House bill would keep high schoolers’ personal finance curriculum up to date

      Missouri high school students’ education in personal finance would be regularly updated, to keep up with changes in the world of finance, under a bill being considered in the state House.

Representative Michael O’Donnell (at podium) (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) already requires that high schools teach personal finance.  House Bill 809 would ensure that this continues by putting it in state statute.  It would also add the stipulation that a work group review the mandated curriculum every seven years to make sure it’s keeping with the times.

      The bill is sponsored by Representative Michael O’Donnell (R-St. Louis), who among other things is a fixed income securities trader for an investment firm. 

He said the working group proposed in HB 809 would include people with backgrounds in both education and finance.  They would work, “to make sure that we’re building a curriculum that’s age appropriate – the course would be for [high school-aged students] – and then make sure that we’re covering the important topics in the industry that folks are going to need to know once they’re out in the real world.”

      “We might bring in a banker and say, ‘We’re really seeing a problem in this area,’ or one of the folks on the other side of the aisle brought up giving educational training on student loans.   Most folks come out of high school not realizing really what that student loan model looks like, and in a lot of cases it’s not necessarily good,” said O’Donnell. 

      He said a lot of aspects of personal finance aren’t intuitive, and Missouri needs to make sure students understand what they’ll be getting into.

      “Understanding how to balance your checkbook, understanding how to take out a loan … we look at a mortgage as a nice, sound investment; a nice, stable investment, but most folks don’t realize that when they take out a 30-year mortgage they’re probably paying for that house two and three times in the end.”

      O’Donnell said updating the curriculum periodically is an obvious necessity, as changes in financial industries are coming faster and faster.

      “It’s important that we talk about the things that are current and that are important, and particularly, [that] may cause problems for folks.”

      “So much of banking … ten years ago the number of folks that did the bulk of their banking online was pretty small and I would say probably the majority of folks are now doing 90-plus percent of their banking online,” said O’Donnell.  “The other thing that we probably wouldn’t have talked about ten years ago is floating rate mortgages.  Interest rates have been so low for so long that we’ve been talking about fixed rate mortgages for a long time.  Now we’re in this higher interest rate environment where folks should know that to get that lower interest rate on that adjustable mortgage, it means something and that there are some pitfalls.”

      The legislation would require a half-credit, equal to one semester, of education on this subject matter.  O’Donnell discussed with legislators on the House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education whether that would be enough.

      “A year is probably too long because then you start getting way too technical and way too complicated for folks, especially at that high school level, but giving them enough exposure to the material in that one semester will get them started on the right foot,” said O’Donnell.

      The committee did discuss incorporating some of this education at a less-complicated level into an earlier grade level, such as eighth grade. 

      The bill’s supporters include the Missouri Bankers Association and the Missouri Credit Union Association.   No one testified in opposition to it.

      HB 809 cleared that committee on a 12-0 vote and awaits action by a second committee.  O’Donnell said the language of this bill will likely be incorporated into at least two other pieces of legislation.

PHOTO GALLERY: House fresh off renovation for ’23 session

      When the Missouri House convened in January for this, the 102nd General Assembly, it did so in a freshly renovated House Chamber featuring new voting and message boards; refinished woodwork; updated wiring; and most importantly, badly needed new carpeting.

      You can see photos from before, after, and throughout that project in the gallery below (and linked here), and scroll down to read more about it.

2022 Chamber carpet replacement and renovations

      The work done during the summer and fall of 2022 was overseen by the Chief Clerk and Administrator of the House, Dana Rademan Miller.  Among other things, Miller has a deep appreciation for the history and cultural significance of the Capitol, and she brought that to this project. 

House Chief Clerk Dana Rademan Miller explains the design that was selected for new carpeting in the House Chamber. (Photo: Mike Lear, Missouri House Communications)

      “This Capitol is an art gallery … we have the beautiful quality works of art throughout the building … it is unlike any other state capitol that I’ve been in, in my time, anyway.  It’s the quality of the art that surrounds us.”

      She tells us that when the Capitol was being built more than 100 years ago the carpeting in the House was originally wool.  It has been replaced several times since then, the last time having been in 2008. 

