Week 10: One Week Left Before Spring Break

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The following is a legislative update from Clarkston Nelson, LLC concerning the Missouri General Assembly’s spring legislative session. It is NOT for republication in your newspaper, although the information contained within could inspire local coverage of issues important to your readers.

One Week Left Before Spring Break

The 10th week of the 2024 legislative session is history, and both chambers of the General Assembly moved legislation this week.

The House of Representatives methodically passed numerous bills this week on topics such as early childhood education, stopping a proposed landfill in the south Kansas City area, restricting local ordinances on rental housing vouchers, requiring population numbers on city limits signs, and more.

The Senate worked well this week moving several bills including legislation that prohibits local governments from enacting eviction proceeding moratoriums, a bill focusing on county officials, and a bill modifying a property tax credit for certain seniors.

A major event of the week was Tuesday night in Jefferson City at the Missouri Farm Bureau when Senate Majority Leader Cindy O’Laughlin (R-Shelbina) was named the Stateswoman of the Year by The Missouri Times. Attending the event was Governor Mike Parson and First Lady Teresa Parson. In addition to the award ceremony, the event raised funds for scholarships given by the Missouri Women Legislators Charity.

Members of the Legislature will return next week and upon adjournment scheduled for Thursday, March 14th will begin their annual Spring Break, returning March 25th.

Budget Update

State Budget Director Dan Haug announced that net general revenue collections for February 2024 grew 18% compared to those for February 2023, from $703.5 million last year to $830.3 million this year. The net general revenue collections for 2024 fiscal year-to-date increased 1.3% compared to February 2023, from $8.31 billion last year to $8.42 billion this year.

It is expected that the House budget mark-up process will begin next week as Representative Cody Smith has previously stated he would like his committee to finish drafting their version of the Fiscal Year 2025 (FY25) State Budget prior to spring break. It is expected the chair’s committee substitutes will be shared next week and this will be the starting point of the House Budget Committee mark-up process. However, at the time of this report, no hearing has been posted to confirm this.

Meanwhile, the Senate has finished hearing from the various departments on the New Decision Items (NDIs) and governor recommendations this week. The Senate Appropriations Committee is now at a standstill and waiting for the House to finish crafting their version of the budget. As a reminder, the Missouri State FY25 Budget must be completed by the Constitutional deadline of May 10th.

Committee Activity

Personal Records Closed of State Park Campers

On Wednesday morning, the House Government Efficiency and Downsizing Committee voted “do pass, consent” on HB 1553, sponsored by Rep. Bruce Sassmann (R-Bland). The vote county was 9-0. The bill adds individually identifiable customer information for visitors who make a camping, lodging, or other shelter reservations for a state park or historic site to the list of records that are exempt from disclosure under the Sunshine Law, unless the records are requested by or authorized for release by the visitor.

Changes to Regional Planning Commissions’ Funding

On Tuesday afternoon, the House General Laws Committee voted “do pass” on HCS HB 1986, sponsored by Rep. Terry Thompson (R-Lexington). The vote count was 14-1. The bill would increase annual state funds for the East-West Gateway Council of Governments and for the Mid-America Regional Council from the current $65,000 to a maximum of $130,000. Other regional planning commissions’ funding would increase from $25,000 to a maximum of $50,000. Future adjustments would be based on the consumer price index. The bill also removes the regional planning commissions of Show-Me, Missouri Valley, Ozark Gateway, ABCD, and Lakes Country, and the bill adds Harry S. Truman, Mo-Kan, Pioneer Trails, and Southwest Missouri. The House Committee Substitute corrected the name of East-West Gateway Council of Governments.

Harmful Material to Minors 

The House General Laws Committee convened Tuesday afternoon to consider passage of HB 1993, sponsored by Representatives Sherri Gallick (R-Belton). The bill requires commercial websites with more than 33 1/3% of material that is deemed harmful to children, to verify that those accessing the site are 18 years of age or older. Additionally, the bill imposes a civil penalty for damages if a minor is harmed. During discussion, substitute language was adopted which added HB’s 1426, 1855 and 2157, as the bills are identical, to create one legislative vehicle. Additionally, language was adopted which entitled those users, whose data was compromised, to a $20,000 minimum award from the website/database owner. Once modified, the committee passed the bill by an 8-5 vote.

Delinquent Property Taxes

The House Rules-Administrative Oversight Committee met Monday afternoon to consider passage of HB 2065, sponsored by Representative Bill Owen (R-Springfield). As communities are faced with growing numbers of vacant or abandoned properties, the bill seeks to provide a tool to municipalities by utilizing a land bank system. Specifically, after a qualified period of time of ongoing delinquent taxes, communities are allowed to purchase those properties and sell them in order to get the properties back onto the tax rolls. Substitute language was adopted to require notices to be published electronically and publish notice in local publications. The committee passed the bill by a vote of 8-1.

