Week 4: Tempers Continue to Flare Up in the Missouri Senate

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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.

Tempers Continue to Flare Up in the Missouri Senate

Another week has come and gone in the Missouri Senate with no floor activity to note. Session was canceled on Monday due to an ice storm that hit most of the state and made travel especially difficult in central Missouri.

Last Thursday, a group of Republican Senators who refer to themselves as the Freedom Caucus, spent eight hours filibustering all Senate floor actions, and this effort continued to block the appointments by Governor Mike Parson (R) for several key cabinet posts and varying state commissions. The Freedom Caucus members continue to state their intention is for Senate leadership to begin working on issues in which they believe are part of the conservative agenda, such as initiative petition reform, school choice, and an effort to “defund planned parenthood.” However, Senate leadership continues to not yield to the demand of the minority band of Republican Senators and continues to force them to filibuster the daily business until they ultimately adjourn every day. Last week was very challenging as many personality conflicts emerged amongst the majority caucus and everyone left Jefferson City angry.

On Tuesday afternoon, just before the Senate began its work for the new week, President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden (R-Columbia) held a press conference where he announced leadership has stripped all “Freedom Caucus” Senators from their respective committee chairmanships, vice-chairmanships, some committee assignments, and designated parking spots located in the Senate parking garage.  In response, the Freedom Caucus has continued to hold up the traditional business of the Missouri Senate, such as approval of the daily journal, prayer, and approving submitted gubernatorial appointments. In short, the Missouri Senate can’t even get to basic bill referrals. On Thursday, President Rowden was able to refer all Senate bills and resolutions to committees before adjournment, but was unable to garner a confirmation vote on the gubernatorial appointments.

In other news, the Missouri House continues to work hard in committee as its bills are beginning to advance toward the floor calendar for debate. It is unknown if the Senate logjam will break in the weeks ahead, however, the House members will continue to work issues on their side of the capitol building.

Office of Secretary of State Audit

On Monday, Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick released an audit report of Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office and gave his administration a “fair” rating, the second-lowest rating, and a downgrade from a previous audit. The reasons included that Ashcroft’s Office illegally withheld documentation of cybersecurity checks for local election authorities. The audit also said Ashcroft “refused” to provide reports from the election’s clearinghouse known as the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, which checks voter registration in several states. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft held a press conference Tuesday afternoon stating the audit results were not accurate and was a “deep state political attack.”

January 2024 Revenues

A brief report was released that noted January 2024 revenues were looking more robust and up to 30% over compared to January 2023. This growth has pulled the fiscal-year-to-date revenues to a more positive position of up almost 2%. While this number may seem small, it is beginning to dissipate some fears of a giant revenue hole while the legislature begins to craft the FY2025 budget.

State of the State Address

On Wednesday, before a Joint Session of the General Assembly, Governor Mike Parson delivered his final State of the State Address. Governor Parson’s speech focused largely on the legacy of achievements his administration, the General Assembly, and state government have accomplished together. The achievements included streamlining state agencies and reducing the size of government, clearing the 3,700 clemency applications inherited by his administration and provided funding to build over 1,000 bridges and repaired 50% of Missouri’s entire highway system. Additionally, he discussed the increase in K-12 funding and the increase in baseline teacher pay, created over 110,000 new jobs, and brought $14.5 billion in new business investments through nearly 685 new business projects and reduced income tax by over 20% with three separate tax cuts.

Governor Parson next laid out his two top legislative proposals for the 2024 session. These include announcing his support for establishing new tax credit programs for childcare, to improve access and affordability. He also discussed his intention to support legislation that guarantees stricter punishments for exposing children and minors to fentanyl. With his final words, Governor Parson announced he and First Lady Teresa Parson thanked his staff for all their hard work and hinted at a full retirement from public office. A full text of the address may be found here.

Key Upcoming Dates
February 7, 2024 – State of the Judiciary
February 19, 2024 – President’s Day – IN SESSION
March 1, 2024 – Last day of bill filing
March 18-22, 2024 – Legislative Spring Break
April 1, 2024 – Easter Break – No Session
April 2, 2024 – General Municipal Elections
May 10, 2024 – Last Day to Constitutionally pass the FY 2025 Budget
May 17, 2024 – Last Day of the 2024 Legislative Session
August 6, 2024 – Missouri Primary Elections
September 11, 2024 – Veto Session
November 5, 2024 – Missouri General Elections

Committee Activity

Bill Would Remove Deceased Person’s Misdemeanor Offense From CaseNet

On Wednesday afternoon the House Judiciary Committee met to consider HB 1718, sponsored by Rep. Bill Falkner (R-St. Joseph). The bill would allow a parent, spouse, child or other personal representative of a person who was convicted of a misdemeanor offense to petition the court to have the record of the offense made confidential on CaseNet if the person has been deceased for six months or more. Rep. Falkner said the legislation was filed for a friend whose deceased daughter had been convicted of a drug offense, and sadly the father sees the daughter’s name “every time he goes on CaseNet.” There was no testimony presented and no discussion of the bill by committee members.