In what was intended to be a cost saving decision the carpet installed at that time was synthetic.  Instead of saving money, this proved to be a costly choice that hampered business in the Chamber because the synthetic carpet built up static electricity more quickly than had the wool.

“Pretty quickly after we had that installed we were noticing that members were, as they were populating the chamber and walking about, they were building up a static charge and then they were shocking each other, but they were also shocking their voting boxes when they would go to vote,” Miller explained.  “A member would go to vote and they would shock their box, which then would create a chain reaction and it would shut their box down and … it would shut all of the voting stations behind it all the way to the back of the room.”

This problem developed at the beginning of a session, and obviously the voting system was of primary importance, so staff at the time had to quickly come up with a short-term fix.

“Our operations department had to fill tank sprayers with Downy and go through the aisles and spray the old carpeting with Downy to eliminate or reduce the static electricity.”

The wiring in the chamber was replaced that next summer to alleviate the static issues.  Now the Chamber is back to having wool carpeting not just for the sake of historical significance and functionality, but also because wool holds up better than did the synthetic. 

A lot of thought was put into the visual design elements of this new carpeting by Miller and others with a mind for history.  It leans heavily on symbology already found elsewhere in the Chamber. 

This image illustrates how features already in the House’s artwork (left) were recreated in the new carpet pattern (right). Here, the egg and dart border around a hawthorn blossom as seen in the ceiling of the House is recreated in the new carpet. (Photos: Tim Bommel and Mike Lear, Missouri House Communications)

“Specifically, we incorporated in the egg and dart, which symbolizes life and death; the oak leaf which symbolizes longevity, strength, endurance, and justice; the laurel, which symbolizes victory or honor and peace; the hawthorn blossom symbolizes purity; and then the dogwood is rebirth and hope and resilience.”

Miller said when these symbols were built into the Chamber they were meant to represent qualities that, it was hoped, would be found in the representatives in the House as well as in all people.

In these images can been seen the laurel pattern found on the ceiling (upper right and bottom images) that is recreated in the new carpet in the side galleries of the House Chamber. (Photos: Tim Bommel and Mike Lear, House Communications)

Among other work done during this time, professional woodworkers refinished the fine features of the dais and rostrum.  When carpet was removed from the stairs leading up either side of the dais, a fine cork floor – chosen for that structure in part to control sound – was uncovered, and it was able to be saved. 

      The members’ desks from the House floor were sent to a St. Louis company to be refinished for the first time in about 35 years, and before-and-after photos show that now they look virtually new.  Most of these desks are original to the building, their number having increased as the size of the House has increased since 1917. 

The removal of the carpeting and those desks also presented an opportunity to update the wiring beneath the Chamber floor.  This work will better serve the modern laptops and new voting boards.  It also added a system that will help the hearing impaired.

“We were able to install a loop system in the Chamber for those who need assistance with hearing.  They can tap in via Bluetooth to the loop system now and it will help them clarify and be able to hear the debate better,” said Miller.

The replacement of the voting boards had been a priority for Miller for years.  The old ones dated back to 1997 and were still running on a program that relied on Windows ’97. 

      Finally, the sound desk – which had not been original to a Chamber that originally had no sound system – was updated to a smaller, more efficient design.

      For Miller, as someone who admittedly loves the Capitol and its history, it has felt good to get to leave her stamp on the Chamber by having a project like this take place during her time as Clerk.

      “Our goal was to get the room ready for the next 30 years of use … I feel a sense of accomplishment because the desks are again beautiful and they are uniquely designed.  They were designed for that room, for those members.  We now have a floor covering that I feel reflects the quality of that room in general.  When you walk in we get so many complements about how majestic and beautiful and how fresh everything looks and that’s a very satisfying feeling,” said Miller. 

      She says there is still work to be done in the Chamber, including some plaster detailing and decorative paintings that need to be touched up.  She said there has been money set aside by the General Assembly for restoration of the Capitol as a whole, but the legislature will have to give more attention to that issue.

      “We need the full commitment from the General Assembly … we’ll see how that turns out,” said Miller.  “[The Capitol is] 100 years old and it has issues, as any historic home would have.   You have to do the maintenance and the upkeep and you have to do the remediation at times when you have environmental factors that have taken a toll, and we have all of that.”

