MPA Capitol Report 3/4/2024

In Legislative News, Legislative Reports, Legislative Resources, MPA Legislative Resources 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DO NOT PUBLISH: A NOTE FROM THE EDITORS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 Republican efforts to push a constitutional amendment making abortion a crime, the latest on sports wagering efforts in the legislature and through a petition process, a feature on communities that continue to push for development of the Rock Island Trail and the governor’s request for $2 million in state funds to support his deployment of National Guard troops to Texas.

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. 26

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THURSDAY

Republicans push constitutional amendment outlawing abortion

BY MADELINE SHANNON

missouri news network

JEFFERSON CITY — A Republican legislator Thursday promoted his resolution that would make outlawing abortion in Missouri an enshrined part of the state’s constitution.

In a press conference Thursday, Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, said his resolution was in response to an initiative petition effort seeking to enshrine the right to abortion in Missouri’s highest document.

“If we’re going to put something on the ballot, we need to provide voters with an option that protects the child that’s in the womb and also protects mothers if their life is under threat,” Koenig said.

“I think if we’re going to put something through the initiative petition process, they’re going to try to create a right to abortion, we should have an alternative for voters to vote on something else,” he said.

The legislature would have to approve Koenig’s resolution for it to get on the ballot. Those circulating an initiative petition to restore abortion rights must meet a May 5 deadline to submit an estimated 171,000 signatures needed to place it on the ballot.

Koenig’s resolution allows abortion in the cases of a medical emergency but prevents the legislature from adding more exceptions later, although it does allow an amendment to be voted on by the voters. It also allows an income tax credit for contributions to organizations like nonprofit pregnancy resource centers as long as they don’t perform or refer out for abortions.

“It does present a choice to voters if both measures are on the ballot in November,” said Samuel Lee, director of Campaign Life Missouri, which opposes abortions. “The voters will get to decide what laws they want to have in their constitution.”

While others who testified in the Senate Fiscal Oversight Committee hearing Thursday also supported abortion bans in Missouri, not everyone agreed on how that should be enacted.

“We do support the language that is in the bill. Obviously we do not support prosecution of women, we support the great work that our pregnancy resource centers do, but we disagree with the process,” said Susan Klein, the executive director of Missouri Right to Life. “We don’t believe that putting this on the ballot is where this needs to go.”

An official with Missourians for Constitutional Freedom, the organization that launched an initiative petition this year to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would guarantee the right to an abortion in Missouri, said earlier this month the initiative petition was “growing momentum.”

The effort to change Missouri’s constitution to once again make abortion legal in the state spurred a slew of legislation this year that sought to limit the ability to make changes to the state’s constitution via the initiative petition process.

Under Senate Joint Resolution 74, which Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman introduced this year, voters can still pass a constitutional amendment, but only with a majority of votes statewide and by a majority of voters in more than half of the congressional districts in the state.

Critics of the resolution fear that if it takes effect, as few as one in five voters in Missouri could vote against a constitutional amendment and end the principle of majority rule in the state.

SJR 74 passed the Senate on Feb. 22 and made its way to the House of Representatives, a crucial step in the process before it is enacted.

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WEDNESDAY

New parents’ bill of rights raises concerns of teacher intimidation

BY AIDAN PITTMAN

MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK

JEFFERSON CITY — Concerns over teacher intimidation and the critical thinking skills of students were discussed during a Wednesday House hearing on legislation creating a parents’ bill of rights.

House bill 2160, sponsored by Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, would “provide a list of rights that parents may require school districts that receive federal and state money to follow,” and would penalize such school districts violating them by withholding state funding.

The listed rights include being able to review curriculum and books, to visit their child in school during hours and to receive school records. It differs from a previous version of the bill brought up last year as it does not include a provision for a teachers’ bill of rights.

The bill also includes what Baker referred to as “guardrails to protect against the teaching of extreme racial themes in the classroom.”

The language of the bill cites the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and states that “teachers and students cannot be compelled to adopt, affirm, or profess ideas” as it would violate Titles IV and VI of the act.

