MPA Capitol Report 2/23/2024

In Legislative News, Legislative Reports, Legislative Resources, Missouri Press News On
- Updated

MPANewsBook: Statehouse News for MPA Members
This report is written by Missouri School of Journalism students for publication by MPA member newspapers in print and online.
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DO NOT PUBLISH: A NOTE FROM THE EDITORS

The Missouri News Network has coverage this week of Senate action on reforming initiative petitions, progress and upcoming hurdles to the appropriations process and a look at efforts to limit AI-generated fake images as well as an attempt to require the teaching of cursive writing in public schools.

If you have thoughts or questions, contact Mark Horvit at horvitm@missouri.edu or Fred Anklam at anklamf@missouri.edu.

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MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK WEEK OF FEB. 19

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THURSDAY

House committee chair targets state transportation commission

BY MADELINE SHANNON

missouri news network

JEFFERSON CITY — A bill that would change the makeup of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission was debated Thursday in a continuation of committee chair Don Mayhew’s efforts to institute different standards for how commission members are chosen.

House Bill 2568 is one of several introduced this year that would change how the state’s transportation system is governed. Other legislation heard in the House Transportation Accountability Committee would have changed the selection process for the transportation department’s governing body or done away with the commission altogether.

“This bill is simply about giving the legislature an opportunity to restructure the highway commission,” said Rep. Mayhew, R-Crocker. “This puts a little more structure into that selection process. There’s a lot of words in here for a fairly simple process, but that’s the way it’s gotta go.”

Mayhew’s bill stipulates that there can’t be more than one member on the commission from the same district at the same time.

The governor has to make appointments to the commission with the Senate’s approval, and the commission has to be made up of half Democrats, half Republicans, according to the bill.

The current commission consists of three Republicans, two Democrats and one independent, according to the commission’s website.

One provision of the bill that generated some contention in the committee Thursday would have the House of Representatives form a list of 10 candidates to fill an open seat on the commission, which would be approved by the House and the Senate. This process would be only followed if the governor didn’t appoint a new commissioner to an open seat within 30 days.

Democratic pushback on the bill in Thursday’s committee hearing revealed concerns about Mayhew’s legislation not allocating enough time for the governor to appoint a new member of the commission, at which point it would be taken out of the governor’s hands and taken up by the legislature.

“I believe that process for the governor’s office takes more than 30 days because you’ve not only got to be vetted, but you’ve gotta be investigated,” said Rep. Joe Adams, D-University City. “That process takes some time before it is known who he or she is appointing.”

That 30-day time period was, in Mayhew’s words, “more or less arbitrarily” chosen, in an effort to make appointments quickly. He said he is open to extending that time period to give the governor more time for background checks and to put forward a candidate for an open seat on the commission.

Concerns about having one commission member from each congressional district, rather than selecting members based on other qualifications, were a point of contention for one member on the committee.

“They should be doing things based on what’s best for the state of Missouri and not trying to do favors for where they’re from. That’s the point,” said Rep. Michael Burton, D-Lakeshire. “I think these positions should be based on merit, not necessarily what district they’re from.”

Efforts to change the way the state’s transportation department is governed stem from a 2021 lawsuit from the Missouri Department of Transportation over raises paid to department employees. Another lawsuit in 2020 and an unpopular increase in the state’s gasoline tax all fed into the Republican-led legislature’s displeasure with the activities of MoDOT’s governing commission.

The committee also discussed House Joint Resolution 127, which would amend the state’s constitution to require the state road fund to be appropriated by the General Assembly. The resolution also requires the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, or STIP, be used to establish project and program funding priorities for the transportation department.

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WEDNESDAY

Bill would remove MU’s exclusivity in offering doctoral degrees

BY AIDAN PITTMAN

missouri news network

JEFFERSON CITY — A proposal to repeal the University of Missouri’s exclusive privilege as the only public higher education institution in the state to confer doctoral degrees, including in medicine and engineering, got a hearing before a Senate committee on Wednesday.

“Essentially what this bill does,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, “is restore the ability for the Coordinating Board for Higher Education … to allow needed degrees to be conferred by any institution in the state of higher education.”

