Missouri lawmakers are packing their bags and heading home. Another session of the Missouri Legislature has come and gone.
Several bills made it across the finish line this session and many others died. What you consider a win and what you consider a loss depends on who you talk to.
Some of the key items passed this legislative session include:
$49 billion state budget proposal
With about one hour to spare, the Legislature passed a state budget proposal last week that would designate $3.6 billion in state aid to K-12 public schools, $2.8 billion to widen I-70 to at least three lanes, and a 7% funding increase for the state’s public colleges and universities. Several worker pay increases are included, including for those caring for the developmentally disabled, Missouri State Highway Patrol officers, and some K-12 public school teachers. To help address Missouri’s childcare shortage, another $78 million would increase rates for childcare providers and $56 million for pre-K programs. The proposal also includes nearly $14 million to add 100 Children’s Division employees to focus on prevention work, with the goal of keeping families together.
Public health package
Senate Bill 106, sponsored by Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, would require doctors and doctors-in-training to get patient approval before giving a prostate, anal, or pelvic exam to unconscious or anesthetized patients. There would be some exceptions, including if the patient or person authorized to make health care decisions for the patient gives approval, the exam is necessary for diagnostic or treatment purposes, or a court orders the exam for evidence.
The plan would require health insurance companies to cover the full cost of follow-up exams used to diagnose breast cancer if an initial mammogram finds potential problems. It would provide full Medicaid coverage to low-income women while pregnant and for one year after the end of pregnancy, instead of the current 60 days post-pregnancy. Another item in the plan would prevent the immediate loss of government benefits, like food stamps and childcare assistance, when participants get a pay raise or consider a job promotion. The package would create a program to provide forgivable loans to education expenses for health care, mental health, and public health professionals. It would also allow patients under 18 to have Do Not Resuscitate orders issued on their behalf by a parent or legal guardian or by a juvenile or family court.
Texting while driving ban
For years, the Missouri Legislature has attempted to ban texting while driving for all people behind the wheel driving in the Show-Me State. Lawmakers finally made it happen Thursday. Under Senate Bill 398, sponsored by Sen. Nick Schroer, R-St. Charles County, drivers would still be able to use their voice-activated or hands-free options to write, send, or read a text. It would also allow drivers to make phone calls using these same features. Exemptions would be provided for law enforcement and emergency services workers. The legislation bars police from pulling over a driver for using their phone as a primary traffic offense.
The proposal would also let Missouri car dealers collect sales tax on vehicles from the buyers – instead of buyers paying the sales tax later at the DMV. Rep. Michael O’Donnell, R-Oakville, added the item in the bill. He said the cost of temporary car license tag abuse in Missouri is about $40 to $60 million in uncollected state tax revenues. He said the provision could eliminate most of that abuse.
The Missouri Legislature has given final approval to a wide-ranging crime package. The bill would bolster penalties for assault on a law enforcement animal, streamline the process to clear criminal records and create a conviction review unit. Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, sponsored Senate Bill 189. Another key piece in the bill would create “Blair’s Law”, which elevates the charges for reckless discharge of a firearm, or “celebratory gunfire” within or into the limits of a municipality. There’s a penalty enhancement provision for a felon in possession of a firearm.
Limits on transgender healthcare, sports participation
Senate Bill 49 would ban doctors from prescribing or giving cross-sex hormones or puberty-blocking drugs to any person under 18 years old. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, would also ban physicians from doing gender transition surgery on minors. Doctors who violate the bill could have their medical license revoked. Violations could also be grounds for a cause of action in a lawsuit against the health provider.
Senate Bill 39, sponsored by Sen. Holly Thompson Rehder, R-Sikeston, would require athletes to compete on sports teams aligned with their biological sex. The restrictions are for Missouri public and private schools through college. Schools can allow a female student to compete in sports designated for male students if no corresponding competition for female students is offered or available. Any Missouri school that violates the bill could lose state aid or other state revenues.
