Legislative Report: Week 7: Winter Chills Action by the Missouri General Assembly

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Wintry weather, ice, snow, record-low temperatures . . . . all combined to delay the Missouri General Assembly this week. The Senate chamber and committee rooms were dark, as all Senate activities were canceled Monday for the week. The House of Representatives canceled its sessions and committee hearings on Monday and Tuesday but held 18 hearings on Wednesday and seven hearings on Thursday morning before members adjourned and slid home. More snowfall in the state on Wednesday resulted in slick roadways. There’s good news, however. The weather is supposed to be much warmer next week!

The House Budget Committee is extending its work week, meeting Friday morning to hear FY 2022 budget presentations from the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Health & Senior Services. Due to the COVID pandemic, the 31 members of the House Budget Committee meet in the House Chamber for hearings. Guest seating is available in the upper gallery located on the 4th floor of the capitol.

Rep. Cody Smith (R-Carthage), chairman of the House Budget Committee, has introduced House Bill 991 that would waive state income taxes on federal stimulus checks. The bill would apply to the $600 stimulus checks received this year, plus would apply to any future federal emergency relief funds that are distributed. The bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee on Feb. 11.

On Wednesday, the House Special Committee on Government Oversight approved HCS HB 1083, et al (Eggleston, R-Maysville), a bipartisan bill that would allow the Department of Labor to forgive non-fraudulent overpayments of unemployment benefits grants through the federal CARES Act or other federal programs designed to provide employment security relief. Reportedly, some 46,000 Missourians received overpayments averaging $4,000 and were told to repay them. A resolution was also approved by the committee, asking Governor Mike Parson to forgive federal overpayments during the pandemic.

Committee Activity

House Joint Resolution 42 (Griesheimer, R-Washington). Upon voter approval, this proposed state constitutional amendment would limit service in the General Assembly for members elected on or after Nov. 8, 2022, to 12 years total in any proportion between the Senate and the House of Representatives. On Feb. 17, the House Elections and Elected Officials Committee conducted a hearing on HJR 42. No public testimony was presented. The committee took no action on HJR 42.

On Feb. 17, the House Elections and Elected Officials Committee voted Do Pass on seven bills that would change the initiative petition process for amending the state constitution. The committee approved each bill on a 7-3 vote. The bills are House Joint Resolutions that, if approved by the General Assembly, would require a vote of the people to become effective.

HJR 20 (Henderson, R-Bonne Terre) was amended by the committee to include provisions in HJR 2, HJR 9, and HJR 27. HCS HJR 20, voted Do Pass by the committee, would require initiative petitions proposing amendments to the state constitution to be approved by both houses of the General Assembly after the initiative petition has received the required number of signatures but before it is placed on the ballot. Also, HCS HJR 20 would require initiative petitions to be signed by 10 percent of the legal voters in each of the eight Congressional districts in the state, and statewide ballot issues would require a two-thirds supermajority vote to amend the state constitution.

(Current law requires signatures of eight percent of legal voters in six of eight Congressional districts, and statewide ballot issues to amend the constitution only require a majority of votes for approval.)

HJR 22 (Eggleston, R-Maysville) was amended by the committee to require 12 percent of legal voters in every Congressional district to sign an initiative petition before it would be placed on the statewide ballot. HCS HJR 22 was voted Do Pass.

Other HJR’s that were voted Do Pass by the committee were:

HJR 5 (Schnelting, R-St. Charles) – This amendment requires that state constitutional amendments shall only take effect when approved when 60 percent of the votes cast are in favor.

HJR 14 (Lewis, R-Moberly) – This amendment requires that such amendments shall only take effect when 60 percent of the votes cast are in favor.

HJR 15 (Lewis, R-Moberly) – This amendment requires such petitions to be signed by 12 percent of the legal voters in each of two-thirds of the Congressional districts.

HJR 25 (Davidson, R-Springfield) – This constitutional amendment would require initiative petitions proposing amendments to the state constitution to be approved by a vote greater than or equal to a majority of the registered voters in the state.

