Winter weather caused the General Assembly to cancel Thursday’s session. Both the Senate and the House previously planned to observe Presidents Day on Monday, so session will resume on Tuesday, Feb. 22.
The Missouri House of Representatives continued its focus this week on numerous issues surrounding elections and the process for citizens to place questions on the ballot through initiative petition. It has become clear that reforms to the election and ballot initiative process are a major priority for House leadership. In addition, the House passed a resolution that would send to the voters a ballot question that modifies the recently passed (August 2020) Medicaid expansion to provide the General Assembly with more controls on eligibility and the total cost of funding the measure.
The Missouri Senate did not continue its debate this week on Congressional Redistricting and sat this issue to the side and debated and passed its first two bills of the year. The Senate gave initial approval to a workforce development bill that is a priority of Governor Mike Parson (R) and a resolution that would provide for a reduction in state income taxes upon voter approval.
The Missouri Senate Appropriations committee passed HB 3014 out of committee this week on an 11-2 vote. HB 3014, the Governor’s supplemental budget bill, contains funding for ongoing department activities and also included funding for state employee pay raises, Medicaid funding and $1.8B in federal American Rescue Plan dollars that have to be distributed by March 18.
The Senate committee restored the Governor’s state employee pay plan from the House action cutting some of the raises from $15/hour to $12/hour. It also cut a $75M program from the educational dollars that would have allowed DESE to set aside the money for parents to apply for grants to help children with learning loss. The bill will now go to the Senate to be voted on and if passed as is, will go to conference with the House to work out a final bill.
The House and Senate are continuing to hear presentations from Departments on the FY 23 budget and the House budget committee will soon take action on HB 20-the Governor’s vision for the American Rescue Plan dollars.
VACCINE DISCRIMINATION BILL PERFECTED IN THE HOUSE
House Bills 2358 & 1485 (Evans, R-West Plains) requires an employer, unless clear and convincing evidence proves it would cause undue hardship to the employer, to make reasonable accommodations from a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for an employee if the employee requests one based on certain religious and sincerely held beliefs. On Feb. 14, the full House perfected HBs 2358 & 1485 on a voice vote. The bill needs another House floor vote before it is sent to the Senate. Also included in the bill, when a COVID-19 vaccination is required or mandated by an employer as a condition of employment, any injury, disability, or death resulting from the vaccine is considered an occupational disease and is compensable if the vaccine was any factor in causing the injury, disability, or death. The bill also amends the definition of “misconduct” in Chapter 288, RSMo, related to employment security. The definition explicitly excludes failure to take any COVID-19 vaccine based on certain sincerely held beliefs. Termination or discharge from employment for such failure will not disqualify an employee from unemployment compensation. The bill specifies that a court shall not deny or limit visitation to a non-custodial parent because of the parent’s COVID-19 vaccination status. The bill does allow a judge to use discretion to deny or limit visitation if the child has a medical condition that would put the child at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. The bill was amended on the floor so no hospital, physician, procurement organization, or other person shall consider the COVID-19 vaccination status of a potential organ transplant recipient or potential organ donor in any part of the organ transplant process. The bill contains an emergency clause.
CYBERSECURITY UPGRADE BILL PASSES COMMITTEE
House Bill 2436 (Houx, R-Warrensburg) allows the Department of Economic Development (department) to distribute one-time grants to employers for the purpose of enhancing cybersecurity, as defined in the bill. Grants made require a 10% match from the employer. In distributing grants, the department shall distribute an equal amount of awards to the following groups of employers: (1) Employers with 1-50 employees; (2) Employers with 51-200 employees; and (3) Employers with more than 200 employees. The department is required to create an on-line application form as part of its website which is to be the sole means of applying for grants. Employers seeking a grant must fill out the application along with documents outlining how it plans to enhance cybersecurity, including plans for how it plans to cover the remaining 10% cost for its cybersecurity enhancement. The bill limits the factors that the department may consider in assessing an employer’s funding plans. The bill limits the amount that may be distributed in any fiscal year to $10 million. The House Special Committee on Homeland Security held an executive session on February 16 where HB 2436 was voted do pass by a vote of 9-1.
House Bill 1619 (VanSchoiack, R-Savannah) prohibits the use of a drone or unmanned aircraft to photograph, film, videotape, create an image, or livestream another person or personal property of another person, with exceptions. Substitute language was adopted to allow a state agency or a political subdivision to use a drone or unmanned aircraft if they have probable cause, instead of requiring a search warrant to fly the aircraft over private property. Additionally, the substitute clarifies the provisions of the bill shall not prohibit the operation of unmanned aircraft by a public utility or rural electric cooperative if the aircraft is used for the purpose of inspecting, repairing, or maintaining utility transmission or distribution lines or other utility equipment or infrastructure. During committee discussion, the substitute was further amended to clarify language pertaining to creating images, and clarifies that the pilots of the unmanned aircrafts or drones need to be federally certified by the FAA. On February 14 the House Rules-Administrative Oversight Committee voted the bill do pass out of committee.
