Proposal would add 17 year-olds to legal definition of ‘missing child’

      The definition of a “missing child” in Missouri law would include 17 year-olds under a proposal heard by a House committee this week.

Representative Bishop Davidson (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Republic representative Bishop Davidson (R) said he heard from a constituent about a 17 year-old who ran away from home and police could not act to retrieve her.  He said her family felt she was in an unsafe and abusive situation, and noted that they still have responsibility for her care until she turns 18.

      “It’s really a question about at what point are you considered a child and at what point are you considered an adult.  I think if we want to allow for a 9 year-old or a 10 year-old or an 11 year-old, at some point in time that line has to be drawn.  In all of the law we draw that line at 18.  Here we draw it, curiously, at 17,” said Davidson.  “In terms of whether or not a child is considered a child or an adult, I think that there should be consistency across the law.”

      Davidson presented the proposal to the House Committee on Children and Families, the members of which raised some concerns. 

      “If you’re 17 and living in a bad environment at your home … if you leave this would actually give law enforcement people the authority to retrieve you and force you to go back home?” asked Republican Randy Pietzman (Troy)“I’m just thinking of scenarios growing up, people I know that have left home at 16.  They dropped out of school, they left home because it was a bad environment, and 90 percent of those people are pretty well off and doing very well, and I’m just thinking if they’d have been forced to stay there for another year they might not be doing as well as they are.”

      Davidson said it would, but noted there are other systems in place to help a young person in such a situation.

      “Now would I want an officer or someone close to the family, I mean if the child is running away at 17 could that be a pause for concern?  Could that stir up some questions that go, ‘Hey, did they run away for any particular reason that maybe we should look into?’  Sure, that’s a whole other conversation,” said Davidson, who added that he appreciated Pietzman’s reservation. 

      Several committee members thanked Davidson for opening the discussion.  Shrewsbury Democrat Sarah Unsicker recently read about a 17 year-old who was dropped from the foster care system but was not emancipated, so among other things she could not enter into a contract such as a lease to find housing.   

      “The report I got from the government says law enforcement refused to file a missing persons report or issue a pickup order due to the child’s age … so I think it’s really important that law enforcement know that they need to look for missing kids when they’re 17 years old,” said Unsicker. 

      Representative Marlene Terry (D-St. Louis) asked Davidson about expanding his bill to specify that law enforcement search for such individuals, and what must be done in that search.

Representative Marlene Terry asks Rep. Bishop Davidson about his bill, as Representatives Hannah Kelly (light blazer) and Mary Elizabeth Coleman, Chair of the House Committee on Children and Families, listen. (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “What I’m finding is that there are not procedures in place that make it manadatory to actually search for individuals that are missing.  A lot of times they’ll put up pictures and it’s a blank picture and not a photo.  All those things are important.  Even with the age, makes a difference, there’s other things that make a difference that might be helpful to make the search more valuable,” said Terry.

      “I come to this with a very open mind,” Davidson told Terry.  “This is not an issue that I have been most closely involved in and so I’m excited to see where the conversations go.”

      Mountain Grove Republican Hannah Kelly said in her experience, much frustration for caseworkers comes from directives being handed down without understanding of what would be necessary for them to be met. 

      “I would just ask to be able to have a continuing part in that conversation with you about what the ultimate structure looks like … what does it take to go do this,” said Kelly. 

      “I hope that this piece of legislation won’t leave this committee just in the form that it’s in now,” said Davidson.   

      His bill, House Bill 1559, is scheduled for a second hearing by the committee on Wednesday, and it could be voted on and/or amended at that time.

House member wants to favor family placements over foster care

      A House member wants the state to put more effort into finding family members with whom to place children who are taken into state custody, before placing them with strangers.

Representative Dave Griffith speaks with Alysa Jackson (left) and Sarah Bashore (right) with the Central Missouri Foster Care and Adoption Association (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Jefferson City representative Dave Griffith (R) thinks the state Children’s Division could do more to that end, and some agencies who support his bill agree with him.

