The Missouri General Assembly is taking a break … Spring Break … next week. Legislators are scheduled to return to Jefferson City on March 22 when eight weeks will remain in the 2021 legislative session before adjournment at 6:00 p.m. Friday, May 14.
SENATOR ROY BLUNT DECIDES NOT TO SEEK REELECTION
U.S. Senator Roy Blunt announced earlier this week that he will not be running for re-election in 2022 when his current term expires. Senator Blunt, age 71, began his political career in 1973 as Greene County Clerk, serving a dozen years. In 1984, he was elected Missouri Secretary of State. He successfully won Missouri’s 7th congressional seat in 1996, serving in the U.S. House until he successfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010, succeeding Senator Kit Bond. In recent days, at least 10 names have been mentioned as possible candidates in 2022 to succeed Senator Blunt including Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R).
SENATE PASSES FUEL TAX INCREASE
The Senate dedicated floor time Tuesday afternoon to debate SB 262 (Schatz, R-Sullivan). This bill increases the current excise tax of 17.4 cents per gallon on motor fuel by 2 cents per year over a period of 5 years. When the act is complete, the excise tax on motor fuel will be 27 cents per gallon. This act contains a referendum clause that allows the tax to be assessed upon a vote of the people. The bill was previously amended to mirror the House companion bill, HB 1044 (Ruth, R-Festus), and allows the motor fuel tax to be repaid to the consumer in the form of a rebate should he/she have appropriate documentation. During debate, the sponsor offered substitute langue to provide personnel for the rebate program and increase fees for electric vehicles. After about 10 hours of debate, the bill was returned to the calendar to be considered further another day.
The Senate dedicated floor time Wednesday morning to revisit the language. During debate, the sponsor withdrew his substitute and offered new substitute language to decrease the overall tax to 12.5 cents, remove the rebate sunset clause, and phase in the electric vehicle fee increases over a 5-year time period. Lastly, the substitute includes language from SB 370, to bring Missouri into federal compliance by enacting a lifetime ban from driving a commercial motor vehicle for any person convicted of using a commercial motor vehicle in the commission of a felony involving “severe forms of human trafficking in persons,” and to increases from 10 years to 20 years the maximum age of a motor vehicle required to have its odometer readings recorded in certain circumstances. After no debate, the Senate provided its first of two necessary approval votes. On Thursday, the Senate third read and passed SS#2 for SCS for SB 262 by a vote of 21-13. An emergency clause was also adopted by a vote of 29-5. The bill will now be sent to the House for further consideration.
AUTHORIZING ONLINE SALES TAX
The House dedicated floor time Tuesday afternoon to debate HB 554 (Eggleston, R-Maysville). The bill creates a framework for online sales tax collection. During debate on Tuesday, Rep. Shamed Dogan (R-St. Louis) amended the bill clarifying distribution of online sales tax collected in St. Louis County. Rep. Travis Fitzwater (R-Holts Summit) then amended the bill to include compromise language modifying law relating to video service providers by reducing the franchise fee cable providers remit to municipalities, while also creating the Task Force on the Future of Right-of-Way Management and Taxation for the purpose of studying right-of-way management, and the future revenue needs of municipalities and political subdivisions as such revenue relates to video services. Shortly thereafter, Rep. Curtis Trent (R-Springfield) amended Rep. Fitzwater’s language prohibiting the implementation of any tax, license, or fee that has not been authorized before Aug. 28, 2021. After considerable debate, the House provided its first of two necessary approval votes. On Thursday, the House third read and passed House Substitute for HB 554 by a vote of 96-59. The bill will now move to the Senate for further consideration.
The Senate dedicated floor time Wednesday morning to debate SB 153 (Koenig, R-Manchester). The bill is the senate version to create a framework for online sales tax collection. During debate on Wednesday, the sponsor offered substitute language to include compromise language modifying law relating to video service providers by reducing the franchise fee cable providers remit to municipalities, remove sales tax caps, include a 509 tax cut trigger to reduce income tax revenue, and include the “Missouri Working Family Tax Credit Act” to provide an eligible taxpayer a tax credit in the amount such taxpayer would receive under the federal earned income tax credit. During debate, Sen. Lincoln Hough (R-Springfield) amended the bill that re-establishes the cash operating expense fund, and requires any tax collected from online sales tax revenue to be deposited into the fund for the purpose to quantify the amount of revenue that is generated. Sen. Jill Schupp (D-St. Louis) then amended the bill to change the franchise agreement effective date to Aug. 28, 2023. Once amended, the Senate provided its first of two necessary approval votes. On Thursday, the Senate third read and passed SS for SCS for SBs 153 & 97 by a vote of 28-4. The bill will now move to the House for further consideration.
