As promised in my last Capitol Report I am providing more highlights from the 2016 Legislative Session.
Ethics Reform Proposals (HB 1983 and HB 1979 and HB 2203)
Of the seven single subject ethics reform bills approved by the House, three crossed the finish line and have already been signed into law.
HB 1983 will prohibit statewide elected officials, members of the General Assembly, and candidates for those offices from receiving compensation as political consultants who are paid for profit to engage in specified political activities on behalf of other individuals holding office as statewide elected officials or members of the General Assembly. The bill is meant to make sure public servants are serving for the right reasons and not to profit or make personal gain from their public office.
HB 1979 will require elected officials to wait six months after their term expires before becoming a lobbyist. The bill will add Missouri to the list of more than 30 states that require a waiting period before a lawmaker can become a lobbyist.
HB 2203 will limit how long campaign funds can be invested and how they can be used. Specifically, it ensures campaign contributions are used as intended for political campaigns. The bill also prohibits anyone from working as a lobbyist until they have emptied their campaign account by refunding it to donors, donating it to charity, or contributing it to a political party.
Collateral Source Reform Legislation (SB 847)
Legislation approved by the General Assembly would reform Missouri's legal system to clarify that an injured person involved in a lawsuit can recover only the actual cost incurred for medical treatment. Specifically, the legislation would modify Missouri's collateral source rule that currently prevents evidence from being admitted to show when a plaintiff's losses have been compensated from other sources such as insurance or workers' compensation. The bill is currently awaiting the governor's consideration.
Expert Witness Legislation (SB 591)
Another bill on the governor's desk is meant to improve the reliability of expert evidence that is presented to juries in Missouri state courts. The bill would implement an established standard for determining when expert-witness testimony is admissible as evidence at trial. The proposed standard, commonly referred to as the Daubert standard after a 1993 U.S. Supreme Court case, is used in federal courts and in more than two-thirds of the states. Under this
standard, the trial judge acts as a gatekeeper to ensure that "expert" testimony is based on "sufficient facts or data" and is the product of "reliable principles and methods." Currently in Missouri, judges admit expert testimony if it is based on facts that are "reasonably relied upon by experts in the field."
Civics Education (HB 1646 and SB 638)
Legislation to promote American history and civics education in Missouri classrooms is now on its way to the governor's desk to be signed into law. The bill will create the Missouri Civics Education Initiative to require students in public, charter, and private high schools to receive a passing grade on a standardized civics test in order to graduate. Exams will consist of the same 100 questions used on the civics portion of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services' U.S. Naturalization test that is taken by immigrants looking to gain American citizenship. If signed into law, all students entering ninth grade after July 1, 2017, would be required to receive a passing grade on the civics test. Supporters say ensuring a thorough knowledge of the country's history and system of government is a key first step in creating an engaged and active citizenry that will vote and take active roles in the political process.
Supporting Students with Dyslexia (SB 638 and SB 635 and HB 2379)
The General Assembly 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 the bill.
School Anti-Bullying Policies (HB 1583)
In order to better protect students from bullying, the Missouri House and Senate approved legislation to strengthen the requirements for anti-bullying policies put in place by Missouri school districts. The bill will require that schools investigate a report of bullying within two school days, and conclude the investigation within 10 school days. The bill also requires school districts to adopt a procedure for reporting acts of bullying, and a process for discussing the anti-bullying policy with children and training school employees. Additionally, the bill defines cyber-bullying and states that any school district can subject a student to discipline for cyber-bullying.
Youth Suicide Prevention (HB 1583)
House and Senate members approved legislation during the 2016 session that will allow licensed educators to annually complete up to two hours of training in youth suicide awareness and prevention as part of the professional development hours required for certification. The bill requires the state education department to develop guidelines for the training. The legislation also requires that each school district adopt a policy to address strategies that can help identify students who are at possible risk of suicide.
Step Therapy (HB 2029)
Missourians with chronic illnesses would have better access to the medications they need under legislation approved by the Missouri General Assembly this session. The legislation is designed to prevent redundant "step therapy" so that patients who switch health insurance benefits are not forced to try medications that have already proven to be ineffective before being allowed to use medication that works. With step therapy, a patient will first use the most cost-effective and safest medication and, if it is not effective, will then move to a more costly therapy. Step therapy has been an effective process, but becomes an issue when a patient tries several medications to find one that is effective, but then has to start the process all over again when changing insurance providers. The legislation approved by the legislature simply ensures that a patient will not have to go through the process of trying multiple medications again simply because of an insurance change. In effect, it makes it so the medicine prescribed by the patient's doctor is the medicine the patient is allowed to take.
