Spring Break must have energized us Representatives because we accomplished a lot this week. Below you will find a list of bills we approved and sent over to the Senate.
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 Moves to Protect Children in Unlicensed Residential Care Facilities (HBs 557 & 560)
The news that children in some unlicensed residential care facilities have suffered mental, physical, and sexual abuse has prompted legislators to take quick action to create stronger protections for young people in faith-based reform schools. This week the House gave initial approval to a bill that would create stronger oversight for boarding schools run by religious organizations.
An exemption in current law allowed residential care facilities managed by a religious organization to operate without supervision. This allowed some bad actors to set up reform schools with no oversight from the state. The sponsor of the bill noted these bad actors came here because Missouri is one of only two states that had such an exemption.
The sponsor said, “There were people who came here, and they were truly not religious people. They set these homes up ... and we had some horrible, horrible results happen.” He added, “These homes, all you had to say was that it was a religious organization, you were religious. You couldn’t even check into if they were a recognized religious organization.”
The issues with the unlicensed facilities were brought to light by the media, which then prompted the House Children and Families Committee to conduct hearings to investigate further. Most recently, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a total of 102 criminal charges, including rape, sodomy, and physical abuse, against the operators of the Circle of Hope Girls Ranch. The attorney general’s office is also working to assist authorities in Cedar County with an investigation of the Agape Boarding School, which has also received allegations of abuse.
The bill approved by the House will ensure anyone working or volunteering at an unlicensed facility is subjected to a federal criminal background check. It requires all such facilities to notify the Department of Social Services of their existence and to comply with provisions that protect the safety of the children in residence. Additionally, the bill outlines a process to allow the department to intervene when there are allegations of abuse or neglect.
The sponsor said the bill was crafted to stop bad actors, and to protect the religious freedoms of the organizations who are operating facilities legitimately. The bill includes a provision making it clear the state is not permitted to regulate any religious program, curriculum, or ministry.
“I have great respect for these religious organizations. There are a lot of good ones out there. The trouble is with no supervision, the bad ones are going to destroy the reputations of the good ones, or worse, they’re going to cause more regulations,” said the sponsor.
The bill requires another vote in the House before moving to the Senate for consideration. House Approves Bill to Create Birth Match Program (HB 432) The members of the Missouri House have given strong bipartisan support to legislation that seeks to protect newborns from potential abuse. Known as the Birth Match Program, the bill requires data sharing between state departments that would better allow the state to offer prevention and crisis management support to families who may need it.
The bill’s sponsor said, “This program will create a timely way for Social Services to help newborns who are likely in abusive situations before they are harmed. This bill is about keeping young babies and families on a path to success.” The bill orders data sharing between the Children's Division of the Department of Social Services and the State Registrar's office to compare birth reports with reports of parents who have been convicted of certain crimes or have a termination of parental rights in order to ensure the safety of the child and provide services, if needed. Local Children’s Division personnel will then initiate contact with the family, or make a good faith effort to do so, to determine if the parent or family has a need for services and provide such voluntary and time-limited services as appropriate to help the family.
“This is about helping our kids,” said the sponsor. “And this is about working with families to give our kids a bright future.”
The bill is now under consideration in the Senate.
House Gives First-Round Approval to Bill to Prevent Misuse of Seclusion and Restraint (HB 387)
The members of the Missouri House gave first-round approval to legislation to prevent the misuse of disciplinary practices known as seclusion and restraint. The bill provides stronger definitions for the practices and regulates how they can be implemented and utilized.
Seclusion and restraint are disciplinary practices used by some schools when dealing with kids who pose a threat to themselves or others. The practice is meant to be used as a last resort and involves restraining the child or removing him or her to a separate space. Currently there are no federal laws governing how seclusion and restraint can be used.
The sponsor of the bill noted that the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has a policy on seclusion and restraint, but it hasn’t been enforced and schools have developed their own policies as a result. She said the policy is meant to be that seclusion and restraint are only to be used when students are a danger to themselves or others. The sponsor said that, unfortunately for many years in the past, some bad actors used seclusion and restraint for “discipline and time outs and punishment.”
“I think it’s time Missouri gets up to speed,” said the bill’s sponsor.
She also called seclusion and restraint “archaic” and noted there are “many, many other alternative therapies that have been used and have been proven to be adequate without hurting the child and hurting their growth, and not traumatizing them further.”
The bill would require schools to create policy that prohibits the use of restraint and seclusion, including “prone restraint,” for any purpose other than situations or conditions in which there is imminent danger of physical harm to self or others. The bill also requires any incident requiring restraint or seclusion to be monitored by school personnel with written observation. Additionally, it ensures parents and guardians are promptly notified when schools have used the measures on their child, and it mandates annual trainings for the school personnel who use them.
One of the supporters of the bill said, “This bill goes after a handful of irresponsible bad actors who regularly misuse these rooms and who regularly put kids in these rooms as punishment.”
The bill requires another vote in the House before moving to the Senate.
Other Bills Sent to the Senate
HB 543 creates the Public School Open Enrollment Act, which establishes transfer procedures to nonresident districts for students in public schools. The bill specifies that any student beginning kindergarten or already enrolled in a public school may attend a public school in any nonresident district. Districts must declare participation in the Open Enrollment Program by October 1. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) shall develop a model open enrollment transfer policy. Any student that applies for a transfer may only accept one transfer per school year, although the student may return to their resident district and must complete a full semester before applying for another transfer.