      “We want to go 50 deep if we have to, to try to find somebody that is going to be a good match for that child, that is going to be able to provide that child with a safe and healthy place to live,” said Griffith.  “It really comes down to what is going to be best for the child or the children, and trying to keep children and families together rather than separating families.”

      Griffith said he has heard from a number of constituents who have their own, “stories and their own personal nightmares that they are dealing with when their children are taken from them and trying to get their children back and … having their children separated and not being able to go to relatives, or going to wrong relatives and it being injurious to their future, and many of them, to their health.

      “Trying to work inside the system and trying to find a way that we can do what’s best for the children of Missouri as a whole, that’s really the genesis behind bringing this bill forward.”

      Griffith’s House Bill 1563 would require the Division to make “diligent searches” for biological parents when a child enters state custody.  In the case of an emergency placement, the Division would search for grandparents.  If they can’t be found or aren’t fit, it would then look for other relatives for placement within 30 days. 

      Members of the House Committee on Emerging Issues asked Griffith whether his proposal would simply place burdens on overworked, underpaid, members of an understaffed agency.  Griffith agreed those are concerns for the Division, “but I think that there are resources that are available to [the Division] which are not being utilized to the fullest.  I think if we can utilize these agencies … those are a resource that they can use … and we already have them under contract.”

Sarah Bashore with the Central Missouri Foster Care and Adoption Association told the committee that her agency, serving 24 counties, helped find family members for 34 children in state care in the last two quarters of the last fiscal year.  She said it could help even more children, but the Children’s Division hasn’t being asking.

      “We don’t receive the referrals like we should, for being a contracted agency.  They’re paying for our service but they’re not always using it,” said Bashore. 

      She believes as employees with the Division leave and are replaced, those new hires simply don’t know that her agency and others like it are available, or how they can be used.

      She said similar agencies cover other parts of the state, “So we would just ask that we continue doing our work and, if at all possible, if they do some of the work as well then I think, combined, that we’ll see a lot less kids in stranger foster care.” 

      Bashore said her agency and others are simply more capable and have more resources than Children’s Division for doing the kinds of searches that Griffith’s bill would require, and with compelling results. 

      “The search engines that we have … it’s not as time consuming as one might think,” said Bashore.  “With our program that we run and are contracted with, it’s called 30 Days to Family, we’re able to find at least 80 relatives if not more.  Our average this last year has 115 relatives, and we do that within 30 days.”

      Bashore added, there could be an additional benefit to the state if more children were placed with family members rather than in foster care.

      “For a child to remain in foster care it’s more than $25,000 a year,” said Bashore.

      The committee has not voted on Griffith’s proposal.

House Budget Committee weighs proposed pay hike for state employees

      The Parson Administration has made its case to the House Budget Committee for a proposed 5.5-percent pay increase for state employees. 

Missouri Budget Director Dan Haug testifies before the House Budget Committee (Photo: Ben Peters, Missouri House Communications)

      The committee heard from the administration’s budget director, Dan Haug, who outlined the motivation for the plan that would cost about $72-million including $41-million in general revenue.  It would set state employee pay at a minimum of $15 an hour and kick in February 1, if it can get through the legislature by then.

      Haug said Missouri must do something to respond to recent and rapid changes in the labor market. 

      “We’re getting to the point where if we have more vacancies and more turnovers we’re not going to be able to operate our state facilities,” said Haug.  He said some facilities with minimum staffing requirements, such as prisons and mental health facilities, have resorted to forced overtime to fill shifts. 

      “That’s not the way we want to run the state,” said Haug. 

      Haug said one reason for proposing a February 1 start date is that a stipend being paid out of federal money to state employees in some institutions came to an end at the end of December.   

“We feel like if we wait until July 1, which is typically when we would do a pay increase, when the new fiscal year starts, then we’re just going to keep bleeding employees and we’re going to get to those critical numbers where we don’t have enough employees to safely operate our correctional institutions and our mental health institutions and provide the quality of services that the citizens of this state deserve,” Haug said. 