Rep. Marlene Terry, D-St. Louis, aggressively criticized the bill for threatening to take away funds from schools and its framing of the Civil Rights Act.

Terry also said she has heard that “a lot of students are actually walking out of their classrooms because they’re not able to be taught some of the things that they want to hear and be taught.”

Another oppon ent of the bill, Rep. Doug Mann, D-Columbia, said that the bill could prevent students from learning important skills.

“We have seen (this) in states that have passed things like this,” Mann said. “That’s a detriment to the students as well because they’re not getting the activities, they’re not getting the education that they need to grow and be productive members in a society that is diverse.”

Noting her experience as a teacher, Rep. Kathy Steinhoff, D-Columbia, said reading the bill for the first time “felt very confrontational.”

Steinhoff called most of the listed rights reasonable but noted that they already are given to parents. She also said how some rights could violate parents’ rights, citing an example of how visiting during school hours could make some parents uncomfortable, and that it could harm teacher recruitment and retention “at a time when we really need to work on that.”

“I wish (this bill) would look more at how parents’ rights and educators’ rights … can work together to make sure that we have good, outstanding educational outcomes for our kids,” Steinhoff said.

Rep. Ed Lewis, R-Moberly, spoke supportively of the bill but said it should be reworked to include language with teachers’ rights to prevent it from scaring them from doing their jobs.

“I understand people’s opposition, especially teachers’ opposition,” Lewis said, “because they’re afraid Big Brother’s sitting on their shoulder waiting for them to make a mistake and someone’s going to come after them.”

In witness testimony, Dava-Leigh Brush, speaking against the bill on behalf of the Missouri Equity Education Partnership-Action, said it would harm education and diversity in the state, and prevent teachers from forming authentic relationships with their students.

Sharon Geuea Jones, representing the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP, voiced opposition to the bill and cited cases of racially motivated violent bullying in the Republic School District.

“The response that we’re getting from the administrators in that district is that they are afraid to do anything because they don’t want to be seen as doing CRT (critical race theory),” Jones said.

Jones also mentioned how parents whose children face this aggressive harassment are “trying to figure out if it’s safe to send their kids to school.”

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TUESDAY

Child care tax credit debated on Senate floor

BY EZRA BITTERMAN

missouri news network

JEFFERSON CITY — A bill that would enact a trio of tax credits for child care was debated in the state Senate before being temporarily set aside Tuesday.

A similar bill — which is a priority for both Republicans and Democrats this year — passed through the House a few weeks ago with bipartisan votes.

The Senate version, SB 742, has bipartisan support, too. Majority Floor Leader Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, voiced her growing appreciation for the bill before it was set aside for another day.

“I like the bill a lot more than I used to. It gives local people an opportunity to see a need in a local community and pay for something,” she said. “And instead of sending taxes to Missouri for them to decide how to spend it, you get to decide how to spend it.”

The bill sets out to counteract the lack of child care providers in the state. According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, there are 500 fewer licensed child care providers than five years ago.

Gov. Mike Parson’s legislative director, Jamie Birch, cited the lack of available child care as a major problem in a 2023 interview with the Missouri Chamber of Commerce.

“In 2022, there was a study on the capacity for licensed child care slots in the state. We found we only have enough capacity to serve 39% of kids under 6 years old,” Birch said. “We also found that about 77% of the counties — that’s 89 out of 115 counties — are considered a child care desert.”

The bill’s first provision provides a tax credit of 75% of what someone spends at a licensed child care provider. For example, if a parent spends $10,000 on daycare, they would receive a $7,500 credit.

The second provision allows employers to receive a 30% tax credit on contributions to a child care provider if child care is paid for the company’s employees. For example, if a company spends $50,000 a year to provide child care to its 10 employees, it would get a tax credit of $15,000.

The final provision allows child care providers to get a full tax credit on the amount of income tax withheld for employees. For example, if a provider withholds $1,000 a year from an employee for state income tax, the provider would get a credit of $1,000.

