The Missouri Department of Labor this month announced a waiver process for those Missourians who received federal unemployment assistance and were then told they had not been eligible for it. Over the past few days it sent notices to Missourians who may be eligible for such a waiver.
House lawmakers in both parties pushed to have the state refuse to seek repayment of federal unemployment benefits. Many had heard from constituents that the Department was demanding back money Missourians received while struggling in the midst of the COVID crisis, and typically months after it was already spent.
HB 1083 passed out of the House 157-3 in early March but did not reach the Governor’s desk.
Lawmakers heard that some Missourians were being told the pay back in excess of $10,000 in federal and state unemployment overpayments. The Department’s action would relieve the federal overpayment liability, which makes up the vast majority of that.
After roughly a decade of legislative consideration, the Missouri legislature has voted to create a statewide prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP).
The program would consolidate information on the prescription of controlled substances so that pharmacists and physicians can identify those who might be dealing with addiction. The House approved the bill, Senate Bill 63, 91-64, sending it to Governor Mike Parson (R). Parson has signaled support for a PDMP.
If SB 63 becomes law it would make Missouri the last state in the nation to enact a statewide PDMP. More than 80-percent of the state is covered by a PDMP that began in St. Louis County a number of years ago. This would replace that plan and have different requirements for the sharing of data.
PDMPs are intended to identify and flag the practice of “doctor shopping,” when individuals go to multiple doctors and multiple pharmacists seeking to accumulate a large supply of a drug in order to abuse or sell it. Supporters say the program will save lives and help get those with addictions into treatment.
Opponents say PDMPs will create a database of Missourians’ private medical information which the government shouldn’t have. Lake St. Louis representative Justin Hill, a former undercover drug enforcement officer, said PDMPs haven’t worked in other states and the one based in St. Louis County isn’t working.
The bill passed the House with mostly Democratic support, with around 30 Republicans voting in favor. Representative Tracy McCreery (D-St. Louis) has been in favor of a PDMP throughout her 8-year legislative career.
She credited Senator Holly Rehder (R-Sikeston), who has sponsored and pushed for passage of a program through most of her 8 years in the House, and was the sponsor of SB 63.
The legislature has proposed several measures meant to give more Missouri children a chance to get out of the foster care system and into permanent homes, and to help foster and adoptive parents afford the costs of caring for and adopting children.
HB 430 would expand current tax credits for the adoption of Missouri children with disabilities to be available in any adoption, while giving priority to instances involving Missouri children with disabilities. Kelly said of a program capped at $6-million a year, less than $30,000 was claimed last year.
She said by allowing a broader offering of this credit, more Missouri children will have the opportunities for permanent families.
HB 429 authorizes an income tax deduction for expenses related to providing care as a foster parent.
It also creates a “Birth Match” program. It would require the state Children’s Division and the State Registrar’s Office to compare birth reports with information on parents who have been convicted of certain crimes. When parents have history of the specified crimes, Division personnel will make contact with the family to see if any action is appropriate.
This could include seeing whether any crimes are being committed, but Kelly said in a broader sense it is about seeing whether the family is in need of any of the types of assistance the state could facilitate.
HB 429 also increases the age threshold for abandoned infants and children from one year or under to under three years old. It sets a time frame of six months before a petition of termination of parental rights is considered in cases of neglect by a parent.
Kelly said by restructuring this and other parts of law, impediments to giving a child a permanent home are removed.
Kelly credits House Speaker Rob Vescovo (R-Arnold) with making the legislation a priority, which pushed these bills to be the first non-budget measures sent to the governor this year. She said not only did he make these issues priorities, he bravely, publicly shared his own personal story of having been in Missouri’s foster care system as further evidence of the need for reform.
Under the bill a judge considering whether an order should last for a lifetime would consider the evidence of the case; the history of abuse, stalking, and threatening; an abuser’s criminal record; previous orders of protection; and whether the respondent has violated probation or parole, or previous orders of protection.
Lane said the women who bravely came to testify on his bill shared stories of horrific abuse that had continued for years.
The bill would also allow courts to include pets in dealing with domestic abuse. This would include awarding possession of a pet and considering abuse or threatened abuse of a pet in making decisions in the case. Legislators said often abusers threaten or harm a pet in an effort to control or terrorize a victim.
