The Missouri House has approved and sent two proposals to the Senate that would create a new fine against individuals convicted of human trafficking offenses. The new fine would be used to fund efforts to fight trafficking in Missouri and provide treatment and support to its victims.
The first bill, HB 2307, would create a fine of $5,000 to be assessed against anyone found guilty of any human trafficking offense. This is on top of all of the criminal punishments that exist for human trafficking. The bill would also create the Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation Fund to collect the proceeds generated by the fine.
The second bill approved was HJR 114, which is a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow voters to decide if the revenue generated by the new fine would be dedicated to efforts to fight trafficking and support victims of trafficking. Since this would change our constitution and not just a law, you would get to vote on it in August or November.
During floor debate, the bill’s sponsor said “The $5,000 will be allocated 50% toward the rehabilitation services of the victims of human trafficking, and 50% toward the local efforts to prevent human trafficking, such as education for law enforcement, hospitals, and schools.” He also said the new fine could provide game-changing support for efforts against trafficking. Trafficking victims often need various services such as counseling to help them recover and lead a normal life.
The sponsor also pointed out that because of our central location in the country and our many interstates – I-29, I-35, and I-70 in Kansas City, I-70, I-44, and I-55 in St. Louis, and I-44 in Springfield – human trafficking is a big issue for Missouri and our state needs more ways to deal with it.
With session almost over (two weeks left), these bills have barely enough time to get to the governor’s desk. Their fate is now up to the state senate.
As always, if you have any questions about any bill, please email me at [email protected]. Until next time, best wishes of safety, health, and prosperity to you and your family.
PICTURES FROM THE CAPITOL
Debating bills on the House floor
FROM THE CAPITOL NEWS DESK
Supporting Emergency Medical Dispatchers (HB 2381)
The members of the Missouri House have advanced legislation to the Senate that would recognize the service of, as well as the difficulties faced by, emergency medical dispatchers. The House approved HB 2381, which would add dispatchers to state statute’s definition of “first responders.”
The sponsor of the legislation told his colleagues, “For the dispatchers that have always been there for us this is a step in the right direction, to acknowledge that they are the first responders that they are.”
Supporters of the measure say dispatchers are vitally important and are the first link in the chain of emergency response. However, because dispatchers aren’t considered “first responders,” they aren’t afforded benefits seen by EMTs, firefighters, police, and others. That includes health and retirement benefits, and also help to deal with the stress of their job. Lawmakers think that needs to change.
One of the bill’s supporters said, “I was a police officer for 43 years, and in my wildest nightmare I can’t imagine doing what those people do.” He added, “The fact that we have failed to recognize them as an integral part of the first response community, I think, is a real disservice to them. They do their share and then some. They’re often underappreciated. They’re just a voice at the end of the radio frequency and people just forget how important they are. Without them a lot of people get hurt.”
Another supporter of the bill, who sponsors similar legislation, said dispatchers have the most stressful job in the field. “The phone is ringing and its multiple phone calls, especially in one of those really high stressful situations. You’ve got the phone ringing off the hook, a dozen people calling you, someone screaming at you in their greatest moment of need, you can’t visualize what’s happening because you’re not actually there but you’ve got to get that information, you have to take it down well and effectively and then put that information back out clearly to someone else who’s going. It is an incredibly stressful job. I think it is the most high-stress job in all of emergency services. A person has to multitask at a very high level,” he said.
Because of the high stress they face, on top of regularly updated training and often low pay, advocates say people who work as dispatchers rarely do it for very long. Some areas of the state are having a hard time filling vacancies in call centers. Supporters say that by adding them to the definition of “first responders,” they would be afforded more state benefits. This could be part of a larger effort to recruit and retain operators.
The bill also authorizes each political subdivision to elect to cover telecommunicator first responders as public safety personnel of the system. Additionally, the bill requires emergency medical dispatchers to complete a course approved by the Missouri 911 Service Board and complete any ongoing training required under the requirements of the 911 Training and Standards Act.
