As I mentioned last week, there has been a lot of activity in state government. Much of this has been focused on legislation. Let's take a look at some bills recently signed by the governor.
VETERANS' BILLS SIGNED
As mentioned in numerous previous reports,the Veterans Committee proved to be very busy this year. We passed several bills out of the General Assembly, and the governor has signed several of these important bills that will now become law.
SB 106 gives returning members of our military the opportunity to convert their training and experience into academic credits here at home. Specifically, it will allow certain military training courses to convert into academic credit at Missouri's public colleges, universities and vocational and technical schools. The bill also gives certain members of the Armed Forces the opportunity to keep their professional health-related licenses or certificates in good standing while on active duty. In addition, it allows any applicable training or service received by military members to apply toward qualifications to receive a professional license or certificate.
Several bills, (SB 106, SB 110, SB 117, and HB 148) contain language to establish the child custody and visitation rights of a deploying military parent. The bills are meant to protect the custody rights of deployed military members and shielding them from changes while they are unavailable to respond to any court actions brought by the other parent. The bills provide deployed military parents the right to attend a hearing that modifies visitation rights to his/her child. Also, the bills require 30 days before such a hearing can be conducted after the affected person returns home from deployment. In addition, the bills require that communications between parent and child are maintained even during the deployment.
Also, SB 117 allows outgoing members of the military who receive an honorable discharge to receive resident status in order to receive in-state tuition rates for public institutions of higher education in Missouri. The change will allow returning veterans to immediately pursue their educational goals rather than waiting for a year to achieve residency status in Missouri.
SB 116 will ensure that members of the military stationed overseas have fewer hurdles to jump over when they vote. Currently, the process to obtain an absentee ballot can be very lengthy, which in turn, can discourage many of our active duty military members from participating in the process. Because we want military personnel to be able to vote in a timely manner, SB 116 requires our Secretary of State to develop an online process to allow voters to apply and receive voter registration materials and military-overseas ballots. It is a change that should significantly speed up the process and allow military members, and other voters who are overseas, to be active participants in the political process.
HB 702 approved this year will empower the State Treasurer to return lost military medals to their rightful owners. Right now, our treasurer has more than 80 unclaimed military medals. The new law will allow the office to use photos and other information to try to identify and find their rightful owners. Hopefully, this will allow these medals to their rightful owners or their families.
Nationally, there are thousands of cremated remains of American veterans that have gone unidentified and unclaimed. These remains, including several thousand here in Missouri, have remained in funeral homes as a proper burial has been denied to individuals who made the ultimate sacrifice for this nation. Legislation signed into law this week SB 116 will help resolve this problem by ensuring the unclaimed remains of veterans are interred with the due respect they deserve. The bill authorizes funeral establishments and coroners to release information to veterans' service organizations so that they can help identify the remains. We believe the bill will allow these heroes to finally receive the proper military burial they have rightfully earned.
CHILD HEALTH AND SAFETY
SB 230 is known as Chloe's Law. The legislation would require that all newborns in Missouri be screened for critical congenital heart disease. The procedure is very affordable and incredibly effective in determining potential heart problems in infants. The bill is named after Chloe Manz who received such a screening at the insistence of her mother. The test saved Chloe's life as it revealed a heart problem that was corrected with surgery.
HB 505 strengthens Missouri's laws dealing with the reporting of suspected child abuse and neglect, and intended to prevent tragedies like the one that took place at Penn State University where a case of sexual abuse that was witnessed by an employee, but went unreported. HB 505 requires that current mandated reporters such as teachers make the call to the state child abuse hotline when they witness probable child abuse or neglect. The bill eliminates an option that exists under current law that allows witnesses to report suspected cases to their superior (a major problem at Penn State). This change is an important one to make sure all suspected cases of abuse and neglect are reported and investigated.
SB 256 extends the window of time a parent has to leave a child with a police station, fire station, or hospital. Known as "Safe Haven" legislation, the bill essentially gives a parent who cannot care for a child the opportunity to relinquish the child to a responsible party without fear of prosecution. The current window of 5 days will be extended to 45. Ideally, this would not happen, but we must face the reality that it does happen. The Safe Haven law makes it much more likely that children will be placed in the care of individuals who can ensure the child's safety and well-being.
DEPARTMENT OF REVENUE UPDATE
As briefly mentioned last week, we are back in compliance with the law concerning driver's license renewals. SB 252 prohibits the Missouri Department of Revenue from continuing its policy of scanning, retaining and sharing the private information of Missouri citizens applying for a driver's or non-driver's license. This is a battle we fought for most of the recent session and it is encouraging to see the governor sign this into law. This bill puts an end to a violation of our privacy rights. It is important to note the bill also requires the department to destroy the documents it has already collected. With this, we hope to give Missourians peace of mind that their private information will remain private, and that their state government will work to protect their rights rather than violate them.
While the signing of SB 252 was a great step forward on this issue, not everything on this subject has been as positive in recent weeks. Our Bipartisan Investigative Committee on Privacy Protection continues to investigate the why and how of the department's policies and its efforts to comply with the Federal Real ID Act. While the committee has made some positive strides in getting all the details of this issue, there have been issues with the governor's office. In particular, the chief executive has refused to allow several key members of his administration to testify before the committee. The move prompted the committee to issue subpoenas to compel testimony, but the courts threw the subpoenas out on a technicality. Now House Speaker Tim Jones and the Chairman Stanley Cox are working together to ensure the testimony is given so that the committee has access to all of the information necessary to fully understand this issue. I will keep you updated on this critical matter as more information is revealed.