The traditional Missouri House of Representatives paper toss is over with and so is another regular session of the state Legislature.
After plenty of squabbling on legislation and the papers settling, some lawmakers have let out a big exhale. They head back home after passing 44 bills this session.
In recent years, lawmakers have passed many more bills. With the level of division among Republican Senators as well as the division between the House and Senate, 44 bills might be a victory to some. To others, not so much. Many priorities were left unfulfilled. To House Democrats, they were glad to see so many GOP priorities fizzle.
Some of the top bills passed this legislative session include:
$49 billion state budget
With little time to spare, the Legislature passed a historic budget this year. The fiscal outline designates a tax credit for some Missourians. The exact amount to each taxpayer is unknown but it could be in the neighborhood of a couple hundred dollars per person.
Another $411 million is earmarked for water and wastewater infrastructure upgrades, along with $100 million to repair rural lettered roads.
Lawmakers reserved $3.56 billion in state aid to K-12 public schools. They allocated $328 million to fully fund the state’s share of school transportation costs – an increase of $214 million compared to the current fiscal year.
A variety of efforts to boost teacher pay were also included in the proposal.
Under the proposed state budget, extra funding would go to Missouri’s public colleges and universities this time around. Due to limited state funding in the past, some state lawmakers say higher education usually gets the short end of the stick.
$2 billion in federal coronavirus-related funding to Missouri’s K-12 schools
Missouri lagged behind other states in authorizing the distribution of American Rescue Plan Act Funds designated for schools. The funds can be used in a variety of ways to help schools get back on track after the pandemic messed with the education system. Efforts include hiring additional workers, making air quality upgrades, social emotional supports, additional tutoring, among several other things.
Congressional redistricting bill
Senate Republicans clashed most of the session over the bill, which includes six likely Republican safe districts and two Democratic ones. Getting the proposal across the finish line was a big lift for the Senate because Republicans disagreed about the political makeup of the districts.
After passing the bill Thursday evening, the Senate ended the session – sending members home one day early – along with any other lingering legislative priorities.
Some Missouri election leaders, including Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, say adopting the bill at the last minute could pose challenges for the August primary.
K-12 education package
The plan includes a variety of efforts to boost reading performance among K-12 public school students. It would mandate certain curriculums and interventions used at schools as well as launch Dolly Parton’s “Imagination Library of Missouri Program” to encourage reading by children through age 5.
Another provision would require school districts to notify parents and get written permission before using corporal punishment, such as spanking.
Missouri is not currently an open enrollment state, but this bill would make an exception for people with multiple properties in different school districts.
Other provisions include requirements to create gifted programs in schools, efforts to get lead out of school drinking water, suicide prevention training in schools, Holocaust education curriculum, among other things.
Voter ID bill
Missouri voters could be required to show a photo ID at the polls. The Legislature passed a bill that would allow Missourians without a valid ID to cast a provisional ballot. Their vote would not be counted unless they return the same day with a proper ID or if an election worker can verify their signature.
The plan would also ban ballot drop boxes. It would allow no-excuse absentee voting up to two weeks before to the day of an election.
Fast Track Workforce Development Incentive Program expansion
The last bill passed this session would expand the state’s Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant Program to include apprenticeships and certain training programs. Missouri is a nationwide leader in the number of apprenticeships completed.
Fast Track covers college tuition for eligible Missourians 25 years or older seeking a certificate, degree or industry-recognized credential in a high-demand field. It is an effort championed by Gov. Mike Parson.
The bill would also create the Joint Committee on Rural Economic Development to examine issues about economic development in rural Missouri. The committee could submit a report to lawmakers with recommendations.
Grain Belt Express line
After years of trying to block an energy company’s ability to take power over private property rights, the Missouri Legislature passed a compromise bill to allow the expansion of Grain Belt Express wind energy lines in Missouri. The high-powered transmission lines will cross northern Missouri to deliver power from Kansas to Illinois, while providing reduced-rate electricity to areas of rural Missouri.
Farmers and landowners had been resisting power line placement on their properties after the state Public Service Commission ruled Invenergy Transmission can use eminent domain power to cross private property.
The compromise allows Grain Belt Express to continue but puts restrictions on future transmission projects, including paying landowners 150% of the value of the land plus other restrictions.
Charter school funding change
Missouri’s charter schools in Kansas City and St. Louis could soon be getting a boost in funding. A bill passed would increase state aid to charter schools there, instead of diverting local money that would go to traditional public schools.
State Representative Doug Richey, the bill sponsor, says if charter schools expand statewide, this bill does not cover charter schools beyond St. Louis and Kansas City.
Richey, R-Excelsior Springs, says the plan would also require charter schools to post their annual performance report information online.
Another piece of the bill would require charter school board members to live in Missouri.
Top bills that died this session include:
One of the issues gaining a lot of attention this session was the attempt to legalize sports wagering in Missouri. That ship has sailed for the year.
A bill sponsored by state Representative Dan Houx, R-Warrensburg, sailed through the House but lost some steam in the Senate. In the end, negotiations failed. His proposal is the furthest a sports gambling bill has ever reached in the Missouri Legislature.
Another sports wagering bill was sponsored by state Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg. At a press conference this week, Hoskins said the casinos – and their greed – killed his bill.
State’s unemployment overpayment goof
Lawmakers did not pass a fix to handle a $150 million mistake the state made in coronavirus-era unemployment benefits. The error affects roughly 46,000 workers and the state has told them to repay the jobless aid they were mistakenly overpaid.
Last year, Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations Director Anna Hui told a House committee the average overpayment from the state was $990.
During a time when the state has a record amount of federal funding to spend, the state’s goof garnered little attention this session.
After learning that the U.S. Supreme Court could be on the verge of overturning the Roe vs. Wade ruling that legalized abortion, the Missouri Senate quickly jumped into action.
A Senate committee held a public hearing this week and voted immediately after the hearing to advance a measure to the floor. But that’s where the work ended.
The resolution, sponsored by state Sen. Justin Brown, R-Rolla, would have made abortion illegal under a 2019 state law. It would kick in if the highest court in the land followed through with its reported plans.
The state Department of Health and Senior Services tells Missourinet Planned Parenthood reported 48 abortions in Missouri in 2021. How many of those are due to the health of the mother or child, rape, or incest is unknown.
Effort to overturn Medicaid expansion
A proposed ballot measure would have asked Missouri voters to let the Legislature decide whether to fund Medicaid expansion. Since a majority of Missouri voters approved expansion in 2020, some Republicans in the Legislature have been working to overturn the effort.
The expansion allows about 275,000 low-income adults on the government-funded healthcare program. The Missouri Department of Social Services says 169,169 people have been enrolled as of May 6.
Missouri House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith, R-Carthage, sponsored the measure. The House of Representatives passed the plan but the proposal died in the Senate.
The fate of the bills passed this session is now up to Missouri’s Chief Executive Officer, Gov. Mike Parson. With a tight time frame for local election leaders, Parson is expected to take action on the Congressional redistricting bill in the coming days. He has until the end of June to decide on the state budget proposal. The governor has until July 14 to make decisions on some of the other bills passed.
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