Other House Bills Sent to the Senate
HB 2638 is the product of a process that began with the creation of the Interim Committee on Broadband Development. The committee conducted town halls across the state to take citizen input on the issue of high-speed internet access. Based on that input, the committee produced a report with five recommendations, most of which are contained in the bill. The bill establishes the Broadband Development Council to explore ways to expand access to broadband services; the potential for increased use of broadband for education, career readiness, workforce preparation and alternative career training; ways to encourage state and municipal agencies to expand service to better serve the public through the use of streaming, voice over Internet protocol, teleconferencing, and wireless networking. The bill authorizes the Attorney General to seek the return of broadband funding from any provider that defaults or breaches agreements to deploy broadband. Additionally, it establishes the “Vertical Real Estate Act”, which authorizes political subdivisions to erect towers and other broadband infrastructure as specified in the bill and to join or participate in public-private partnerships to effectuate the construction of vertical real estate and towers. The bill also allows any two or more political subdivisions to form a broadband infrastructure improvement district which shall have power to contract with broadband service providers and expand service using grants, loans, bonds, and user fees. The bill also modifies the provisions of the grant program to expand broadband Internet access in unserved and underserved areas of the state. Supporters say the goal is to provide efficient broadband coverage for Missouri using models from other states and by modifying existing broadband funding mechanisms.
HB 2140 is a wide-ranging elections bill that contains many necessary election security and integrity measures. The bill’s sponsor said the bill “gives audit authority to the Secretary of State’s Office if he or she determines there are nefarious activities. It also directs that there should be no changes made in an election 26 weeks preceding. That’s very important.” She added, “It tightens timelines for the Department of Motor Vehicles to process voter info. It directs them to send the applications electronically rather than by paper. It protects voter data. It directs DMV to not offer registration to non-citizens. It does many, many things on absentee, it tightens up absentee. It helps with what we all want in this body. It helps with voter integrity.”
Some of the provisions contained in the bill would authorize the Secretary of State (SOS) to audit voter registration lists and require election authorities to remove improper names, remove obsolete references to ballot cards and requires voting machines to be air gapped as a security measure, and prohibit the state and its political subdivisions from receiving or expending private money for preparing, administering, or conducting an election or registering voters. Other provisions in the bill would allow registered voters to file change of address forms in person after the deadline to register to vote including on election day at the Office of the Election Authority if they provide a type of personal identification which involves photographic identification, prohibit payment for soliciting voter registration applications and requires registration with the Secretary of State’s office for soliciting more than 10 voter registration applications, allow use of absentee ballots to vote in person with a form of personal identification as specified in the bill, and specify photographic identification requirements for voting a regular ballot, but allow use of provisional ballots with any type of documentation currently allowed for voting. Beginning January 1, 2024, the bill requires the use of a paper ballot and repeals electronic voting system language with certain exceptions for voting equipment used for the disabled. The bill also establishes the “Missouri Elections Sovereignty Act” which demarcates the distinction between federal and state elections and reserves the power of the General Assembly over those aspects of both state and federal elections granted to the states under the federal constitution as specified in the bill. Additionally, the bill authorizes any school district to adopt specified provisions prohibiting students of the male sex from participating in athletic activities reserved exclusively for females if such provisions are approved by a vote of the residents of the school district. The bill specifies that the Joint Committee on Education will study policies involving exclusively male and female athletic events and issue a report with findings and recommendations to the General Assembly before January 1, 2024.
HB 1973 modifies the definition of “school bus” to include the requirement that the bus must be designed to carry more than 10 people. School districts are authorized to use other motor vehicles for the purpose of transporting school children to school, to school activities, and for other educational purposes. The State Board of Education may adopt rules and regulations governing the use of the other motor vehicles, but not vehicles operating under the authority of the Department of Revenue’s Transportation Network Provision. Supporters say the bill will open flexibility for schools to provide transportation in a more economical way. The alternative transportation opportunities will allow for an increased benefit to foster children, homeless students, students working at off-site work based learning opportunities, and for districts that potentially have students living in non-resident locations that might not have a dedicated traditional bus route.
