Missouri legislators returned on Tuesday from their annual Easter Break and continued working on their legislative calendars. The Missouri Senate did not make much progress this week as it was delayed by several filibusters and back-and-forth fighting among members on the floor. The Missouri House limited its time in Jefferson City this week as they did not work on Wednesday afternoon to allow members to attend a funeral visitation and service for the son of Rep. Randy Pietzman (R-Troy).
The House plans to return Monday at 2 p.m. and the Senate at 4 p.m. Only five weeks remain in the 2021 legislative session as adjournment is set at 6:00 p.m. on May 14.
SENATE APPROVES GRAVES TO UM BOARD OF CURATORS
Several senators spent eight hours late afternoon and evening on Tuesday, filibustering the appointment of Todd Graves, a native of Tarkio, as a member of the University of Missouri Board of Curators. The vote after midnight on Graves’ appointment by Governor Mike Parson was 19-13 with two senators absent. One Democrat voted in favor of Graves, who is a Republican, and four Republicans voted with other Democrats in opposition. The filibuster was like the one conducted April 1 on the appointment which lasted three hours before the Senate adjourned for the Easter weekend. On March 18, Graves was appointed by Governor Parson to the Sixth Congressional District seat on the Board. He is a founding partner of the law firm Graves Garrett LLC, a title he has held since February 2006. Graves is a former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, former Prosecuting Attorney of Platte County, and former Chairman of the Missouri Republican Party.
SENATE GEARING UP FOR FY22 BUDGET DELIBERATIONS
Sen. Dan Hegeman (R-Cosby), chairman, has revealed the Senate Appropriations Committee plans to “mark-up” the FY22 state budget during the week of April 19. The committee, which was handed the House version of the proposed budget last week, will likely put in some long hours of deliberation. The General Assembly must approve the FY22 budget by 6:00 p.m. on Friday, May 7.
LEGISLATOR’S SON DIES IN CAR ACCIDENT
The General Assembly grieved the tragic death of Jacob “Jake” Pietzman, 22, of Troy, who died April 3 in a car wreck. Jake was the beloved son of State Rep. Randy Pietzman and his wife, Faith, of Troy. Visitation was held Wednesday afternoon and evening, and the funeral service was conducted on Thursday morning. Several legislators attended, paying their respects to the young man and his family.
GOVERNOR APPOINTS KOLKMEYER TO PSC
On April 1, former State Rep. Glen Kolkmeyer of Odessa was appointed to the Missouri Public Service Commission by Governor Mike Parson. Kolkmeyer is the owner and CEO of Energy Transport Solutions, Inc, a family-owned and -operated business. He was elected four times to the Missouri House of Representatives, serving from 2013 to 2021. During his time as a state representative, he served as chair of the Administration and Accounts Committee and Transportation Committee. He has also served as president of the Missouri Propane Gas Association and Lafayette County Firefighters Association. Kolkmeyer served 20 years as the Fire Chief of the Wellington-Napoleon Fire Protection District and has served a total of 39 years in the fire service.
House Bill 657 (Trent, R-Springfield) is a Sunshine Law bill similar to HB 362. HB 657 requires a public governmental body, when holding a meeting exclusively electronically, to state the reason justifying the departure from normal requirements. Any meeting held in-person and not closed to the public shall be conducted in a manner that allows physical in-person public attendance. HB 657 also closes email addresses and telephone numbers submitted to a public governmental body by persons or entities for the sole purpose of receiving electronic or other communications limited to newsletters, notifications, advisories, and alerts. The bill allows closure of meetings of a public governmental body when the discussion topic includes evacuation and lockdown procedures for a building owned or leased by the public governmental body or software or surveillance companies that secure access to such buildings, the public disclosure of which would threaten public safety. It adds individually identifiable customer usage and billing records for residential customers of a municipally owned utility to the list of records that may be closed under the Sunshine Law. On April 8, the Senate Governmental Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee voted do pass on SCS HB 657 by a vote of 8-0. An amendment in committee suggested by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer (R-Parkville) removed a provision from the bill that would have allowed a public records custodian to act later than three days after a records request is made, if a published notice were provided at least 72 hours prior to the request for records that the public governmental body would be closed for an extended period outside of normal hours of operation. HB 657 and HB 362, as amended by the committee, now contain the same language.
House Bill 680 (Schwadron, R-St. Charles) repeals the requirement that the state hold a presidential primary election. Hearing held April 7 in the House Elections and Elected Officials Committee. Director of Elections for St. Charles County and Missouri Association of County Clerks and Election Authorities testified in support of the bill. No testimony in opposition.