House Bill 1859 (Eggleston, R-Maysville) imposes a labeling requirement for political subdivision and special district ballot measures using sets of letters from the alphabet and double letters if needed as specified in the bill. If a measure is labeled, but not voted upon at the next election, then it retains its letter designation until it has been voted on by the people. This practice is like the current law on statewide ballot measure labeling. On Feb. 16, HB 1859 was voted “do pass” by the House Elections and Elected Officials Committee.
House Bill 1955 (Richey, R-Excelsior Springs) requires that all employees of any statewide athletic association or organization that receives any public money and has a public school district as a member (MSHSAA) be “mandated reporters.” As a mandated reporter, the MSHSAA employee has a legal obligation to report to the appropriate state department or local police any suspicion of abuse or neglect or any belief that a crime has been committed on school property. HB 1955 was heard by the House Special Committee on Government Accountability on Feb. 14. Rep. Richey said MSHSAA is supportive of the bill. The association also must maintain a database listing each person who is employed as a coach or a member of a coaching staff for all member schools. HB 1955 also requires that before hiring coaches or coaching staff members, school districts must determine if any allegations of misconduct or crimes were reported for an individual by contacting all school districts where the individual was previously employed. Testifying in support of the bill was Missouri KidsFirst. The committee took no further action on the bill.
House Bill 2002 (Pouche, R-Kansas City) would require election authorities to record a voter’s chosen primary election ballot or nonpartisan ballot as part of the voter’s registration record. HB 2002 was heard by the House Elections and Elected Officials Committee on Feb. 16. No public testimony in support of the bill was offered. Testimony in opposition to the bill was presented by the League of Women Voters of Missouri, saying such legislation would interfere with voter privacy. Information only testimony by the St. Louis County Board of Elections, Democrat director. The committee took no further action on the bill.
House Bill 2003 (Pouche, R-Kansas City) adds all settlements and judgments paid from the state’s Legal Expense Fund to the list of financial transactions disclosed in the Missouri Accountability Portal. HB 2003 was heard by the House Special Committee on Government Accountability on Feb. 14. Rep. Pouche said purpose of the bill is to increase financial transparency for the citizens of Missouri. No public testimony was offered. The committee took no further action on the bill.
House Bill 2093 (Wiemann, R-O’Fallon) prohibits any employer from implementing a vaccination program ordered by any government entity. The substitute ensures only government agencies and entities are prohibited from implementing vaccine programs and removed the sunset. On February 16 the House Rules-Administrative Oversight Committee voted the bill do pass by a vote of 7-4.
House Bill 2105 (Schnelting, R-St. Charles) prohibits state-funded universities and colleges to censor a speaker based solely on the speaker’s particular political persuasion, party affiliation, or viewpoint or ideology, if that viewpoint or ideology is in any major American political party platform. Violations are cause for a civil action for defamation, along with additional actions outlined in the bill. HB 2105 was heard by the House Higher Education Committee on Feb. 14. The bill was criticized for some of its terminology, and Rep. Schnelting said he plans to amend the bill and he welcomes suggested language for his amendment. Testimony for information only was presented by the Council on Public Higher Education, which said the bill clarification in several areas. The committee took no further action on the bill.
House Bill 2113 (McGaugh, R-Carrollton) and House Bill 2140 (McGaugh, R-Carrollton) change numerous election laws. HB 2113 and HB 2140 were heard by the House Elections and Elected Officials Committee on Feb. 9 and 16. The legislation includes requiring photo identification to vote, hand-marked paper ballots, prohibits that 26 weeks before a presidential election that no state election laws can be changed, allows the Secretary of State to do necessary auditing of voter rolls, outlines there should not be connectivity of voting machines to the internet, allows registered voters to file change of address forms in person on election day, reduces the time local election authorities have to update voters’ records, and many other changes. Testifying in favor of the bill were Trish Vincent, Deputy Secretary of State, and Shane Schoeller, Greene County Clerk, representing county clerks and election authorities. Combined, the two bills make some 30 changes to state election laws. Many persons submitted written testimony in opposition to the bill, including the National Council of Jewish Women, St. Louis; the League of Women Voters of Metro St. Louis, Paws to the Polls, Springfield; Missouri Asian American Youth Foundation, Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, Missouri AFL-CIO, Metropolitan Congregations United of St. Louis, and many individuals. Much of the dissent centered on imposition of strict voter photo ID requirements. The bill also limits those who can vote absentee due to confinement to only those persons confined on election day itself. The committee took no further action on the bill.
