MPA Capitol Report 4/19/2024 — CORRECTED

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.
—————————————————–

DO NOT PUBLISH: A NOTE FROM THE EDITORS

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

—————————————————–

MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK WEEK OF APRIL 15

—————————————————–

THURSDAY

Missouri House sends major education bills to Gov. Parson’s desk

JOHN MURPHY

MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK

JEFFERSON CITY — Two bills that fundamentally change schooling in Missouri are headed to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk after they received final approval from the House Thursday morning.

Senate Bill 727 is the most expansive. It allows charter schools to operate in Boone County, raising teacher baseline pay to $40,000, and increases the annual funding for Missouri Empowerment Scholarships. The scholarships allow eligible parents to receive state funding to send their kids to the school of their choice, increasing from $50 million a year to $75 million a year.

A bill with such drastic changes has generated some drastically different opinions among lawmakers.

“This is the most substantive investment in public education that this state has ever seen,” said Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters, who handled the bill in the House.

Rep. David Tyson Smith, D-Columbia, sees things differently.

“People hate this bill,” he said. “(Christofanelli) has not been inside Columbia Public Schools. He has not talked to the superintendent, but this bill is poison. Our schools are accredited. We don’t need this bill.”

Public school districts in Boone County sent a letter of disapproval of the bill to lawmakers when it was first introduced.

Still, there are parts of the bill members from both parties agree on, such as moving the state’s school funding model from being attendance-based to enrollment-based.

Rep. Brad Christ, R-St. Louis, best summed up the mood across the floor.

“I spoke with my superintendent (in my district) in-depth on this, and yes, he does not like things in this bill. He does love things in this bill,” he said. “And, I think that’s the kind of sentiment in this room, in general, that there’s some love and hate in this bill.”

Rep. Kathy Steinhoff, D-Columbia, is a former Columbia Public School teacher.

She joined other Boone County Democrats and expressed frustration with the county being singled out for charter school expansion.

“We’re all accredited,” she said. “We all are strongly supported by our community. This is, it appears to me, to be a very vengeful and political move.”

Another area of concern is the funding.

In Columbia, Steinhoff described the financial estimates on charter schools as $15 million in funds diverted from public schools, with another $8 million on vouchers for the empowerment scholarships.

The fiscal note on SB 727 projects general revenue spending of $467 million when all parts of the bill are fully implemented in fiscal year 2031.

Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Manchester, criticized Republicans for claiming to be fiscally conservative, yet passing a bill that she claims is unsustainable based on future revenue projections.

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, also accused Republicans of hypocrisy. Republicans passed a version of the state budget that lowered the amount of overall money dedicated to teacher salary increases two weeks ago. Yet on Thursday, they included it in this bill.

Quade also said House Republicans did not hear or accept any of the amendments proposed by House Democrats. The version of the bill that was passed is the exact, unchanged version sent back from the Senate.

Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, said this bill is entirely about choice.

“For those parents that don’t have an option. Where their kids are stuck in a school somewhere in this state that may be failing them, and they do not have an opportunity and any other option to be able to afford that education to their child. This bill also addresses that,” he said.

The House also sent House Bill 2287 to the governor’s desk on Thursday. It allows parents to enroll their children in online programs of their choice, regardless of a school district’s approval.

—————————————————–

WEDNESDAY

House gives initial OK to bill protecting pesticide-makers

BY QUINN S COFFMAN

Correction

The following story misattributed a quote about surviving cancer when it was originally published here Friday, April 19. The quote should have been attributed to Rep. Chantelle Nickson-Clark, D-St. Louis.

JEFFERSON CITY — Representatives gave initial approval Wednesday to a bill that could protect pesticide manufacturers from some cancer lawsuits.

The debate on the House floor wasn’t split along party lines however, as several Republicans cautioned against the risk of cancers caused by pesticides.

HB 2763, sponsored by Rep. Dane Diehl, R-Butler, would protect pesticide manufacturers from claims that they failed to warn consumers of possible cancer risks in their products as long as the federal Environmental Protection Agency has approved those products.

