A look at what our state legislators accomplished this year?
By Jill Draper
The Missouri Legislature adjourned in May, and lawmakers from the Kansas City area recently took part in a community meeting to talk about their successes, failures and future priorities.
Seven legislators—senators Greg Razer and Barbara Anne Washington and representatives Richard Brown, Patty Lewis, Ashley Bland Manlove, Mark Sharp and Annette Turnbaugh—met through an online meeting sponsored by the South Kansas City Alliance on June 14 to discuss new bills that were approved and others that were left on the table.
According to Sen. Razer, one big thing that passed was prescription drug monitoring of opioids through a statewide database (SB 63). “After years and years of trying, Missouri became the 50th state to have a prescription drug monitoring program,” he said, describing the action as long overdue.
He named the fuel tax hike (SB 262) as another important bill. This will gradually increase the state fuel tax from the current 17 cents per gallon to 29.5 cents a gallon in 2025 to generate new revenue for roads and bridges, including funding to help replace the downtown Buck O’Neil Bridge.
Other major legislation that passed:
Adoptive and Foster Parents (HB 429): Expands eligibility for a tax credit of up to $10,000 to offset adoption costs and grants foster parents a tax deduction for their costs of providing foster care.
Religious Boarding Schools (HB 557): Establishes state oversight and minimum health and safety standards for religious boarding schools, which currently are unregulated in Missouri.
Mental Health Parity (HB 604): Prohibits health insurance plans from imposing certain restrictions on mental health treatment that aren’t imposed on treatments for physical ailments.
Police Reform (SB 53): Prohibits police from using chokeholds on suspects in most circumstances, requires law enforcement agencies to track and report use-of-force incidents, increases penalties for officers who have sexual contact with those in custody and grants prosecutors authority to seek to overturn past wrongful convictions.
Orders of Protection (SB 71): Authorizes lifetime orders of protection in extreme cases of stalking and harassment, modernizes the definition of stalking and allows protection orders to cover abuse against pets.
Wayfair (SB 163): Makes it easier for local governments and the state to collect sales taxes for online purchases that already were due under statute but rarely paid.
Additional new laws include easing residency requirements for KCMO police; allowing college athletes to earn compensation for use of their likeness, and removing a cap on college tuition increases.
Not everything that passed was good, the legislators said, and many labeled the state’s nullification of federal gun laws (HB 85) as one of the worst. “It’s not just a general thing,” said Sen. Washington, who noted that under this law police will not be able to work with federal agencies like the FBI. “The minimum fine is $50,000 per incident,” she said. (The U.S. Department of Justice has challenged the law’s constitutionality.) Others were upset about allowing tax credits for K-12 private school tuition, and Rep. Sharp predicted more bills about school choice and open enrollment would surface in next year’s session.
“Even with good intentions, I think this could have some blowback,” he said. “It could hurt public school districts.”
Rep. Lewis described SB 51, which limits COVID liability, as horrible because it offers blanket protection for places like poorly run nursing homes. She also called the defeat of Medicaid expansion infuriating, noting, “We have money in the bank. There’s no reason not to do it.” (Furthermore, the Legislature failed to approve needed funding for the existing Medicaid program, which has resulted in a special session–see page 2.)
Legislators talked about the quandary of supporting good amendments tacked onto problematic bills. Rep. Brown said he voted against the bill restricting police chokeholds because it also changes the KC police residency requirement. “If we allow police to move out of Kansas City, what about the other city employees?” he asked.
According to Rep. Manlove, a total of only 48 bills out of thousands were passed by both the House and Senate. “This is actually good news, since a lot were horrendous and mean-spirited,” she said. Rep. Turnbaugh echoed that observation. “People are doing things just because they can. It has been more than a little frustrating.”
In the next session Washington hopes to achieve more common sense gun laws, and Brown wants to help domestic abuse victims. He also pointed out that new rules on gambling still need to be addressed. Sharp intends to reintroduce Blair’s Law to make celebratory and indiscriminate gunfire in cities a felony, and Manlove announced “We have not forgotten about property taxes for disabled vets and seniors. It’s still on the table, and we’re trying to find the best solution.”
Small victories also were mentioned, and several legislators commended the passage of a law that authorizes license plates honoring the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. “I’ve never had a special license plate before, but I will get one,” said Washington.