The provision also adds that a 30% tax credit would be given against the cost of physical improvements for a child care facility.

A similar bill passed through the Senate last year with bipartisan support, except for Freedom Caucus members who opposed it. It wasn’t able to pass the House before the end of session.

One of the Freedom Caucus members who voted against the bill last year, Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, debated with the bill sponsor Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, on Tuesday.

He argued that government intervention was a problematic approach and that rising costs in child care are not unlike everything else that has gone up with inflation.

Arthur contended that the state needs to support child care because “quality child care plays a pivotal role in child development, offering more than just a safe environment while parents are at work. It serves as a foundation for lifelong learning.”

The bill can be considered again later in the session.

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Ballot initiative may be best bet on sports wagering

BY GRANT GREEN

missouri news network

JEFFERSON CITY — After many years of failed attempts, sports betting legalization looks promising in Missouri, but not by coming through the legislature.

The Winning for Missouri Education coalition announced Tuesday that it has collected over 100,000 signatures through the initiative petition process, over half the votes needed toward putting the issue on the November ballot.

The coalition, along with the support of Missouri professional sports teams, such as the Kansas City Current, Chiefs and Royals, along with the St. Louis City SC, Cardinals and Blues, must turn in roughly 180,000 signatures to the Missouri secretary of state by May 5.

Legislative action continues as a House committee heard testimony from representatives of major league sports teams in January.

The Special Committee on Public Policy heard supporting and opposing opinions on House Bill 2331, which would allow sports teams, mobile operators and casinos to open betting parlors for sports gambling.

“Staggering numbers of people are crossing state lines to open online accounts, the lack of legalized sports betting is driving people to the illegal market, which is also exploding in Missouri,” St. Louis Cardinals President Bill DeWitt said.

DeWitt said if they can get legislative approval of the bill, Winning for Missouri Education would suspend the initiative petition.

Sean Ostrow, representing the Sports Betting Alliance, consisting of FanDuel, DraftKings, Fanatics and BetMGM, said roughly 350,000 Missourians tried to place legal bets, with half going to Kansas and 40% going to Illinois to place bets.

During the Super Bowl weekend alone, GeoComply data found that over 430,000 Missourians tried, but failed to place bets in neighboring states, a 51% increase from the year before.

“Missourians want sports gambling, the numbers are there and it’s clear that we need to make this legal so that Missourians can participate safely,” said Jack Cardetti, the spokesperson for Winning for Missouri Education.

If all of this sounds familiar, it should. Sports betting bills have died since 2018. That prompted the initiative petition to be started.

There was opposition at the public hearing. Bob Priddy, a former statehouse reporter turned lobbyist, said the proposed 10% tax rate is too low and would cause the state to lose its ability to regulate sports betting. Priddy says the Missouri Gaming Commission budget has declined 25% since fiscal year 2013 with 23 fewer employees.

“One of the employees told me he is working as hard as he can to just keep up with license applications,” Priddy said.

The money raised through the 10% tax on wagers is expected to be collected by the Department of Revenue, deposited into the state treasury and credited to the “Gaming Proceeds for Education Fund,” raising a projected $35 million.

If sports gambling is approved, the bill calls for $500,000 to be appropriated from the gaming commission fund and credited annually to the compulsive gamblers fund.

The bill states that established programs will provide treatment, prevention, recovery and education services for compulsive gambling through the Compulsive Gamblers Fund, established by the Department of Mental Health.

The Missouri Gaming Commission, along with the Department of Mental Health, must also develop a triennial research report, which must be submitted to the governor, president pro tem of the Senate and speaker of the House of Representatives by the end of 2025.

If sports betting were to make it as a ballot initiative and be passed by a vote in November, there would be $5 million set aside for the compulsive gamblers fund, Cardetti said.

Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, said this amount still isn’t enough and that the fund would need at least $10 million dollars to be effective.