Much of the debate focused on a specific pesticide manufacturer: Bayer, the company with U.S. headquarts in St. Louis that purchased Monsanto, the original manufacturer of RoundUp pesticide.

Bayer has pursued similar legislation in other agricultural states like Iowa and Idaho. According to The Associated Press, the company is seeking to stem a tide of lawsuits claiming that Bayer’s products cause cancer.

To date, the company has been embroiled in over 167,000 suits claiming that RoundUp is responsible for causing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Some cases have been dismissed, but Bayer has also been forced to pay billions of dollars in restitution for others, according to the Associated Press.

Diehl, a farmer, said he drafted the legislation out of fear that Bayer would be forced to pull RoundUp off of the market. He pointed out that glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp, has been regulated by the federal government for decades and that the product is critical for one of Missouri’s largest industries.

Other Republicans even raised the question of whether farmers would have to turn to other pesticide producers, possibly Chinese producers, if Bayer ceases production of RoundUp.

But Diehl got some pushback from fellow Republican Rep. Tricia Brynes of Wentzville, who criticized her party’s trust in the safety guarantees given by the EPA. She cited her experience working with the EPA and what she called its excessive bureaucracy.

“What I’m trying to say is this body hasn’t experienced that the EPA does not always have the ability that we think they have to protect people,” Brynes said.

The EPA has ruled in the past that glyphosate is not carcinogenic to humans.

Other Republicans in opposition voiced concerns that the legislation could have broader effects on how Missourians can exercise their 7th Amendment right to a trial by their peers.

Debate on the floor also took a somber tone, as representatives from both parties spoke about the toll of seeing their family members fight cancer or in fighting it themselves.

Rep. Chantelle Nickson-Clark, D-St. Louis, pointed out what she termed the hypocrisy of her colleagues for pursuing this legislation after wishing her good health during her own fight with cancer.

“As I walked these halls, day by day, Mr. Speaker, fighting the side effects from chemotherapy,” Nickson-Clark said. “Every day not knowing if I was going to make it. With a burn from radiation that smelled and reeked of flesh, with a smile on my face, Mr. Speaker, no one knew what I was going through.”

The bill was approved on a voice vote and needs one more vote before it can go to the Senate for consideration.

—————————————————–

Sports betting advocates claim 300,000 signatures for initiative

BY GRANT GREEN

MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK

With over two weeks left before initiative petition submissions must be turned into the Secretary of State’s office, the Winning for Missouri Education Coalition said Wednesday that it has collected over 300,000 signatures.

The number of signatures easily exceeds the 180,000 valid signatures which must be turned in by May 5. The campaign said in a press release that it plans to collect roughly 325,000 signatures before that date.

Signatures still have to be verified by the Secretary of State’s office before the initiative can be certified for the November general election ballot.

If passed, the proposed initiative would allow Missourians to participate in legal sports betting, regulated by the Missouri Gaming Commission. Sports wagering would be taxed at 10% and generate tens of millions of dollars for Missouri public education, under the proposal put forth by the group.

Winning for Missouri Education took on a ballot initiative after many years of failed attempts in the legislature. In recent years, bills to allow sports wagering died because of attempts by Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, to include state regulation of video lottery terminals in hopes of raising money for veterans’ homes and cemeteries.

“The tremendous support we’ve seen throughout the state is a testament to Missourians’ readiness to bring sports betting revenue home and support our local schools, students and teachers in the process,” Winning for Missouri Education spokesperson Jack Cardetti said in the release.

The Coalition, led by the state’s six professional sports organizations, has not only received a lot of support through signatures but through financial contributions as well. Betfair contributed over $2 million, FanDuel $1.75 million, DK Crown $1.5 million and DraftKings $750,000, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

The proposed 10% tax on gambling was criticized for being too low at a House committee hearing earlier this year.

Bob Priddy, a former statehouse reporter turned lobbyist, said the proposed 10% tax would cause the state to lose its ability to regulate sports betting. Priddy said the Missouri Gaming Commission budget has declined 25% since fiscal year 2013 with 23 fewer employees.