“We’re just responding to the wage market that is out there.  We are trying to figure out what a market wage is that’s going to let us be competitive.  We’re not trying to set the market.  Honestly we’re not even trying to get to the middle of the market.  We’re just trying to get somewhere where we can be competitive and get people in and keep our good people,” said Haug. 

Most lawmakers seemed to agree with the desire to increase state employee pay.

“Let’s face it:  we’re in competition with McDonald’s right now, so obviously something has to break there, without a doubt,” said Representative Don Mayhew (R-Crocker).   

      Excelsior Springs Republican Doug Richey agrees, but he has an issue with setting a new minimum baseline of $15 per hour for state employees’ pay.  He said given existing pay structures that could set the income of some new state hires too close to the level of pay of long-term employees.

      “Creating an arbitrary baseline prevents us from being able to be responsive to the market, as well as sends an unintended message that would be somewhat negative to those … who have been working for two decades,” said Richey.  “You can work for 20 years in your job, have tremendous institutional memory and ability, but you’re really no different than a part-time custodial worker at 17 years of age with no experience.”     

      “I wanna get away from the $15 an hour because to me that’s just a number.  That’s not what it’s going to take to get people in.  I’m an employer … in unskilled jobs and I can’t get people for $17 an hour, so that $15 an hour is just a number we’re throwing out there and I believe that is for political reasons,” said Representative Richard West (R-Wentzville)“Let’s do realistic and what’s it going to take to hire?  For one department it may require 15, for another department it may require 18, for another department it may require 22.”

The Missouri House Budget Committee takes testimony from Missouri Budget Director Dan Haug (Photo: Mike Lear, Missouri House Communications)

      Many legislative budget makers resist using federal funds to support ongoing expenses, like state employee pay.  They refer to it as, “one time money.”  Haug said this proposed pay hike relies only on state funds.

      “Missouri’s revenues are doing very well.  Right now the state’s economy is doing well.  We have more people coming back to work.  Our revenues are coming in very strongly.  They came in very strongly last fiscal year.  The consensus revenue estimate shows strong growth through fiscal year 23,” said Haug.  “Even at a very conservative growth rate of 1.5-percent growth in general revenue we can easily afford this ongoing pay increase.”

      Haug, who has worked with the state’s budget for more than 25 years, said, “I feel very confident that we can afford what we’re doing now and what we’re going to need to do in the future.”

      Other legislators asked whether studies should be done to make sure the state needs the employees it has, or that pay increases would be going to the employees who are most needed or deserving.  Haug said the state has reduced its workforce significantly in the past ten years, and said such an employee pay review could take months, and changes to the labor market necessitate a quick response.  He said state employee turnover in some positions and pay levels has been as high as 55-percent. 

      The committee has not voted on the bill which includes the proposed pay plan, House Bill 3014

House proposal aims to teach youth responsible social media use, evaluating constant flow of information

      A House member believes Missouri children should be taught in school how to deal with and scrutinize the constant stream of information with which they are faced every day.

Representative Jim Murphy (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      St. Louis Republican Jim Murphy believes all media has one thing in common:  that it was created by someone, and created for a reason.  He thinks children aren’t being equipped with how to figure out, in each case, what that reason is and how to deal with it.

      House Bill 1585 would create the “Show-Me Digital Health Act.”  It would have the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education create a curriculum on the “responsible use of social media,” but Murphy said his aim is to teach how to critically analyze information whether it comes through news, entertainment, advertising, or anything else.

“It’s about how you process the message.  We see things coming at children from so many different angles, and today they’re not being taught how to process that information, how to verify it, how to question why is it they’re receiving that message, what is it the person on the other end of that message is trying to make me do,” said Murphy.  “We’ve just gotta teach our kids to question, to verify, all of the different aspects of the information that’s being sent to them.”

Murphy’s bill would have DESE create a curriculum to cover things including the purpose and acceptable use of social media; identifying online misinformation; and applying protections for freedom of speech for online interactions in schools as provided by DESE. 

The bill also specifies that the bill should cover cyberbullying prevention and response.  Murphy said bullying goes beyond interactions between bullies and victims, but is fueled by what children see online.