Establishing Speaker Opportunities at Public Meetings

On Wednesday morning, HCS HB 2206, sponsored by Rep. Richard West (R-Wentzville), was voted “do pass” in executive session by the House Government Efficiency and Downsizing Committee. The vote count was 6-2. The bill requires political subdivisions to adopt speaker policies to be followed at certain meetings of the governing body of the political subdivision. An amount of time at the beginning of each meeting is to be set as an open forum for public comment. A committee amendment added defines “regular meeting” as a meeting with the quorum of elected members present and meetings when votes will be conducted. Work session meetings would not be included. And the amendment says if a person is removed from a meeting because of a peace disturbance, that person will not be charged with any crime. The bill also says individual speakers must have a minimum of three minutes each to speak, and a cumulative limit of one hour or 20 speakers. Written public comment is to be accepted. If the governing body needs to hold a meeting on less than 24 hours’ notice, or if the meeting will be conducted exclusively electronically or at a time that is not reasonably convenient for the public, the nature of the good cause justifying departure from the normal requirements must be stated in the meeting minutes. Meetings held in person and not subject to closure under the Sunshine Law will be conducted to allow in-person public attendance.

Public Notices for ‘Master Agreement’ Services

On Tuesday afternoon, the House General Laws Committee voted “do pass” on HCS HB 2314, sponsored by Rep. Donnie Brown (R-New Madrid). The vote count was 15-0. An attempt to pass the bill “consent” failed with one “no” vote. The bill authorizes the Division of Facilities Management, Design, and Construction within the Office of Administration to establish “master agreements” for architecture, engineering, or land surveying services on an as-needed basis for indefinite projects over a year or two. The House Committee Substitute includes a requirement that “master agreement” public notices are to be published in newspapers and on a state website. The agreements, not exceeding $100,000 per project, are established through a qualification-based selection process.

Public Notices Posted on the Secretary of State’s Website

On Wednesday morning, the House Government Efficiency and Downsizing Committee gathered for an hour-long hearing on HB 2328, sponsored by Rep. David Casteel (R-High Ridge). The bill provides that any public notice required by law to be published in a newspaper can be published in a newspaper or on the Secretary of State’s website. The Secretary of State must develop procedures for submission of the notices and create a specific page on its website that will contain all the notices in a searchable format.

Rep. Casteel told the committee several times during the hearing that moving notices to an internet website of the Secretary of State would save money and be a cheaper alternative for local municipalities and for those who publish public notices in newspapers. He said he had met with the Secretary of State’s office and suggested the new process to begin in January 2025. He mentioned the Missouri Press Association’s website for public notices, mopublicnotices.com, but said notices are posted on the website “only after you’ve paid for them.” Rep. Casteel criticized newspapers in Jackson County and St. Louis City and County that charge $500 to $1,500 for a public notice in newspapers with relatively small circulations. His comments during the hearing included: a lot fewer people are reading newspapers; internet service will come to all areas of the state within the next decade; it is only a matter of time when newspapers will not be relevant; newspapers should have seen this coming.

Several committee members expressed different positions. Rep. Jim Murphy (R-St. Louis), chairman of the committee, said “as a citizen, when I look for public notices, I look in the newspaper.” Rep. Gretchen Bangert (D-Florissant) said when she visits rural areas of the state, newspapers there contain all types of news and content. “There’s no internet access in those areas. A big part of our state still relies on newspapers,” she said. Rep. Dean Van Schoiack (R-Savannah), vice chairman of the committee, asked, “Are you advocating putting an entire industry out of business in the state of Missouri? By putting this on the internet only, it would be a huge mistake. I think this is going to be a lot bigger issue than you think this is.” Rep. Michael Burton (D-Lakeshire) said small newspapers do a very important job. “Small, local reporters actually keep us in check, and this could hurt them. I do not like this bill.”

Rep. Casteel said he was considering changing the legislation to read: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, any notice required by statute to be published in a newspaper ‘may’ (instead of ‘shall’) be published on the website of the office of the secretary of state or published in a newspaper.” Rep. Adam Schwadron (R-St. Charles) pointed out the language using “may” could be interpreted to mean that a notice would not necessarily be required to be posted or published.