APPLICANTS SOUGHT FOR SUPREME COURT JUDGE
Judge Laura Denvir Stith retired this week from the Missouri Supreme Court after two decades on the court and a total of 27 years of judicial service. In March 2001, Judge Stith became only the second female judge on the state’s high court, and she was the second woman to be chief justice, serving from July 2007 to June 2009. The Appellate Judicial Commission is accepting applications to fill the vacancy. Citizens are encouraged to nominate well-qualified candidates for the commission’s consideration. The Missouri Constitution requires that a judge of the Supreme Court of Missouri be at least 30 years old, licensed to practice law in Missouri, a United States citizen for at least 15 years and a qualified Missouri voter for at least nine years next preceding selection. Nominations should be submitted to the commission by e-mail at JudgeVacancy@courts.mo.gov, or by postal mail at P.O. Box 150, Jefferson City, MO 65102. The nomination form is available online at https://www.courts.mo.gov/page.jsp?id=174913. Applications will be accepted until 5 p.m. Friday, April 9.
The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules met March 9, for its first meeting of the year. The committee elected Sen. Bill White (R-Joplin) as chairman and Rep. Alex Riley (R-Springfield) as vice-chairman. In other action, the committee approved the JCAR minutes from Aug. 20 and Aug. 23, 2019 meetings.
COVID LIABILITY BILL HEARD IN HOUSE HEARING
Senate Bill 51 (Luetkemeyer R-Parkville) provides COVID liability protections and was passed out of the Missouri Senate at the end of February by a vote of 20-13. The bill was heard this week in the House Special Committee on Litigation Reform and received similar testimony as the original hearing in the Senate. This bill is expected to be moved out of committee when the legislature returns from their annual spring break.
House Bill 27 (Walsh, R-Ashland) requires posting notice, required under the Sunshine Law, of meeting times, dates, places, and agendas as well as minutes of open meetings on a public governmental body’s website and social media pages. In addition, public governmental bodies must post proposed and adopted rules, ordinances, laws, or regulations on their website and social media pages within 24 hours after the meeting at which they are proposed or adopted exclusive of weekends and holidays. On March 8, the House Special Committee on Government Accountability conducted a hearing on HB 27. No public testimony presented. Written testimony with suggestions offered by Missouri Press Association. A House Committee Substitute for HB 27 is being prepared with adjustments, Rep. Walsh said. The committee took no action on the bill.
House Bill 29 (Walsh, R-Ashland) adds all public employee retirement systems and quasi-governmental entities employees’ salaries and any incentive pay to the state’s government accountability portal in the same manner as all state departments and agencies report for public transparency. The amended bill does not allow retiree annuities, allowances, or benefits to be released to the public. On March 8 the House Rules-Administrative Oversight Committee voted HCS for HB 29 do pass by a vote of 12-0.
House Bill 165 (Richey, R-Excelsior Springs) and House Bill 196 (Ellebracht, D-Liberty) are bills that would establish recall procedures for county commissioners in counties of the first classification. The bills would set recall petition requirements including the number of signatures required (10 percent of registered voters in the county) for a recall election to be conducted. A House Committee Substitute for HB 165 & 196 requires 60 percent of qualified voters voting on the question must vote for removal, otherwise the commissioner shall continue to serve. A recall could not be started until six months after an election and not within nine months before the next election. On March 10, the House Elections and Elected Officials Committee voted Do Pass on HCS HB 165 & 196 by a vote of 8-1.
House Bill 381 (McGaugh, R-Carrollton) 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 the name and current gross annual salary of each elected or appointed county official whose salary is set by the county salary commission. On March 10, the House Elections and Elected Officials Committee voted Do Pass on HB 381 by a vote of 9-0.
House Bill 402 (Mosley, D-St. Louis) prohibits the Lottery Commission, state lottery, any contracted organization, or any of their employees from publicizing the name, address, or identifying information of a lottery winner in printed or electronic form for distribution or sale to the public. Any violation of these provisions is a class A misdemeanor. On March 8, the House General Laws Committee conducted a hearing on HB 402. No testimony in support. Written testimony in opposition was submitted by the Missouri Press Association stating the current law of disclosing the names of winners provides transparency which builds public trust in the operation of the Missouri Lottery and ultimately drives ticket sales. The committee took no action on the bill.
