We had a busy week at the Capitol and moved many bills over to the Senate. I added one, HB 576, the Campus Free Expression Act. The bill modifies the current Campus Free Expression Act that provides some protection of speech, but does not provide enough protection. HB 576 requires the governing board of each public institution of higher education to adopt a policy on free expression by Jan. 1, 2020.
Most colleges in Missouri currently have policies in place that limit speech or provide administration with too much discretion on what speech should be allowed. With amendment, the bill also establishes the “Cronkite New Voices Act,” which provides that in both public high schools and public institutions of higher education a student journalist has the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press in school-sponsored media.
I also had hearings on HB 577, the display of our national motto in public school buildings, and a Senate hearing on HB 1094, the taxpayer relief bill for errors occurring in 2018 due to incorrect withholdings tables. A list of other bill activity this week follows.
Missouri House Approves Legislation to Give Voters a Choice on New Redistricting Plan (HJR 48, 46 & 47)
The Missouri House has sent a proposed constitutional amendment to the Senate that would give voters a choice on how the state handles the legislative redistricting process. If approved by voters, the legislation would make changes to Amendment 1, better known as Clean Missouri, which was passed during the last general election. The proposal would also strengthen the ethics reforms that were part of Amendment 1.
The resolution seeks to give voters a choice in the November 2020 election by offering the following major fixes:
1. The five dollar lobbyist gift limit would become a complete lobbyist gift ban.
2. Contribution limits for the Senate would be lowered from $2,500 to $2,000 to match those of the House.
3. Establish criteria that ensure the redistricting process is compliant with the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, that it provides communities of interest with representation and participation in the political process, and that it produces districts that are compact and contiguous and achieve partisan fairness.
4. A bipartisan committee, rather than a single bureaucrat whose appointment will be controlled by a partisan elected official, draws the maps. This removes the danger of a single redistricting czar under the sway, if not outright control, of one political party or set of special interest.
House Approves Plan to Empower Local Voters to Decide Potential Merger of St. Louis City and County (HJR 54)
For some time, the issue of merging St. Louis city and county has been on the public agenda of Missourians. There has been a push to submit this to a statewide vote, but many legislators believe this matter is best left to the voters of the two affected political subdivisions. In that vein of thought, HJR-54 was filed. The legislation comes in response to the Better Together ballot proposal that would utilize a statewide vote to decide if the city and county should merge into a metropolitan city with a unified government.
This week the House have advanced the proposal that would allow Missouri voters to decide whether to change the constitution to ensure local residents get the final say on a potential merger of St. Louis City and St. Louis County. HJR 54 would also prohibit ballot measures to dissolve any city or county or merge any city or county with another city or county unless there is a majority vote in each affected city or county authorizing the dissolution or merger. The sponsor of the bill said the provision will protect all counties in the State of Missouri.
The legislation now moves to the Senate for consideration. If approved by both chambers, the proposal would go on the November 2020 ballot for voter approval.
General Assembly Approves Important Legal Reforms (SB 7)
The House gave their stamp of approval this week to legislation meant to improve Missouri’s legal climate and bring fairness to courtrooms in the state. The legislation, which was previously approved by the Senate, now heads to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.
The legislation comes in response to Missouri’s existing laws on joinder and venue that have made the state a premier destination for out-of-state litigants to file their lawsuits. Supporters noted that the reputation that courtrooms in St. Louis and Kansas City have for handing out big judgments have attracted thousands of litigants from across the nation. Supporters noted that only 1,035 out of 13,252 mass tort plaintiffs in cases being heard in St. Louis City were actually Missouri residents.
The changes approved by the legislature reflect a ruling made in February by the Missouri Supreme Court. The state’s highest court found that a St. Louis City Circuit Court Judge incorrectly allowed a suit by a St. Louis County plaintiff against a New Jersey-based company to move forward in his court. This legislation will reduce cost and increase access for Missouri residents to the court system by reducing the number of cases filed in Missouri courts by plaintiffs with no connection to the state.
Gov. Parson praised the legislature for sending the bill to his desk. The governor released a statement saying, “Passing venue and joinder reform is a huge win and will provide long overdue relief to Missouri businesses that have been taken advantage of by rampant abuse of our state’s legal system. Today’s passage of SB 7 will soon deliver a significant economic boost and create a better business environment all across Missouri.
He added, “I look forward to signing these positive reforms to improve our state’s competitiveness, strengthen our legal climate, and bring fairness to our courtroom.”
House Moves to Help Domestic Violence Victims (HB 1135)
The House also approved legislation meant to help victims of domestic violence get away from abusers and move on with their lives. Under the bill, victims of domestic violence, who are engaged with an agency accredited with the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic Violence, would receive a one-time fee waiver for obtaining a copy of a birth certificate.
Supporters say individuals who leave a home where abuse occurs often leave behind birth certificates, as well as other documents and identification. When they attempt to obtain new forms of identification such as a driver license or attempt to open a bank account, it is difficult to do so without a birth certificate. The fee to get a new copy is often a burden to a survivor faced with numerous other expenses while trying to start down a new path in life.
The bill also provides a free birth certificate to any homeless or unaccompanied youth, and allows an unaccompanied youth to obtain a birth certificate without consent or signature of a parent or guardian.
The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.
Other House Bills Sent to the Senate
HB 681 extends from Jan. 1, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2025, the expiration of the fee collected from retailers for the disposal of old tires. Supporters say the scrap tire fee has helped to clean up millions of abandoned tires across Missouri. The bill would allow the Department of Natural Resources to continue to clean up abandoned tires.