Missouri Sunshine Law

On Tuesday morning the House Local Government Committee met in executive session to consider HB 1720, sponsored by Rep. Bill Falkner (R-St. Joseph). The original legislation would have enacted four new exemptions to the Missouri Sunshine Law, primarily closing records containing a person’s individually identifiable information. Rep. Falkner, however, offered an amendment to the committee for the closure of “any portion of a record that contains individually identifiable information of a minor 17 years and under held by a public governmental body, if such public governmental body is a city, town, village, or park board.” House Committee Substitute for HB 1720 was voted “do pass” by the committee on a vote of 11-0.

County Committee Meeting Location

On Tuesday morning the House Local Government Committee met in executive session to decide on HB 1909, presented by its sponsor, Rep. Tim Taylor (R-Bunceton). HB 1909 repeals the requirement that during primary election years, county political committees must hold their meetings in the county seat. The bill was approved “do pass” by a vote of 11-0, and then the bill was voted “consent” by a vote of 11-0.

State Auditor Seeks More Investigative and Audit Authority

On Wednesday morning the House Government Efficiency and Downsizing Committee met in executive session to vote on HB 2111, sponsored by Rep. Phil Christofanelli (R-St. Peters). The committee voted “do pass” on the bill by a vote of 8-0. 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.

School District Superintendent Salaries

The House Special Committee on Education Reform convened Tuesday morning to discuss HB 2344, sponsored by Representative Ben Keathley (R-Chesterfield). The bill creates provisions relating to 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. A state public advocate provided supporting testimony. The Missouri Council of School Administrators and Cooperating School Districts of Greater Kansas City provided opposing testimony stating that the salary of superintendents is best left to local district governing boards and that the bill would adversely affect the ability of school districts to attract talent.

Initiative Petition Changes Debated

On Tuesday the House Elections and Elected Officials Committee met to discuss three bills that would affect the initiative and referendum petition and election process used to amend the Missouri Constitution by voters.

HJR 72 and HJR 102, were presented together by their sponsor, Rep. Ed Lewis (R-Moberly), and they are similar Constitutional amendments to modify the initiative petition process. HJR 72 requires any amendment to the Constitution to receive a majority of “yes” votes cast both statewide and also cast in a majority of Missouri’s eight Congressional districts for approval. HJR 102 is similar but it would require such an amendment to receive a majority of votes cast both statewide and in a majority of the state’s House of Representatives districts in order to pass. Both HJRs would prohibit initiative petitions from raising sales taxes on food or imposing taxes or fees on real estate or real or personal property. Both HJRs also prohibit foreign governments and foreign political parties from participating in the state’s initiative petition process.

Rep. Lewis said some 119 amendments have been added to the Missouri Constitution since 1945. Both of his HJRs would expand the voice of Missourians across the state, he said, and to change the constitution there should be broad support statewide. He said of the two resolutions, he prefers HJR 72 which would require a statewide majority of votes cast and a majority of votes cast in a majority of congressional districts for approval. Testimony in support of the HJRs was presented by Campaign Life Missouri and Missouri Right to Life.

Testimony in opposition was offered by A.C. Dienhoff, Kevin Fitzgerald, Peter Schneeberger, Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, League of Women Voters of Missouri, ACLU-Missouri, Missouri Association of Realtors, and Jobs With Justice Voter Action.

Next on the committee’s agenda was HB 1749, sponsored by Rep. Mike Haffner (R-Pleasant Hill), a bill which makes several changes to the process of collecting signatures and enabling topics to reach the statewide ballot. HB 1749 prohibits any measure circulating by petition to nullify or amend federal law. Petition circulators must be U.S. citizens and residents of Missouri for at least 30 days, and they may not be paid based on the number of signatures they collect. The bill also requires that if a court orders a change that substantially alters the content of the official ballot title of a petition, all signatures gathered before the change occurred shall be invalidated. Some committee members questioned why “dark ink” is required by the bill when petitions are signed.