The bill also requires students participating in sex-separated interscholastic athletic contests to be eligible only to participate in athletic contests organized for the same biological sex that is on the student’s birth certificate. One supporter of the measure said, “As a father, there’s so many problems with this idea that we will allow biological men to compete with females. As a father, with my daughters, not only the physical aspect of that… again, I have a responsibility to protect them. There is a myriad of problems that can arise from being in a sporting event with someone who is so much stronger physically. There are emotional things that are tied that as well. There are other logistical problems that, as a father with the responsibility to protect my daughters, that I have to take into consideration.”
HB 1859 imposes a labeling requirement for political subdivision and special district ballot measures using sets of letters from the alphabet and double letters if needed as specified in the bill. If a measure is labeled, but not voted upon at the next election, then it retains its letter designation until it has been voted on by the people. This practice is similar to the current law on statewide ballot measure labeling. The bill requires the use of paper ballots and phases out the use of certain direct-record electronic touchscreen vote counting machines. The bill also prohibits mandatory language using terms such as “must” or “shall” involving voting for multiple candidates so that voters are informed of the option to vote or not vote as they please. “Drop boxes” are prohibited and are defined in the bill as unattended depositories for ballots except for United States postal mailboxes.
HB 1692 establishes the “Required Immunization Liability Act”, which states that an employer that requires its employees to receive an immunization as a condition of employment shall be liable for damages or injury resulting from the immunization. In addition, an employer can purchase insurance to cover and protect the employer and its employees from liability. Supporters say they want to protect employers and employees by putting liability on employers who require mandates.
HB 1977 allows for the sale of grade A retail raw milk or cream produced in Missouri at grocery stores, restaurants, soda fountains, or similar establishments as long as the milk is clearly labeled with the specified warning label and when the milk or cream is sold in a manner that does not allow the final consumer to see the label, it must be clearly presented to the consumer through a written notice. The bill also specifies that no bottler or distributer of grade A retail raw milk can sell, transport or deliver the milk unless it has been inspected by the State Milk Board at least quarterly. Also, any dairy farm producing grade A retail raw milk must have its herd accredited or certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as tuberculosis-free and brucellosis-free. Supporters say raw milk is already being sold and this bill would help regulate it and make grade A raw milk meet the same sanitation and bacteriological standards as pasteurized milk. Supporters also say raw milk has health benefits that pasteurized milk does not have.
HB 1704 specifies that a person commits the offense of making a false report if he or she knowingly makes a false report or causes a false report to be made to a law enforcement officer, security officer, fire department or other organization, official, or volunteer with reckless disregard of causing bodily harm to any person as a direct result of an emergency response. A person who is a victim of the offense may bring a civil action against the person who made the false report and may recover damages or other equitable relief, as well as reasonable attorneys’ fees.
HB 2600 establishes the Joint Committee on Solid Waste Management. Supporters say the Joint Committee on Solid Waste has historically been created by concurrent resolution and has brought stakeholders together to discuss how to manage the solid waste in the state. This bill would permanently create the committee in order to bring stakeholders together on a regular basis. It also establishes the Flood Resiliency Act, which creates a flood resiliency program administered by the Department of Natural Resources to increase flood resiliency along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and their tributaries and to improve statewide flood forecasting and monitoring ability. Additionally, the bill creates the Get the Lead Out of School Drinking Water Act.
HB 1564 removes a requirement that any notice sent to an applicant or recipient of blind pension funds must be sent by certified mail. Instead, the bill allows the notice to be sent by any mail delivered by the United States Postal Service. Supporters say the requirement for receipt of pension funds to be sent through certified mail can be onerous on blind individuals who may not have assistance or otherwise have the means of receiving certified mail. By removing the requirement that such mail be through certified mail, blind individuals will be able to receive pension payments they are entitled to much easier.
