We had a very busy week at the Capitol. Here are some of the bills we passed out of the House to the Senate.
Promoting Ethanol Production in Missouri (HB 1413)
I and 103 other representatives advanced HB 1413 this week. The bill would extend the state's ethanol producer incentive fund, which is meant to promote increased ethanol production and use in Missouri which expired on Dec. 31 of last year. The bill approved by the House would renew the incentive and extend it until Dec. 31 of 2020.
Supporters of the legislation point to the positive impact that ethanol production has on the agriculture industry and the state's economy. The state has six majority farmer-owned ethanol plants in operation in Missouri and each year the plants use slightly more than 30 percent of the state's corn crop to produce approximately 300 million gallons of ethanol and 825,000 tons of distiller's grains. Supporters note that ethanol is 100 percent renewable and helps improve air quality. The legislation is now under consideration in the Senate.
Legislative Pressure Prompts Governor Nixon to Release Withheld Funding
As the governor released $2.1 million in funds he had withheld from the current state operating budget, House Budget Chairman Tom Flanigan expressed his thanks, but also cautioned that the legislature will continue to monitor other opportunities to override the governor's withholdings.
The Missouri House had voted in bipartisan fashion on Wednesday, March 16 to override the governor's withholds of $575,000 for the Missouri Scholars Academy and the Missouri Fine Arts Academy, and $350,000 for the Brain Injury Waiver Fund. While the Senate has yet to complete the overrides, Flanigan said it's clear that the constitutional authority given to the General Assembly by voters was instrumental in forcing the governor's hand.
The governor also released $250,000 in funding for the foster kids health home, $400,000 for asthma services, $300,000 for naturally occurring retirement communities, and $250,000 for the Sullivan County Lake project. Even with the money he released, the governor continues to withhold more than $44 million in funds appropriated by the legislature for the current state operating budget.
The legislature gained the constitutional authority to override withholdings made by the governor when Missourians overwhelming approved Amendment 10 in 2014. The legislature's authority works in a similar fashion to its ability to override a gubernatorial veto and requires a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate.
Missouri House Approves Regulations for Transportation Network Companies like Uber and Lyft (HB 2330)
House members voted in favor of legislation that would create statewide standards and regulations for transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft. Currently in Missouri, Uber is the lone transportation network company providing services and only in Columbia, Kansas City, and St. Louis.
Proponents of the legislation say statewide standards would help to expand ride-sharing services in Missouri. They also say it would create jobs as other companies move in and begin hiring drivers. Opponents of the bill argued that regulations should be adopted by individual municipalities rather than by the state. They also said that jobs created by these companies would take jobs away from traditional taxi services.
The bill approved by the House would require any transportation network company to apply for an annual permit with the Department of Revenue with an annual fee of $5,000. The legislation also would require the companies to maintain primary
automobile insurance coverage on all vehicles. Additionally, it would require companies to conduct local and national criminal background checks on their drivers, and prohibit drivers who use drugs or alcohol while driving, or who are convicted sex offenders or guilty of other serious felony offenses.
The bill would promote cost transparency by requiring companies to disclose their fare calculation method, and to provide an estimated fare. The legislation also prohibits cities and municipalities from enacting additional licensing requirements for these companies.
House Approves Regulations for Fantasy Sports such as FanDuel and DraftKings (HB 1941)
The Missouri House gave approval this week to legislation that would require daily fantasy sports sites to register to do business in Missouri, but would exempt them from the state's gambling laws.
The legislation would require fantasy sports sites like FanDuel and DraftKings to register with the Missouri Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions, and Professional Registration, and pay an annual $5,000 registration fee. The bill also would require safeguards to prevent individuals who would have an unfair advantage from participating in fantasy contests, such as employees or individuals who participate in, or officiate, the sporting event.
Although some consider fantasy sports to be gambling, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 excluded fantasy sports as a form of gambling.
Autism Awareness Month
Members of the Missouri House paused this week to acknowledge the thousands of Missouri families who continue to need support as they raise children with autism. April is Autism Awareness Month in Missouri and April 2 was World Autism Awareness Day.
The Missouri General Assembly has consistently supported efforts to provide the necessary resources to families with autistic children. For the Fiscal Year 2017 state operating budget the House approved $5 million to expand the Thompson Center for Autism in Columbia so that the center can accommodate an additional 2,000 visits per year. The House-approved budget also includes $1 million to create an autism clinic at Truman State University in Kirksville, and $500,000 to expand services at the Mercy Kids Autism Center in St. Louis. In 2010, the legislature also approved legislation to require coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of autism.
It is an honor to serve the 51st District in the Missouri House of Representatives. Each week I will issue a capitol report to keep you informed of activities in Jefferson City. Any concerns or issues you might have are of great interest to me. I look forward to your input and thoughts, so please feel free to contact me at any time if you have questions, concerns, or ideas to improve our state government and the quality of life for all Missourians. My telephone number is 573-751-2204 or you may contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for working with me to make Missouri a great place to live.