      “We would need to make sure that we have the leaks and the plumbing and all of those things that are going on behind the walls repaired before we want to tackle some of those pieces of that puzzle that we need to do, but it’s all part of the bigger master plan.  We get the go-ahead to move forward with that, then I think you’d see some of these bigger items addressed.”

Missourians suffering from WWII-era radioactive contamination ask House panel for help

      A House committee has heard from dozens of Missourians that it could help secure relief for families that have suffered for decades due to radioactive contamination throughout the St. Louis region.

Representatives Tricia Byrnes (at podium) and Richard West (behind her) are joined by dozens of St. Louis region residents ahead of a committee hearing about their resolutions dealing with radioactive contamination left in that region by work related to the Manhattan Project. (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Nuclear weapons development and testing there in the 1940s and ‘50s contributed to the U.S. having the atomic bombs used in World War II.  That work, also known as “The Manhattan Project,” also eventually led to the dumping of nuclear waste near Lambert airport which contaminated soil, Coldwater Creek, and the Creek’s floodplain. 

Residents who live or have lived, or whose families have lived, in the affected region, testified for more than four hours Tuesday night about House Concurrent Resolutions 21 and 22, which would trigger an investigation by state agencies into whether those residents could be eligible for federal relief funds in programs that already exist to compensate those harmed by nuclear testing.

      The Committee on General Laws heard story after story of cancer clusters; high concentrations of extremely rare diagnoses; and of mental, physical, and financial suffering that has impacted multiple generations. 

      The sponsor of HCR 21 is Tricia Byrnes (R-Wentzville), whose son was diagnosed at age 15 with thymoma, a form of cancer typically caused by the use of radiation or chemotherapy to treat a different cancer.  Some experts have told her that his may be the only case in history of thymoma being a patient’s primary diagnosis. 

      It was his diagnosis that led to her investigating the issue of contamination in the St. Louis region, and eventually to filing HCR 21.

      “St. Louis people are [here tonight] because they still are going disregarded, disrespected, and absolutely gaslighted.  I’m getting people who are texting me now going, ‘I have two forms of breast cancer that are not the same cancer and they’re not genetically related,’ and what they’re asking me that’s the most troubling is, ‘I don’t know what I did.  Do you think it’s related?’  That’s not a question for me.  That’s a question for our federal government,” said Byrnes.

      Representative Richard West (R-Wentzville), who sponsors HCR 22, said he began learning about the situation after his mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.  He learned that one cause of that form of cancer is contaminated water, and he knew that among the sites tested for radioactive contamination were wells like those on his parents’ property.  

      “A year later I am knee-deep in one of the largest atrocities laid on the American people by their government.  The issue spreads from the Mallinckrodt sites in St. Louis City out to Latty Avenue, the Berkeley, Bridgeton, and Hazelwood areas, Coldwater Creek through Bridgeton and the legacy landfills, and finally out into St. Charles County’s Weldon Springs site, owned by the Department of Energy,” said West.  “While most of these sites are proclaimed as ‘cleaned up,’ we are constantly finding hot spots and families impacted by these areas and the dangers they hold.”

      One of those who testified Tuesday was Christen Commuso, the Community Outreach Specialist with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.  Commuso also lived in St. Ann until the age of 7, and often played in Coldwater Creek.  She is among those diagnosed with cancer at an early age, as well as other diagnoses.  Among other procedures she has undergone, she has had her gallbladder and left adrenal gland removed, and had to have a total hysterectomy. 

      She told lawmakers that the emotional and physical tolls on her and her family have been massive, and the cost at times is so great that she is forced to skip appointments or tests. 

Representatives Richard West and Tricia Byrnes (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“For each one of us here today there are probably 20 back home facing the same challenges or worse.  That’s why I’m asking you to stand with us.  Help ease some of the burden and fight for the medical monitoring and compensation this region deserves,” said Commuso.  “Now is the time for the people and the state to work together.  St. Louis stepped up to save the nation.  Now it’s time the nation stepped up to save St. Louis.”

      Karen Nickel grew up in Hazelwood and played in a park on the bank of Coldwater Creek, and the Creek flooded other local playgrounds and backed into her parents’ basement. 