HB 2439 modifies provisions related to peace officers. Currently, the minimum number of hours of basic training for licensure as a law enforcement officer is 470 and the maximum is 600. This bill removes the range and requires no fewer than 600 hours and provides no maximum. Additionally, current law provides the Director of Public Safety cause to discipline a law enforcement officer who is unable to perform the functions of a law enforcement officer with reasonable competency or reasonable safety as a result of a mental condition, including alcohol or substance abuse. It allows the Director to discipline an officer who has committed any criminal offense, regardless of whether a criminal charge has been filed. Lastly, it provides cause to discipline an officer who has committed certain specified acts while on active duty or under color of law. This bill repeals the requirement that an officer’s inability to perform the functions of law enforcement officer be due to a mental condition, including alcohol or substance abuse. The bill adds cause to discipline an officer who has been convicted or has pled guilty or nolo contendere in a criminal prosecution under the laws of any state, or the United States, or of any country, regardless of whether a sentence is imposed. The bill removes the requirement that certain offenses be committed by an officer while on active duty or under color of law. The bill adds cause to discipline an officer who has tested positive for a controlled substance without a valid prescription for the substance, is subject to an order suspending or revoking the officer’s peace officer license or certificate, or has committed any act of gross misconduct indicating inability to function as a law enforcement officer. Supporters say the bill will add to the professionalism of law enforcement in Missouri. The process for when complaints are filed against a law enforcement officer provides the officer with a lot of due process along the way. Most of the officers that serve for Missouri serve with integrity. Less than 1/3 of one percent have had complaints filed against them. This would treat law enforcement officers the way nurses and private investigators are treated, as far as the standards they are held to, by adding the reasons for which they could have their licenses suspended or revoked.
HB 2160 adds a definition for “sexual conduct” and amends the definition of “sexual contact” for the sections on sexual offender registration requirements. The bill also makes changes to multiple offenses in Tiers I and II of the Sexual Offender Registry. Whereas the current qualifier for certain offenses is “if the punishment is less than a year”, the qualifier under the bill is changed to “if the offense is a misdemeanor”. Where the current qualifier is “the penalty is a term of imprisonment of more than a year”, the qualifier under the bill is changed to “if the offense is a felony”. Additionally, the bill adds the offense of sexual contact with a student 18 years of age or older to Tier II of the registry, it adds the offense of sexual abuse in the first degree to Tier II of the registry, and it adds violations of restrictions placed on certain sexual offenders to Tiers II and III of the registry. Supporters say the bill closes the gap for people who have a term of imprisonment of exactly a year and they are on the sex offender registry because now they are going into Tier III, which is on the registry for life.
HB 2660 establishes an alternative dispute resolution process to which a court may refer, by rule or court order, a single case or a category of cases. Supporters say the bill will provide a good alternative to offset the cost of litigation. The process protects the integrity of our judicial system. The process does not tie up jurors and it does not tie up courtrooms. It instills faith in the system because litigants want their cases heard, so this would open the court docket for people to have their cases heard. Over 90% of cases settle but they still tie up courtrooms with all the appearances so mediation makes this much easier.
HB 1489 modifies provisions relating to donations and delivery of certain alcoholic beverages for non-resale purposes to include distilled spirits. Supporters say the bill adds all distilled spirits for purposes of donations and charitable contributions. As lots of charitable organizations request spirits, this bill includes language that is appropriate from an industry standpoint.
HB 2136 enacts requirements relating to suicide prevention education and information. The bill establishes the Jason Flatt/Avery Reine Cantor Act. Beginning in the 2023-24 school year, each school district may offer at least two hours of suicide prevention training for all practicing teachers. All teachers, principals, and licensed educators may attend such training or complete training on suicide prevention through self-review of suicide prevention materials. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education may develop materials to be used for such training or may offer districts materials developed by a third party. This bill also requires public schools, charter schools, and public institutions of higher education that issue pupil identification cards to have printed on the card the three-digit dialing code that directs calls and routes text messages to the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, 988. The bill also establishes the “Tricia Leann Tharp Act” and states that the Board of Pharmacy shall recommend two hours of continuing education in suicide awareness and prevention for all licensed pharmacists. Supporters say the bill helps to address the need for greater access to youth behavioral health services. Mental health resources and suicide prevention are critical and the need for these resources is great. This bill will also benefit teachers through supporting and promoting suicide awareness and prevention training.