The language of SB 749 specifically reads that it would remove provisions making the University of Missouri the state’s only public university to grant research-doctorates and first-professional degrees, such as medicine and law.

Thomas Strong, a retired lawyer who spoke in favor of the bill during witness testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Empowering Missouri Parents and Children, said it would benefit students all over Missouri, mainly those who don’t want to or can’t afford to attend Mizzou.

“We’re losing those students who go to other states, get their education there and remain there to practice their trade or profession,” Strong said. “We need to have a system of higher education in Missouri that benefits all students in all parts of the state.”

Strong noted that smaller universities in other states, such as Northwestern Oklahoma State University and Emporia State University in Kansas, with less than 5,000 students each, offer doctorates.

Both Hough and Strong emphasized that the bill’s intention is not to be anti-MU and is aimed at allowing students across the state uninterested or unable to attend MU an opportunity to have a public education in Missouri. Sen. Holly Thompson Rehder, R-Sikeston, made favorable comments on the bill in how it could impact southeast Missouri.

“When you take the geography into account, this bill could really help the disparity in southeast Missouri across the rest of the state,” Thompson Rehder said.

Opposing the bill during testimony was Dustin Schnieders, the government liaison for the University of Missouri system. He noted that the current statute requires universities to seek partnerships to offer such degrees, which the UM system has taken part in, and that the bill would end up only driving up costs.

“The existing model has proven worthy by addressing critical needs and offering students many options all while maintaining fiscal responsibilities to both students and Missouri taxpayers,” Schnieders said. “This model should be replicated and not walked away from.”

Afterward, Strong said the partnership programs Schnieders mentioned are handled by the UM system.

“It’s MU’s program and they call the shots,” Strong said. “They are taking advantage of another university’s faculty, location, equipment, staff … it doesn’t work for most non-MU universities in the state.”

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Lawmaker makes final bid for cursive writing requirement in Missouri schools

BY DMITRY MARTIROSOV

missouri news network

JEFFERSON CITY — For six straight years, Rep. Gretchen Bangert, D-Florissant, has filed a bill that would require cursive handwriting to be taught in Missouri public schools.

The bill has failed each time, never making it out of the House and only twice getting initial approval. Yet Bangert isn’t letting the issue go.

In December, she pre-filed the bill for the seventh time, her final attempt before she leaves the House due to term limits, and earlier this month testified in a public hearing before the House Special Committee on Education Reform in a final bid to convince lawmakers to support the measure.

“Learning cursive is important because our primary source documents, many historical documents, notes and letters were written in cursive, including our Constitution,” Bangert told the committee.

Bangert’s one-page proposal would make it a requirement for public school districts and charter schools in Missouri to teach cursive writing by the end of fifth grade and ensure students pass a test demonstrating competency in both reading and writing cursive.

Teaching cursive in Missouri isn’t required by law. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education sets instructional guidelines for local districts, known as the Missouri Learning Standards, but schools have ultimate control over curriculum and which material is being taught.

Twenty-three states instruct schools to teach cursive. The Missouri Learning Standards, approved in 2016 by the State Board of Education, highlight the ability to write legibly in cursive as a goal for second and third graders. However, this is merely an expectation, not a requirement.

But Bangert wants to make it a requirement.

A few years ago, Bangert said she gave an intern a handwritten note with a task she wanted him to complete. When she returned two weeks later to check if he completed it, the intern said he didn’t do it because he couldn’t read the note.

“I realized, my kids had cursive handwriting but then a lot of other kids had not had it,” Bangert said.

study conducted at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology found that cursive handwriting enhances learning by activating more of the brain. Another study showed children ages 3 to 5 enjoyed better letter recognition when they wrote them by hand as opposed to typing.

The same study also found that note taking by hand is superior to typing when measuring for learning outcome.

“I type 95 words a minute, I can type all day long from a dictaphone,” Bangert said. “But am I really remembering everything? If I have to bring it all together and summarize it and then write it at that point in time, that makes you slow down and really think.”

Kari Yeagy, director of communications for Hallsville School District, where cursive is being taught in third-grade classrooms, believes teaching cursive to students is important.