Medicaid Asset Caps (HB 1565)
The House and Senate approved legislation this session that will implement more reasonable asset limits for elderly and disabled Missourians who hope to qualify for Medicaid. Current law allows an individual to have only $1,000 in assets to qualify for Medicaid assistance. A married couple has an asset limit of $2,000. The bill approved by the General Assembly will steadily increase these limits to $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a couple by 2021. After that, the limits will continue to be modified to reflect cost-of-living adjustments. Supporters say the current limits, which have not been changed in 40 years, prevent some of Missouri's most vulnerable citizens from having enough in savings to adequately provide for themselves, or pay for things like emergency car or home repairs.
Fighting Human Traffickers (HB 1562)
This legislative session the General Assembly gave approval to legislation designed to help stop the multi-billion dollar criminal industry of human trafficking. The legislation will expand the crime of sexual trafficking of a child to
include the advertisement of a child participating in a commercial sexual act. Similar to the federal SAVE Act that now law, the legislation will give law enforcement another tool to investigate and prosecute those who knowingly advertise the victims of sex trafficking.
Missouri has been proactive in its approach to stop traffickers. It was in 2004 that Missouri became one of the first states in the nation to put sex trafficking laws in place. The bill approved by the General Assembly this year is an important part of the comprehensive approach the legislature wants to take to fight human trafficking in Missouri.
Expungement (SB 588)
The legislature took action this session to provide a second chance to people with criminal records for minor offenses. Current law requires an individual to wait 20 years after completing their sentence for a felony offense before they can petition a judge to have their record expunged. Those who commit misdemeanor offenses have to wait 10 years before their records can be sealed. With the legislation now set to become law, the wait time for expungement will be lowered to seven years for felony offenders and three years for individuals guilty of misdemeanor crimes. The expungement process would not be available to individuals guilty of serious crimes such as violent sex offenses or kidnapping. Supporters of the proposal say it will give individuals who are reformed an opportunity to obtain a job. They also note that prosecutors and law enforcement will still be able to access the sealed records of those who have utilized the expungement process.
Strengthening Second Amendment Rights (SB 656)
The Missouri General Assembly advanced legislation this session to strengthen the gun rights of law-abiding Missourians. The bill will allow Missourians to carry a concealed weapon without the need for a permit. Commonly referred to as constitutional carry, the bill would allow any person to carry a concealed firearm anywhere that isn't expressly prohibited by law. The bill is meant to build on the constitutional change made by Missouri citizens in 2014 that allows Missourians the right to permit-less carry.
The bill also ensures that individuals who do want to obtain a five-year concealed carry permit will not be charged a fee in excess of $100. The bill specifically prohibits additional fees that may be charged, including any fee for fingerprinting or criminal background check. Additionally, the bill will allow Missouri citizens to obtain 10-year, 25-year, or lifetime permits for $200, $250, and $500 respectively.
The legislation also contains a provision commonly referred to as "Stand Your Ground" law. The measure removes the requirement that a person who is any place they are legally allowed to be can use force without retreating first. The bill also expands the state's castle doctrine law. Current statute allows individuals to use deadly force to defend themselves and their property against intruders. The bill approved by lawmakers will extend the protection against lawsuits to house guests who use deadly force.
If you would like to review House Bills, you may do so by logging on to House.mo.gov and click on Bill Information then Bill Tracking and search by the House Bill number or by the subject.
Missouri Unclaimed Property: To file a claim or check to see if you have any unclaimed property, you can visit the following website: www.showmemoney.com or you can write the State Treasurer's Office at P.O. Box 1004, Jefferson City, MO 65102-1004 or telephone 573.751.0123.
I continue to pray daily for the Lord's guidance in making decisions as your State Representative. As always I welcome and appreciate your help, support, contacts and opinions. Please pray for me, the Legislative Body, and pray to preserve our Freedoms.
Thank you for reading this Capitol Report. If you know anyone who would be interested in receiving my Capitol Report, please have them e-mail Dave.Muntzel@house.mo.gov or call 573-751-0169.
Finally, if we can ever be of any assistance to you do not hesitate to contact us at 573-751-0169 or you can reach my assistant, June, at email@example.com. If you are ever near Jefferson City at any time during the year, please feel free to visit my Capitol office Room 235BB. It is my pleasure to represent the good people of the 48th District.