The Missouri General Assembly spent extra time in their respective chambers this week debating legislation. REAL ID and workers’ compensation were two major topics that were addressed. Missouri drew national attention for an unfortunate act of vandalism at a St. Louis Jewish cemetery and a bill that would target transgender students. Three weeks remain before the half way point of the legislative session.
Vice President Pence in Missouri
Vice-President Mike Pence made a trip to Missouri on Wednesday as a part of the “Made in America” tour. Governor Greitens joined Vice President Pence in St. Louis at the family-operated business, Fabick Cat, to tour the plant and discuss Missouri jobs and the economy. Governor Greitens previously flew to D.C. to meet with Pence about job creation just a few weeks ago.
A bill that would require public school students to use bathrooms, locker rooms and shower rooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates was heard this week by a Senate Committee. Emotional testimony of transgender students and their parents caught national attention. The bill has been dubbed, the "bathroom bill" and targets transgender children in public schools.
Sen. Emery (R – Lamar) sponsors the legislation and says his goal is to protect students' safety and privacy, despite a backlash North Carolina faced over a broader law limiting bathroom use in all public buildings. Parents of transgender children told lawmakers the proposal would put their kids at higher risk of bullying and violence.
Missouri is one of 14 states where limits were proposed this year on restrooms, locker rooms and other places based on sex assigned at birth, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. North Carolina is the only state to pass restrictions on bathroom use. The law prompted companies, conferences and concerts to shun the state. A federal trial to decide the North Carolina law’s fate is scheduled to begin this summer.
House Passes REAL ID
The House of Representatives debated for several hours on Tuesday afternoon the REAL ID bill. HB 151 – sponsored by Rep. Corlew (R – Kansas City) requires the Department of Revenue to issue REAL ID compliant driver's licenses. This has been a hot-button issue this session as the consequences for non-compliance with the federal law is looming. Several conservative Republicans oppose the bill citing privacy issues with the federal database and a general distrust of the federal government.
Congress passed the REAL ID Act of 2005 after September 11, 2001 as an anti-terror measure setting up standard forms of IDs issued by states and forbids federal agencies from accepting non-compliant IDs. Missouri is one of five states that have not complied with the law and as a result Missourians will not be able to use their MO driver’s licenses to board a plane or visit military or federal facilities beginning in January of 2018.
This bill needs one final vote by the House of Representatives before moving to the Senate for committee assignment.
Missouri received good news this week from two court rulings that will provide $60 million of cash into General Revenue. Attorney General Hawley announced on Tuesday that Missouri would be receiving $10 million from a multi-state settlement with Moody’s Corporation over inflated credit ratings leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. The other $50 million will come from a Missouri Supreme Court ruling that allows the state to recoup $50 million from the 2003 settlement with tobacco companies. The new funding is coming to Missouri at a time when budget constraints are high.
The news of the increase in General Revenue funding brought Governor Greitens to announce on Thursday that he would be restoring $11 million to the proposed budget cut to K-12 school transportation and $41 million to the proposed home and community-based services (HCBS) budget cut. The HCBS proposed cuts would have eliminated services for an estimated 15,000 people from in-home care and nursing homes. The restoration of funding may stop the proposed cuts, but the House and Senate must approve a state operating budget before anything is considered final.
The Budget Committee Chairman, Rep. Fitzpatrick (R – Shell Knob), filed the state operating budget bills this week identically to Governor Greitens’ proposed $27.6 billion spending plan. The House Budget Committee will use the filed bills as a starting point. Once the department presentations are finished, the five House Appropriations Committees will schedule hearings to finalize their budget priorities for the Budget Committee to consider. After that point, the budget drafting process called, “mark-up,” will take place in the House Budget Committee during the week of March 13th. The mark-up process provides committee members the opportunity to alter budget line items across the various state departments.
Other Bills of Interest
HB 81 – sponsored by Rep. McGaugh (R – Carrollton) modifies provisions related to employer requirements for employee benefits. Small construction companies with 5 or less employees are not required to have workers’ compensation which makes them like the rest of the employers it the state. This bill was heard in the House Special Committee on Employment Security on Tuesday, February 21st. No supportive testimony was presented. Testifying in opposition to the bill were the United Steel Workers Union, AFL-CIO, the Sheet Metal workers Union, and the Rail Workers Union. No further action was taken on the bill.
SCS / SB 105 – sponsored by Sen. Wallingford (R – Cape Girardeau) requires the Department of Revenue to enter into the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement. This is the streamline sales tax bill that we have been working on for some time now. This bill will be brought up for a vote in the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday, February 28th at 9:00 a.m. I am pleased to report to you that the Senate Committee Substitute for SB 105 contains the language MAMA had requested on page 185 and page 208 of the substitute to protect our business interest in the event this bill was to become law. We will be attending this meeting and will report to you next week