Before serving in her current role, Yeagy taught second and third grade at Hallsville schools for seven years. She said she packs her daughter’s lunch each school day and puts a note written in cursive in her lunchbox.

“I feel that it’s a skill that she needs to at least to be able to read cursive so that when she does receive mail from her grandparents, she is able to read it,” Yeagy said.

Yeagy added that she doesn’t want her students to feel disadvantaged because of an inability to read and write cursive.

“I think that if our ultimate goal is to raise educated, well-rounded students, then we need to make sure that they are capable learners,” Yeagy said. “And if that involves them being able to read cursive or read an analog clock or be able to code, you want to make sure that they’re at least exposed to everything.”

Springfield Public Schools, the state’s largest school district with more than 24,000 students, teaches cursive to elementary students. In an email, Teresa Bledsoe, the district’s director of communications, said cursive is being taught in the second, third, fourth and fifth grades.

“The expectation is that students will be able to write legibly in print and cursive,” Bledsoe said.

Similarly, Columbia Public Schools teach the “elements of cursive” in third grade, according to CPS spokesperson Michelle Baumstark.

Baumstark said CPS currently includes cursive instruction “because it’s a skill set students still need to be exposed to learning.” She said CPS will continue to monitor Bangert’s bill.

During the public hearing, no one testified in opposition to Bangert’s bill. No one testified in opposition last year either. But arguments against teaching cursive do exist.

Most frequently, opponents cite increasing reliance on digital technology as a reason to put less focus on cursive, advocating for typing as a better, more efficient way of taking notes.

Rep. Doug Mann, D-Columbia, supports Bangert’s bill, but said he is sympathetic to the fact that classrooms are constrained by limited instruction time, which may become hampered by teaching cursive.

“Putting more things on the teachers to do can be burdensome,” Mann said.

Mann speaks from experience. Before being elected to represent District 50 in the House, Mann taught history and civics to high school students.

“There were plenty of things that I was asked to do as a teacher that got in the way of instructional time and really doing the things that I signed up to be a teacher to do,” he said.

Though he admitted that teaching cursive isn’t the first thing on his mind when it comes to changes in education, Mann, who sits on the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee, said teaching cursive in classrooms is “probably a good idea.”

“Being able to read those primary sources, being able to operate in a world where you are likely to run into cursive at some point in your life is beneficial,” Mann said.

Teaching cursive used to be a frequent part of public education — before it was pushed aside when the Common Core State Standards were rolled out and adopted by nearly all 50 states and the District of Columbia. But as the number of adopting states grew, focus shifted from cursive to keyboarding.

The Common Core standards are a set of guidelines released in 2010 meant to establish instructional cohesion in English language arts and math among K-12 students regardless of where they live.

Missouri adopted the standards but replaced them in 2016 with the Missouri Learning Standards. Several other states have either dropped or replaced the Common Core standards, including Florida, Tennessee and Arizona.

If Bangert’s proposal gets across the finish line, it won’t have any fiscal impact on the education department, according to the bill’s fiscal note.

Bangert said she is hopeful the bill will pass.

“I have an early start like I did last year, so I’m feeling positive about it and I’m just going to talk to everybody that I can,” Bangert said.

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Like a spring ritual, another attempt to end daylight saving time in Missouri

BY QUINN S COFFMAN

missouri news network

JEFFERSON CITY — With daylight saving time arriving March 10, a House committee heard a bill Wednesday that would stop the clock once and for all.

If passed, it would align Missouri with a group of 19 other states intent on making the “spring forward” section of the year, from March to November, the permanent year-round time.

On March 10, most Americans will wake an hour earlier in accordance with the shift from standard time to daylight saving time. This shift, first meant to conserve electricity during World War I, allows for more hours of sunlight after the workday.

Rep. Darin Chappell, R-Rogersville, refuted the often-quoted fact that daylight saving time is beneficial for agriculture, saying the claim was “one of the dumbest things ever.”

“The whole idea that this is for the farmers is ridiculous. We got up when it was light and we went to bed when it was dark. Doesn’t matter what the clock says, we were out working when we could,” Chappell said.