Missouri has seen several attempts to try to legalize sports betting since 2018, when the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a ban that previously limited sports betting to Nevada. Sports betting most years since has made it past the House and has died in the Senate due to a lack of action.

Hoskins has held up bills related to sports betting in an effort to add regulation to video lottery terminals (VLT), which currently have no regulation in the state despite being present in many smaller gas stations and shops. He said in the past he has tried to add VLTs to the bill in hopes of raising over $30 million to veterans’ homes and cemeteries.

Hoskins said Tuesday that he has no plans for the House bill and did not provide comment on whether or not he will fight for VLTs again this year. Hoskins said that Missourians have bigger priorities than passing sports betting, including banning red flag gun laws, personal property tax cuts and abortions.

When asked why video lottery terminals weren’t included in H.B. 2331, bill sponsor Rep. Dan Houx, R-Warrensburg, said it was not something that needed to be included in the bill.

“I believe that they’re two separate subjects and therefore require two different bearers,” Houx said.

Hoskins said that’s ironic to him, saying Houx has attempted to add sports betting to a bill Hoskins sponsored relating to tax credits from last year.

The bill is on the informal House calendar for perfection.

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‘Trail towns’ hope to reap the benefits of rails-to-trails projects

BY EMMA J. MURPHY

missouri news network

WINDSOR — Kim Henderson and her four modern, rentable cabins are setting an example for dreamers like Leisa and Steve Burkemper who want to see their hometown also become a “trail town.”

The Burkempers hope to see Barnett revitalized as a “trail town” through development of the proposed Rock Island Trail.

Barnett and 17 other towns are located directly on the path of the proposed Rock Island Trail and have the potential to host trailheads. Like the Katy Trail, the Rock Island is a former railroad corridor that is intended to be developed as a trail.

Other towns, like Rocheport and Windsor, have experienced the benefits of being a “trail town” and have become examples for towns like Barnett and their residents.

Gov. Mike Parson revealed his budget recommendations for the 2025 fiscal year on Jan. 24, and it lacked any funding to develop the trail for a second year in a row.

The trail has been a highly debated matter at the statehouse for years. Parson previously included funding to develop the trail in his budget recommendations in 2022, but it was ultimately cut in the Senate. The reality of funding coming from the state in the next few years has remained low, so proponents of the trail have begun looking for local and private funding to develop the trail.

The former railroad corridor is owned by the state and stretches across Missouri. Over 47 miles of the trail are developed and in use, with the stretch between Pleasant Hill and Windsor designated as a state park last July. Another 144 miles of undeveloped trail reaches from Windsor to Beaufort, with plans to develop this stretch in the works but so far lacking full funding.

Pushback against the trail has come from lobbyists representing businesses, like Diamond Pet Food, and landowners who worry about privacy along the trail and easement issues.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources established the Rock Island Corridor as Missouri’s newest state park on June 30.

On Jan. 26, ground was broken in Gerald to develop the first mile of the eastern section of this state park. With the lack of funding from the state, the trail is being developed through donations and the support of the Friends of Rock Island Trail State Park, a group advocating for the trail’s development.

The Windsor Model

Proponents of the trail are not giving up. Henderson moved to Windsor over 35 years ago and has been working to get the Rock Island Trail developed with Missouri State Parks and Friends of Rock Island Trail State Park since 2014.

“When the Rock Island was gonna come, I watched that dotted line for 15 years,” Henderson said. “For 15 years, it was just a possibility.”

When former Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said he wanted the trail to be developed by 2016, Henderson bought three plots of land and opened her first cabin in 2015, hoping that cyclists would make use of the rental.

Today, she has expanded her business to four cabins and counting. She also serves as vice president of Friends of Missouri Rock Island Trail State Park.

While the cabins began as a side project for Henderson, she was eventually able to quit her job as a city administrator because her cabin business became sustainable enough to support her and her family.

Other local businesses feel the boost of the Rock Island Trail. Residents of the town are putting time and money into restoring their downtowns and opening new businesses.