There was no public testimony presented in favor of the bill. Testimony online supporting the bill said the “Missouri County Collectors Association supports online publication of their delinquent tax sales to the extent it adds alternatives to how notices are published. We would also support expanding publication to county websites and other online options to expand the reach of these notices.”

Testifying in opposition to the bill was James White, publisher of weekly newspapers in Warsaw and Clinton, and Doug Crews, representing the Missouri Press Association.

White said his community newspapers are not dying, they are growing, as the circulation of his Warsaw print newspaper is now more than in 2006, and that 15,000 people hit his newspaper’s website each month. Regarding the possibility a state website will save money, White said, “I have never known the government to do anything efficiently or save money. It’s not efficient.” He said his newspapers’ public notices are posted on his websites, but not behind paywalls, so they are available to anyone. Newspapers are an independent third party from the government, he also noted.

Doug Crews said the bill would undercut newspapers that today are independent from the government and that provide verification by publishers as to both content and date of publication of notices. Many public notices require sworn affidavits that notices were published, and he asked how many employees will the Secretary of State need to hire to provide such affidavits? Definitely more than the one employee this bill’s fiscal note estimates. Crews mentioned a letter received from Blue Ridge Bank in Kansas City which supports newspapers’ publication of public notices, and the letter says, “This bill is ill-conceived and overreaching, and we oppose it just as strongly as we have opposed all of its previous iterations.”

Crews noted that mopublicnotices.com was started by MPA in 2008, containing all public notices printed in Missouri newspapers, searchable by county, by city, and by category, and it received 500,000 page views in 2023. The website is free as there is no charge to post notices on the website. MPA pays for the website. The vendor that MPA uses to maintain the website also manages state website services in 17 other states, and he has expressed concern regarding the fiscal note for HB 2328, which he said underestimates the costs that it imposes on the Secretary of State, especially regarding website development costs and the number of employees needed for the verification process.

Crews ended his comments, saying a website does not push out or distribute notices to anyone. However, with a newspaper notice which is distributed to homes and businesses, a reader may see that his or her property or a neighbor’s property is being sold at a foreclosure auction. Simply placing a notice on the internet does not promote transparency.

Testifying for information only was Scott Clark, Deputy Chief of Staff to the Missouri Secretary of State, pointing out that legal notices in Missouri equal a myriad of filings within state statutes, and notice fees would be required to fund the website.

School District Superintendent Salaries

The House Special Committee on Education Reform convened Monday afternoon to consider passage of HB 2344, sponsored by Representative Ben Keathley (R-Chesterfield). The bill modifies school district superintendent salaries in charter counties. The bill defines “total compensation” to include salary, fringe benefits, and wages of the full-time position being filled and prohibits school district governing boards from approving a superintendent contract which exceeds 5.5 times the approved total compensation of a beginning teacher in the district beginning in the 2025-26 school year. During discussion, substitute language was adopted which exempts school districts who have approved a higher salary schedule by majority vote of district voters. Once modified, the committee passed the bill by a 7-0 vote.

Taylor Swift Act

The House Special Committee on Innovation and Technology convened Tuesday afternoon to discuss HB 2573, sponsored by Representative Adam Schwadron (R-St. Charles). The bill establishes the “Taylor Swift Act”, which seeks to address the issue of the unauthorized disclosure of intimate digital images. Individuals impacted may bring a civil action against the person who disclosed the image without their consent. Violators can be charged with a class E felony on the 1st offense and a class C felony on a subsequent conviction. The sponsor highlights past instances when high school students all over the country were bullied and humiliated after their peers shared AI-generated explicit photos of them. Committee members expressed that they would like to see the punishments for violators heavily enforced. No supporting or opposing testimony was presented to the committee.

DNR’s Division of Geology Confidential Information

On Monday afternoon, the House Rural Community Development Committee gathered to hear HB 2669, sponsored by Rep. Dane Diehl (R-Butler). Under HB 2669, any individually identifiable user information provided by a major water user and obtained by the Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Geology and Land Survey shall remain confidential and shall not be released to the public or disclosed in response to any Sunshine Law request. Any division employee disclosing such information shall be subject to disciplinary action and would be guilty of a class A misdemeanor. Rep. Diehl said the bill closes sunshine law requests for water usage in Missouri. Major water users, many of them farmers, are supposed to report usage to the DNR. If farmers knew their personal information was closed, more people would participate in reporting, Rep. Diehl said. Testimony in favor of HB 2669 was presented by the Missouri Soybean Association, the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, Missouri Corn Growers Association, and the Missouri Farm Bureau. The Soybean Association said it would support presenting county-wide data about water usage to the public, which has been amended into a similar bill in the Senate, SB 1351. The amended Senate bill deals only with farmers’ water usage data, it was noted. Testifying in opposition to the bill was Armorvine LLC, saying the bill would prevent uncovering if Missourians’ water rights have been infringed upon. Testifying for information only was the DNR which said it has had four sunshine law requests in 2024 for water usage data. The legislation does not deal with exporting water outside the state, DNR said.