The proposed 10% tax falls in the range of taxes levied by other states that have already approved sports betting. Some states like New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island have set tax rates as high as 51%.

—————————————————–

Missouri is drier than last year, DNR drought committee reports

BY ELENA WILSON

MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK

While there have been some improvements to Missouri’s drought conditions, the state is still drier than last year, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ Drought Assessment Committee has reported.

The committee met Wednesday to discuss drought updates from March and long-term predictions for the summer. Missouri is entering its third year of drought-like conditions statewide, said Zachary Leasor, a state climatologist with MU Extension.

Drought-like conditions have increased from last spring. From January to March, precipitation was 0.37 inches below average with February being the ninth driest on record, according to the committee. However, some improvements to conditions have been documented, particularly in southeast Missouri.

The current Drought Severity and Coverage Index — a number between zero to 500, with a higher score meaning more widespread drought conditions — is 106, which is down from 150 in early March.

Despite this, the overall state of drought is “a mix of deterioration and improvement” in various areas of the state, Leasor said.

March saw near-normal to above-average rainfall, DNR Director Dru Buntin said. In the last seven days, the heaviest precipitation was seen in southeast Missouri. Boone County and central Missouri saw the least of this rainfall along with northwest Missouri, said Mark Fuchs, a senior service hydrologist with the National Weather Service.

Statewide rainfall is predicted to continue into May, making it the wettest month of the year. There is a 33-50% chance Missouri will experience above normal precipitation for April, May and June, according to the National Weather Service.

The rainy season is important for avoiding drought-like conditions later in the year and is crucial for Missouri’s economy, committee members said. Chris Klenklen of the Missouri Department of Agriculture reported that the state is ahead of the average in planting corn and soybeans this year, with 26% of the state’s corn already planted.

Monthly streamflow was also below normal in most of the state in March, in comparison to almost all of the state being at or above normal during March last year, according to the Central Midwest Water Science Center.

In response to continued natural disasters such as drought, Gov. Mike Parson included a recommendation for $3.5 million toward an Agricultural Resiliency Disaster Response Fund in the 2025 state budget. In May 2023, Parson issued an executive order declaring a drought alert. The dry conditions have affected soil moisture and caused farmers to change their planting habits, according to previous Missourian reporting.

The DNR’s Soil and Water Districts Commission has obligated over $3.6 million to landowners and cooperators to mitigate the effects of drought. The department’s Water Protection Program is monitoring public drinking water reservoirs and the Climate and Weather Subcommittee will continue to monitor weather conditions.

—————————————————–

Missouri is drier than last year, DNR drought committee reports

BY ELENA WILSON

MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK

While there have been some improvements to Missouri’s drought conditions, the state is still drier than last year, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ Drought Assessment Committee has reported.

The committee met Wednesday to discuss drought updates from March and long-term predictions for the summer. Missouri is entering its third year of drought-like conditions statewide, said Zachary Leasor, a state climatologist with MU Extension.

Drought-like conditions have increased from last spring. From January to March, precipitation was 0.37 inches below average with February being the ninth driest on record, according to the committee. However, some improvements to conditions have been documented, particularly in southeast Missouri.

The current Drought Severity and Coverage Index — a number between zero to 500, with a higher score meaning more widespread drought conditions — is 106, which is down from 150 in early March.

Despite this, the overall state of drought is “a mix of deterioration and improvement” in various areas of the state, Leasor said.

March saw near-normal to above-average rainfall, DNR Director Dru Buntin said. In the last seven days, the heaviest precipitation was seen in southeast Missouri. Boone County and central Missouri saw the least of this rainfall along with northwest Missouri, said Mark Fuchs, a senior service hydrologist with the National Weather Service.

Statewide rainfall is predicted to continue into May, making it the wettest month of the year. There is a 33-50% chance Missouri will experience above normal precipitation for April, May and June, according to the National Weather Service.

The rainy season is important for avoiding drought-like conditions later in the year and is crucial for Missouri’s economy, committee members said. Chris Klenklen of the Missouri Department of Agriculture reported that the state is ahead of the average in planting corn and soybeans this year, with 26% of the state’s corn already planted.