Tourism from the Rock Island Trail has aided growth for places like The Pour Poet, a business in downtown Windsor offering coffee, tea, antiques and books, and Walter’s Black Dog Retail, a boutique and antique store.

These small, local businesses attract tourists and can entice people to live in Windsor.

In 2002, Windsor collected over $306,000 in sales tax revenue. Over 20 years later, Windsor has almost doubled its sales tax revenue. The Missouri Department of Revenue reported that Windsor took in over $560,000 in sales tax revenue.

Henderson said that the Rock Island Railroad is what brought people to Windsor, and that the trail will bring people back again.

“What I’ve seen now is when we have more businesses like the cabins and the coffee shops,” Henderson said, “we have more young people saying they want to stay here or move back.”

Businesses are expanding in the area, like 1 Eleven Tap and Que which offers barbecue and is in the process of opening a taproom to offer local and regional beers and wines.

As someone who hosts tourists in Windsor, Henderson recommends nearby restaurants, shops and businesses to all of her guests.

Towns like Rocheport provide solid examples of benefits from the development of trails. The Katy Trail runs through Rocheport and helps the town sustain its various businesses. The town with a population of 204 boasts more than five bed-and-breakfasts, the Meriwether Cafe and Bike Shop and still more up-and-coming businesses like The Rest Stop.

Like Windsor, Rocheport has seen its sales tax revenue grow in the past 20 years. The town’s revenue jumped from around $29,000 in 2002, to over $41,000 in 2022.

But the community built by the trail extends beyond the individual towns. The undeveloped portion of the trail alone ties together 18 towns across Missouri, with more towns connected through the already completed 47 miles of the Rock Island State Park.

These towns are connected by a common goal of developing the trail that could bring with it tourism and economic revitalization.

‘Trail towns’ following suit

Leisa and Steve Burkemper own the Old Brick House Deli in Jefferson City and say they’ve found success there by creating connections with their customers. They’re bringing the same attitude to revitalizing towns along the Rock Island Trail.

The Burkempers have seen the effects trails have had on towns like Windsor and Rocheport and are working to open their own small business in Barnett: the Rock Island Bicycle Club and Café.

The couple moved from St. Louis to Barnett in 1996 and said they immediately felt at home in the small town.

They have been attending meetings to support the development of the trail for over a decade.

“It’s hard for people to see the potential of their town,” Steve Burkemper said. “But we’ve always seen the bigger potential of what Barnett could be from what it used to be.”

In their vision for Barnett, a town with a population of 138, they see a restoration of Barnett with a thriving downtown and new businesses. Currently, residents of Barnett have very limited local businesses to visit and is awaiting the expected return of the post office.

In contrast to the growing sales tax revenue of Windsor and Rocheport, Barnett has had its sales tax revenue stagnant at $0 for the past two decades.

The Burkempers are hoping to see more traffic from travelers heading to Lake of the Ozarks as well.

“These small towns on these abandoned rails are dying, or have already died,” Leisa Burkemper said. But she believes that the development of the Rock Island Trail would offer Barnett renewed connections to nearby towns and opportunities to host events to draw people to the town.

The Burkempers’ upcoming business will serve as a meeting place, a bed-and-breakfast, a café and a campsite on the Rock Island Trail. Others in Barnett have also begun to work on opening their own bed-and-breakfasts or lodging options.

But while awaiting funding, Henderson encourages supporters of the trail to be vocal about their support with their legislators – and to be vocal year-round, not just when the budget is up for debate.

Proponents of the trail are hopeful that funding will be added to the budget following the 2024 election, when they hope new legislators will be more sympathetic to funding the trail.

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Resolution supportive of Texas governor sparks heated questioning

BY AIDAN PITTMAN

missouri news network

JEFFERSON CITY — A resolution expressing support for Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and his handling of the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border prompted pushback Tuesday from a Democrat.

The sponsor of House resolution 4055, Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters, told the House General Laws Committee that the bill was initially filed to encourage Gov. Mike Parson to deploy the National Guard to the border. He recommended, because of Parson’s recent executive order doing just that, the resolution’s language be altered to reflect the current situation before being passed.