For the purposes of federal and state aid the student shall be counted as a resident pupil of the nonresident district. Supporters say the bill provides districts with an option to participate and accept students, however it does not prevent students from leaving a district. The bill addresses common concerns such as siblings attending the same district and athletes transferring merely to participate in sports. Supporters state that where you live should not dictate where you go to school and that public school choice would be beneficial for parents and districts that offer a “good product.” This bill focuses on students and creates flexibility and opportunities, while allowing local policy development and holding districts responsible.
HB 738 makes numerous changes to the state’s election laws. The bill authorizes the Secretary of State (SOS) to audit voter registration lists and require election authorities to remove improper names. Beginning January 1, 2022, it requires the use of a paper ballot and repeals electronic voting system language with certain exceptions for voting equipment used for the disabled. It allows use of absentee ballots without stating a reason beginning the third Tuesday before an election provided that photo identification is provided or other exceptions are met. The bill also specifies photographic identification requirements for voting a regular ballot, but allows use of provisional ballots with any type of documentation currently allowed for voting.
Supporters say the bill will ensure fair and secure elections in Missouri. Most of the measures are designed to combat actual problems and attempts at fraud personally witnessed by the sponsor in past years. The use of hand-marked paper ballots will greatly help in securing elections and providing an audit trail. Photographic identification provisions are modified in accordance with court rulings so that they can be implemented. The bill will provide assurance to the general public that Missouri elections will not be questioned in the same way as other state elections.
HB 542 adopts the Occupational Therapy Licensure Compact. The compact allows an occupational therapist who meets the eligibility requirements to receive an expedited license. To participate in the compact, a member state must license both occupational therapists and occupational therapist assistances, participate in a data system, have a mechanism in place regarding complaints, consider criminal history records for applicants, utilize only recognized national examination as a requirement for licensure, and have continuing education requirements.
Supporters say the bill reduces barriers by eliminating the need for occupational therapists to get a license in every state they practice in. However, the bill still protects the current system of state licensure. Under this compact, occupational therapists will still have to abide by the licensure laws in the state in which they are practicing. Supporters say the compact is similar to the nurse licensure compact that was passed several years ago.
HB 627 establishes a children’s savings account program. The bill provides to parents of any qualified children born or adopted after January 1, 2021 and a Missouri resident at time of birth, a scholarship grant of $100 in a savings account known as the Missouri Education Savings Program. Supporters say the bill allows students to use money through the fund to help pay for higher education and the expenses that follow. Importantly, the bill means that students are much more likely to open a 529 account, as well, and start saving otherwise, which promotes financial literacy and allows students to plan for the future. The bill accomplishes this goal without dramatically increasing state expenses. The bill also improves health outcomes for students and families by removing financial strain and its consequences.
HB 228 prevents any public school districts and charter schools from prohibiting a parent or guardian from audio recording any meeting held under the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or a Section 504 plan meeting (Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973).
Supporters say it is currently against the law to not allow the recording of these meetings, and these meetings include very detailed and complex amounts of information. Having a recording benefits the students and parents. Several other states have specific policies that allow recording of meetings and Missouri statutes need to clarify that recording these meetings for personal use is allowed.
HB 273 prohibits the Division of Professional Registration from requiring a license if a person engages solely in shampooing under the supervision of a licensed barber or cosmetologist. Supporters say the bill reduces barriers on people entering the workforce. It will allow individuals to work in a salon while deciding if they want to pursue becoming a cosmetologist.
HB 687 exempts new motor vehicles from the requirement that motor vehicles receive a safety inspection immediately prior to their sale regardless of any current certificate of inspection and approval. Supporters say this will provide more transparency and safety, and fix a mistake that required even new cars to be inspected.
HB 585 authorizes the next-of-kin of a deceased person to delegate control of the final disposition of the remains. Current law provides a list, in the order of priority, of next-of-kin who have the right to control the disposition of a dead human body. This bill provides that the surviving spouse will not be considered as next-of-kin if an action for dissolution of marriage has been filed and is pending in a court of competent jurisdiction. Additionally, the next-of-kin of a deceased person may delegate the final disposition of the deceased to an agent through a power of attorney.
HB 76 adds a newborn safety incubator, as defined in the bill, as a place a parent of a child up to 45 days old may voluntarily deliver the child with the intent not to return, without being prosecuted. The bill authorizes the Department of Health and Senior Services to promulgate rules relating to the Safe Place for Newborns Act of 2002. Supporters say there are charitable organizations that would be willing to donate newborn safety incubators that are climate controlled and alarmed, and similar incubators have saved lives in other states.
HB 850 modifies provisions for ballot summary language adopted by the General Assembly. The bill prohibits the modification of summary statements or ballot language approved by the General Assembly for Constitutional amendments or statutory measures. Courts will not have jurisdiction to rewrite or edit such language prior to placing it on the ballot. Supporters say judges should not modify ballot language as this violates the separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches. Ballot language may be reviewed as to form by the Secretary of State and the Attorney General. Courts will retain power to rule on the constitutionality of ballot language, but are restricted only with regard to the remedy of substantially rewriting ballot language that is passed by the legislature.