House Bill 441 (Falkner, R-St. Joseph) changes the laws regarding the consequences to a political subdivision for failure to file an annual financial statement with the State Auditor as required. Any political subdivision that has gross revenues of less than $5,000 or that has not levied a sales tax or use tax is not subject to the fine. In addition, the Director of the Department of Revenue has the authority to make a one-time downward adjustment to any fine he or she deems uncollectible. Non-compliance could result in disincorporation of the political subdivision. HB 441 was amended to require notices sent to taxing entities such as a TDD to be sent to the municipality’s mayor, also. And, House Bill 806 (Bailey, R-Eureka) was added as an amendment, equalizing liability protection now given to state and county parks and adjacent landowners with liability protection for city parks and adjacent landowners. On March 11 the House Rules-Administrative Oversight Committee voted HCS for HB 441 do pass.
House Bill 738 (Rone, R-Portageville) makes numerous changes to election laws. On March 4, the House Elections Committee expanded the legislation as an omnibus elections bill. In its main provisions, the bill: (1) Prohibits changes to election laws in the six months preceding a presidential election; (2) Beginning Jan. 1, 2022, the bill requires the use of a paper ballot that will be counted by hand and repeals electronic voting system language with certain exceptions for voting equipment used for the disabled; (3) Allows candidates to select poll watchers at their own expense to monitor an election; (4) Requires absentee ballots to be counted after regular ballots when the polls are closed. Absentee ballots mailed to an election authority must be received by the close of polls, under current law, to be counted; (5) Requires identification to register to vote and to vote in person using an absentee ballot; (6) Modifies affidavit language concerning provisional ballots to clarify current voter identification requirements; (7) Requires election authorities to count ballots after they have been returned from each polling place in a locked box and requires that election authorities audit ballots to ensure the proper number are returned to the election authority; and (8) Repeals law which allowed mail in ballots during the COVID-19 crisis. The House Committee Substitute added numerous provisions to a lengthy bill. On March 8 the House Rules-Administrative Oversight Committee voted HCS for HB 738 do pass by a vote of 9-4.
House Bill 850 (Wiemann, R-O’Fallon) prohibits the modification of summary statements or ballot language approved by the General Assembly for state constitutional amendments or statutory measures. Courts will not have jurisdiction to rewrite or edit such language prior to placing it on the ballot. The secretary of state and attorney general would maintain their authority to review ballot language. On March 8 the House Rules-Administrative Oversight Committee voted HB 850 do pass by a vote of 9-4.
House Bill 1030 (Taylor, R-Republic) creates the “Personal Privacy Protection Act”, creating provisions relating to the disclosure of personal information to public agencies. The bill prohibits public agencies from: (1) Requiring any person to provide a government agency with personal information or otherwise compel the release of such personal information, as defined in the bill; (2) Requiring any entity exempt from federal income taxation under Section 501(c) of the IRS Code to provide a public agency with personal information or otherwise compel the release of personal information; (3) Releasing, publicizing, or otherwise publicly disclosing personal information, as defined, in possession of the public agency; or (4) Requiring any current or prospective contractor or grantee with the public agency to provide the public agency with a list of entities exempt from federal income taxation under Section 501(c) of the IRS Code to which it has provided financial or nonfinancial support. On March 8, the House Special Committee on Government Accountability voted Do Pass on House Committee Substitute for HB 1030 by a vote of 14-0. Amended language allows the Missouri Ethics Commission to release information when responding to a lawful request or subpoena. On March 11 the House Rules-Administrative Oversight Committee also voted the bill do pass.
House Bill 1135 (Hardwick, R-Waynesville). Currently, notice to sell defaulted property in a self-service storage unit by the facility’s operator must be made in the classified section of a newspaper in the jurisdiction. HB 1135 allows newspaper notice or allows the seller to advertise in any other commercially reasonable manner. The advertisement is “commercially reasonable” if at least three independent bidders attend or view the sale at the time and place advertised. On March 9, the House Emerging Issues Committee conducted a hearing on HB 1135. Rep. Hardwick, the bill’s sponsor, said there are no newspapers located in his district, and his intent is to allow notification by reasonable means. He told the committee that “newspaper advertising is an outmoded way of notifying people.” He said he did speak with representatives of the Missouri Press Association, and he would consider possible changes to the legislation. Testifying in support of the bill was an executive with StorageMart, which operates in 14 states and six Canadian provinces and has 16,400 self-storage units in Missouri. He said the company has conducted 332 auctions during the pandemic. He said the company now conducts many online auctions, with the average online auction attracting 25 bidders, many from far away. “We put pictures online,” he said. “We can’t do that in the newspaper” economically. There was no additional testimony. The committee took no action on the bill.
