Last week, members on the House Budget Committee completed the markup of the state budget, and the House as a whole sent several bills to the Senate. This week, the legislature is on its annual spring break. Once the break ends, members will focus on the budget, and then turn to tax relief legislation. The legislature has a deadline of May 11 to complete the state budget.
As mentioned, the House sent several more bills to the Senate for consideration as we moved closer to the break. In all, the House has been able to send more than 160 bills to the Senate. These bills included a wide variety of topics from ethics reform and reducing burdensome regulations to investing in Missouri’s energy infrastructure and helping first-time home buyers. More on these bills and several others below.
Highlights of the First Half of the 2018 Session:
Ethics Reform (HB 1303) – House members once again passed legislation meant to diminish the influence of lobbyists. Similar to legislation the House has passed in each of the last two sessions, the bill would ban gifts from lobbyists to legislators and other statewide elected officials. Missouri currently has no limits on lobbyist gifts. The bill that is now in the Senate would create a gift ban with some common sense exceptions that would allow a legislator to receive an award or accept flowers for the funeral of a loved one without breaking the law.
Reducing Burdensome Regulations (HB 1500) – House members sent a bill to the Senate that would cut burdensome red tape and reduce government overregulation so that businesses can thrive in Missouri. The bill would address issues faced by hair braiders in Missouri as they currently must obtain a cosmetology license that requires 1,500 hours of training that is not relevant to the practice of braiding. In comparison, a real estate agent needs only 72 hours of training, and an emergency medical technician needs only 100 to be licensed. House members passed legislation to specify that hair braiders do not have to obtain a cosmetology license in order to earn a living. The bill would require individuals engaging in braiding to register with the State Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners.
Preventing Overregulation (HB 1928) – Legislation now in the Senate would ensure government engages in the licensing and regulation of occupations and professions only when it is necessary to protect the welfare of the public. If the need exists, the regulation adopted by the state would need to be the least restrictive type of occupational regulation consistent with the public interest to be protected. The bill would also establish a heightened level of review with specific criteria for all legislation that would seek to license an occupation or profession for the first time or to substantially expand the scope of a current professional license.
“Paycheck Protection” Legislation (HB 1413) - The Missouri House of Representatives gave approval to legislation that is meant to hold unions accountable to their members. Commonly referred to as “paycheck protection,” the bill would also allow public employee union members to ensure their dues aren’t used for political purposes they do not support. In effect, the bill would give public employee union members the right to opt-in annually to have their dues automatically deducted from their paychecks. The current system requires a public employee to opt-out, and if they fail to do so their dues are automatically deducted.
Repealing Prevailing Wage Law (HBs 1729, 1621 & 1436) - The Missouri House approved a bill meant to make public construction projects more affordable for taxpayers. The bill would repeal Missouri’s prevailing wage law to help reduce the cost of construction and maintenance projects for municipalities and school districts. Missouri’s existing prevailing wage law sets a minimum salary that must be paid to individuals working on public projects, such as the construction or repair of bridges, school buildings, and fire stations. If the prevailing wage law is repealed, bidders on such projects would pay the market rate for labor.
Investing in Missouri’s Energy Infrastructure (HB 2265) – The Missouri House approved legislation that would encourage investment in the state’s energy infrastructure while also capping utility rate increases for customers. The bill would set annual rate caps at 2.85 percent for Ameren and 3 percent for other electricity companies. Under the current system, Missouri has seen rates increase four times faster than the national average over the past decade. If the bill becomes law it would result in Ameren cutting rates by 4 to 5 percent and putting $100 million back into the pockets of its customers. To modernize Missouri’s energy infrastructure, Ameren has committed to invest $1 billion in their infrastructure and put 3,000 people to work during construction.
Helping First-Time Home Buyers (HB 1796) - House members gave approval to a bill that would make it easier for Missourians to save money to buy their first home. The bill would establish the First-Time Home Buyer Savings Account Act and authorize a tax deduction for contributions to a savings account dedicated to buying a first home. The bill would authorize an individual income tax deduction for 50 percent of the contributions to the account. It would have an annual contribution deduction limit of $1,600 per taxpayer. The bill specifies the maximum contribution limit for all tax years would be $20,000 and the maximum total amount in the savings account would be $30,000.