Monthly streamflow was also below normal in most of the state in March, in comparison to almost all of the state being at or above normal during March last year, according to the Central Midwest Water Science Center.

In response to continued natural disasters such as drought, Gov. Mike Parson included a recommendation for $3.5 million toward an Agricultural Resiliency Disaster Response Fund in the 2025 state budget. In May 2023, Parson issued an executive order declaring a drought alert. The dry conditions have affected soil moisture and caused farmers to change their planting habits, according to previous Missourian reporting.

The DNR’s Soil and Water Districts Commission has obligated over $3.6 million to landowners and cooperators to mitigate the effects of drought. The department’s Water Protection Program is monitoring public drinking water reservoirs and the Climate and Weather Subcommittee will continue to monitor weather conditions.

—————————————————–

DNR offers three proposed permits for land application of sludge

BY ATHENA FOSLER-BRAZIL AND TEAGAN KING

MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources is struggling to regulate the land application of industrial food waste as permit applications pile up and concerned residents demand stricter controls.

Several companies have requested permits from DNR to distribute “sludge,” as it is colloquially known, from meat processing facilities and other industrial operations to farmers as free fertilizer. Three draft permits from HydroAg, Synagro and Bubs Inc. covering 9,495 acres of land in southwest Missouri are currently open for public comment. The first drafts of Synagro and HydroAg’s permits contained numerous apparent errors, according to a review of the drafts by the Columbia Missourian and the Mississippi River Basin Ag & Water Desk.

HydroAg has applied to spread sludge on 5,090 acres in Barry, Lawrence and McDonald Counties, and Synagro has applied to spread it on 4,171 acres in Barry, Newton and McDonald counties. Bubs Inc. has applied to spread on 233 acres in McDonald and Newton Counties. The original draft permits posted to the DNR website contained errors in the locations of the fields where sludge would be spread. Synagro’s permit had three location errors, and HydroAg’s permit had 57 errors. In one case, the same location was listed for both Bub’s and Synagro.

Heather Peters, Water Pollution Control Branch Chief for the DNR, thanked the Missourian for catching the mistakes during the public comment period, which closes April 21 for Synagro and HydroAg and May 6 for Bub’s. The locations have been corrected in the draft permits.

“One of the many valuable reasons that we put permits on public notice is for the feedback, including noting any errors or typos,” Peters wrote in an email. “These corrections would be made before a final permit would be issued.”

For errors to be brought to light through public comment alone means that residents in these counties would need to look through permit applications for the locations and double-check each address against the listed coordinates.

Controversy has grown over the practice of spreading sludge from meat and poultry processing plants, wastewater treatment facilities and other industrial operations on farmland. Denali Water Solutions drew the ire of neighbors who objected to its open-air sludge lagoons and land-spreading operations in southwest Missouri and planned lagoon in Randolph County north of Columbia.

The authority to regulate organic waste was transferred from the Missouri Fertilizer Control Board to the DNR in spring 2023 when the board said the waste did not have enough commercial value to qualify as fertilizer. In June, the DNR issued permit exemptions to companies previously licensed by the fertilizer board while it works through a backlog of permit applications.

On April 11, the DNR held what it said would be the first of many meetings to discuss its revamped nutrient standards for wastewater, including that from poultry processing.

The meeting gave residents, especially those in southwest Missouri already fighting Denali’s sludge activities, a chance to voice their concerns and provide input on the guidelines they would like to see.

Considering new standards

The DNR discussed its plan, known as its Industrial Nutrient Management Technical Standard for Industrial Wastewater and Wastewater Treatment Residuals, as well as updates to the Land Application Management Plan templates. Both of these documents are drafts and will undergo changes before they are applied to any permits.

Heather Peters said the concepts in the documents are the same ones used in developing the current draft permits under public notice, such as those from Synagro and HydroAg. Additionally, any new facilities seeking to expand operations in the future would need to comply with the department’s standards, officials said during the meeting.