Testifying in favor of HB 1749 was Trish Vincent, Deputy Secretary of State, who said dark ink is needed for scanning petition signatures. Reading those signatures is critical, she said. The Secretary of State’s office stands behind this legislation, she noted. The Opportunity Solutions Project also testified in favor of the bill. Testimony in opposition was presented by the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, A.C. Dienhoff, ACLU-Missouri, Jobs With Justice Voter Action, and Missouri Association of Realtors.

Land Banks

The Senate Committee on Emerging Issues convened Thursday morning to consider passage of SB 750, sponsored by Senator Lincoln Hough (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 ongoing delinquent taxes, communities are allowed to purchase those properties and sell them in order to get the properties back onto the tax rolls. During committee discussion, a committee substitute was adopted to provide clean up language to ensure consistency throughout the bill. Once modified, the committee passed the bill by a 4-3 vote.

Max’s Law

The Senate Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee met Wednesday in executive session to consider SB 754, sponsored by Senator Tony Luetkemeyer (R-Parkville). The bill 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 committee discussion, the chair offered a committee substitute reflected in SB 189, which last year was TAFP’d and then vetoed by the Governor. The proposed provisions in the committee substitute were not objected to in the Governor’s veto message. Specifically, the committee substitute 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. Senator Mary Elizabeth Coleman (R-Arnold) voiced concerns and said she would be voting “no.” The committee chair then offered an amendment to remove the inclusions of SB 760. Once modified, the committee passed the bill by a 4-2 vote.

Earlier in the hearing, the committee had gathered to discuss SB 861, sponsored by Sen. Brian Williams (D-University City), the bill that modifies provisions regarding the expungement of criminal records and was added to SCS SB 754. Among key elements, the bill repeals the $250 surcharge to file a petition for expungement; sheriffs may make available to expungement clinics or legal aid organizations information obtained from the Missouri Central Repository; pro-bono clinics and legal aid organizations seeking to expunge criminal records of petitioners at no-charge shall have access to all criminal history information in possession or control of the Missouri Central Repository, except for criminal intelligence and investigation. Those who registered as a sex offender are not eligible for expungement along with offenses of sexual misconduct with a nursing facility resident, sexual crimes with a child, or cross burning. Any offense of unlawful use of weapons is not eligible for expungement. The bill also changes the time a person can petition to expunge an arrest record for an eligible crime from three years after the date of the arrest to 18 months from the date of the arrest. The bill allows a person whose crime was expunged to answer “no” to an employer’s inquiry about any arrests, charges, or convictions of a crime. During the presentation, Sen. Williams said he had been approached to make some changes to the bill regarding redacted records, and he said he would be considering some changes.

Legislation Modifies Criminal Expungements

The Senate Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee gathered Wednesday morning to discuss SB 861, sponsored by Sen. Brian Williams (D-University City). His bill modifies provisions regarding the expungement of criminal records. Among key elements, the bill repeals the $250 surcharge to file a petition for expungement; sheriffs may make available to expungement clinics or legal aid organizations information obtained from the Missouri Central Repository; pro-bono clinics and legal aid organizations seeking to expunge criminal records of petitioners at no-charge shall have access to all criminal history information in possession or control of the Missouri Central Repository, except for criminal intelligence and investigation. Those who registered as a sex offender are not eligible for expungement along with offenses of sexual misconduct with a nursing facility resident, sexual crimes with a child, or cross burning. Any offense of unlawful use of weapons is not eligible for expungement. The bill also changes the time a person can petition to expunge an arrest record for an eligible crime from three years after the date of the arrest to 18 months from the date of the arrest. The bill allows a person whose crime was expunged to answer “no” to an employer’s inquiry about any arrests, charges, or convictions of a crime. During the presentation, Sen. Williams said he had been approached to make some changes to the bill regarding redacted records, and he said he would be considering some changes. Testifying in favor of the bill were the Missouri Office of Prosecuting Services, Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce & Industry, and the Missouri Catholic Conference. Information only testimony was offered by the Missouri Supreme Court and the Judicial Conference of Missouri, seeking a delayed effective date on the bill if it is passed by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor.

Upcoming Hearings

House-Rules-Legislative Oversight
01/29/2024 2:15 PM
Committee Hearing, HR 4
Executive Session:
HB1720 Falkner – Modifies provisions of the sunshine law

House-Rules-Regulatory Oversight
01/29/2024 2:30 PM
Committee Hearing, HR 4
Executive Session:
HB1886 Veit – Modifies provisions relating to judicial proceedings

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