House Bill 1162 (Trent, R-Springfield) modifies provisions related to student data privacy. The legislation would prevent public schools from posting or publishing publicly any individually identifiable information about a child, parent, or guardian without consent; establishes procedures governing the use of and access to student data by third parties; and establishes a task force to study issues relating to student data privacy. On March 8, the House General Laws Committee conducted a hearing on HB 1162. A number of private citizens submitted testimony in support stating the legislation is timely with the increased reliance on on-line learning, putting individuals at an increased exposure to bad actors, data-mining, and data breaches. No testimony in opposition.
Senate Bill 239 (Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville) specifies that the Highways and Transportation Commission shall publish on the Department of Transportation’s official website its cost estimate and project completion date for any construction, maintenance, or repair work on the state highway system at the time bids on a contract for the work are opened. Hearing held March 9 in the Senate Transportation Committee. No testimony in support or opposition.
Senate Bill 365 (Wieland, R-Imperial) allows a county assessor, upon request of a taxpayer, to send personal property tax lists and notices in electronic form. On March 10, the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee held an executive session where SB 365 was voted do pass by a vote of 5-0 with consent status.
Senate Bill 399 (Eigel, R-St. Charles) provides that no court shall have jurisdiction to hear any action challenging the summary statement or fiscal note summary prepared by the General Assembly for a statewide ballot measure prepared by the General Assembly. Hearing held March 10 in the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee. No testimony in support of the bill. American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri submitted online testimony in opposition to the bill.
Senate Bill 429 (Brown, R-Rolla) provides that a minimum fee of $5 may be charged by the Missouri State Highway Patrol for any request where there are allowable fees of less than $5. Such $5 fee shall be in place of any allowable fee of less than $5. The Superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol may increase the minimum fee by not more than $1 every other year following August 28, 2021. The minimum fee shall not exceed $10. The Senate Transportation Committee held an executive session on March 9 where SB 429 was voted do pass by a vote of 5-0.
Senate Bill 434 (Washington, D-Kansas City) establishes the “Cronkite New Voices Act,” which provides that in both public high schools and public institutions of higher education a student journalist, as defined, has the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press in school-sponsored media. On March 10, the Senate Progress and Development Committee voted Do Pass on SB 434 by a vote of 4-1. Sen. Mike Moon (R-Halltown) voted “no.” School districts and student-media advisors, as defined in the bill, may regulate the number, length, frequency, and format of school sponsored media. School districts shall not engage in prior restraint of school-sponsored media except in the circumstances described in SB 434, including: (1) Libelous or slanderous material; (2) Constitutes an invasion of privacy; (3) Violates federal or state law; (4) Is a threat of violence; (5) Advertises a product or service that is illegal or is not permitted to be sold to minors by law; (6) Violates the rights of others; (7) Is likely to incite students to commit an unlawful act or to violate school district policy or procedure; or (8) Is likely to materially and substantially disrupt or interfere with the orderly operation of the school. Student journalists shall be responsible for determining the content of school-sponsored media, while student-media advisors are responsible for teaching and encouraging expression and the standards of English and journalism. No student-media advisor shall be subject to disciplinary actions described in the act for refusal to abridge or infringe upon freedom of expression. School districts shall adopt a written freedom of the press policy that includes reasonable provisions for the time, place, and manner of student expression. The policy may also restrict speech that is offensive or threatening.
Senate Bill 547 (Hoskins, R-Warrensburg) Under current law, any transportation development district having gross revenues of less than $5,000 in a fiscal year for which an annual financial statement was not timely filed to the State Auditor is not subject to a fine. This act provides that any political subdivision that has gross revenues of less than $5,000 or that has not levied or collected sales or use taxes in the fiscal year for which the annual financial statement was not timely filed shall not be subject to a fine.
Additionally, if failure to timely submit the annual financial statement is the result of fraud or other illegal conduct by an employee or officer of the political subdivision, the failure shall not be subject to a fine if the statement is filed within 30 days of discovery of the fraud or illegal conduct. If the political subdivision has an outstanding balance or fines at the time it files its first annual financial statement after January 1, 2021, the Director of Revenue shall make a one-time downward adjustment to such outstanding balance in an amount that reduces the outstanding balance by 90%. If the Director of Revenue determines a fine is uncollectible, the Director shall have the authority to make a one-time downward adjustment to any outstanding penalty.
