May 29, 2015

Missouri Senator will try again to let human trafficking victims hide addresses

An effort to let victims of human trafficking hide their addresses fell short in the session that just ended, but its sponsor will bring it back next year.

State Senator Gina Walsh (Photo Courtesy of Senate Communications)

State Senator Gina Walsh (Photo Courtesy of Senate Communications)

State Senator Gina Walsh (D-St. Louis County) proposed to add human trafficking survivors to Missouri’s “Safe at Home” program, so they could have a substitute mailing address to make it harder for their assailants to find them.  Walsh said she will try to push her legislation through earlier next session.

“I want to try and get it over to the House sooner and maybe get it to the governor’s desk before we reach that point where we’re talking about nothing but the budget in the last couple weeks of session,” said Walsh.  “We need to do anything we can to assist the victims of these heinous crimes, even if it’s just as simple as giving them a safe place for their mail to go.”

Walsh said human trafficking has become a growing problem in Missouri due to its central location in the United States.

“It’s a big problem, we’re connected to major highways that run east west across the state,” said Walsh.  “A lot of the hotels right at the end of that highway 70 corridor, 270 and 70 in the St. Louis area have had issues there.”

Walsh said it’s important to remember that human trafficking affects both men and women.

“Of course it’s more prevalent with women than it is men, but men can become victims of these crimes as well, and we need to protect all our citizens,” said Walsh.

Office of state senator under investigation regarding alleged harassment of intern

A state Senate leader confirms an investigation is being conducted into allegations that sexual harassment or discrimination caused a student intern to end an assignment, and sources tell the Columbia Tribune that assignment was to the office of Senator Paul LeVota (D-Independence).

LeVota told the Tribune he was not aware of any investigation or problem with any intern assigned to his office this year.

The allegations are reportedly being investigated by the University of Central Missouri, the school the intern attends.

See the story in the Columbia Daily Tribune

Missouri to have human trafficking task force, other measure to wait

Missouri will soon have a human trafficking task force.

Representative Elijah Haahr (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Elijah Haahr (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

A resolution to establish that task force was unanimously passed by the Missouri legislature in the session that ended Friday.  The task force will be responsible for raising awareness, providing organizations and agencies that enforce human trafficking laws a central place to share information, and making recommendations for legislation to the General Assembly.

State Representative Elijah Haahr (R-Springfield) sponsored the resolution and said the task force has not been set up yet, but positions will be filled in the coming weeks.

“It would be a variety of sitting Representatives, Senators, some members of non-governmental organizations, and a variety of other affiliated groups that would have input on the best way to combat the trafficking issue in Missouri,” said Haahr.  “The point of the task force is to meet during the 2015 year and then to come back and have some proposals about what it is that the legislature can do to in order to coordinate an take on the trafficking issues in the state of Missouri.”

Haahr doesn’t want to stop there.  He says he will continue to push for stricter trafficking laws by proposing legislation that would make illegal any advertisements that could lead to human trafficking.  Haahr proposed a bill that would ban such advertisements this year, but the Senate did not take a vote on it.

“It’s not that anybody was ever opposed to it, it received unanimous votes along the way,” said Haahr.  “When the Senate had its last week where it didn’t really pass anything other than right to work and the FRA, 152 was sitting on the Senate calendar and it just never got past the finish line.”

Haahr blames Senate Democrats for filibustering after passage of a “right to work” bill, for the human trafficking legislation being left unheard on the Senate calendar.

U.S Representative Ann Wagner has proposed a similar bill at the federal level.

“I want to compliment her on all her work and the fact that she’s finally got that through the U.S. House, and U.S. Senate, and it’s on its way to the president,” said Haahr.  “Obviously, what I’m doing on the state is just a small version of what she’s doing on the federal level.”

Proponents of trafficking legislation say the human trafficking industry generates $150-billion a year in profits worldwide, with an estimated 21-million victims, 5.5 million of those being children.

Funding for Missouri transportation to be a priority in 2016 session

Funding for Missouri’s roads and bridges is expected to be an important topic next year in the Legislature. Missouri lawmakers considered several versions of a bill to raise the state’s gas tax to support the transportation infrastructure, but none of those passed before the Legislative session ended Friday.  A general lack of consensus on how to fund transportation, coupled with more than two days of holding up debate by Senate Democrats, effectively killed those proposals.

House Speaker Todd Richardson

House Speaker Todd Richardson

The new Speaker of the House, Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff), elected by the body on Friday, says the issue will be a priority in 2016.

“We have a good team that’s going to be working on what those proposals are going to be and will be ready to come forward with solutions in January.”

Senator Doug Libla (R-Poplar Bluff) sponsored the bills that didn’t make it, this year.  He says the Legislature needs to focus on transportation funding.

“The voters of Missouri decided in 1924 to fund our highways with a motor fuel tax,” said Libla. “It’s been twenty years since we’ve increased the gas tax and we have deteriorating roads and bridges.”

Senator Doug Libla (R-Poplar Bluff)

Senator Doug Libla (R-Poplar Bluff)

House Minority Floor Leader Jacob Hummel (D-St. Louis) says the state is not going to be able to maintain Missouri’s roads without a new plan.

“I don’t think there’s any question that something needs to be done,” said Hummel. “What that level is, I don’t know. I would’ve voted for the gas tax increase. I think that was the responsible thing to do.”

Senate Majority Floor Leader Ron Richard (R-Joplin) said he thinks the transportation bill was the most significant proposal that wasn’t passed.

“We had a dialogue, but couldn’t get it through the line,” said Richard.

The Governor, in the final weeks of the session, called on lawmakers to send him a gax tax increase proposal, but time ran out.  Missouri could lose millions of dollars in federal matching funds in 2017 if a transportation bill is not passed.

Missouri lawmakers promise review of Capitol intern program

House Speaker Todd Richardson (photo courtesy; Missouri House Communications)

House Speaker Todd Richardson (photo courtesy; Missouri House Communications)

The relationship between former House Speaker John Diehl, Jr. and a college intern has lawmakers saying they will take a hard look this summer at the state Capitol’s internship program. Diehl resigned as speaker after admitting to exchanging sexually-charged messages with an intern.

His successor, Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff), says several state representatives have already approached him about reviewing the House’s intern policy.

“I want to make sure that this state Capitol is an environment where young people can come and get the experience in public service that I think they really deserve as part of their college career.”

Governor Jay Nixon (D) said of the scandal involving Diehl that the Capitol should be a place where public servants carry out the people’s business transparently and ethically.

House Minority Floor Leader Jacob Hummel (D-St. Louis)

House Minority Floor Leader Jacob Hummel (D-St. Louis)

“Young men and women should be able to learn how their government works without fear of harassment, intimidation or other inappropriate conduct,” said Nixon. “Sadly this past week has been a jarring reminder of what happens when people lose sight of what they’re here to do and who they are here to serve.”

House Minority Floor Leader Jacob Hummel (D-St. Louis) said lawmakers will spend some time this summer addressing the matter.

“I know that on both sides of the aisle, this is a bi-partisan issue that needs to be fixed.”

Richardson says they plan to have a new policy in place by next year. Diehl resigned last week after the release of a story by the Kansas City Star.