      “We played in that park.  We ate snow during snowball fights.  We took the honeysuckle off the banks of the Creek and sucked the stuff out of them.  We spent a lot of time there,” said Nickel.  “I am sick.  I have three autoimmune diseases.  I have lupus, psoriatic arthritis, I have Sjogren’s disease,” said Nickel. 

      She and other residents explained that the impacts of this contamination go beyond any one individual.  Some families spend decades trying to keep more than one of their members alive.  The radiation can also cause mutations that put future generations at risk, even when there had been no history of such diseases in those families prior to the contamination. 

      “It’s very fearful for us moms that have grown up in that area when your children are pregnant and about to deliver a child.  I can’t even explain to you the fear that you have when your kids are sick with a simple headache or a stomach ache,” said Nickel.

      Thomas Whelan taught for 30 years at Francis Howell High School, a school that was within walking distance of a uranium processing facility.  He and several others said that as that site was cleaned up students were exposed to particulate matter and other contaminants. 

      “When that plant was imploded … I was there.  We were watching the whole thing go down.  It was like an implosion, and that dust, guess where it went?  A thousand feet away into the playing fields of Francis Howell, into the duct work of Francis Howell, into the air system of Francis Howell,” said Whelan.  “There’s kids still at that school right now and many of those kids are second and third generation Francis Howell students who might, and may not know this, have the altered DNA that they’re going to continue to pass on.”

      “You’re taking the first step,” Whelan told legislators.  “This is going to be one of the biggest environmental cover-ups in U.S. history and we are starting, right now, today, asking you to start that process.” 

      The committee has not voted on those resolutions.

‘The Art of Being Me’ tackles mental health stigmas in the Missouri Capitol

      Those visiting the Capitol this week will see photos and stories from nearly 30 people living with mental health conditions.  Participants in The Art of Being Me hope to inspire others to share their stories, to seek help, and to reduce stigmas surrounding mental health issues.

The Art of Being Me on display in the Missouri Capitol (Photo: Mike Lear, Missouri House Communications)

      The exhibit, mostly found in the Capitol’s third floor Rotunda, features large portraits of each participant next to the text of a portion of their experience.  There is also a video that features 3-5 minutes of each participant. 

The project is a collaboration between the Burrell Foundation and artist Randy Bacon.  Burrell Foundation Executive Director Gabrielle Martin said it began with 22 volunteers and is now up to 27, talking about, “their very raw, very real experiences with mental health, substance use, sometimes suicide; it kind of runs the gamut.” 

“I think our youngest is 9 years old and it goes all the way up to a gentleman named Joe who’s in his mid-70s.  Every mental health diagnosis, every ethnicity; we wanted it so that anyone who comes in to experience the exhibit will be able to identify with someone or an experience with someone.  Maybe it’s not their own mental health journey but someone that they’re supporting or someone that they know.”

      The exhibit includes stories like those of Alia, a friend of Martin.  She shares not only her own story which began in her youth, but that of supporting her college-age son.

The Art of Being Me on display in the Missouri Capitol (Photo: Mike Lear, Missouri House Communications)

      “Her video is really powerful because she actually brought her son with her to it and so you see her sharing all of this really difficult content, and her struggles, and her coping mechanisms through it, with him, and he’s right there with her,” said Martin.  “We have some very great youths in there as well.  Lincoln and Eli, two boys that share their experience with anxiety, and I believe that one of them does have autism, and we have a young lady, Kate, who shares about her struggle with eating disorders and she is on the recovery side of that … and her video is so powerful.”

Eli, one of the subjects of The Art of Being Me, on display now in the Missouri Capitol (Photo: Mike Lear, Missouri House Communications)

      The Art of Being Me came to the Capitol after several legislators and other elected officials saw it last year at Bacon’s studio in Springfield.  After seeing it, some of them requested that it come to the Capitol.  

That included Representative John Black (R-Marshfield), who chairs the House’s budget subcommittee on Health, Mental Health, and Social Services.  He called the exhibit, “powerful.”

      “It’s encouraging, too.  Inspirational, actually.   A lot of those people have powerful testimonies, how they’ve overcome mental illness to lead productive lives.  The fact is, and it’s becoming more and more apparent to everyone, that mental illness is a root cause of many of our societal problems, specifically drug abuse and homelessness.  If we can address the mental illness issues then we have a lot better chance of helping people return to [being] productive and happy.”