The nutrient management standard includes limits on substances found in the waste material, including a limit of 126 colony forming units (cfu) of E. coli per 100 mL, which matches the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended limit. Subsurface application would be limited to 10,000 pounds of oil and grease per acre per year. For surface application, sludge should not exceed 1,000 pounds per acre and should contain a maximum of 15% oil, DNR officials said during the meeting.

About 70 people attended the meeting virtually. Several attendees expressed concerns over DNR’s approach.

Vallerie Steele, a committee member of southwest Missouri community group Stop Land Use Damaging our Ground and Environment, or SLUDGE, attended the meeting. She called the sludge a “carrot being dangled out in front of these farmers” and said the DNR should have stricter plans for testing to protect farmers.

Steele said that sludge should be tested at the source as well as at the field, and it should be done by an independent party, not the company.

The DNR also discussed a potential system for designating “Class A materials,” which could be applied to public-use sites and some food crops.

This sludge would need to be heavily treated and meet certain standards, Teresa Bullock, a DNR environmental scientist, said during the meeting.

Rob Currey, chief investment officer for Denali, expressed concern over the possible Class A framework, which could allow food processing plants to treat the sludge themselves, and whether or not it may cut companies like Denali out of the picture.

“If you’ve demonstrated that you have a stable, solid, known nutrient content, there’s no metals or any other pollutants, then potentially you could have this Class A designation,” Bullock said.

Bullock said few facilities could achieve this designation, leaving room for Denali to continue hauling and land-applying material as a third party.

Steele asked about the possibility of shipping sludge to wastewater treatment facilities while DNR figures out its regulations, but Bullock said this would overload the facilities.

“The volume that we’re talking about for our permitted wastewater treatment facilities to accept, they would actually have to go through a modification themselves to start accepting this volume of wastewater,” Bullock said. “They may not be designed to treat a higher strength wastewater at a larger flow.”

Some residents also questioned the department about PFAS, or so-called “forever chemicals,” in the sludge. The DNR said officials will begin rulemaking on PFAS in drinking water, including discharges to groundwater, through a different framework later this year. DNR officials did not address whether they would add PFAS regulations for sludge.

Concerns over permit accuracy

Sharon Turner is a member of community group Citizens of Randolph County Against Pollution, or CRAP. She joined the group in March 2023 when she found out Denali was constructing a storage lagoon across the street from her property near Jacksonville. In their permit application to construct the basin, Denali listed Turner’s land as being available for land application of the fertilizer. Turner and her husband were never made aware and never gave consent to appear in the company’s application.

“My name, my husband’s name, and our ground appeared in their application for permit,” Turner said in an interview with the Missourian. “And there’s no way in hell that you’re gonna put that stuff on my ground, forget it.”

The Jacksonville Lagoon was constructed but never filled. CRAP formed an LLC and hired an attorney who successfully got a writ of prohibition against the DNR, effectively halting the agency from granting any further permits to Denali to continue operations.

When Turner protested her land’s inclusion in Denali’s application at an informational meeting hosted by DNR last summer, she was told by a DNR staff member that had she not raised a concern, the department would never have known that the Turners hadn’t consented. She was disturbed by what this revealed about the DNR’s permitting process.

“You’re just taking applications and rubber-stamping them and sending people down their way,” Turner said. “Like you’re not even doing a basic vetting process.”

Peters acknowledged that the DNR is still figuring out how best to regulate and permit the land application of organic waste. She emphasized the importance of public notice periods in a situation like this, and said that once the department knew about the Turners’ land, they required it to be removed from the permit.

“We had not encountered that before,” Peters said. “It will change how we are doing those discussions going forward.”

—————————————————–

MONDAY

Media literacy legislation gets hearing in legislature

BY MOLLY MILLER

MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK

JEFFERSON CITY — Despite growing tensions between elected officials nationwide and the media, Missouri lawmakers are looking to educate students on media and digital literacy through a new pilot program.

House Bill 1513 and Senate Bill 1311 contain provisions to help elementary and secondary students navigate an online world.

The bills contain identical language that originated from a model bill written by the advocacy group, Media Literacy Now. Media Literacy Now aims to educate students through the public school system on key media literacy competencies.

