Missouri Governor Mike Parson presented his State of the State address on Jan. 27, to an in-person crowd, smaller than usual. Rather than in the capitol’s House of Representatives chamber, the speech was given from the dias of the Senate chamber, allowing social distancing with fewer attendees.
The Governor’s budget recommendations for the next fiscal year were at the center of attention. He opened with an overview of the past 10 months dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, and then highlighted the state’s finances and projections. “Despite the challenges of the past year, my administration never wavered in our commitment to making Missouri the best state to live and work,” the Governor said in a message to the General Assembly and the people of Missouri.
HOUSE COVID-19 SHUTDOWN LEADS TO REBOUND, SENATE HAS ISSUES TOO
The Missouri House of Representatives returned to work Jan. 25, after a week off due to COVID-19 concerns among some of its members and staff. The House wasted little time by conducting more than 35 committee hearings this week, Monday through Thursday. The full House perfected two bills on Monday, HB 429, relating to a tax deduction for foster parents, and HB 430, relating to adoption tax credits, both bills sponsored by Rep. Hannah Kelly (R-Mountain Grove). Both bills represent top priorities of House Speaker Rob Vescovo (R-Arnold).
The Senate continued its committee hearings, also, with illegal gaming machines, police reform, the FY 22 state budget, and tax credits for contributions to education scholarships for K-12 students attending private and charter schools, among other issues on its agenda. Late this week, several senators were absent from the capitol, reportedly due to COVID-19. A few Senate hearings were canceled this week because some committee members were at home, quarantining after a staffer tested positive.
FY 22 BUDGET
The Governor presented his $34.6 billion state budget for FY 22. The state’s General Revenue balance at the end of December was $1.8 billion. To put that amount in perspective, it is four times more than any December balance in the past decade. In addition, the federal stimulus signed on Dec. 27 allows states and local governments another year to spend the CARES Act money. The state’s balance is $684 million. Also, President Biden is providing states a higher Medicaid reimbursement rate during the emergency and that equates to another $400 million (Missouri’s reimbursement level is normally 65 percent and will remain at 71.2 percent during the emergency). And finally, taxes on medical providers is set to generate an additional $213 million. This does not include any money from a third CARES Act package.
The area of concern is the economy. The consensus revenue estimate for FY 22 is for General Revenue to decline by $418 million. Employment is currently down 152,000 from its March high.
Opportunities include the ability to provide back due maintenance on state buildings and infrastructure packages. Some questions exist around the Governor’s $438 million restrictions put in place on July 1, 2020. The Governor has since released $157.7 million but he continues to hold back the balance including $123.4 million from the public-school foundation formula.
The large balance is due in part to a delay in the April 2020 tax year (into this fiscal year), the use of CARES Act dollars to replace general revenue obligations, and monthly revenues have done well.
This surplus will help fund Medicaid expansion which passed in August 2020 and is projected to cost between $200-300 million.
The Governor’s priorities for FY 22 include early childhood education and the creations of a new Office of Childhood that consolidates and streamlines work duties from several departments. He is also fully funding the K-12 foundation formula ($3.56 billion) and expanding his WorkKeys program to all 57 existing career centers. He also is seeking $13 million for the A+ scholarship program.
The Governor also focused on infrastructure including additional funding for roads and bridges, $5 million to expand broadband services, and $168 million to clear the backlog of state buildings and state park maintenance projects. He strongly pushed for the passage of COVID-19 liability protection for businesses, passage of an on-line sales tax, and indicated he would fully fund Medicaid expansion but urged action against fraud and waste. The Governor is also asking for a pay increase for the state workforce.
The Governor’s budget will now be presented to the House Budget and Senate Appropriations committees for their review and work.
JOBS, TRANSPORTATION HIGHLIGHT SPEECH
During his address, the Governor cited recent major job and business expansions in several Missouri locations creating 10,000 new jobs. He said the state is now ranked 11th in the nation among site selectors for new businesses.
Education, government, and the private sector, working together, have helped move Missouri forward in workforce development.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has created hardships for many Missourians, but it has also affirmed our need to continue supporting workforce development, strengthening communities, and improving government,” the Governor said.
His Focus on Bridges Program in the past year has resulted in repair or replacement of 100 Missouri road bridges, and another 150 bridges are on target for the improvements program. The Governor cited a major repair of a Missouri River levee in Northwest Missouri, a result of a partnership of local and state government and the Army Corps of Engineers. Other major transportation projects on the horizon include the Buck O’Neil Bridge in Kansas City, the I-70 Bridge at Rocheport, work on I-270 in North St. Louis County, and a new bridge overpass in West Plains.
The Governor said 71 percent of jobs that were lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic have been recovered in Missouri. His new budget recommendations include funding the MoExcels workforce development program and providing a pay increase for state employees.
With hopes to make Missouri a hub for a North American trade route, $6.3 million is budgeted for river port capital improvements in the state.
“Our investments in education and workforce development will help provide more Missourians with the knowledge and skills to succeed, and our infrastructure investments will help drive economic growth,” the Governor said. “Combined, these initiatives will keep Missouri at the top of the list for business investment and continue to provide new opportunities for Missourians.”