His voice was among many on the committee who shared the sentiment that no one wants to change their clock two times a year. Other legislators mentioned an increase in workplace and traffic fatalities correlated with a shift in the clock.

However, the conversation was complicated by an inevitable question. If we stop changing our clocks back and forth each year, which way do we leave them?

Spring forward or fall back?

Federal law currently allows states to opt out of daylight saving time and return to purely standard time. This would make the “fall back” section of the year, from November to March, the permanent year-round time. Arizona and Hawaii observe standard time year-round, never needing to adjust their clocks.

This federal law, signed in 1966, doesn’t allow states to make daylight saving time permanent, however. This is why the bill heard Wednesday would act as a trigger law, only going into effect if Congress allows it through a federal law.

Rep. Chris Sander, R-Lone Jack, said putting the extra hour of sunlight in the afternoon rather than the morning would be beneficial for business and recreation.

“If you had more daylight in the evening hour after work, you could walk your dog at the park, you could go find bugs on flowers, or you could enjoy other outdoor things,” Sander said.

Currently 19 states, including Missouri’s neighbors Tennessee and Kentucky, have passed similar trigger laws.

Jay Pea, the president of the Save Standard Time organization, disagrees that making daylight saving time permanent would be good for Americans.

His organization argues that standard time is “solar time,” and aligns better with our natural sleep rhythms by making high noon the hour when the sun is highest in the sky.

“Everybody needs morning light, it helps you wake up, be alert and feel good. It helps you feel ready for the day so you can drive safely to work and can perform well, (and so) your kids can do well in school,” Pea said.

He claimed that permanent daylight saving time would offset people from their natural circadian rhythms, doing damage over time. His organization believes even the status quo, where clocks change twice a year, is preferable to permanent daylight saving time.

Despite versions of this bill making progress in past sessions, members that heard the bill Wednesday are not confident that daylight saving time will be ended in Missouri this session.

Both Chappell and Rep. Michael Burton, D-Lakeshire, said there is little hope that the Senate will prioritize a bill like this during the session.

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TUESDAY

State budget approval faces contentious road

BY EZRA BITTERMAN

missouri news network

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers have one responsibility every year: pass a budget.

It requires a long, arduous process where funding requests from every state department are heard.

Each department’s report is typically more than 1,000 pages. The Department of Social Services’s request is 2,987 pages, almost two times the size of “Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady,” the longest book written in the English language.

How these funding requests are filled affects how state programs function.

The budget determines whether all kids can be bused to school, how much teachers are paid, the amount of money each of Missouri’s public colleges are allotted, the pay for over 44,000 state employees and the expansion of the entire length of Interstate 70 to three lanes, to name a few of its many implications.

An important step in the process happened Tuesday as the budget bills were read in the House chamber. They can now be assigned to the House Budget Committee to start making their way through the House and on to the Senate. All annual appropriations bills start in the House.

Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, sees the budget as essential to a working state government.

“(The budget) is about a functioning state government. This isn’t about the firebrand of today’s politician who’s looking for the 12-second soundbite that says taxation is theft and government sucks,” said Hough, who has served on the committee for five years.

“This is about your law enforcement being funded,” Hough said. “This is about firefighters showing up when you need them. This is about our highways and our bridges being taken care of. This is about teachers in the classroom. This is about caregivers who are looking after the elderly in our communities. This is just responsible, conservative governing and making sure the state works for people that we all represent.”

Last month, Gov. Mike Parson unveiled his $52.7 billion budget proposal in his State of the State address. The proposal would increase teacher and state worker pay while filling most department budget requests. After a governor provides a budget proposal, it comes down to the House and Senate budget committees to shape what will become law. The governor has no formal involvement until it’s time for the bills to be signed and they are able to veto specific budget items.

The chair of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, has already expressed some pushback against the governor’s record spending proposal amid a state revenue slowdown.

“When (Parson) talks about increases to ongoing spending, I’m curious about where he’s finding those revenues within the state budget,” Smith said in his office after the speech.

Hough generally supports the governor’s proposed spending level and is behind raising teacher and state worker pay. He said he is also planning on prioritizing an increase in funding for state healthcare providers that serve the elderly and disabled.