“We have seen many of our urban centers across the country completely overwhelmed trying to address this issue from both a humanitarian and criminal justice perspective, and their resources are simply overstretched,” Christofanelli said. “That is a problem that we will face not only in our state, but everywhere. That’s what makes Missouri an interested party.”

The bill’s language specifically claims that “President Joe Biden has violated his oath of office” and “wasted taxpayer dollars to tear open Texas’ border security infrastructure.”

Rep. Keri Ingle, D-Lee’s Summit, asked Christofanelli a heated series of questions. Ingle first criticized the language regarding Biden and pressed Christofanelli on the border wall pushed by the Trump administration, asking how much of it was built then.

Christofanelli responded that the administration “made considerable advancements in the building of the wall despite Democrat obstruction at every step of the way … if your party would like to join with us in committing to secure our Southern border, I think we could probably get it done pretty quick.”

Ingle, in response, then mentioned the border security bill in the U.S. Senate sponsored by Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, and criticized Republicans for their actions in preventing the bill’s passage.

At one point, Rep. Renee Reuter, R-Imperial, called a point of order asking if Ingle’s questioning was germane to the bill. The committee’s chairman, Rep. Alex Riley, R-Springfield, said he would “allow a little bit of leeway here, but I would ask that we please keep our comments and questions tailored to HR 4055.”

Ingle then brought up her own point of order defending the political nature of her questioning.

“When we’re hearing a House resolution that’s obviously as politically motivated as this one, politics is going to play a role in this,” Ingle said. “When we’re talking about things the federal government can and can’t do, I’m going to speak on that.”

Republicans on the committee praised the resolution during questioning, including Rep. Aaron McMullen, R-Independence, who said his constituents had frequently brought up the border crisis as a concern.

In witness testimony, May Hall, a Columbia resident, spoke against the resolution for Texas’ handling of the crisis, specifically citing the use of razor wire in rivers.

“When I see arguments so emphatically about how we have to support this measure that is both nationally and internationally illegal, I feel like I’m losing my mind listening to it,” Hall said.

Hall added it is more important for the legislature to be focusing on other issues in the state.

“I’ve seen the state of the roads, I’ve seen the state of the police departments, I’ve seen the state of the farming,” Hall said. “This is just not the thing we need to be focusing on as Missourians.”

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MONDAY

Bill would reimburse parents for private education

BY DMITRY MARTIROSOV

missouri news network

JEFFERSON CITY — A proposal by a Missouri lawmaker would establish a new tax credit program that, if approved, would put money back in the pockets of families who homeschool their children or enroll them in private schools.

Under the bill, sponsored by Rep. Doug Richey, R-Excelsior Springs, beginning in January parents would be reimbursed 100% of eligible education expenses, up to the state adequacy target amount, which is the per-student spending target set by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

For the 2024-2025 school year, the state adequacy target is $6,760, according to the department. This would be the maximum allowable amount parents could claim for that year when they file their tax returns. Expenses include tuition and fees, textbooks, supplemental materials, tutoring and after-school programs.

“The closest thing you can come up with, in my estimation, where money follows the student with as little government intrusion as possible,” Richey said during a public hearing in the House Special Committee on Education Reform on Monday.

The program would exclude students enrolled in public and charter schools and those participating in the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program, or MOScholars, a K-12 program run by the state treasurer’s office and funded by private donations.

Dava-Leigh Brush, representing the Missouri Equity Education Partnership Action, testified in opposition to the bill. Brush said she opposes the bill because it doesn’t provide transparency or accountability in how taxpayer funds will be used.

“It’s also my tax money and I’d like to know how my tax money is being used,” Brush said.

Brush added that she is “steadfastly opposed” to any legislation that would reallocate public funds for private and non-public purposes.

Otto Fajen, legislative director for the Missouri National Education Association, said the estimated cost of the program is giving him cause for concern.

