The Missouri Legislature finalized passage of two bills Friday in a special session called by Republican Governor Mike Parson.
The measures had been vetoed by Parson in July. The two bills are meant to expand the scope of treatment courts as an alternative to incarceration and to boost STEM and computer science education in public schools.
In his statement announcing the special session, the governor identified the reasons he rejected the legislation and asked lawmakers to work with a “more narrowly defined focus”.
Parson said the treatment court bill appeared to violate the original purpose and single subject requirements of the Missouri Constitution. He stated that the bill as passed contained at least 13 different subjects, including many that don’t pertain to the final title of “courts”.
With the STEM bill, which would create an online-based STEM curriculum, Parson claimed it favored one specific company to be the online curriculum provider, which he objected to. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
The House passed proposals for both bills that satisfied the governor’s objection Wednesday and adjourned from the special session. The Senate approved the two measures almost unanimously after an amendment for each one failed to advance.
Democratic Senator Jill Schupp of Creve Coeur took issue with elements contained in the STEM and computer science proposal. She raised the most frequently mentioned concern with the computer science portion of the bill.
Schupp said the provision allowing students to substitute a computer science course for a core math or science credit could hinder students entering college. Scott Penman, a lobbyist representing the Missouri School Counselors Association, made the same complaint as the only party to testify against the bill in the House and Senate committee hearings during the special session.
Schupp then raised concerns in another portion of the bill that establishes an online STEM curriculum. She objected to language allowing a third-party nonprofit to implement the STEM program, saying it opens the possibility of dark money organizations who don’t identify their donors being selected for the task.
She offered an amendment to take the language out of the bill while acknowledging it had no chance of being adopted at such a late juncture in the special session.
“I don’t imagine that we are going to change this legislation,” said Schupp. “I just want it very clear. And I’m not asking for a roll call. I’m not asking to put anybody on the record about how they’d vote for this. I just want to make it clear that this was discussed through an amendment process that allows people to know that we need to be watching for this.”
The amendment failed. Schupp was the only Senator vote against the STEM and computer science bill in a 28-1 tally.
The Senate next dealt with the treatment courts bill. The court, which is currently called a drug court, would be expanded to include the categories of DWI, adult, family, juvenile and veteran’s treatment.
Such courts already exist in Missouri. The measure would allow county circuit courts to create treatment court divisions to increase the prevalence of the various categories across the state.
Republican Senator Bob Onder of Lake St. Louis praised the legislation as an effective way to curb incarceration costs and help people tackle their problems.
“Anything we can do to, not only save money and judicial resources but to help these folks get back on the right path and treat the underlying cause of the problem which is the substance abuse problem, I think that’s just a huge win for everyone,” said Onder.
Democratic Senator Jamilah Nasheed of St. Louis then submitted an amendment to add mental health to the categories of treatment courts in the bill. She said mental health problems have impacted a large portion of the population.
“These are consequences that we are seeing each and every day on the street, of young people who are mentally ill without substance abuse, that are not being treated in a manner in which they need to be treated,” said Nasheed.
Republican Senator Bob Dixon of Springfield said he agreed with Nasheed’s sentiment but couldn’t support the amendment because its adoption would force the House back into session at taxpayer expense. Any change to legislation in one chamber must be approved by the other chamber.
Republican Senator David Sater of Cassville echoed Dixon’s concerns, although he sympathized with Nasheed’s view. Senator Nasheed pulled her amendment, saying she hoped other lawmakers would work with her next year to expand treatment courts to include mental health.
The treatment courts bill passed the Senate 29-0 to finish the legislature’s work on vetoed legislation in the special session.