      Another of those legislators is Representative Betsy Fogle (D-Springfield), who said a large part of addressing mental health issues in state policy is removing stigmas surrounding them, and she hopes having that display in the Capitol will help do just that.

The Art of Being Me on display in the Missouri Capitol (Photo: Mike Lear, Missouri House Communications)

      “It was beautiful.  You had children up to people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s that shared their struggle,” Fogle said of the exhibit.  I don’t know a single family in the world that hasn’t been impacted by mental health or substance abuse disorder and it’s about time we start talking about it and doing something in this building to make sure that future families don’t have the same struggles.”

      Those featured in The Art of Being Me are at varying points in their own mental health journeys, but Martin said the fact that they were willing to share their own stories is empowering for them as well.

      “These individuals were brave and vulnerable enough to share and to talk about their struggles and maybe it is a triumph, maybe it is a continued struggle, maybe it’s talking about their experience with finding therapy and finding ways to cope with maybe a situation that they will live with forever.”

The Art of Being Me on display in the Missouri Capitol (Photo: Mike Lear, Missouri House Communications)

      “These photos are not touched up.  You can see every pore, every hair, every tear, and we did that intentionally, and the size is intentional, so that when you’re there you’re truly feeling like you are looking through the eyes of these individuals and feeling what they’re feeling.”

      Martin adds, “We’re so excited that it’s going to be [in the Capitol] through the 10th, and we hope that it inspires others and we hope that people want to come forward and share their stories and continue the conversations that we so desperately need to continue sharing and seeking help for.”

House bills would help Missourians with vehicle taxation, stem temp tag ‘abuse’

      The House passed two bills this week that will help Missourians regarding the taxes they pay on vehicles.  One would address a years-old issue regarding temporary license tags.  The other would stem the hiking of property taxes on vehicles that are getting older with increasing mileage. 

Representative Michael O’Donnell (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      House Bill 415 could at last cut off the displaying by drivers of expired temporary tags – something that has been an issue in Missouri for years.   It would require dealerships to collect sales tax at the time of a vehicle purchase, either as a lump sum or by rolling the tax into the financed amount.  House Bill 713 would lay out how vehicles’ assessed valuations would be determined, replacing a system that has allowed property tax increases in the last two years. 

      St. Louis Republican Michael O’Donnell carries HB 415, which he says is the latest step in addressing the temporary tag issue.  Under previous action by the General Assembly a new computer system is coming to the Department of Revenue that will allow the collection of sales tax by dealers.  This bill would allow for its use beginning in January.

      “There is no other thing that you purchase where you have to go someplace else to pay the sales tax.  You buy a pen, you pay the sales tax at that point.  [If this bill becomes law] you’re going to buy your car and you’re going to pay the sales tax when you buy it,” said O’Donnell. 

He said the bill could also make car and truck purchases easier for Missourians by addressing what can now be a significant up-front cost. 

      “[It would] allow for the sales tax, if you’re interested, if you’re financing, to roll the sales tax into the financing if you would like that.  For a lot of folks that becomes a more reasonable proposition because writing a check for $2,000 to pay the sales tax is a lot more difficult than adding $30 to your payments every month.”

      Bipartisan backing gave the bill a 155-1 vote on its way to the Senate.  Democrats including Peter Merideth (St. Louis) said it would be a fix that is “important,” and “overdue.”

      “I actually hear more from constituents about this than many other things, strangely – about the expired tags, and frequently have to have the conversation with them that the main problem in Missouri is that we aren’t requiring dealers to collect the sales tax at the time of sale,” said Merideth.  “So folks, either intentionally or not intentionally find themselves not getting their taxes paid and their licenses ready.”

      O’Donnell said the passage of this legislation could eliminate “90%” of “temp tag abuse” in Missouri, and noted that 47 other states already allow dealers to collect tax at the time of the sale.

Representative Roger Reedy (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      The sponsor of HB 713, Rodger Reedy (R-Windsor) explained that each year Missouri assessors use the October edition of the National Automobile Dealers’ Association (NADA) Used Car Guide to determine the values of the vehicles on which Missourians pay property taxes.  HB 713 would replace that with a system that begins with the original suggested retail price (MSRP) of each vehicle from when it was new, and apply a depreciation schedule for each year of its age up to 15 years.  After that its value would be assessed at one-tenth of one percent.