The state’s finances are in an interesting position as a large tax cut enacted in 2022 has hampered tax revenues, yet billions in federal COVID-19 relief and infrastructure improvement money is still available. That federal money is appropriated mainly to large, one-time projects like expanding broadband internet access to rural Missourians.

State revenues rose in the last few years thanks to a strong economy and inflation, but have flattened out in the past year and are expected to remain that way in 2025.

When it comes to passing the budget, Senate Republicans have a math problem.

Eighteen votes are needed to pass something out of the Missouri Senate. Republicans make up 24 seats to 10 held by Democrats.

The kicker is that six of the 24 Republicans are part of the Freedom Caucus, a far-right group that supports reducing the size of government. They’re also short another one or two senators who often vote with the Freedom Caucus on budget bills.

Last year, seven members did not vote on the Senate budget bills. Democrats joined the 17 Republicans who voted to pass the budget, and the crisis was averted.

Put simply, without Freedom Caucus votes, Republicans need Democrats to pass this constitutionally mandated piece of legislation.

“It’s in the back of our minds that we have all the Democrats decided one day, yeah, (Republican leadership) aren’t treating us good, we’re going to vote ‘no’ on the budget. Then we’re going to have a special session on the budget,” said Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, when asked about the leverage Democrats have in budget discussions. “So that calculation is not particularly fun for us, but it’s real.”

Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, noted that a collective priority of the Democratic caucus for the budget is an increase in the Missouri Child Care Subsidy. She aligned with Hough in general support for the governor’s spending proposal.

Freedom Caucus member Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, who voted against most of last year’s budget bills, is taking a strong stance on cutting spending this year.

“I’ll be opposing (the governor’s) budget, and we’re going to be looking at where we can cut aggressively from that budget,” he said. Eigel, who is running for Missouri governor, also criticized how rapidly state spending has increased over the last few years.

Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, was the lone Freedom Caucus member on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Rowden removed him from the committee as punishment for bogging down Senate activity with filibusters.

Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, who is the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said he thinks Republican leadership would like to get the budget into the Senate earlier this year to allow time to wrestle with the Freedom Caucus.

Smith contended that while he’s trying to get the budget out of the House earlier this year, the process will not be less rigorous. Hough added that while having the budget bills in the Senate sooner rather than later would be good, it’s not more important than a deliberative discussion.

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Senate, House move ahead on initiative petition changes

BY MADELINE SHANNON AND AIDAN PITTMAN

missouri news network

JEFFERSON CITY — Republicans moved forward Tuesday on imposing limits to the initiative petition process in both chambers of the legislature.

The legislation has been a priority of Republicans who are trying to restrict the initiative petition process ahead of a ballot initiative that could protect the right to abortion in the Missouri Constitution. Supporters hope to place that initiative on the November ballot.

The Missouri Senate, with an 18-12 vote, approved an amendment stripping so-called “ballot candy” provisions from its bill. That cleared the way for a voice vote, which gave initial approval to toughening the requirements for approval of initiatives by voters.

The House signaled its support for adding restrictions to the collection of signatures on initiative petitions, turning away a few amendments offered by Democrats.

The Senate resolution, which must be taken up one more time before it is sent to the House, moves away from a simple statewide majority vote to approve initiatives. In addition to that simple statewide majority, it imposes a second condition that an initiative must be approved by a majority of voters in five of the state’s eight congressional districts.

Democrats had been filibustering the consideration of the bill since last week, including overnight into Tuesday. They used the term “ballot candy” to describe provisions in the original resolution requiring voters to be U.S. citizens and state residents, both of which are already required by law.

Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit, offered an amendment stripping that language from the resolution, leading to a split vote in favor of the amendment which broke the filibuster.

All Democratic senators, excluding Sen. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, who was not present, voted in favor of the amendment with nine Republican senators joining them: Cierpiot; Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City; Rusty Black, R-Chilicothe; Justin Brown, R-Rolla; Sandy Crawford, R-Buffalo; Karla Eslinger, R-Wasola; Elaine Gannon, R-De Soto; Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield; and Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia.

