(MONET) — Another Missouri legislative session is in the books and it was like no other. Two things that stick out – lawmakers participated in the second regular session of the 100th General Assembly and they did their work while a global pandemic came knocking on Missouri’s door. Lawmakers took an unexpected break for about four weeks during the height of the state’s coronavirus outbreak – making the chances of getting their priorities passed a steeper hill to climb this year.
Since returning, much of the focus has been on passing a state budget for the fiscal year beginning in July. Here is a look at some of the top bills that made it across the finish line this session and await the wave of Gov. Mike Parson’s mighty pen to either sign or veto them.
Fiscal Year 2021 State Operating Budget
The $35.2 billion state budget banks on billions of dollars in federal funding making its way to Missouri’s bank account. If Washington’s help falls short, the state will have to shift cash around to balance the budget. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, anticipates lawmakers to get called back in later this year to make some tweaks to the state’s financials.
Some of the highlights of the budget bills include:
*Slashing 134 unfilled state worker positions
*No state worker pay increase
*$3.5 billion in base funding for Missouri’s K-12 public schools (no increase)
*$95 million for school bus funding – a $13 million reduction over the current year
*$146 million to Missouri community colleges
*$41 million for the A+ college scholarship program (no increase)
*$66 million for the Access Missouri college scholarship program (no increase)
*$10 million for a future research complex in Columbia that could find cures like cancer
*$35 million to rural hospitals battling the coronavirus
*$30 million in potential federal money to small businesses
*$20 million of possible federal funding for meat processing plants to protect workers from the coronavirus
*$8 million for Amtrak services – a $1.1 million reduction over the current year
*$50 million into a transportation cost share program that matches up to 50% of the construction contract costs for selected public and private projects.
*$42 million for reimbursements to Missouri counties for jailing and transporting inmates who eventually go to state prison. Another $8 million would help to pay for the debt owed to counties for such unpaid bills.
Partial motorcycle helmet law repeal and Hyperloop
House Bill 1963 is a sweeping transportation bill that would include a partial repeal of the state’s motorcycle helmet law. Motorcycle drivers 26 years and older could go helmetless if they have their own health insurance. Under the plan sponsored by Representative Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, motorcycle passengers would still be required to wear a helmet. The measure would also let a state commission create a public-private partnership to build a Hyperloop tube travel system in Missouri, but would ban the use of eminent domain to build one.
Taking a bite out of crime
State lawmakers have adopted a crime bill. Features of Senate Bill 600 include creating a vehicle hijacking felony offense, defining street gangs and specifying that gang members could face a felony for being part of a gang. Under Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer’s bill, criminals found guilty of armed criminal action would also face much stiffer prison sentences, depending on how many times they’ve committed the crime.
No state taxes on federal stimulus payment
Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville wants to prevent Missourians from being taxed by the state for their federal coronavirus stimulus payment. He says the money was already free of federal taxes, but was subject to state income taxes. Senate Bill 676 would also require county assessors to do a physical inspection of real estate prior to increasing a property’s assessment more than 15%.
Effort to allow mail-in voting during pandemic
Current state law allows voters to mail in their election ballots for reasons like illness or travel. Under Senate Bill 631, sponsored by Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, voters can say they are ill if they are 65 or older, live in a nursing home or have certain health conditions, including heart problems, asthma, or chronic lung disease.
Voters who can’t use one of the excuses can still mail in their ballot, but they are required to get their ballot notarized. The approach – to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus – would only be allowed during this year’s August and November statewide elections.
Missouri voters will get to decide in November if they should change a legislative redistricting process they passed in 2018. Senate Joint Resolution 38, sponsored by Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, would let a bipartisan commission redraw districts, instead of Clean Missouri’s process of using a nonpartisan demographer. It would also ban lobbyist gifts, instead of Clean Missouri’s $5 limit, and put a $2,000 cap on Senate candidate political donations, instead of the current $2,500.
Lawmakers passed changes to the state’s new medical marijuana industry. The FBI informed the state health department, which regulates the industry, that DHSS will not have access to its national fingerprint background check database. Representative Lane Roberts, R-Joplin, says his legislation would clear up that problem. Under House Bill 1896, the agency could also require fingerprints from medical marijuana business employees as part of the licensing or certification process. The measure would require department employees associated with licensing medical marijuana businesses to submit their fingerprints for criminal background checks. The bill would also ban medical marijuana edibles.
The Missouri Legislature has passed new limits on punitive damages in liability lawsuit. The legislation, Senate Bill 591, would allow juries to award punitive damages only when plaintiffs prove by clear and convincing evidence that defendants “intentionally harmed” someone without just cause or acted with “deliberate and flagrant disregard for the safety of others.” Sen. Bill White, R-Joplin, sponsored the Republican and business-friendly bill.
Rape kit testing efforts
Sen. Andrew Koenig’s legislation would require Missouri hospitals to perform a forensic exam using an evidence kit upon the request and consent of a sexual assault victim. Senate Bill 569 would give hospitals access to virtual and in-person training on how to use the kits. It would also require the state to create a centralized place to store unreported rape kits and require those kits to be stored for at least five years.
Some of the key bills that died this session involve:
*Collecting sales taxes from e-commerce companies that do not have a physical presence in Missouri
*Creating a statewide prescription drug monitoring program
*Legalizing sports betting
*Putting restrictions on slot machines popping up in bars, restaurants and gas stations
*Expanding charter schools statewide
During the final day of the session, several lawmakers spent time giving their heartfelt wishes to their departing colleagues. Term limits will force some of the elected officials out of office after this year.