“If they don’t fit into the mold of everything they see then they feel like they’re an outcast.  We don’t teach them that they’re not an outcast just because they’re seeing it out there.  It’s a very encompassing view, but if we’re not teaching our children to process all of the information as a whole, and questioning it as a whole, and understanding it as a whole, then they’re going to take some things personal and it can have catastrophic results,” said Murphy.   

“They have to understand that what they see and hear on the internet is meaningless in their lives, and we can teach that to them but we don’t.  We try to, instead, try to put a policy up that says you can’t put this information out there.  Well it’s out there anyway so we have to teach the people on the other side how to process it when it gets to them.”

      Murphy stresses he doesn’t believe this is a partisan issue.  He doesn’t want the curriculum to be tailored to favor information from any given sources, but to teach children to understand and dissect everything with which they are presented. 

      He said his legislation could be expanded to address teaching children how to be safe from online predators, scams, and other such threats. 

      HB 1585 would require Missouri schools to adopt such a curriculum for grades three to 12 by the 2024-25 school year and provide professional development to the teachers who would use the curriculum.   

      His bill has been prefiled to be considered in the session that begins Wednesday.

Sponsors of prison nurseries proposal point to successes in other states

      Women entering Missouri prisons could have a chance to bond with their infant children while incarcerated, under a proposal that House members will be asked to consider in the session starting in a few days, but that concept is not new.  Prison nursery programs have existed in other states for years, and in some cases for decades.

      Ellisville Republican Bruce DeGroot is sponsoring one of the bills that would create a prison nursery program in Missouri, House Bill 1897.  He said as a state representative he doesn’t always have the resources to provide extensive data that can help to make a case for one of his proposals, but with this bill there is ample data on what a difference it’s made in other states.

      “Everything I’ve heard about this bill has been extremely positive, as it turned out in other states.”

      DeGroot said while he remains passionate about tort reform, which he believes protects and supports employment opportunities, this is a bill that can have an immediate impact on individual Missourians.

      “There are some bills that are just so directly related to people and their situations in life and this is one of those.”

      Springfield Republican Curtis Trent will also propose prison nursery legislation.  He says as the opening of the new session draws near he’s excited about pursuing this legislation.

      “Of course the legislative process is there to vet these ideas and make sure there are no unintended consequences, but so far the response that I’ve gotten has been very positive, very encouraging, and the data that we have from other states and the input that we have from other people in this state so far has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Trent.

      Illinois began its Moms and Babies program in 2007 at its Decatur Correctional Center.  Non-violent offenders are allowed to keep their babies with them until the age of two.  The Illinois Department of Public Health provides health education classes as well as lactation support and guidance.  Up to eight mothers and babies are able to live in the facility in safety and with staff support and counseling, and prison staff are trained on the needs of pregnant women and mothers.  Other incarcerated mothers are also able to help care for the children in the nursery.

      As of 2017, more than 90 women had gone through the program.  Only two had returned to prison within three years of release and only two were discharged from the program.      

      Maggie Burke was the warden at Decatur and managed the state’s women’s facilities until 2017.  She said the program has been tremendous in her state and she thinks Missouri should absolutely begin its own.

      “It’s a program that works.  It’s a program that works for moms.  Moms don’t come back to prison.”

      “There is not a ton of research on prison nurseries, but what we do know is that it does reduce the recidivism for the women who go through the program.  They are more bonded with their child and have more of a reason to stay on track when they get out.”

      Debbie Denning, who was part of the exploratory team that created Illinois’ program and was Deputy Director for the department’s Women and Family Services Division, agrees with Burke.

      “I absolutely would recommend that [Missouri] allow this program to happen, and I think that any concerns that legislators have can be addressed and really can help form the program,” said Denning.  “It’s really important not only for the culture of the facility – it makes the administration happy, it makes the employees happy, but overall it’s the best thing for the baby and the mother, and the recidivism shows that. 

      Once the bond occurs the mother is much more motivated to be successful and the administration sees a shift in that facility, and facilities are extremely dark and hard to run and a lightness comes in that you just cannot believe.”