      Reedy said the old system’s flaws were made obvious in the wake of the COVID pandemic. 

“In 2021 and ’22, due to used care values going up, our constituents and citizens had higher tax assessments and therefore paid higher taxes,” said Reedy.  “When those values went up, there’s no provision for rollbacks on personal property, and when that happened our taxpayers just got a taxing increase and I’ve talked to several members [who have said] that that’s been a really big issue as they’ve talked to their constituents.”

He called the bill a, “taxpayer protection act.  If there’s nothing else we can do, we can protect our taxpayers from unjustly having to pay more taxes on a vehicle that’s a year older that has more mileage.  I just don’t think it’s right to do that to our taxpayers.”

      That measure advanced to the Senate on the strength of a 150-0 vote.

Bills would have MODOT, not families, cover cost for highway memorial signs

      The families of fallen veterans, police officers, and firefighters, and of those missing in action, would no longer have to foot the bill for highway or bridge memorial signs honoring those loved ones under a bill approved by a House committee.

Representative Tricia Byrnes (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Legislation sponsored by Representatives Tricia Byrnes (R-Wentzville) and Don Mayhew (R-Crocker) would require the Department of Transportation to cover those costs. 

“Keep in mind, folks, these are the folks who gave all to represent our country … if we’re going to have honorary signs, the very least that we can do is pay for it,” said Mayhew when presenting the legislation to the House Committee on Transportation Accountability, which he chairs. 

Byrnes joined Mayhew in proposing this change in response to the effort to honor Marine Lance Corporal Jared Schmitz, a Wentzville native, who was one of 13 U.S. military members who died in a 2021 bombing at an airport in Kabul, in Afghanistan.  She learned that when Corporal Schmitz’s family wanted to have a section of highway named for him they received an invoice from the Department of Transportation for more than $3,000.

“If we have people that are dying for our country and dying for our communities the least that we can do is not hand them an invoice, because in my opinion that’s just selling signs to people who sacrificed their life for us,” said Byrnes.

Corporal Schmitz’ father, Mark, told the committee, “Being a Gold Star father, everyone knows, you die twice.  The last thing I want is for my son to be forgotten.  To be on I-70, to be visible to so many people every day would be tremendous.  So, we went through the state … I think it was $3,200 to be exact … they sent us an invoice that once we raised this money they’ll go ahead and proceed with it.  You can imagine, after the sacrifice that he made, to then have to figure out how you’re going to pay for it.  I think it was ludicrous and shameful.”

Schmitz said he talked to the families of the other 12 personnel who died at the same time as his son.  None of them had to pay the cost of having a memorial sign placed in honor of their loved on, on a highway in their respective states.

“I don’t want to see any fallen [police officer’s, fireman’s, or other veteran’s] family have to go through that.  Luckily we have tremendous support from our community … we were able to raise the money in about 24-hours, thank God, but I don’t think people [should] have to go through that,” Schmitz told the Committee.

      The Department of Transportation did not oppose the legislation but offered information on how the system currently operates.  Chief Safety and Operations Manager Becky Allmeroth said the Department has to consider other signage. 

Representative Don Mayhew (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “This new signage would not aid drivers in navigating the highways.  Placing new signs necessary for safe travel would also become more difficult with fewer locations available.  This is especially true in our St. Louis and our Kansas City regions of the state right now.  It’s a very awkward situation when you’re designing a new interchange and you have to make decisions on those signs that actually guide motorists up through an exit versus a memorial signs that’s already in place and where we can fit all those signs to make sure that we’re keeping our motorists safe.”

      Allmeroth told legislators, “We have 830 memorial designations across the state highway system.  The number is expected, with this bill, to increase exponentially if the current participation fee is removed.”

      Most committee members voiced support for making the change in policy. 

      “Personally I don’t care about the costs.  I just think we need to do this.  I don’t think the family should pay,” said Republican Bob Bromley (Carl Junction)“If we’re making the Slim Pickens Highway or Mark Twain Highway at Hannibal I understand having a fee.  If we’re doing it for fallen soldiers I think [having a fee is] ridiculous.”

