(Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021) — My third full week in the Capitol was a busy one and again there was another event that I was excited to be able to attend. Our committee hearings really got into full swing this meet as all but one of my five had hearings on new legislation. The most important one to note is HB 16, which allows federal money that was approved by congress in regards to housing and utility assistance for those that have met hardships during the COVID pandemic. I have learned that Budget committee will be a very laborious process as our first hearing lasted for nearly four and a half hours. However I am excited to be on it because of the vast knowledge that I will gain in all regards to the State budget.
On Wednesday we had the Governor’s State of the State Address where he laid out his vision for not only the coming year but also the rest of his term. This time-honored tradition was filled with much pomp and circumstance, and I was glad to be a part of it. As always don’t hesitate to contact my office if you have any questions or concerns. I thank you for your support and am honored to be your representative in Jefferson City.
House Approves Supplemental Funding for Rental and Utility Assistance (HB 16)
The Missouri House took quick action this week to approve additional funding that will help renters pay their bills. The House gave final approval to HB 16, which will appropriate more than $324 million to the Missouri Housing Development Commission to help Missourians with rental assistance and utility assistance.
The bill allocates Missouri’s share of a $25 billion federal aid package for housing that was passed in December. Missouri’s portion of the federal funds will be disbursed by the Missouri Housing Development Commission and can be used to pay landlords and utilities in arrears or to help keep renters current.
Clay County, Greene County, Jackson County, Jefferson County, St. Louis County, Kansas City, and St. Louis City will not participate in the program as they have applied and received funding directly from the federal government.
The Missouri Senate intends to take up and pass House Bill 16 next week. It will then head to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.
First Two Bills Approved by the House Will Provide Financial Support to Foster and Adoptive Parents (HB 429 and HB 430)
Families that provide a stable home to children in need would receive additional financial assistance under the first two pieces of legislation approved by the Missouri House of Representatives for the 2021 legislative session. The bills are a top priority for House Speaker Rob Vescovo, who was adopted as a child after spending time in Missouri’s foster care system.
By a vote of 149-0, the House approved HB 429, which would authorize an income tax deduction for Missouri taxpayers for the expenses related to providing care as a foster parent. The bill would authorize a deduction of $2,500 for an individual and $5,000 for a married couple if foster care is provided for at least six months.
The bill’s sponsor said the income tax deduction will allow foster parents to utilize these additional funds to provide for the children they foster, and will enable more families to foster who might otherwise be financially unable.
HB 430 was approved by the House by a vote of 155-0. It would expand the state’s existing $10,000 tax credit to any adoption. Currently the credit applies only to Missouri taxpayers who adopt special needs children. The legislation would continue to give priority to special needs adoptions.
An amendment added on the House floor would allow the adoption tax credit to be claimed by Missouri taxpayers who adopt an individual who is 18 years of age or older but is physically or mentally incapable of caring for himself or herself.
With the approval of the House of Representatives, the two bills now move to the Missouri Senate for consideration.
Governor Parson Delivers 2021 State of the State Address
Governor Mike Parson delivered the 2021 State of the State Address to the Missouri General Assembly this week. During the speech, Parson highlighted several accomplishments the state has made in combating COVID-19, as well as major successes in infrastructure and workforce development.
Parson's speech also focused on priorities for 2021: education and workforce development, infrastructure, stronger communities, health care, and government reform. Additionally, the governor expressed his hope that the legislature will make COVID-19 liability protection and Wayfair top priorities this session.
Parson said he hopes a COVID-19 liability protection bill is the first piece of legislation to hit his desk this session. He said, “Missouri businesses, manufacturers, health care providers, schools, churches, and many other entities across the state did not hesitate to step up and help their communities in the fight against COVID-19. None of these groups should be penalized for their efforts to help. They must be able to continue serving the public without risk of unnecessary claims.”
He also called on the House and Senate to consider Wayfair legislation to address the unfair advantage online retailers have over small businesses in Missouri. Parson said, “I am a strong supporter of lower taxes – in fact, I have signed several tax cuts into law. However, our small businesses, especially in smaller communities, are getting crushed right now because they cannot compete with huge online retailers. We must level that playing field and consider ways to responsibly invest those revenues and provide new opportunities for our state.”