Sen. Doug Beck, D-St. Louis County, praised his Democratic colleagues for their work in removing the “ballot candy.”

“I think it’s good that we actually cleared the way and we tried to get past them trying to trick the voters into what they’re voting for,” Beck said.

The resolution requires a third reading in the Senate before it moves to the House.

Beck said Senate Democrats would be ready to filibuster again on the Senate floor should the House make any changes.

If approved by the legislature, the changes included in the resolution would need to be approved by voters statewide to become law.

In the House, a bill that was given initial approval focused on new steps restricting the signature-gathering process. House Bill 1749, introduced by Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Cass County, would require the Secretary of State to restrict the public from viewing signatures on an initiative petition in the interest of preserving the privacy and identities of those who sign initiative petitions — a provision added Tuesday after approval of an amendment offered by Rep. Michael O’Donnell, R-St. Louis.

The bill would require the provisions of the petition to be checked for their constitutionality before collecting signatures rather than after. It also states that petition circulators can’t be paid per signature for those collected on petitions.

HB 1749 also invalidates all signatures collected on an initiative petition if a court orders substantial changes to the title of the ballot initiative. According to the bill’s text, petition circulators have to be Missouri residents and anyone who signs the petition must use blue or dark ink for their signature.

“The majority of the parts of this bill are based on court precedent,” said Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Cass County, the bill’s sponsor. “It keeps the integrity of the process, it keeps fraud out of the initiative process and it stops the out-of-state interests. Missourians should be in control of the Missouri constitution.”

Three amendments introduced by Democrats on the floor Tuesday were voted down, including one that would allow initiative petition signers to sign electronically and one which would require debate of initiative petitions on the floor of both the House and Senate. Another amendment would have allowed voters who sign a petition to use any color ink to sign as long as it was clearly visible.

Debate generated some contention, with one representative’s testimony interrupted when she tried to relate the issue to abortion.

“It’s a threat to majority rule. That’s what it boils down to,” Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern, D-Kansas City, said. “We know that thousands of Missourians are turning out right now to reclaim access to abortion in this state.”

To become law, the bill passed by the House must be approved by the Senate and signed by the governor.

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Gov. Parson deploys more National Guard members to the southern border

BY KOMLAVI ADISSEM

missouri news network

JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson announced Tuesday evening that he is deploying approximately 200 Missouri National Guard members and up to 22 Highway Patrol troopers to Texas to assist in protecting the border.

The governor said 11 Highway Patrol troopers will be “on the ground” starting March 1. He added that all of the troopers volunteered to go to Texas.

Parson said that the first deployment of National Guard members would be active starting March 10. He added that this mission will be active for 90 days but could be extended.

“We will continuously work with Texas to evaluate needed support moving forward,” he said during his announcement.

However, these are not the first Missouri National Guard members to be deployed to the border. Two companies of roughly 250 members have previously been deployed to assist federal Customs and Border Protection agents.

The personnel being sent in March will be assisting Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star, which aims to prevent illegal crossing and the smuggling of drugs across the border using state officers and troops.

“Missouri personnel will rotate in and out as needed with a primary mission to help the state of Texas in construction of barriers to entry and supporting security patrols as needed,” Parson said.

According to a news release from the governor’s office, the executive order authorizing this mission will last until June 13. The troops will be rotating on a basis of roughly 30 days.

The governor said he’s activating the Emergency Response Fund to pay for the mission and will work with legislators to “backfill these funds with a supplemental budget request” of $2.3 million.

The move comes after a trip where Parson and 12 other Republican governors toured border sites in Texas with Abbott.

Other states that have pledged National Guard personnel to the border in Texas include Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah.

Missouri Democrats responded in a statement criticizing Parson for the decision.

“Gov. Parson’s decision to double down his political theater at the southern border instead of urging his Republican colleagues in Congress to support the bipartisan border agreement is not surprising but is deeply shameful,” Matthew Patterson, the Missouri Democratic Party executive director, said in the statement. “Missouri Republicans have demonstrated time after time that they will always choose to play political games over doing their jobs no matter who is put at risk.”

Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch, R-Hallsville, said that she supports the governor’s actions and is not dissuaded by the $2.3 million price tag.