Self-Storage Insurance

The Senate Insurance and Banking Committee convened Tuesday afternoon to consider passage of SB 927, sponsored by Senator Sandy Crawford (R-Buffalo). The bill increases, from $5,000 to $15,000, the maximum insurance coverage that may be offered by limited lines self-service storage insurance producers and their associates. After no discussion, the committee passed the bill by a 5-0 vote.

Social Media Safety Instruction and STEM Career Awareness in Schools

The Senate Select Committee on Empowering Missouri Parents and Children convened on Thursday morning to consider passage of SB 976, sponsored by Sen. Travis Fitzwater (R-Holts Summit). The bill requires DESE to develop a model curriculum for school-district instruction on safe social media use and appropriate online behavior to students in grades 6 through 12 and to develop a “STEM Career Awareness Program” to increase awareness of STEM careers and relevant training or education programs for students in grades 9 through 12. During discussion, substitute language was adopted which changes a requirement for school districts to require social media instruction for students to make the instruction optional for school districts and provide flexibility for school districts. Once modified, the committee passed the bill by a 10-0 vote.

Floor Activity

Land Banks, Delinquent Taxes in the Spotlight

On Wednesday morning, the House brought to the floor for perfection HCS HB 2065, sponsored by Rep. Bill Owen (R-Springfield), a bill that modifies provisions relating to the collection of delinquent taxes and the establishment of land banks in cities and counties, except for cities and counties that currently have land banks. HCS HB 2065 was perfected and printed by voice vote. Another House vote is needed to move the bill to the Senate. The bill maintains public notices published in newspapers. The bill seeks to provide a tool for municipalities and counties by using a land bank system to help fight the growing number of vacant or abandoned properties. Communities are allowed to purchase properties that have ongoing delinquent taxes and sell them to get the properties back onto the tax rolls. The bill is identical to SCS SB 750, sponsored by Sen. Lincoln Hough (R-Springfield), legislation that passed out of Senate committee and was taken up for debate Tuesday on the Senate floor. The Senate bill was placed on the informal calendar after an amendment to the bill was offered.

State Auditor Seeks More Investigative and Audit Authority

On Thursday morning, the House brought up for third reading HB 2111, sponsored by Rep. Phil Christofanelli (R-St. Peters). The bill defines “improper governmental activity” and provides that the State Auditor or authorized representative may audit all or part of any political subdivision or government entity if, after an investigation, the Auditor believes improper governmental activity has occurred or when requested to by a prosecuting attorney, circuit attorney, or law enforcement agency as part of an investigation. The bill adds a Sunshine Law exemption of records relating to reports of allegations or improper governmental activities to the list of records closed to the public which is to help protect “whistleblowers” who report to the State Auditor about possible violations of political subdivisions or government entities. HB 2111 was third read and passed by a House vote of 145-0. The bill now moves to the Senate.

AI Generated Media Prohibited in Politics

On Wednesday morning, the House brought up for perfection HCS HB 2628 & 2603, sponsored by Rep. Ben Baker (R-Neosho). The bill was perfected and printed by voice vote and needs another House vote to move the bill to the Senate. The legislation pushes back against false political advertising produced by artificial intelligence (AI). The penalties for the most part in the bill are misdemeanors for makers of deepfake videos that are used within 90 days of an election to injure the reputation of a candidate or party or otherwise deceive a voter. The bill defines “deceptive and fraudulent deepfake,” and “synthetic media” as an image, audio recording, or video recording of an individual’s appearance, speech, or conduct that has been created or intentionally manipulated with the use of digital technology to create a realistic but false image, audio, or video. The section of the bill does not apply to radio or television stations, cable or satellite television operators that broadcast a deceptive deepfake as part of a bona fide newscast, news interview, documentary or other coverage, if the broadcast acknowledges there are questions about the authenticity of the material. The section shall not apply to radio or television stations, cable or satellite television when it is paid to broadcast a deceptive and fraudulent deepfake. The responsibility and liability rests solely with the advertiser or entity that paid for the broadcast. Also, the provisions shall not apply if the audio or visual media includes a disclosure stating, “This _____ has been manipulated or generated by artificial intelligence.” This legislation shall not apply to an internet website or newspaper, magazine or other periodical, including an internet or electronic publication that carries news and commentary of general interest. Language in HB 2603 portion of the bill pertains to adding business subscribers to the No-Call List and specifies that a person does not have to renew his or her objection to receiving solicitations. The bill also establishes the “Caller ID Anti-Spoofing Act” which creates the offense of caller identification spoofing.

