Today, the General Assembly wrapped up the Regular Session for the regular session. Although the normal legislative schedule was disrupted for several weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were able to get several important bills across the finish line including a fiscally responsible state operating budget, important workforce development legislation, much-needed reforms for the state’s foster care system, protections for victims of sexual assault, and new tools to combat drug trafficking. In total, the House and Senate gave final approval to approximately 50 pieces of legislation. A few summaries of these bills follow, and I’ll be giving a complete rundown in following reports.
Universal License Recognition (HB 2046) – The legislation will allow professionals moving to Missouri to continue working in their professions without delay. Currently, individuals licensed in other states must get relicensed in order to work in Missouri, which requires additional tests, training, and a long wait for approval. This provision will allow professionals already licensed in other states to come to Missouri and enter the workforce. The bill also includes the most expansive license reciprocity in the country for military families.
The act will also allow prior offenders who have served their time to integrate more effectively back into society by providing a path to meaningful work. Individuals will not be disqualified for a professional license because of a prior conviction unless the crime is directly related to the duties and responsibilities for the licensed occupation. This important criminal justice reform will allow those who have paid their debt to society to make a positive impact in their communities.
The act will also expand Missouri’s recognition of apprenticeships as a path to licensure and work. It will allow apprentices to obtain industry licenses as part of an apprenticeship. According to recent reports, Missouri reached 10,000 new registered apprenticeships in 2019, becoming second in the nation for new apprenticeships. The state also ranked second in number of apprenticeships competed in 2019.
Military Spouse License Reciprocity (HBs 1511 and 1452) – A piece of legislation that has already been signed into law is designed to cut the bureaucratic red tape for the approximately 35 percent of military spouses who work in a field that requires a license. The bill would remove the barriers that impede military spouse licensure and allow them to practice their occupation as long as they hold a valid current license issued by another state or territory of the United States.
Hyperloop (HB 1963) – With the passage of HB 1963, Missouri becomes the first state in the nation to approve legislation to support the development of a tube transport system, which is commonly referred to as Hyperloop. The bill authorizes
the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission to form a public-private partnership to construct the system. The bill prohibits the use of eminent domain for the development of a Hyperloop system.
Protections for Victims of Sexual Assault (SB 569) - The legislation would give victims of sexual assault access to a secure electronic tracking system for their Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence (SAFE) kits. With this, victims would be able to track the status of their kit throughout the legal process. The legislation seeks to address a problem in Missouri where 6,000 SAFE kits remain untested. The bill also requires the Department of Public Safety to develop a centralized repository for evidence that is temperature-controlled to preserve the integrity of the kits and diminish degradation.
Also, the act has provisions directing the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to establish a statewide telehealth network to provide forensic exams for victims of sexual assault. The measure is meant to address the fact that some hospitals are unable to conduct a complete forensic examination or properly collect evidence because they do not have a sexual assault nurse examiner on staff. The Justice for Survivors Act would require all hospitals to provide a forensic exam for victims of sexual assault by 2023. The act would provide assistance with in-person training on how to perform rape kits, and 24/7 access to a certified sexual assault examiner via the telehealth network.
Finally, the measure includes rights and protections for survivors of sexual assault during any medical examination and interactions with law enforcement, the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney. The bill includes the right to consult with employees or volunteers of rape crisis centers during any examination or interview, the right to receive notice of these rights prior to an examination or interview, the right to a prompt analysis of the forensic evidence, and other specified rights.
Protecting Children (HB 1414) – The General Assembly passed legislation to make much-needed improvements to the state’s foster care system. The legislation is meant to better protect young people by modernizing the system and making it more accountable, as well as making the data in the system more transparent. The legislation will give mental health and child care professionals the tools they need to better serve the needs of children. It puts in place a comprehensive risk-assessment tool for social workers that will help them determine whether children should stay in the home or be removed. It also works to spare foster children from the hardship of having to appear in court unless the judge and family support team feel it is in the best interests of the child. The bill also contains other provisions designed to improve the foster care system and protect children.
Improving Public Safety (SB 600) – The legislature gave final approval to a bill meant to address the issue of violent crime in Missouri. The legislation increases the prison terms for the offense of armed criminal action. It also increases the minimum prison term for an individual convicted of armed criminal action if the individual unlawfully possesses a firearm. Additionally, the bill increases the penalty for unlawful possession of a firearm. The bill creates the offense of vehicle hijacking, which is committed when an individual knowingly uses or threatens the use of physical force upon another individual to seize or attempt to seize possession or control of a vehicle. It also creates the Missouri Criminal Street Gangs Prevention Act.
Combating Drug Trafficking (HB 1896) – The bill would increase penalties for trafficking the dangerous drug fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and the use of which can easily result in overdoses. The bill would make it a Class B felony to knowingly distribute, make, or attempt to distribute or make, more than 10 milligrams of fentanyl or its derivatives. Making or distributing 20 or more milligrams would be a Class A felony. The legislation would also increase the penalties for trafficking one gram or more of Rohypnol or any amount of GHB, both of which are often used in sex crimes. The bill also includes offenses for possessing and purchasing the dangerous drugs.