The Director of Revenue shall initiate the process to disincorporate a political subdivision if such political subdivision has an outstanding balance for fines or penalties and fails to file an annual financial statement as provided in the act. A resident of a political subdivision may file an affidavit with the Director of Revenue with information regarding the political subdivision’s failure to report.
The question of whether a political subdivision may be subject to disincorporation shall be submitted to the voters of the political subdivision as provided in the act. Upon the affirmative vote of a majority of voters in the political subdivision, the Director of Revenue shall file an action to disincorporate the political subdivision in the circuit court with jurisdiction over the political subdivision. The circuit court shall enforce such orders and carry out remedies as provided in the act. Additionally, the Attorney General shall have the authority to file an action in a court of competent jurisdiction against any political subdivision that fails to comply with this act. Hearing held March 10 in the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee. No testimony in support or opposition of the bill. Missouri Economic Development Financing Association testified for informational purposes.
INITIATIVE PETITION PROCESS
The House dedicated floor time Wednesday evening to debate several bills relating to initiative petition procedures. House Bill 333 (Simmons, R-Washington) changes the format of signature sheets and requires the Secretary of State to make petition sheets available in an electronic format for printing and circulation. The bill also includes a $500 refundable filing fee for each initiative or referendum petition sample sheet with an additional $25 fee per page of text. During debate on the House floor on March 10, Representative Dan Shaul (R-Imperial) amended the bill establishing review procedures by requiring a public hearing on all initiative petitions to be held within 30 days of the validation of signatures by the joint committee on legislative research and requires the committee to issue a report to the public within 5 business days of the hearing. Once amended the House provided its first of two necessary approval votes. On March 11 the House third read and passed HB 333 by a vote of 111-48. The bill will now move to the Senate for further consideration.
The House then turned their attention towards House Joint Resolution 20 (Henderson, R-Bonne Terre). Upon voter approval, the resolution increases the number of signatures required for an initiative petition to qualify for the ballot, requires a supermajority of voters to approve measures placed on the ballot by initiative petition rather than today’s simple majority. During debate on the House floor on March 10, Representative Falkner amended the bill to define “legal voter” as an individual who is a citizen of the US, and who is properly registered to vote. Representative Curtis Trent (R-Springfield) further amended the bill by narrowing “legal voter” by requiring the voter to be a resident of Missouri, in addition to a citizen of the US, and who is properly registered to vote. Once amended, the House provided its first of two necessary approval votes. On March 11 the House third read and passed HJR 20 by a vote of 111-46. The bill will now move to the Senate for further consideration.
House Bill 201 (McGirl, R-Potosi) adds corrections officers to the list of persons (parole officers, federal pretrial officers, peace officers, judges, or a member of the person’s immediate family) whose motor vehicle and driver’s license records are to be kept confidential for security purposes by the Department of Revenue. On March 9 the House debated HB 201 where two amendments adding municipal judges and members of the General Assembly and all elected officials and probation and parole officers. Once modified the bill was perfected. On March 11 the House third read and passed HB 201 by a vote of 110-48. The bill will now move to the Senate for further consideration.
House Bill 850 (Wiemann, R-O’Fallon) prohibits the modification of summary statements or ballot language approved by the General Assembly for state constitutional amendments or statutory measures. Courts will not have jurisdiction to rewrite or edit such language prior to placing it on the ballot. The secretary of state and attorney general would maintain their authority to review ballot language. On March 10 the House provided its first of two necessary approval votes and perfected HB 850.
Senate Bill 86 (Hegeman, R-Cosby) prohibits the contribution or expenditure of public funds by any school district or by any officer, employee, or agent of any school district to be used for any campaign or ballot measure. After brief debate, the Senate provided its first of two necessary approval votes on March 8. The Senate dedicated floor time Thursday morning to revisit the language. After no debate, the Senate passed the bill by a 34-0 vote. The bill now will be sent to the House for further consideration.
Senate Bill 106 (Crawford, R-Buffalo) modifies various provisions relating to financial institutions to update current practices and procedures. During debate on the Senate floor on March 9, the sponsor offered substitute language to include multiple new provisions, including SB 362, sponsored by Senator Paul Wieland (R-Imperial), updates and modernizes state banking code that has been in effect for over 60 years. From permitting remote board meetings to reducing unnecessary administrative burdens, the sponsor intends to align banking business activities with federal law and today’s technological advancements. It also simplifies record keeping requirements, reconciles statutory cross-reference errors, and removes annual reporting requirements for select companies. After brief debate, the substitute was adopted and the Senate provided its first of two necessary approval votes. On March 11 the Senate third read and passed SB 106 by a vote of 24-9. The bill now moves to the House for further consideration.
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