Some of the other policy areas highlighted by the governor include:
Parson highlighted the state’s efforts to help Missourians dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. He noted the state went from testing only a few thousand people each week to more than 100,000 a week. Parson pointed out that the state launched the Show Me Strong Recovery Plan to support Missouri citizens, businesses, and communities. He also said the state waived nearly 600 statutes and regulations to provide more flexibility and safety for Missourians, distributed $520 million in CARES Act funds to local jurisdictions within 10 days, and helped secure more than $11 billion in low-interest loans for Missouri small businesses.
Parson said, “We have now shipped over 22 million gowns, 18 million gloves, 8 million surgical masks, 5 million N95 masks, and 1 million face shields to frontline health care providers. We were one of the first states in the nation to submit our COVID-19 vaccine plan and have now administered nearly 400,000 doses to Missourians. The bottom line is that we have been working day in and day out to fight COVID-19 while also dealing with civil unrest, violent crime, and a difficult budget.”
Parson emphasized the importance of Missouri’s children to the state’s future workforce. To strengthen Missouri’s early childhood system, the governor announced the consolidation of several different programs and divisions across three state agencies into a new Office of Childhood.
Parson also proposed multiple investments in K-12 education, including a fully funded Foundation Formula and the expansion of the WorkKeys curriculum to all 57 existing career centers in Missouri.
For college-bound students, the governor called for an increase of more than $13 million for the A+ scholarship program as well as the continued funding for the Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant program.
Parson also called for major investments in infrastructure, including $6.3 million for shovel-ready projects at Missouri’s established ports and $25 million to fulfill the transportation cost-share program established by Governor Parson’s administration in 2019.
Additionally, Parson announced his administration will once again seek $5 million to continue expanding and improving broadband services across the state.
The governor will also seek approval for infrastructure projects at 22 state parks and a one-time expenditure of $100 million to clear the backlog of maintenance projects for state assets, facilities, and buildings.
Parson also talked about the challenge he made to the Missouri Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Commission to take a leading role in advancing officer training and improving public relations. The POST Commission followed through by voting in October to require annual training in de-escalation techniques and implicit bias.
The state also recently granted Lincoln University a basic training center license to establish the nation's first law enforcement training academy at a Historically Black College and University to help recruit more minority officers to serve in law enforcement. The state is currently working to find commitments for all program scholarships for the first three years.
To further support law enforcement, Parson proposed $1.5 million for the witness protection fund passed by the General Assembly during the special session on violent crime.
As a result of the way COVID-19 has changed how health care is delivered, and because the demand for telehealth has increased significantly, Parson proposed over $4 million to support telehealth for individuals with developmental disabilities.
The governor also proposed more than $20 million to establish 50 new community mental health and substance use disorder advocates and six new crisis stabilization centers across the state.
Parson said he will push for changes with a focus on foster care and adoption. The state’s goal is to take a stressful, complex, and often frustrating process and consolidate rulemaking authority into one department.
Parson also proposed a pay increase for state employees to help retain and attract quality public servants for the people of Missouri.
COVID-19 Vaccination Dashboard Now Online
Missourians interested in finding out information about the state’s vaccination efforts can turn to a new website launched this week. Gov. Mike Parson announced the launch of the COVID-19 vaccination dashboard, which will provide Missouri-specific data submitted by providers from across the state.
Parson said, “We are excited to announce the launch of Missouri's COVID-19 vaccination dashboard. This dashboard will provide Missourians with the most up-to-date, Missouri-specific data available. It is important that we provide this resource and be as transparent as possible, especially as some individuals tasked with reporting Missouri's vaccine data often fail to report the complete picture."
Enrolled vaccinators throughout the state of Missouri continue to vaccinate those living or working in Missouri who are eligible under Phase 1A and Phase 1B - Tiers 1 and 2. The interactive dashboard includes total doses administered and also distinguishes the number of individuals who have received one dose or both doses. Seven-day averages of doses administered are also included as well as demographic information on individuals who have received at least one dose. This information shows the shares of individual populations by age group, sex, race, and ethnicity.
Additionally, those who live in Missouri and have received at least one dose are also captured in a county-level vaccination table. This shows how many residents have received a dose per reported county of residence.
Missourians are encouraged to visit MoStopsCOVID.com to see the latest vaccine updates, find out when they are eligible for the vaccine, and locate available vaccinators in their area.