COVID LIABILITY BILL EMERGES FROM SENATE COMMITTEE
Senate Committee Substitute for Senate Bills 51 (Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville) and 42 (White, R-Joplin) was approved Do Pass on a vote of 4-2 by the Senate Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Jan. 25. The substitute bill modifies provisions relating to liability for all civil damages resulting from the state of emergency due to COVID-19, with the intent to provide protection for individuals or entities, including health care providers and manufacturers. The bill identifies a COVID-19 exposure action as a civil action brought against an individual or entity engaged in business, services, activities, or accommodations and protects it from liability unless a plaintiff can prove recklessness or willful misconduct by the business that caused an actual exposure to COVID-19 and the actual exposure caused the personal injury of the plaintiff. The bill focuses on the activity and not the location. The bill includes a “warning notice” for businesses to display to alert individuals. The posting of this warning is a conclusive presumption that a plaintiff assumed the risk. The bill does not require individuals to be vaccinated for COVID-19 and would protect manufacturers of the vaccine. All references to county health ordinances have been removed from the legislation.
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 House Pensions Committee conducted a hearing on HB 29 on Jan. 27. No public testimony presented. The committee took no action on the bill.
House Bill 59 (Schnelting, R-St. Charles) specifies that, if a law enforcement officer notifies any county official that the officer wants his or her personal information redacted from the electronic records maintained by the county, then the county official must not disclose the home address or personal information of the law enforcement officer. Also, the bill creates the offense of unlawful posting of personally identifying information over the internet if a person knowingly posts the name, home address, Social Security number and other personal information of any law enforcement officer with the intent to cause great bodily harm or death to the officer. Penalties levied. The House Public Safety Committee heard testimony on HB 59 on Jan. 26. Testifying in favor of the bill were several law enforcement officers from Kansas City and St. Louis, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the Missouri Peace Officers Association. Opposition testimony was offered by the Recorders Association of Missouri, representing County Recorders of Deeds, noting that recorders’ offices do not have the software or processes to redact personal information from records such as land and property titles. The Recorders suggested to the committee that police officers should be included in the Safe At Home address confidentiality program administered by the Secretary of State’s office. Also testifying in opposition to HB 59 was the NAACP-Missouri, saying the legislation creates a new series of crimes that are already in state statute. The committee took no action on the bill.
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. The House Transportation Committee conducted a hearing on HB 201 on Jan. 27. Testifying in favor of the bill was the Department of Corrections. No opposition testimony. Testimony for information only by the Department of Revenue. The committee took no action on the bill.
House Bill 228 (Basye, R-Rocheport) prevents any public school districts or charter schools from prohibiting a parent or guardian from audio recording any meeting held under the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or a Section 504 plan meeting (Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973). The House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee heard testimony on HB 228 on Jan. 26. Rep. Basye said a parent attending such meetings with school personnel would like to have a recording available, “so they can help their child.” Testifying in favor of the bill were Missouri Disability Empowerment, a mother of an autistic child, a mother from Columbia, and a non-profit organization, Kids Win Missouri. No opposition testimony. The committee took no action on the bill.
House Bill 271 (Wiemann, R-O’Fallon) establishes the “Missouri Local Government Expenditure Database” to be maintained by the state Office of Administration. For each fiscal year beginning after Dec. 31, 2022, the database must include extensive information about a given municipality’s or county’s expenditures and the vendors to whom payments were made. A municipality or county may voluntarily participate in the database or may be required to participate if a petition process used by its residents is used to require participation. The database must be accessible by the public without charge. HB 271 was heard by the House Emerging Issues Committee on Jan. 26. Testimony in favor presented by the Show-Me Institute, Missouri Century Foundation, and a representative of State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick. No opposing testimony. The committee took no action on the bill.
House Bill 334 (Simmons, R-Washington) makes changes to absentee voting, establishes voter identification requirements at the polls and use of provisional ballots, and repeals notice by the secretary of state in print, broadcast television, radio and other media about personal identification requirements for voting. The House Elections and Elected Officials Committee heard testimony on HB 334 on Jan. 27. Rep. Simmons said HB 334 is much like HB 1600 which nearly was passed by legislators in 2020. Some committee members questioned if voters would be disenfranchised when required to use a photo ID. In such cases, provisional ballots will be available, Rep. Simmons said. “Nothing in the bill prevents anyone from voting,” he said. Testifying in favor of the bill was Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and the Missouri Farm Bureau. Opposition testimony was presented by PROMO, the NAACP-Missouri, and AARP. The committee took no action on the bill.
House Bill 362 (DeGroot, R-Ellisville) modifies provisions of the Sunshine Law by closing 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 including, but not limited to, newsletters, notifications, advisories, and alerts. HB 362 was heard by the House Emerging Issues Committee on Jan. 26. Testimony in favor by Richard Sheets of the Missouri Municipal League, who said cities are approached by individuals “fishing for email addresses.” He described citizens’ email addresses as “personal, confidential information.” No opposing testimony. 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 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. The House Local Government Committee heard testimony on HB 441 on Jan. 28. Testifying in favor of the bill were the Missouri Municipal League, a representative of the State Auditor’s Office, and the City of Kansas City. No opposition testimony. The committee took no action on the bill.
House Bill 657 (Trent, R-Springfield) adds individually identifiable customer usage and billing records for residential customers of a municipally owned utility, unless the records are requested by the customer or authorized for release by the customer, to the list of records that may be closed under the Sunshine Law. A municipally owned utility shall make available to the public a commercial customer’s name, billing address, location of service, and dates of service provided for any commercial service account. The bill’s language is supported by the Missouri Press Association. HB 657 was heard by the House Utilities Committee on Jan. 27. Testimony in favor was presented by City Utilities of Springfield and Independence Power & Light. No opposition testimony. The committee took no action on the bill.
Senate Bill 27 (Crawford, R-Buffalo) provides that a county treasurer shall have access to any document in possession of any county official that the treasurer requests that is financially relevant for the purposes of processing a payment. Hearing held January 27 in the Senate Local Government Committee. The MO County Treasurers Association and Cole County Auditor and President of the MO Assn of County Auditors provided supporting testimony. No opposing testimony was provided.