      The committee voted unanimously in favor of the bills, House Bill 882 (Byrnes) and 518 (Mayhew), advancing them to another committee for consideration.

House members push for lesser tax on feminine hygiene products, diapers

      Nine bills filed in the Missouri House would reduce or eliminate the taxes paid on diapers, and most of those would also apply to feminine hygiene products.  The bipartisan group of legislators backing them say such a change would help some among the Missourians who most need relief, especially during this period of increased inflation. 

Representative Maggie Nurrenbern (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      The rate at which these products are taxed is sometimes referred to as a “luxury tax.”  That is the rate at which most products in Missouri are taxed.  Food is taxed at a decreased rate, and some of the proposals would set the levy on those products to that rate.  Others would make them exempt from the sales tax altogether.

      Several of the bills’ sponsors said there is no reason to keep taxing these things at the greater rate.

      “It’s ludicrous … these are not luxury items.  These are items that you need to exist and function in society, period,” said Kansas City Democrat Maggie Nurrenbern

      Similar bills have been offered for several years but have fallen short of becoming law.  Among their most fervent and consistent backers have been diaper banks.  Data released last year by the National Diaper Bank Network placed the annual cost of diapers at nearly $1,000 per infant.

“Over time for the average family, the average parent that’s buying diapers for their child over the course of the first three or four years that will add up,” said Representative Mark Sharp (D-Kansas City) of the tax on those diaper purchases.  “The least we can do at the state level is make sure that we’re taking care of the average person, the everyday person who’s just trying to make it and make sure that their child has adequate diapers [and we should] make sure that our older folks have the stuff they need as well.”

Representative Phil Christofanelli (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Republican Phil Christofanelli (R-St. Peters), sponsoring the proposal for the second straight year, said he thinks part of what has held it up in the past has been that it would significantly reduce revenue, particularly for local governments, “But I think this one’s important, particularly in our time of inflation, where the basic necessities for so many working families are incredibly high and we want to be a culture that encourages stable families and child rearing and a vibrant family culture and this is part of that, make sure that families can afford the necessities of raising kids.”

      Representative Peter Merideth (D-St. Louis) has for years sat on the House Budget Committee.  He said the state could afford this change.

“I do think that we can make it work with lowering the food tax and that the impact it will have on people is worth it, regardless.  If it means we have to adjust revenue elsewhere to make up for it I would support that too.”

      Merideth’s version of the bill would extend such changes to other necessities, such as, “Toothpaste, deodorant, soap, shampoo, but I do exempt sort of luxury cosmetic-type products.  So I think, again, the basic necessities, people just shouldn’t be paying taxes on them.”

Representative Peter Merideth (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      In addition to this issue, St. Louis Representative Jo Doll (D) also proposes in House Bill 408 that public charter, middle- and high schools provide feminine hygiene products free to students.  She said that wouldn’t just be for students who can’t afford them, it’s about the mental health of young girls dealing with what might still be a new experience.

      “You might have them in your bathroom at home and all of a sudden you’re at school and you need one and you don’t want to have to go ask your math teacher, or the nurse, even, for a tampon.  There’s a huge mental health factor in just security that you always have those products available.”

      Regarding those who struggle to afford those products, Doll said, “We know that girls who can’t afford feminine hygiene products don’t go to school during that time and so this would just give them access to products that they may not be able to afford.”

Representative Jo Doll (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      She adds, “They’re not optional and the lack of being able to afford them causes all kinds of issues for, whether it’s working mothers or school age girls.”

      The House sponsors and co-sponsors of those bills include a bipartisan group of 12 Democrats and four Republicans.  None of those bills have been referred to a committee.

      In the Senate three such measures have been filed.  Two of those, filed by Republicans, have been approved by a committee in that chamber.

The bills that have been filed are:

HB 114 (Sharp), HB 126 (Nurrenburn), HB 145 (Doll), HB 290 (Patty Lewis), HB 351 (Christofanelli), HB 381 (Rasheen Aldridge, Jr.), HB 744 (Stephanie Hein), HB 1053 (Barbara Phifer), and HB 1136 (Merideth)

Rep. Doll’s legislation to require schools to provide feminine hygiene products to students at no cost is HB 408.