      Burke said the programs in Illinois also take into account the unique needs of incarcerated women, who often are dealing with and need to recover from trauma.

      “A lot of the women have experienced significant trauma throughout their lives which have led them down various paths of substance use, and so a lot of them have never been a parent without some sort of substance use … what we found was that women were able to raise a baby for the first time and bond with a child for the first time without that substance use,” said Burke.

      “Part of our programming is parenting classes on learning how to be a better parent, but also part of our programming was kind of day care classes so that they would learn how you would take care of a child in day care.  You would log when you changed a diaper, what kind of diaper it was that you changed, how much you fed them, how much they ate, what kind of food, what kind of drink, and how much naptime they took.  You become better in tune with your child so when they come home they are better prepared to have more children if they do, just to be a better parent, a more attentive parent.”

      Denning said in Illinois there were those who were skeptical about creating a nursery program, and she was proud to watch their attitudes change once it was in place.

      “I had one sergeant … who was just awful about, ‘Why would we bring babies in prison,’ and ‘These women don’t deserve their children,’ and I put him on the committee.  We had him, within six months on our committee, he was the first one that I had to say, ‘You can’t bring things in for the babies,’ because he was bringing in clothing and different things.  It was just a complete turnaround.” 

Denning continued, “I think that with anybody, when you see that nurturing environment and you see that these women bond with their children … when they started to begin to understand that our job wasn’t to punish, but really to rehabilitate and set this person up to be a parent, to feel that bond with their child, and then to go out and be able to be self-sufficient and not relying on the system.  Once we were able to connect those dots, they were all over being positive about the program.”

      Burke said the program benefits not only the women and children who participate, but the rest of the prison.

      “The culture of the facility kind of changes.  I don’t know if you’ve been into very many prisons but there’s just kind of a feeling when you go into the prison and most facilities don’t feel like a facility that has a bunch of babies in it.”

Among other states that have a prison nursery program is Nebraska, where, as of 2018, there had been a 28-percent reduction in recidivism within 3 years of a participant’s initial offense and a 39-percent reduction in participants returning to prison custody.  From 1994 to 2012, Nebraska’s program saved that state more than $6-million.

      Both Trent and DeGroot say they have talked to the Missouri Department of Corrections and the office of Governor Mike Parson (R) and received positive responses to this idea. 

      The 2022 legislative session begins January 5.

House action leads to chance at parole for man facing sentence of more than 2 centuries

      Missouri House legislation has led to a man securing a parole from prison in the next year, about 69 years earlier than he expected.

Bobby Bostic

      Bobby Bostic was sentenced to 241 years in prison after an armed robbery and carjacking in 1995.  Bostic, who was 16 at the time, was tried as an adult and would not have been eligible for parole until 2091, when he would be 112. 

      A House amendment that became law this year as part of Senate Bill 26 makes eligible to apply for parole anyone sentenced to 15 years or more while a juvenile.  The change gave Bostic a chance at a parole hearing after more than 20 years in prison.  That hearing was completed recently and Bostic was granted parole.  He will be released late next year.

      Bostic’s plight became an issue for the legislature in large part through the efforts of O’Fallon Republican Nick Schroer, who was glad to hear about the parole board’s decision.

      “I’m incredibly satisfied.  These are the types of things that kind of justify us being in [the Capitol].  We saw that there was this terrible issue where this minor who committed crimes that did not result in anybody being physically harmed, did not result in anyone being murdered, he’s locked away basically for the rest of his life and taxpayers are the ones paying for him to be there,” said Schroer.

      Schroer took up Bostic’s case in 2019, and then last year with his support, Kansas City representative Mark Sharp (D) sponsored the amendment to Senate Bill 26 that led to Bostic getting a parole hearing.

      “I’m just so happy, really on cloud nine that this decision came through the way it did.  It just shows that we can have some positive impacts here in the legislature.  Even if it only affects one person that’s good enough for me.  You hope it affects more and helps more people but this legislation did exactly what it was intended to do, and that was help Mr. Bobby Bostic.”