Both bills were a Republican priority. Gov. Mike Parson threatened late in session that he would call a special session if lawmakers did not pass the bills.
Tax relief for senior citizens
The state Legislature has passed a bipartisan tax relief plan for seniors. Senate Bill 190, sponsored by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, would allow counties to freeze the property tax rates of Missouri seniors when the seniors turn 65. It would also exempt social security benefits from state income taxes, no matter how much is made.
Tax credits for film and music industries
Missouri wants to attract Hollywood back to the Show Me State. The Missouri Legislature has passed tax credits for the film and music industries. Senate Bill 94, sponsored by Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, would provide a tax credit equal to 20% of qualifying film production expenses. The legislation would also make way for a tax credit for live entertainment rehearsal and tour expenses equal to 30% of the cost. If approved, the tax credits would begin later this year and expire in 2030, unless the Legislature extends them.
Streamlining access to physical therapy services
Gov. Mike Parson has already signed this bill into law. Senate Bill 51, sponsored by Sen. Karla Eslinger, R-Wasola, will allow Missourians more direct access to physical therapy services. Under the bill, qualified physical therapists can treat patients without a prescription or referral from a physician. It requires physical therapists to consult with an approved health care provider within 10 visits or 30 days, whichever occurs first, before continuing therapy. They can provide programs, screenings, and consultations without a prescription or referral from a doctor. The law is scheduled to begin at the end of August.
Endorsement deals for high school athletes
Missouri high school athletes could start scoring endorsement deals as soon as they sign up to play for a Missouri college or university. The state Legislature has passed House Bill 417, which would update Missouri’s NIL, or name, image, and likeness law. The plan would also let coaches and school employees negotiate endorsement deals for college athletes.
The item is included in legislation, sponsored by Speaker Pro Tem Mike Henderson, R-Desloge, that aims to help build and retain a skilled workforce in Missouri. The proposal would reimburse employers who help their workers earn short-term certificates or credentials for high-need jobs.
What key bills died this session?
No Deal on Sports Betting
The ball game is over and lawmakers have slid into home base again without passing a bill that would have allowed sports betting in Missouri. Several bills to legalize sports wagering were offered this session. The effort was a priority for many lawmakers heading into the session, but the odds of passing a bill became slim as the session moved on.
The clash involved Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, fighting to include the regulation of video lottery machines in the bill. That was a deal breaker for Rep. Dan Houx, R-Warrensburg, who sponsored one of the primary sports betting bills. Currently, the video lottery machines are found in places like bars, restaurants, and gas stations, but the revenue from those earnings is not taxed.
St. Louis Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III has said he is thinking about organizing a referendum to ask Missouri voters in 2024 to back the legalization of sports betting.
K-12 public education package
Missouri has the lowest average minimum teacher salary in the country. House Bill 497, sponsored by Rep. Ed Lewis, R-Moberly, would have increased the minimum teacher salary from the current $25,000 to $38,000 annually. The plan would also have increased the minimum pay from the current $33,000 to $46,000 for teachers with a master’s degree and 10 years of experience. Another feature of his bill would have changed the funding calculation for state aid to public schools from the current 5% maximum annual increase to 9% over the next nine years. Other components of the package would have boosted pay for retired teachers who return as substitute teachers, recreated a teacher recruitment and retention scholarship fund and expanded the maximum number of scholarships available, and allowed school boards to include differentiated salary schedules for hard-to-staff subject areas and hard-to-staff schools. The House passed the plan, but the Senate did not debate the bill.
At least 40 states have open enrollment, letting K-12 students attend a public school district outside of the district they live in. House Bill 253, sponsored by Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia, would have allowed these students to open enroll. It would not have required districts to participate in open enrollment. The proposal would have allowed districts to restrict the number of transferring students to 3% of the previous school year’s enrollment. Districts would not have been required to accommodate special education students. The House passed the plan but the Senate did not debate the proposal.
