welfare rolls, which is a process it has admittedly fallen behind in performing. The new law has the added benefit of possibly saving the state more than $20 million over the next three years by eliminating waste and fraud from the system. Other states that have hired third party vendors to screen welfare recipients and applicants have seen millions of dollars in savings as a result.

Funding Approved by the Legislature Improves the Amber Alert System

State and local law enforcement agencies will be able to get Amber Alerts out more quickly through the use of money added to the state budget in response to the kidnapping and murder of a Springfield girl in 2014. Hailey Owens was killed February 18, 2014. It took about two hours after her abduction for an Amber Alert to be issued. This was in large part because of inefficiencies in getting information from local authorities to the State Highway Patrol, who issues Amber Alerts. In response, lawmakers decided what was needed was a way for the system local law enforcement uses to talk to the one the Highway Patrol uses so that information wouldn’t have to be entered a second time. Their goal was to ensure law enforcement would not have to search for the process of how to activate an Amber Alert. Instead it would be part of the system that used by law enforcement, and it would not require information to be re-entered. The legislature ultimately approved $120,000 to be added to the Highway Patrol’s budget for Fiscal Year 2015. The money was used to fund the development of the needed software. Now, the software development and upgrades to the system are nearly ready. Law enforcement hopes the new system will be up and running in the next month or so.

With the new software, when local agencies enter information on an abduction into their system the same information will automatically be entered into the Patrol’s system that issues Amber Alerts. The goal is to allow local law enforcement agencies to enter the information as effectively as possible and to reduce the redundancy of entering the information in several different systems. Training is now underway statewide for local law enforcement agencies on what changes have been made and how to use the system.

Remembering 9/11
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This Sunday the nation will pause to reflect and remember the nearly 3,000 lives that were lost 15 years ago on Tuesday, September 11th, 2001. In Missouri, the efforts of emergency responders are recognized with Emergency Services Day and Emergency Personnel Appreciation Day, both of which take place each year on 9/11. Both days are meant to acknowledge, with special gratitude and profound respect, all public safety personnel, including police, firefighters, ambulance personnel, emergency dispatchers, and corrections officers.

Thank you for your service!

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 115-H, 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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