Omnibus Public Safety

The Senate dedicated floor time Thursday morning to revisit SB 754 sponsored by Senator Tony Luetkemeyer (R-Parkville). The bill as originally filed, establishes Max’s Law, which would increase the penalty for assaulting a law enforcement animal by making it a class a misdemeanor if the animal is injured, a class e felony if the animal is severely injured, and a class d felony if the assault results in the animal’s death. During the bill’s progression through the committee process, the bill was modified to reflect SB 189 (2023), which was TAFP’d and then vetoed by the Governor. Specifically, the bill now includes SB 841, modifies provisions relating to funding for the Office of Public Defender; SB 887, modifies provisions relating to certification of juveniles for trial as adults; SB 765, establishes a conviction review unit; SB 861, modifies provisions relating to expungement; SB 746, modifies provisions relating to eligibility for parole; and SB 760, modifies provisions relating to the critical incident stress management program. During previous debate, the sponsor offered a floor substitute to further amend the bill to include SB 1070, establishes a statewide task force focused on addressing cyber crimes and stalking; SB 788, creates “Blair’s Law”; and SB 901, establishes “Valentine’s Law” which creates the offense of aggravated fleeing a stop or detention of a motor vehicle. After no further debate, the Senate passed the bill by a 23-10 vote. The bill now will be sent to the House for further consideration.

County Officials

The Senate dedicated floor time Tuesday afternoon to debate SB 1363, sponsored by Senator Crawford (R-Buffalo). The bill includes several provisions relating to county officials. Specifically, upon the approval of the salary commission, the bill allows counties to increase coroner’s salaries. Additionally, the bill allows county corners that fill the slot of sheriffs to receive that salary, allows salary commissions to amend the base salary schedule, allows county collectors to conduct tax sales via electronic media, allows county auditors to audit and examine claims, excludes the Boone County sheriff from the current salary schedule, and changes statutes concerning public administrators. During debate, Senator Karla May (D-St. Louis) successfully amended the bill to clarify a St. Louis City sheriff shall be required to hold a valid peace officer license within two years of being elected as sheriff and also clarifies the annual salary for a sheriff shall be no less than $50 thousand dollars a year. Once modified, the Senate provided its first of two necessary approval votes. The Senate dedicated floor time Thursday morning to revisit SB 1363. After no further debate, the Senate passed the bill by a 25-8 vote. The bill now will be sent to the House for further consideration.

Upcoming Hearings

House-Rural Community Development
03/11/2024 12:00 PM
Committee Hearing, HR 1
Executive Session:
HB2669 Diehl – Prohibits the division of geology and land survey of the department of natural resources from disclosing to the public any individually identifiable user information contained within water user registration documents

House-Health and Mental Health Policy
03/11/2024 12:00 PM
Committee Hearing, HR 6
HB2534 Thomas – Establishes provisions relating to fraudulent misrepresentation in advertisements of health care practitioners

Senate-Local Government and Elections
03/11/2024 2:00 PM
Committee Hearing, SCR 2
SB1120 Carter – Reinstates the Presidential Preference Primary Election

House-Local Government
03/12/2024 8:00 AM
Committee Hearing, HR 7
Executive Session:
HB2571 McGaugh – Modifies provisions relating to financial statements of certain local governments

Senate-Agriculture, Food Production, and Outdoor Resources
03/12/2024 8:30 AM
Committee Hearing, SCR 1
Executive Session:
SB1019 Brown – Authorizes the closure of certain park records

House-Special Committee on Innovation and Technology
03/12/2024 9:00 AM
Committee Hearing, HR 5
Executive Session:
HB2573 Schwadron – Creates the offense of and civil penalties for disclosure of intimate digital depictions

House-Elections and Elected Officials
03/12/2024 12:00 PM or upon morning recess
Committee Hearing, HR 6
SJR74 Coleman – Modifies provisions relating to constitutional amendments

House-General Laws
03/12/2024 4:00 PM or upon adjournment
Committee Hearing, HR 7
HB1992 Gallick – Modifies provisions relating to the posting of notices

House-Consent and House Procedure
03/12/2024 6:00 PM
Committee Hearing, HR 5
Executive Session:
HB1553 Sassmann – Adds an exemption to the sunshine law for state parks records

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