House Bill 766 (Andrews, R-Grant City) requires businesses that make automatic renewal or continuous service offers to provide customers with clear information and costs, including any price changes after initial free trial periods or gifts, in a manner that may be retained by the customer, prior to collecting payment for any goods or services. It also requires the customer to be given cost effective, timely, and easy-to-use mechanisms for cancellation and for automatic renewal or continuous service. The bill would be effective July 1, 2022. On April 6, the House Special Committee on Small Business voted do pass on HCS HB 766 by a vote of 14-0. The committee substitute bill adds toll-free telephone numbers to the options the customer may use to contact businesses. Also, the Attorney General shall have all powers regarding violations of the statute in addition to rulemaking authority.
House Bill 848 (Sander, R-Lone Jack) establishes the “Daylight Saving as New Standard Time Pact”. On April 8 the House Rules-Administrative Oversight Committee voted the HB 848 do pass.
House Bill 900 (Rep. Tony Lovasco, R-O’Fallon) relates to strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP). The bill specifies that all laws in Missouri must be construed to afford qualified immunity from lawsuits and liability for any defendant or counter-defendant in any action that impacts the defendant’s or counter-defendant’s First Amendment rights, and the bill provides procedures for defending against such lawsuits. If a person successfully defends against a SLAPP lawsuit, the person may bring a SLAPP-back claim to recover any damages, costs, and fees the trial court failed to grant. Such damages, fees, and costs include statutory damages of at least $10,000, compensatory damages, additional damages to the plaintiff in an amount calculated to deter the SLAPP plaintiff from bringing future SLAPP lawsuits, and attorneys’ fees and costs. On April 6, the House Special Committee on Litigation Reform conducted a hearing on HB 900. Rep. Lovasco said the bill creates a state of qualified immunity for a person to use First Amendment rights of free speech. Such law stops the lawsuit proceedings early, so a defendant doesn’t waste his or her resources and the court’s time isn’t wasted. Rep. Bruce DeGroot (R-Ellisville), committee chairman, said this is an “important issue and something we need to address someday.” Testimony in favor of the bill was presented by Curtis Varns, KMIZ -TV general manager, whose station dealt with a social media story in 2018, was sued, and before being dismissed the station was tied up for eight months and $25,000 in legal fees. Varns said HB 900 could fix such situations and allow journalists to do their jobs. Also testifying in support was Mark Gordon of the Missouri Broadcasters Association, who said he is concerned about small market radio stations, some currently under financial stress, but who perform important roles in their local communities. No testimony was presented in opposition. Written testimony in support of HB 900 was submitted by Arnie C. Dienoff; Joseph E. Martineau, an attorney who represents the Better Business Bureau; Mark Randazza, a lawyer who defends SLAPP lawsuits nationwide; Patrick Groshong, a member of the Missouri Bar Media Law Committee; and information only testimony was submitted by Jean Maneke, legal counsel for the Missouri Press Association. The committee took no action on the bill.
Senate Bill 272 (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 30, the Senate General Laws Committee voted do pass on SCS SB 272 by a vote of 6-0. SCS SB 272 adds an “opt-in” for those winners who wish to release their names to the public.
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. On April 6, the House added several floor amendments to HB 441, including an amendment by Rep. Mike Henderson (R-Bonne Terre) that is identical to his HB 351, a bill supported by the fireworks industry, to extend statutes involving burn bans but shall not ban consumer fireworks, as defined, in all non-charter counties in Missouri. The bill was perfected and printed and was committed to the House Legislative Review Committee by a vote of 88-58.
Senate Bill 5 (Wieland, R-Imperial) modifies provisions relating to certain infrastructure improvement districts. On April 7, a dozen local government amendments were added to the bill on the Senate floor during three hours of debate. Currently, counties are not required to advertise contracts or purchases involving an expenditure of less than $6,000. Also, it is not necessary to obtain bids on any purchase in the amount of $6,000 or less from any one person, firm or corporation during any period of 90 days. An amendment to SB 5 by Sen. Dan Hegeman (R-Cosby) was approved, increasing the amounts to $12,000 before newspaper public notice advertising is required for the purchase. However, the Senate Committee Substitute for SB 5, with the Hegeman amendment, was defeated on a voice vote. The original SB 5 was perfected and needs one more vote by the Senate to send the bill to the House.