HB 1162 requires the Department of Economic Development to maintain a record of all federal grants awarded to entities for the purposes of providing, maintaining, and expanding rural broadband in the state of Missouri. In cases in which funds have been retained, withheld or not distributed due to failure to meet performance standards or other criteria, the department must seek to have the funds awarded to another eligible, qualified Missouri broadband provider.
HB 842 creates the “Capitol Complex Fund,” and authorizes it to receive any eligible monetary donation, and segregates the fund into two accounts: a rehabilitation and renovation account.
HB 713 specifies that Purple Heart specialized license plates shall be issued without any fee for the first set of plates and only the regular registration fee shall apply to any additional plates.
HB 1137 establishes the criteria of a worker to be considered as an independent contractor. It states that independent contractors shall have a written contract that states the person is an independent contractor, not an employee, and that the person is responsible for all costs, fees, and taxes as an independent contractor.
HB 600 entitles any intermediate care facility or skilled nursing facility participating in MO HealthNet that incurs total capital expenditures in excess of $2,000 per bed to obtain a recalculation of its Medicaid per diem reimbursement rate based on its additional capital costs or all costs incurred during the fiscal year during which such capital expenditures were made. Supporters say long term care providers currently have no reason to invest private capital to upgrade their facilities because they have no mechanism to increase rates and recoup investment costs and that new facilities get higher Medicaid per diem reimbursement rates than existing facilities. The bill will incentivize repairs and upgrades to existing facilities.
HB 1002 requires dump trucks to be equipped with mud flaps that have up to 12 inches of ground clearance, instead of the eight inches required for other vehicles. Why should mud flaps be raised from 8 inches to 12 inches? Mud flaps on dump trucks get caught on piles and rip off. Raising mud flaps will help dump trucks maneuver better. This bill will allow mud flaps to be adjusted and prevents wasting mud flaps. The purpose of the bill is to save drivers money and to facilitate consistency. Supporters point out that there are 13 states not requiring mud flaps and only three states have the eight inch requirement.
HB 868 removes a provision requiring the Director of the Public Defender's Office to prepare a plan to establish district offices, which would coincide with existing judicial circuits.
HB 489 provides that punitive damages shall be awarded only if the plaintiff proves by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant intentionally harmed the plaintiff without just cause or acted with a deliberate and flagrant disregard for the safety of others, and the plaintiff is awarded more than nominal damages. Punitive damages may be awarded against an employer only due to an employee's conduct in certain situations. Supporters say the punitive damages law in this state has weakened over time. There will be no impact on compensatory damages; the bill addresses punitive damages only. The bill is attempting to restrict punitive damages to their essence according to the Missouri Supreme Court. This separates the pleading and trial so it is less confusing, and this would require intentionality.
HB 1049 clarifies existing language about parents providing health insurance in cases of child support. The bill specifies that in an IV-D case, the division shall require that a child be covered under a private health plan whenever such a health benefit plan is available through a parent's employer or union. Supporters say the Office of Child Support Enforcement recently sent a letter to the MO Family Support Division regarding noncompliance with a federal rule change from 2017. This legislation makes Missouri compliant and if it is not passed, the state would risk losing the full IV-D federal share of expenditures for Missouri's IV-D program, including incentive payments and the TANF block grant.
HB 17 appropriates money for capital improvement and other purposes for the several departments of state government and the divisions and programs.
HB 18 appropriates money for purposes for the several departments and offices of state government; for projects involving the maintenance, repair, replacement, and improvement of state buildings and facilities.
HB 19 appropriates money for purposes for the several departments and offices of state government; for planning and capital improvements including but not limited to major additions and renovations, new structures, and land improvements or acquisitions.
HB 585 establishes the “Taxpayer Protection Act.” For all tax years beginning Jan. 1, 2020, this bill requires paid tax return preparers to sign any income tax return or claim for refund and provide the preparer's Internal Revenue Service preparer tax identification number.
HB 632 modifies law by defining an "internationally active insurance group," as an insurer licensed in Missouri that writes premiums in at least three countries, and averages total assets of at least $50 billion or has gross written premium of at least $10 billion. This is model legislation developed through the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) and allows the insurance industry a reduced cost of regulatory compliance.
Truly Agreed to and Finally Passed Bills
SB 30 provides that in actions arising out the design, construction, manufacture, distribution, or sale of a motor vehicle factory equipped with a safety belt, failure to wear a safety belt by the plaintiff shall be admissible as evidence of comparative negligence or fault, causation, absence of a defect or hazard, and failure to mitigate damages. Under current law in any civil action to recover damages, failure to wear a safety belt is not allowed as evidence of comparative negligence, but may be introduced to mitigate damages.
SB 134 modifies provisions related to solid waste. Currently, the Director of the Department of Natural Resources may institute a civil penalty for violations concerning a solid waste disposal area, and the assessment of a penalty shall not exceed $1,000 per day for each day the violation occurred or continues to occur. The bill repeals this authority. The bill also extends from Jan. 1, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2025, the expiration of the fee collected from retailers for the disposal of old tires.
SB 197 extends the expiration of a provision of law that pertains to leases of portable refrigeration units between brewers and retailers. The provision is set to expire Jan. 1, 2020. The bill extends the provision until Jan. 1, 2026. The bill also allows employees of a licensed wholesaler who are between the ages of 18 and 20 to unload delivery vehicles and transfer intoxicating liquor into a retail licensed premise under the supervision of a delivery vehicle driver who is at least 21 years of age.
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.