House Bill 2120 (Taylor, R-Republic) creates provisions relating to the disclosure of personal information to public agencies. HB 2120 was heard by the House Emerging Issues Committee on Feb. 15. The bill establishes the “Personal Privacy Protection Act”, prohibiting public agencies from disclosing or requiring the disclosure of personal information, as defined in the bill. “Personal information” in the bill is defined as any list, record, register, registry, roll, roster, or other compilation of data of any kind that directly or indirectly identifies a person as a member, supporter, or volunteer of, or donor of financial or nonfinancial support to, any entity exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code.
The bill prohibits public agencies from: (1) Requiring any individual to provide the public agency with personal information or otherwise compel the release of such personal information; and (2) Requiring any entity exempt from federal income taxation under Sec. 501(c) of the IRS to provide a public agency with personal information or otherwise compel the release of personal information. Penalties established.
Witnesses testifying in favor of the bill included People United for Privacy, The American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Prosperity, and The Alliance Defending Freedom. There was no testimony offered in opposition.
Supporters said the intent of the bill is to protect political speech, preventing public agencies or others from demanding personal information and revealing non-profit organizations’ donor identities and donor lists. The committee took no further action on the bill.
House Bill 2359 (Basye, R-Rocheport) This bill expands the information to be made accessible on the Missouri Accountability Portal to include all forms of compensation and benefits paid to or on behalf of employees and all bonds issued by any public school district and requires public school districts to supply all such information to be made accessible on the Portal to the Office of Administration. After brief discussion in the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee on February, the bill was passed by a vote of 14-5.
House Joint Resolution 91 (J. Eggleston, R-Maysville). Upon voter approval, this proposed Constitutional amendment would require the sponsor(s) of initiative petitions proposing Constitutional amendments or laws to collect signatures in each of Missouri’s eight Congressional districts. After collecting signatures, hearings in the General Assembly would be held on the initiative petition proposal. If placed on the statewide ballot, a two-thirds majority vote of the people is required for approval of the proposed amendment. An amendment: The House Committee Substitute specifies that the Constitutional phrase “legal voter” is defined as an individual who is a citizen of the United States, a resident of Missouri, and who is properly registered to vote, and the resolution has a delayed effective date of Jan. 1, 2023. The House Rules-Administrative Oversight Committee met on February 16 where HJR 91 was voted do pass by a vote of 7-4.
House Joint Resolution 125 (Christofanelli, R-St. Peters) This resolution states the income tax rate may not exceed 5.9%. However, upon this resolution’s passage subscriptions, digital product licenses, and goods bought online may be taxed at no set rate. Hearing held February 16 in the House Ways and Means Committee. No supporting or opposing testimony was provided during the hearing.
Senate Bill 845 (Eslinger, R-Wasola) was voted “do pass, consent” on a vote of 7-0 by the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee on Feb. 17. The legislation requires a condensed county financial statement to be published in local newspapers in all counties of the first, second, third, or fourth classification. The bill language includes publication of the name and current gross annual salary of each elected or appointed county official. The county clerk or other county officer preparing the financial statement shall provide an electronic copy of the data used to create the financial statement without charge to the newspaper requesting the data. The newspaper publishing the financial statement shall charge and receive no more than its regular local classified advertising rate as published 30 days before the publication of the financial statement. The bill’s language has been worked on and agreed to by the Missouri Press Association Board of Directors, MPA members, and legislators over the past three years.
House Joint Resolution 70 (Davidson, R-Republic) was perfected by the full House by voice vote on Feb. 16. Another House vote is needed to send the bill to the Senate. Upon voter approval, this proposed Constitutional amendment requires Constitutional amendments submitted by initiative petition to be approved by a majority of registered voters. Registered voters are defined in terms of persons allowed to vote at the most recent general, municipal, or primary election preceding the amendment vote.
Senate Joint Resolution 33 (Koenig, R-Manchester) This constitutional amendment, if approved by the voters, prohibits the General Assembly from setting an income tax rate exceeding 5.9%. It also modifies a provision prohibiting sales taxes levied on transactions not taxed as of January 1, 2015, by providing an exception for sales and use taxes on subscriptions, licenses for digital products, and online purchases of tangible personal property. After considerable debate on the Senate floor this week, the Senate provided its first of two necessary approval votes and perfected SJR 33.
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