“Particularly the fact that the fiscal note looks like something that has a ‘B’ (for billion) in the beginning is very concerning,” Fajen said.

The bill’s fiscal note shows the program could cost the state roughly $900 million to $1.5 billion, depending on the number of qualified students choosing to use the program.

During testimony, Richey, who is running to replace Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, who is term-limited, offered to amend the language in reference to homeschooled children by creating a separate chapter and definition. He offered “family-paced education” as a possible term to include in the bill to better encompass children who are homeschooled without changing the state’s statute language.

Richey defined “family-paced education” as “families that are educating their children within the context of their family.”

Richey’s bill is part of a renewed push by Republicans this session to expand school choice and give parents more control over their children’s education.

The first bill to pass out of the House this session, sponsored by Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia, would allow students to attend a public school outside of their resident district starting in the 2025-2026 school year.

Another bill by Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, that would provide a tax credit for parents who homeschool or enroll their children in private schools cleared a Senate education committee last month.

Koenig’s bill is similar to Richey’s but does not exclude students participating in MOScholars and only applies if parents enroll their children outside of their home district.

Richey’s bill currently includes a six-year sunset provision, but he said he didn’t intend for it to be in the bill.

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Gov. Parson requests $2 million to send National Guard to Texas

BY QUINN S COFFMAN

missouri news network

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri House members questioned National Guard leadership and Parson administration officials Monday over a $2 million request for funding for guard members being deployed to Texas’ southern border.

Last week, Gov. Mike Parson announced he would be deploying the Missouri National Guard to the southern border to participate in Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star.

The governor’s announcement included a budget request to the Missouri General Assembly of over $2 million to supply the National Guard as they “help secure the border, prevent illegal immigration, and stop illicit drug and human trafficking.”

General Levon E. Cumpton of the Missouri National Guard said that these duties will be mainly focused on placing barriers and providing security to Texas guard members.

“Our first unit will arrive in Texas by mid-March,” Cumpton said. “The states of Missouri and Texas continue to work together to solidify the details of the deployment. What they will be doing, as we understand it today, is helping secure the border and preventing illicit trafficking.”

Up to 200 guard members might be eventually deployed to the border, working in three-month shifts of 50 guard members before being relieved.

Gov. Parson’s office has authority to use $4 million from the state budget for emergency deployments from the National Guard. None of this money has been used in the 2024 fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The $2 million being requested by the governor would not be taken from this National Guard allowance, but would be taken from the General Revenue fund instead. Parson’s announcement said the additional funds would then be used to “backfill the governor’s office’s emergency response fund.”

Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, questioned the need for this $2 million backfill when the fiscal year is already more than half over.

“It just seems to me that this is the point of (the governor’s) funding,” Merideth said, “if we just come in here anyway for emergency supplementals then why do we have that there?”

Budget Director Dan Hoag responded to Merideth, saying he believes topping off the fund is responsible in case it’s required for disaster relief later in the fiscal year.

“If something were to happen: a tornado, a flood, a whatever, and the governor needs to deploy the guard, if we were out of authority we wouldn’t be able to do that,” Hoag said. “So, I think (the bill) is prudent.”

He included that calling together legislators after the session to approve funding for an emergency response would be more difficult than approving it now.

The governor’s office would still have the authority to deploy guard members regardless of whether the budget supplemental is passed by the assembly. Past budget supplementals have been used to fund responses to emergencies like the 2011 Joplin tornado.

If no emergency funds are spent, or if some are left over at the end of the fiscal year, they will just remain in the General Revenue fund.

Merideth also speculated if the hearing was called mainly for the purpose of pontificating about border issues. However, there was little saber-rattling from Republican representatives during questioning.

The Missouri Highway Patrol will also provide 11 officers to assist the Texas Department of Public Safety. The budget bill heard today also accounts for these officers’ labor, transportation, food and lodging — for an additional $206,757.

Both the National Guard and the Highway Patrol are being deployed under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, a federal law allowing governors to request resources from other states during declared states of emergency.