Making it tougher to pass changes to the state constitution
House Joint Resolution 43 would have asked voters to make it tougher to change the state constitution. The proposal, sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tem Mike Henderson, R-Desloge, would have raised the threshold to change the constitution from a simple majority of votes cast to 57%. Passing the resolution was one of the Republican priorities this session. The House passed a negotiated version of the proposal, but the Senate did not.
Four-day school week restrictions
About 160 of Missouri’s more than 500 school districts are using the four-day school week model. Sen. Doug Beck, D-Affton, worked this session to move schools back to holding school five days a week. He added the item to Senate Bill 411, a home school bill that was sponsored by state Sen. Ben Brown, R-Washington. The bill would have required districts with more than 30,000 residents to go back to holding school five days a week, unless local voters say otherwise. The Senate passed the bill, but the House did not debate the measure.
Restrictions on race-based history in schools
Senate Bill 4, sponsored by Sen. Andrew Koenig, would have limited the teachings of race history and certain theories about racism. It would have banned K-12 public schools from teaching that “individuals of any race, ethnicity, color, or national origin are inherently superior or inferior.” It would have prohibited curriculum that could make students feel “responsible for actions committed in the past by others.” The bill goes on to say it “shall not be construed to prevent teachers from discussing current events in a historical context or courses including, but not limited to, African American history, Native American history, women’s history, Asian American History and Hispanic history.” The Senate passed the proposal, but the House did not debate the bill.
Hazing prevention bill
House Bill 240 would have protected people who try to help a victim of hazing. Rep. Travis Smith, R-Dora, proposed to shield from criminal prosecution anyone who calls 911 to report a person in need of medical help, or who remains at the scene to help until first responders arrive. The proposal follows several hazing incidents involving college students nationwide, including in Missouri. It did not get assigned to a House committee.
‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill
House Bill 634, sponsored by Rep. Ann Kelley, R-Lamar, did not make it out of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee. The plan could have banned Missouri’s K-12 public schools from teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity. It would have required the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to set up a system to notify parents of any change in their child’s mental, emotional, or physical health. A House committee held a public hearing on the bill but that’s as far as the proposal went.
Expansion of veteran suicide prevention
Missouri has one of the highest veteran suicide rates in the country. House Bill 132, sponsored by Rep. Dave Griffith, R-Jefferson, City, would have tasked the Missouri Veterans Commission with expanding its efforts to prevent veteran suicide. The plan would have required the commission to work with the Missouri Department of Mental Health to recommend programs, procedures, treatment options, and additional aid to help prevent veteran suicide. The commission would have been required to file an annual report with the Missouri Department of Public Safety and the Missouri Legislature on the recommendations. The bill made it through the House but died in a Senate committee.
Foreign ownership of farmland
House Bill 903, sponsored by Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill, would have limited the ownership of Missouri farmland by foreign entities to 0.5%, instead of the current 1%. Land already owned by a foreign body would have been grandfathered in. The plan would also have banned China, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Venezuela from buying any land in Missouri. Other countries could have been added to the list of banned nations. In the Senate, lawmakers voted in favor of banning foreign countries and companies from buying agricultural land, but not for potential use of nonfarming purposes. The House did not debate a negotiated version of the plan.
Expanding statute of limitations for survivors of child sex crimes
Current Missouri law restricts civil lawsuits to be filed by childhood survivors of sexual abuse by the age of 31 years old. The Missouri House of Representatives gave initial approval to a bill that would have allowed those victims, including people with disabilities, to sue their abusers until they are 41. The House voted unanimously to give initial approval to House Bill 367, sponsored by Rep. Brian Seitz, R-Branson, but the plan did not receive final passage in the lower chamber. Seitz said he had to “fight overwhelming odds” to get his bill to the House debate stage. He said it was delayed this session due to lobbyists and special interests using it as a bargaining chip to gain a foothold in other negotiations.
The fate of the bills passed this session is now up to Missouri’s Chief Executive Officer, Gov. Mike Parson.
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