Julie Smith, a state advocacy leader for Media Literacy Now and a professor of communications at Webster University, originally brought the model bill to Rep. Jim Murphy, R-St.Louis, ahead of the 2020 legislative session. Murphy, the House bill’s sponsor, has introduced varying iterations of the original model bill in the years since then.

“Who’s the sender of the message? What’s their motive or intent? How is the message designed to get my attention? What information is left out? Who benefits from this?,” said Smith. “It’s as simple as asking those five questions about every message.”

The Media Literacy and Critical Thinking Act includes provisions for:

  • Analyzing news content to determine fact from opinion or propaganda.
  • Understanding how to find and interpret visual images such as photographs, videos, maps and graphs.
  • The effects of media, including social media, on behaviors and emotions.
  • Learning about online norms and ethics to reduce cyberbullying.
  • How algorithms and economic influences can affect media content.

If passed by the legislature, a pilot program will begin during the 2025-2026 school year and last through the summer of 2027.

The legislators tasked the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education establishing the pilot program. During this process, the department will select five to seven school districts across the state to formulate a program that covers the above criteria.

Upon the conclusion of the pilot program, the department will analyze reports from participating schools and develop guidelines and sample materials regarding media literacy.

The Senate bill’s sponsor, Sen. Curtis Trent, R-Springfield, spoke Tuesday to the committee he chairs, the Select Committee on Empowering Missouri Parents and Children, about his concerns with children’s access to media.

“It’s also a … national security issue because not only do our students have access to a wide variety of information that originates in this country,” said Trent, “but they also have access to a wide variety of information that originates in other countries.”

Trent expressed a desire to educate students on how to identify fake or misleading information as he acknowledges that they have access to an endless supply of content when using digital platforms.

Illinois recently passed legislation addressing media literacy education in public high schools across the state. Over the last two years, Illinois high school students have learned skills and resources on accessing, analyzing, creating and consuming media in multiple forms including social media.

Kathy Kiely, a professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and the Lee Hills Chair in Free Press Studies, underscored the importance of social media’s role in a changing media landscape. According to Kiely, the threat of libel lawsuits against journalists and news organizations provides a measure of accountability for mainstream, traditional news sources.

In the modern digital age, “internet service providers have an exemption from libel,” said Kiely, “and that means we have no kind of incentive to police that environment.”

Gentry Middle School in Columbia piloted a media education curriculum last school year that has now expanded to all middle schools in the district. The curriculum was made in collaboration with IREX, a global development and education non-profit organization.

According to a handout about the district’s My Mind > My Media program, middle school students in sixth through eighth grades learn about topics like “How the News Works”; “The Power of Words”; and “Stats and Science in the Media.”

“(The program) is taking the approach that media is a part of our lives,” said Kerry Townsend, the Library Media Coordinator for Columbia Public Schools.

“We all need to find the balance that is the most comfortable to us based on our individual needs so it helps students be reflective about their media use and how its connected to their emotions.”

The My Mind > My Media integration varies by school. A common theme among supporters of media literacy education is the hesitancy to over mandate teachers. With the CPS program, the school decides how to apply the program within existing curriculum being taught already.

“Media literacy is completely cross-curricular so no matter what you’re already teaching, you can easily add media literacy activities,” said Smith, who highlighted her understanding of teacher’s frustrations with mandate curriculums as a former K-12 teacher herself.

You may also read!

mo capitol building

MPA Capitol Report 5/17/2024

MPANewsBook: Statehouse News for MPA Members This report is written by Missouri School of Journalism students for publication by MPA

Read More...

Journalists from Lake of the Ozarks, Jefferson City newspapers named 2024’s OYJs

Journalists from Lake of the Ozarks, Jefferson City newspapers named 2024's OYJs In recognition of their commitment and excellence, two

Read More...

Last Week of 2024 Session

The following is a legislative update from Clarkston Nelson, LLC concerning the Missouri General Assembly’s spring legislative session. Use

Read More...

Mobile Sliding Menu