The House voted 151-2 to send that legislation to the Senate.
The Missouri House has again voted to renounce the 1852 decision by the Missouri Supreme Court that denied Scott and his family their freedom.
Scott had argued that he, his wife, and his two children were free because they had lived in the state of Illinois, where slavery was not legal. The Missouri Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s ruling and said they were still slaves. The case preceded another suit in which the U.S. Supreme Court also found against Scott and his family.
Lee’s Summit representative Keri Ingle (D), who filed an identical bill, said Missouri is one of the only states that doesn’t oversee religious-based youth homes. Because of that, bad actors have been coming here and then seeking out children with behavioral issues, mental issues, or whose needs weren’t being met.
The Missouri House has voted to tell schools in the state to enact guidelines on when students may be secluded or restrained, and to require that when it happens, the student’s parents or guardians must be notified. The bipartisan effort began when practices that one lawmaker called “archaic” came to light.
The chamber approved 149-1House Bill 387 filed by Representative Dottie Bailey (R-Eureka). It would require schools to have policies in place for when a student can be placed in seclusion or restrained, and that those things only happen when there is imminent danger of harm to the student’s self or others.
In addition to the notification requirement the bill also includes protections for those who report violations of that policy.
Representative Ian Mackey (D-St. Louis) brought the issue to the legislature after seeing reporting on the practices in some schools. He and Bailey worked to bring the legislation forward. He said most schools in Missouri haven’t been doing anything wrong and won’t have to change any practices because of this bill.
Similar legislation passed out of the House last year and was approved by a Senate committee before COVID interrupted the normal business of the 2020 session.
Bailey said it was important to add to this year’s bill the protection for those who bring to light misuses of restraints and seclusion. She said teachers who brought evidence of violations to a House committee last year faced retaliation.
The Missouri House has passed a plan to make the Capitol safer for those who work and visit it.
One provision of House Bill 784 would allow the Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro Tem to appoint marshals in their respective chambers. These marshals would have at least five years of experience in law enforcement, be licensed as a peace officer, and have to have continued training as required by the Missouri Peace Officer Standards and Training commission.
Bill sponsor Lane Roberts (R-Joplin), a former Joplin Police chief and former director of the Department of Public Safety, said the agencies responsible for Capitol security are “fragmented” and the legislature needs a security force that falls under its control.
Another provision would move control of the Capitol Police out of the Department of Public Safety and to a new Capitol Police Board. Representative Ron Hicks (R-St. Charles) has been working on this plan for several years. He shares Roberts’ concern that the public officials who work in the Capitol have no say in its security.
The new Capitol Police Board would be made up of members appointed by the House Speaker, the Senate President, the Governor, the Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, and the chair of the State Capitol Commission.
The Missouri House has voted to waive the biggest portion of unemployment overpayments that some 46,000 Missourians were being told to repay. House members also heard that Governor Mike Parson (R) now supports the effort, and his Department of Labor will “pause” efforts to collect the federal portion of those overpayments while the legislation is moving.
Legislators learned that many of the Missourians who applied for and received unemployment assistance last year were then told that the state erred in finding them eligible. They were told they had to pay back the money, often months after it had already been spent on necessities. Some Missourians owed more than $20,000.
The bill that was passed on Thursday would waive the federal portion of those repayments, which amounts to roughly three quarters or more of what most owed. The legislation was the product of a broad, bipartisan effort.
Republic representative Jered Taylor (R) chaired the committee that held hearings with the Department of Labor about this issue. He said waiving this portion is the right thing to do for Missourians who were and are struggling, and were encouraged to apply by the state and federal governments.
Democrats supported the bill, though some say Missouri should also waive repayment of state unemployment overpayments. Republicans say to do that would jeopardize the integrity of the state’s unemployment trust, and lead to higher payments for the small businesses that pay into it – business which are also struggling due to the COVID crisis.
He and other Democrats say the state could use CARES Act money to waive the state’s share of these overpayments and keep small businesses from being impacted. Shell Knob Republican Scott Cupps said he’d be good with that.
The House rejected an emergency clause – language that would make the bill effective immediately upon being signed by the governor. Instead it would take effect August 28. Eggleston said this was part of an effort that’s developed in the last few days to ensure the governor’s support. He said the Department wants time for training and the creation of paperwork that would go into issuing up to 46,000 waivers.