Developing Missouri’s Workforce (HB 1465) - The Missouri House of Representatives approved legislation to help ensure Missouri’s system of higher education is working to meet the state’s workforce and education needs. The bill would give institutions greater flexibility to offer degrees that meet the needs of their local communities and businesses. In effect, it would allow community colleges to offer four-year baccalaureate degrees in certain programs.
Visiting Scholars Certificate (HB 1665) – Legislation that has received the approval of both the House and Senate and now awaits the governor’s signature would provide young people with greater access to highly-skilled, experienced instructors in areas such as health care, manufacturing, and engineering. The legislation would allow the State Board of Education to issue a visiting scholar certificate as a license to teach in public schools. The visiting scholar certificate would allow a professional to be employed in a content area in which the individual has an academic degree or professional experience. The bill is meant to allow students to benefit from the expertise of successful professionals in fields of high need.
Expanding Virtual School Options for Missouri Students (HB 1408) - House members approved a piece of legislation meant to better prepare young people for success in the workforce. The bill is meant to expand course options and access for K-12 students. The legislation would change the Missouri Virtual Instruction Program (MOVIP) to "The Missouri Course Access Program" (MCAP) and allow any K-12 student to enroll in MCAP courses. The bill would give students the opportunity to take courses that their school does not offer, especially in the case of small schools unable to hire teachers for advanced or specialized subject areas.
Important Reforms for the State Unemployment System (HB 1409) – The House sent to the Senate a bill meant to protect the state’s unemployment system from insolvency in the event there is another economic downturn. The bill would tie unemployment benefits to the average unemployment rate so that more benefits are available when unemployment is high. If the state were in a position of high unemployment (9 percent or higher), benefits would be available for 20 weeks. In periods of low unemployment (lower than 6 percent), benefits would be available for 13 weeks. The legislation is also designed to make sure the state has enough money in its unemployment trust fund so that businesses don’t have to pay a penalty.
Eliminating Fraud from the TANF Program (HB 1443) – House members sent legislation to the Senate that is meant to increase accountability and eliminate fraud in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The bill would increase penalties for the misuse of funds provided by this program that is intended to help needy families achieve self-sufficiency. The bill would also prohibit TANF or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits from being accessed as cash through an ATM. Additionally, the bill would add pornography to the list of items that are prohibited from being purchased by TANF or SNAP benefits.
Criminalizing “Revenge Porn” (HB 1558) - Members of the Missouri House of Representatives approved legislation that would make it a felony offense to disseminate private sexual images without the consent of the person in the image. Often referred to as nonconsensual pornography or “revenge porn,” the offense occurs when an individual sends or posts sexually explicit photos or videos of someone without their permission even if they were originally taken with consent.
Fighting Human Trafficking (HB 1246) – Legislation that has already passed both chambers and been signed into law is meant to address the growing problem of human trafficking. The state is currently ranked 20th in reported human trafficking cases according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. Lawmakers have built on past efforts to address the trafficking problem by passing legislation that would make Missourians better aware of the resources available to assist victims of trafficking. The bill would require the Department of Public Safety to develop a poster to promote the use of the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline. The posters would be displayed at common areas where human trafficking can occur such as hotels or motels that have been cited for prostitution, and train and bus stations.
Parental Notification Bill (HB 1383) - The Missouri House has voted to require the notification of both parents when a minor in Missouri seeks to have an abortion. The legislation would require that a parent or guardian giving consent for a minor to have an abortion notify any other custodial parent or guardian in writing before the minor gives her consent. It would not apply in an emergency or for custodial parents or guardians that have been found guilty of certain crimes, are listed on the sex offender registry, are the subject of an order of protection, have had parental rights terminated, or for whom the whereabouts are not known. Missouri law now requires that a minor seeking an abortion and one parent or guardian of that minor give written consent before the procedure can be performed.
Support for Pregnancy Resource Centers and Maternity Homes (HBs 1288, 1377 & 2050) – During the first half of the session, House members gave their approval to legislation that would continue and expand support for pregnancy resource centers and maternity homes in Missouri. The bill would extend the sunset for tax credits that help encourage investment in these programs that benefit many of Missouri’s most vulnerable citizens. Under current law, the tax credit for donations to maternity homes is set to expire June 30, 2020. The tax credit for donations to pregnancy resource centers expires Dec. 31, 2019. The legislation approved by the House would extend the sunset for both credits to 2024.
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.