“It’s well worth every penny,” she said in an interview. “And so, whatever it takes to defend the Missouri borders and the United States borders, we must defend ourselves because the federal government is not doing their job.”

Parson echoed this sentiment of protecting Missourians during his speech.

“The fentanyl crisis is here in our state,” Parson said. “Missourians are dying. Families are being ripped apart. Communities are being destroyed. And children, Missouri children, are falling victim.

“We would much rather do what we can to fight this fight on the southern border than let it take root in our own backyard,” he said.

Harshawn Ratanpal contributed reporting for this story.

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MONDAY

Democrats break House decorum over gun legislation

BY QUINN S COFFMAN

missouri news network

JEFFERSON CITY — House Democrats, many dressed in mourning black, railed against their Republican counterparts on Monday for failing to pass legislation that they say could have protected the victims of last week’s mass shooting in Kansas City.

The House floor erupted with shouting from both sides of the aisle during debate over a House public safety bill, breaking decorum and causing Speaker of the House Dean Plocher, R-St. Louis, to gavel the chamber back into order multiple times.

Democrats used the debate on final passage of HB 1659 as an opportunity to broach the larger issue of gun control in Missouri, after last week’s mass shooting at the Kansas City Chief’s Superbowl victory parade.

The omnibus bill includes language that would punish gun owners who negligently shoot a firearm in “celebration” within the boundaries of a municipality. This piece of legislation, commonly known as “Blair’s Law,” was part of an omnibus crime bill vetoed last year by Gov. Mike Parson for other reasons.

House Republicans see “Blair’s Law” as a “common sense” gun reform.

Rep. Chad Perkins, R-Bowling Green, criticized several Democratic representatives for not supporting the bill this year and in the past.

Democrats, however, focused on the fact that Republicans won’t put forward any other bills addressing steps they think could help stop mass shootings.

In a news  conference held by House Democrats earlier Monday, minority leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said the Republican supermajority has been more interested in posturing to voters before primary season than passing comprehensive gun legislation.

“I don’t assume the Republicans will do anything about this,” Quade said. “They haven’t for years, they’ve just been going backward. We have been filing these bills for a very, very long time, and are filing another one today.”

The bill that Quade, who is running for governor, plans to sponsor would return control of gun regulation in part to local municipalities. Democrats have highlighted this “local control” legislation as one that actually addresses the root causes of last week’s mass shooting.

Majority House Leader Rep. Johnathan Patterson, R-Lee’s Summit, said that while his party is interested in protecting Missouri’s Second Amendment rights, now is a time for legislators to “take a sober look” at policies that affect the lives of everyday Missourians.

According to Patterson, House Republicans will stop pursuing specific gun bills that would have allowed Missourians to carry firearms on public transportation, like city buses. The majority leader said that honoring the wishes of Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas in the wake of last week’s shooting was a major motivation.

“The thing that really struck me was that we offered the Kansas City mayor thoughts and prayers,” Patterson said. “Then how could we take up a bill that he specifically has said that Kansas City does not want? I just thought that would be very disrespectful to do that.”

Patterson however, questioned if anything the legislature could pass would have prevented the parade shooting.

He listed gun laws at both the state and federal level that should have kept Missourians at the parade safe last week, but obviously didn’t. These ordinances included prohibitions against displaying weapons, openly carrying weapons, and possessing weapons as a juvenile.

Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, echoed Patterson’s sentiments on the House floor.

“There’s always a call for stricter penalties by members of this body when something happens like this,” Baker said, “but the fact is no law that we can pass in this body would have prevented the terrible tragedy that happened last week.”

Several Democrats immediately responded to Baker’s comments with shouts of “lies!” before being called into order by the speaker.

At the Democratic news conference, Quade responded to these Republican comments that laws alone couldn’t have prevented last week’s shooting.

“What the hell are we doing as lawmakers?” Quade said. “Then why are we here at all?”

Among the 28 gun bills that have been introduced by House Democrats, local control over gun regulation and keeping guns out of minors’ hands seem to be priorities.

Quade brought up examples of legislation on both of these topics that were presented last session but were quashed by Republicans.