HB 2177 expands the list of cities authorized to establish a land bank agency to include any city with 1,500 or more inhabitants. The bill also provides that, upon request by any city with less than 1,500 inhabitants located in certain non-charter counties, or any unincorporated community located in certain non-charter counties, the county commission must establish a land bank agency. Supporters say the bill would be a valuable tool in cleaning up problem properties.
Senate Bills Approved by the House
SB 820 is a wide-ranging utilities bill that establishes the Task Force on Distributed Energy Resources and Net Metering, to conduct hearings and research information related to net metering. The bill also specifies that no deed restriction, covenant, or similar binding agreement running with the land shall limit or prohibit the installation of solar panels or solar collectors, as defined in the act, on the rooftop of any property or structure.
During floor debate, the House added an amendment to the bill that would protect landowners from having their property unlawfully seized through the misuse of eminent domain. The proposal is a direct response to the Grain Belt Express project that has the authority to use eminent domain to acquire land in Missouri. The sponsor of the amendment told his colleagues, “We have to make a conscious decision if we’re going to stand with Missouri farmers and ranchers. I am going to stand with the property rights. I am going to stand with landowners. I am going to stand with ranchers and I am going to stand with Missouri agriculture.”
Some of the other amendments added by the House would help expand broadband internet access across Missouri, protect the private information of public utility customers, allow homeowners to install solar panels on their home without the need for special certification as long as they are following applicable building codes, create parity between traditional investor-owned utility companies and solar utility companies, establish the Task Force on Fair, Nondiscriminatory Local Taxation Concerning Solar Energy Systems, and establish the Missouri Nuclear Clean Power Act.
The bill now heads back to the Senate where the other chamber can either accept the changes made by the House or ask for a conference where representatives from both bodies will meet to iron out their differences.
Bills Sent to Conference
HBs 3002 – 3013, 3015 are appropriations bills that make up the bulk of the Fiscal Year 2023 state operating budget. The bills were approved this week by the Senate with several significant changes made. In total, the Senate added more than $1.2 billion in spending to the plan approved by the House. The two sides will now meet to reach a compromise on the spending plan that must be completed by Friday, May 6.
HB 1720 modifies various provisions governing agricultural economic opportunities. The bill would continue several agriculture programs that are priorities for the agriculture community in Missouri.
HB 2149 modifies several provisions relating to professional licensing, including: (1) home health licensing; (2) exemptions for professional licensing; (3) land surveyors; (4) Missouri Dental Board pilot projects; (5) assistant physicians; (6) physical therapists; and (7) audiologists and speech-language pathologists.
Bills Headed to the Governor’s Desk
HB 1600 modifies requirements for retaining legislative employees when the general assembly is not in session. Currently, the Senate and House of Representatives must pass a resolution allowing employees to continue in employment after adjournment of a regular session or sine die adjournment of the General Assembly. This bill removes the requirement of passing a resolution to continue in employment. Supporters say the bill would eliminate the need to pass a House Resolution each year in order to continue to pay employees.
HB 1697 allows cottage food production operations to sell food over the internet. Currently, cottage food production operations must have an annual gross income of $50,000 or less and are prohibited from selling food through the Internet. This bill removes the cap on annual gross income and the prohibition of online sales, provided that the cottage food production operation and purchaser are both located in Missouri. Supporters say this adds new jobs for people who want to work from home and this will strengthen Missouri’s local economies.
HB 1725 changes the laws regarding requirements of lodging establishments. Currently, lodging establishments are not liable for the loss of certain specified items, such as money or jewelry, unless the guest asks that the item be placed in a safe and the lodging establishment refuses or omits to do so. This bill states that the hotel may use a safe or safe deposit boxes located behind the registration desk and when deposited into a safe, must give the guest a receipt for the item. The bill also specifies that any lodging establishment that publishes current rates electronically on a public Internet platform does not have to post a written copy of the rates charged for each guest room.
HB 3001 is an appropriations bill that allocates funding to pay the state’s debt obligations.