HJR 26 (Falkner, R-St. Joseph) – This constitutional amendment would require initiative petitions placed on the ballot by members of the public to be approved by two-thirds of the voters to take effect 30 days after the election.

House Bill 333 (Simmons, R-Washington) amends statutory regulations of the initiative petition process. On Feb. 17, the House Elections and Elected Officials Committee voted Do Pass on HB 333 by a vote of 7-3. The bill changes the format of petition signature sheets and requires a $500 refundable filing fee for each initiative or referendum petition. The bill allows the Secretary of State’s Petition Publications Fund to pay for any refunds. The bill specifies that any court ordered changes to a ballot title results in the invalidation of signatures collected prior to the order.

House Bill 512 (Lovasco, R-O’Fallon) requires the Secretary of State (SOS) to investigate violations of election statutes relating to the use of public funds for political advertising purposes on printed materials. Any person may file a complaint against a state department or its director for violations. The SOS has 30 days to dismiss the complaint or start an investigation and notify the complainant of the decision. If the SOS, or any person whose complaint is denied, wishes to proceed then they may file a petition in the Circuit Court of Cole County against the agency or political subdivision. Procedures for filing are specified in the bill. If the Court finds a violation, then civil penalties of 10 times the amount of an expenditure or $10,000, whichever is greater, may be imposed on a department or political subdivision. Directors and administrators may be personally liable for up to $1,000 in civil penalties. Injunctive relief and court costs shall also be imposed as specified in the bill. Publications in compliance with federal election laws and the full text of proposed ballot measures may be printed as specified in the bill. Hearing held February 17 in the House Downsizing State Government Committee. No testimony in support. Testifying in opposition was the Missouri School Board Association and the Missouri Association of School Administrators based on the premise that schools are categorized as a special district and stated it will prevent school boards from communicating with their community.

House Bill 515 (Baker, R-Neosho) changes the law relating to the prohibition on expenditure of public funds to support or oppose candidates and certain measures. Hearing held February 17 in the House Downsizing State Government Committee. No testimony in support. Testifying in opposition was the Missouri Association of School Administrators and Missouri School Board Association stating this bill would hinder the communication for school boards to their communities.

House Bill 920 (Baker, R-Neosho) would change the election day for city, county, political subdivision, and special district officers from the current April date to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November each year, effective Jan. 1, 2022. On Feb. 18, the House Rules – Administrative Oversight Committee voted Do Pass on HB 920.

Floor Activity

House Bill 59 (Schnelting, R-St. Charles) establishes provisions to protect personal information of active and retired first responders. Specifically, the bill allows first responders to notify county offices they want their personal information in electronic records kept confidential and protected. Also, the bill creates the offense of unlawful posting of personally identifying information over the Internet, otherwise referred to as DOXXING. During debate on the House floor on February 17, the sponsor amended the bill to remove provisions relating to county records, limiting the bill to only creating the offense of unlawful posting of information. Representative Bruce DeGroot (R-Chesterfield) further amended the bill to include HB 998, establishes the “Police use of Force Transparency Act of 2021, requires all law enforcement agencies must, at least annually, collect and report local data to the National Use of Force Data Collection through the Law Enforcement Enterprise portal administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on use- of-force incidents involving peace officers. Once amended, the House provided its first of two necessary approval votes.

House Bill 271 (Wiemann, R-O’Fallon) establishes the “Missouri Local Government Expenditure Database” to be maintained by the state Office of Administration. On Feb. 18, HCS HB 271 was third read and passed by the House of Representatives on a vote of 149-2. The bill now goes to the Senate. According to the bill, 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. The amended bill would not apply to villages with fewer than 30 residents.

House Bill 362 (DeGroot, R-Ellisville) as amended, was third read and passed by the House on Feb. 18, on a vote of 149-1. The bill now moves to the Senate. HB 362 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 limited to newsletters, notifications, advisories, and alerts. The House had added the following amendments to HB 362: — 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. — 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. — Allows a public records custodian to act later than three days after a records request is made, if a published notice is provided at least 72 hours prior to the request for records that the public governmental body will be closed for an extended period outside of normal hours of operation.

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