An initiative petition is being organized around giving local governments more control over guns, sponsored by the Missouri gun-control advocacy group Sensible Missouri.

In addition to opposing the guns on buses bills, Lucas testified in favor of local control legislation from last session.

The events of the last week have been reminiscent of many prior mass shootings, with both camps of legislators grieving the victims before returning to their entrenched positions with little hope of passing relevant laws.

When asked what Democrats could do to make progress on legislating gun control, Quade said the super-minority party is very limited.

“What’s it going to take (to make change)?” Quade asked. “Elect different people who actually listen and aren’t worried about their next paycheck, (or) who’s financing their campaigns, but who actually listen to the voters and people who want change.”

—————————————————–

Taylor Swift Act takes aim at harmful AI images

BY MOLLY MILLER

missouri news network

JEFFERSON CITY — Pornographic or explicit images and political deepfakes created by artificial intelligence have gotten the attention of legislators in Missouri.

Rep. Adam Schwadron, R-St. Charles, introduced the first piece of legislation on Jan. 30 to address pornographic or explicit images created by AI.

“The Taylor Swift Act” aims to combat the harmful effects of artificially produced or digitally altered explicit images by providing victims retribution.

According to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, what are commonly referred to as deepfakes, involve images that appear real but are instead completely created by technology. Humans are unable to produce deepfakes as the complexity of the images is so realistic that they could only be made by AI.

The false images often depict political figures or celebrities in compromising positions. The Department of Homeland Security reported in 2021 that 95% of deepfakes depicted pornographic images of women.

“The worst part is that women are disproportionately impacted by these deepfakes,” said Schwadron. “These fake images can be just as crushing, harmful and destructive as the real thing.”

The bill, HB 2573, will provide legal ramifications for victims, mainly the ability to file civil lawsuits against the creators of the images. Additionally, prosecutors will have the explicit power to file criminal charges against perpetrators but limit liability for sites that host the content.

Minnesota and New York enacted laws with civil and criminal protections for deepfake pornography, similar to the proposed Missouri law. Hawaii, Texas, Virginia, Georgia, South Dakota and Florida allow for criminal prosecution while California and Illinois permit civil suits.

Schwadron’s bill has not been referred to a committee as of Monday, but another AI-related bill is expected to be voted on Tuesday by a House committee.

Members of the Special Committee on Innovation and Technology last week heard testimony on HB 2628, sponsored by Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, that would prohibit the use of AI to make content about a political figure or party within 90 days of an election without a disclaimer.

Under Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934, enacted as part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, the government provides limited liability protections for the hosts of the content posted by third parties according to a Department of Justice review. Social media companies are generally protected by Section 230 from being sued based on the content posted by one of its users or the platform’s decision to remove that content.

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, emerged as an outspoken critic of the protection for internet companies under Section 230. In June of 2023, he introduced a bill with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D–Connecticut, to exclude AI-generated content from liability coverage under Section 230.

Taylor Swift became the latest victim of AI-produced nude images last month that quickly went viral. A research firm studying disinformation, Graphika, told multiple news outlets that the images first appeared on the internet message board 4chan.

4chan is notorious in the online community for controversial content. According to Graphika, the fake images of Taylor Swift emerged as part of an online challenge for users to test their skills. It appears that the users participated in a sort of game to create lewd images of female celebrities and public figures.

Users of the platform X, formally known as Twitter, viewed Swift’s deepfakes 27 million times before the company removed the images. Various news outlets reported that the images were left publicly available on X on different accounts for 17 to 19 hours before being removed.

Jared Schroeder, an expert and professor on the First Amendment at the University of Missouri, said, “It’s not two groups of people, the victims and the government. It’s three groups: The social media firms have incredible power to limit this content.”

Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, responded to the incident during an exclusive interview with NBC News on the risks of AI technology. He said that he believes it is the platforms’ responsibility to design safeguards to limit the negative effects of AI.

In January, the European Union and the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority both said that they would be reviewing Microsoft’s relationship with OpenAI, the parent company of ChatGPT. Since 2019, Microsoft has reportedly invested approximately $13 billion dollars in OpenAI.

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