This bill (and HB 1682) will require individuals affiliated with licensed or certified medical marijuana facilities to submit fingerprints to the Highway Patrol for a state and federal criminal background check. The state constitution requires the state health department to verify these individuals have not committed a disqualifying felony, but the legislation was necessary to give the department access to the FBI’s national fingerprint database. The bill would also prohibit the sale of edible marijuana- infused products that are designed, produced, or marketed in a manner to appeal to persons under 18 years of age, including candies, gummies, lollipops, cotton candy, or products in the shape of a human, animal, or fruit.
Vaping Ban for Schools (HB 1682) – The General Assembly approved legislation to ban vaping in public schools. The bill specifies that no person can use vapor products in any indoor area of a public elementary or secondary school building or on school buses. The bill does allow school boards to set policies on permissible uses of vapor products in any other non-classroom or non-student occupant facility or outdoor school grounds.
Legal Reform (SB 591) - The legislation will reform Missouri’s legal climate by stopping the abuse of the state’s punitive damage system. The original intent of the punitive damage system was to punish and deter a small number of defendants who exhibit the worst type of conduct. Today, Missouri’s system instead is used to put pressure on businesses to agree to huge payouts. Supporters say the bill provides a balanced and fair solution that does not eliminate punitive damages, but ensures they are only awarded in appropriate cases. The bill also makes important reforms to the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (MMPA), which was created to protect consumers from unfair practices. The bill includes commonsense changes such as requiring that plaintiffs demonstrate they acted as a reasonable consumer and members of class actions must demonstrate individual harm.
Emergency Voting (SB 631) – In order to protect the health of citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the General Assembly approved legislation that would allow voting by mail for the 2020 elections. The bill expands the existing absentee ballot system to allow absentee ballots for those who are in an at-risk category for contracting or transmitting COVID- 19. The bill also allows any registered voter to cast a mail-in ballot during 2020. Voters would request a mail-in ballot from their local election authority. Voters using the mail-in ballot option would need to have their ballot notarized.
Local Government Transparency (HB 1854) - Legislation that received final approval from the General Assembly is meant to improve transparency by providing public access to local government expenditure data. The bill would create a database that allows taxpayers to search expenditures and payments received and made by counties and municipalities. It would create the Missouri Local Government Expenditure Database, which would be an easy to use, downloadable database housed on
the Missouri Accountability Portal. A municipality or county may voluntarily participate in the database, or may be required to participate through a petition process used by its residents. The database would provide expenditure data for each fiscal year beginning on or after December 31, 2022.
Property Tax Fairness (SB 676) – The legislation would protect Missourians from being blindsided with dramatic property assessment increases. The bill is meant to provide citizens with a reasonable timetable to appeal increases in assessed value. The bill would clarify deadlines and guarantee that taxpayers will always have at least a month to appeal an assessment increase. The legislation also provides additional protections to homeowners against abusive assessments. The bill requires county assessors to conduct a physical inspection of real estate prior to increasing a property’s assessment more than 15 percent. It also shifts the burden of establishing higher property values to assessors.
Also, SB 676 protects Missourians’ stimulus payments from state income tax. The stimulus payments are not subject to federal income taxes, and the change approved by the General Assembly would enact a similar policy for Missouri tax law.
Recognition for Veterans (SB 656) – Legislation approved by the General Assembly seeks to recognize the contributions of the state’s veterans. The bill would designate August 19 of each year as Honor Guard Appreciation Day. June 6 of each year would be Ghost Army Recognition Day (my amendment). The bill also designates the 22nd day of each month as Buddy Check
22 Day to encourage citizens to check in on veterans and to raise awareness of the problem of suicide facing military personnel. Additionally, the bill creates the Meritorious Service Medal special license plate and the Central Missouri Honor Flight special license plate. The bill also exempts Purple Heart special license plates from vehicle registration fees for the first set of plates issued. The bill also requires the Missouri Veterans' Commission to seek out business organizations that are interested in hiring veterans for available job opportunities.
Expanding Access to Broadband (HB 1768) – A bill approved during the 2020 legislative session is meant to bring access to broadband Internet to the nearly 1 million Missourians who do not have it. Missouri currently ranks 41st in the nation in broadband access and 49th in speed. The legislation would help to keep vital funds to expand access to broadband internet in the state. It would enable the Department of Economic Development to legally seek to have any funds that would otherwise be returned to the federal government to be retained in Missouri and awarded to other eligible qualified Missouri broadband providers. The bill also allows community and neighborhood improvement districts to partner with broadband providers to construct or improve facilities to provide service to the unserved and underserved. Additionally, it expands the sunset on the Missouri broadband fund until 2027, and the sunset for deploying 5G until 2025.
Ethics and Redistricting Reform (SJR 38) – This proposed constitutional amendment will allow voters to decide if they want to strengthen ethics reforms that were passed in 2018, and create a redistricting plan that is designed to keep communities intact. If approved by voters, the change to the state constitution would ban all lobbyist gifts and create stricter campaign contribution limits for state Senate candidates. The plan would authorize the existing Independent Bipartisan Citizens Commissions to prepare new redistricting plans for the state Senate and House of Representatives.
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 email@example.com. Thank you for working with me to make Missouri a great place to live.