In addition, some amount of Missouri National Guard has been present at the border since 2019, when they were federalized to assist in similar border-security duties. These troops act under federal authority and are paid out of the federal budget.

Currently, there are still 250 of these federalized guard members on the border.

Operation Lone Star has been characterized as a confrontation between the federal government and Texas state government over how the border should be secured.

Many legislators questioned Cumpton over hypothetical conflict between National Guard personnel under federal orders and those under Texas’ orders.

“What I keep coming back to is, we should be very confident in the professionalism and discipline in which your guardsmen and women will execute their duty,” Cumpton said.

He added that he believes there is no risk of Missouri guard members facing opposing orders or being in conflict with each other.

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SUNDAY

Designated diversity programs are rare in state government

BY EZRA BITTERMAN

missouri news network

JEFFERSON CITY — A bill prohibiting state agencies from having “diversity, equity, and inclusion” or similar programs passed out of a House committee this week.

The bill, HB 2619, aims to prevent agencies from promoting “preferential treatment based on certain characteristics, concepts such as oppression as the sole cause of disparities, collective guilt ideologies, intersectional or divisive identity activism, and the limiting of freedom of conscience, thought, or speech.”

A Missourian review of state agency budget requests, which include every line item of spending a department is seeking, found the expression “diversity, equity, and inclusion” practically nonexistent. Neither the term “collective guilt ideology” nor “intersectionality” was found in any of the requests.

Even though very little money is appropriated directly to programs designated as DEI, those concepts could still be part of an agency’s internal practices, hiring and workplace culture. Since DEI is not defined in the bill, it’s unclear how much internal change would be necessary if it passed.

Last session, DEI restrictions were debated in the Senate during the budget process but failed to pass. Standalone bills were also proposed to restrict DEI. As the issue was debated in the legislature, the University of Missouri removed the DEI statement requirement during the hiring process.

The House bill is not one of the appropriations bills, although supporters could attempt to attach its language to an appropriations bill during floor debate.

These are the state agencies with diversity programs in their budget requests and what those programs look like. Agencies declined to comment on the proposed ban on funding for diversity and inclusion programs because that is pending legislation.

Department of Secondary Education

The Grow Your Own Program provides grants to school districts and community colleges to foster a diverse teacher workforce from low-resourced communities. The DESE budget request notes that teachers in lower-resourced areas tend to stay and teach in those areas. The report also notes that high attrition rates in Missouri have left “high minority, high poverty and rural remote schools” short on educators.

Department of Revenue

Hearing officers, who preside over property value hearings, must undergo one hour of diversity, inclusion and implicit bias training each year.

Transportation Department

The Equal Opportunity and Diversity Division at the Missouri Department of Transportation “researches, develops, coordinates and implements initiatives that advance MoDOT values of an inclusive work environment to ensure equitable opportunities exist for all employees,” according to the division’s masthead.

The department also has a diversity “plan of positive action to overcome the present effects of past policies or practices that were barriers to equal employment of women, African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Asian/Pacific Islanders, American Indians and any other groups that have been found historically to be underutilized in the workforce or otherwise adversely affected.”

Office of Administration

The department plans to improve recruitment, resiliency and connection with the community through diversity and inclusion.

Within the OA is the Office of Equal Opportunity, which has existed since 1994 and “has primary responsibility for assisting in the coordination and implementation of minority and women participation programs throughout all departments of the executive branch of state government.”

The Office of Equal Opportunity has a supplier diversity program that encourages utilizing minority, women and veteran-owned small businesses.

Department of Natural Resources

The department has a director of diversity and inclusion.

Department of Health and Senior Services

The department commits to “include diversity and inclusion in all practices, programs and services.”

These six departments of the 17 in Missouri are the only ones with specific diversity programs in their requests. Other departments, such as corrections, have some language about diversity and inclusion on their webpages but no budget requests for diversity programs.

All the budget items mentioned above would be fully funded under the governor’s proposed budget.

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