      Soon after hearing about Bostic’s case, Schroer met with him at Jefferson City Correctional Center.  He learned that while imprisoned Bostic has earned a GED, an associate’s degree, has completed courses from Adams State University and Missouri State University, and completed more than 30 rehabilitation classes and programs.  He has helped other inmates pursue their education, and has become a published author. 

Representative Nick Schroer (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

It was after that meeting that Schroer began pressing for Bostic to have a chance at parole. 

      “I was amazed at all of the things that he had done, the rehabilitation that took place with him within our criminal justice system and it was one of my tasks to ensure that he was either granted clemency by the governor or that we could get a coalition together, get some sort of legislative fix to this issue,” said Schroer.

      That began with a letter to Governor Mike Parson (R) asking him to take executive action on Bostic’s case.  More than 100 legislators in both parties and both chambers signed that letter.

      Bostic was sentenced to 241 years in prison on a series of charges stemming from a 1995 incident in which he, then 16, and an 18 year-old robbed a group of people delivering Christmas presents to the needy.  One victim was shot and sustained a minor wound.  The pair then carjacked and robbed a woman. 

      None of the victims of Bostic’s crimes opposed him being given a chance at parole.  Some testified that he had little involvement in the crimes and that the 18 year-old was the instigator.  While Bostic received more than two centuries in prison, the accomplice pleaded guilty in exchange for a 30-year sentence.   

Retired Circuit Judge Evelyn Baker, who handed down Bostic’s sentence, has become one of the most ardent supporters of his parole and represented him at the hearing.

      Bostic is not expected to be released until late next year.  Sharp said he will spend much of the time until then preparing to return to freedom after 20 years behind bars.

Representative Mark Sharp (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“Now the hard work really begins for Bobby Bostic.  How do we get him back into civilization?  How do we get him a job?  How do we get him back on his feet?  Just being released really isn’t enough, so we have to make sure that he has all the tools so he can be successful upon his release,” said Sharp.

      Roughly 100 others in Missouri’s prison system could have a chance at parole under the language that helped Bostic.  Schroer said for those and others getting out of prison, there are people throughout the state who want to help them start over.

      “If anybody is willing, and I know that there are several employers in St. Charles County and around the area that have taken an interest in [Bobby Bostic’s] case and many others like him, who are hiring people fresh out of the criminal justice system that want to turn their lives around, so any of the readers that are grouped in there, that do have opportunities for people with a criminal record, I urge them to reach out to [lawmakers] so we can at least put them in contact with people like Bobby.”

      Other portions of Senate Bill 26 have led to a court challenge that could see everything in it struck down.  Sharp and Schroer say they aren’t sure what it would mean for Bostic’s case should that happen, but say they will be watching developments and remain committed to helping Bostic get a chance at freedom.

Columbia man: law giving felons more job opportunities is making a difference for him

      Missourians with felony convictions are no longer blocked from working in places that sell lottery tickets, and face less restriction in working where alcohol is sold, under a law that took effect over the summer.  Advocates say the change is a “game changer” for people who get out of prison and want to get their lives back on track.

Henry Mikel and Representative Cheri Toalson Reisch, recently had the chance to meet and talk about her legislation, which allowed him to have his current job.

      Representative Cheri Toalson Reisch (R-Hallsville) sponsored the legislation for several sessions.  It became law as a provision in Senate Bill 26, signed into law in July. She recently got to talk to some people who are taking advantage of the change.

      “I’m just thrilled.  I mean, I’m so happy, because it’s all about helping your fellow man to succeed,” said Toalson Reisch.

      One man with whom Toalson Reisch met was Henry Mikel of Columbia, who says it’s making a difference in his life.     

      “It’s very hard to get a job, man, when you’re a felon, so it’s going to help out a lot for the people that do want to change when they do get out of prison, or the people that are on probation that has committed a felony,” said Mikel. 

      Mikel is open about his past, which includes a 2nd degree assault charge, and that he is recovering from drug addiction.  He is staying at in2Action, a program that helps those released from prison transition back into life and stay out of prison.  He recently began working at a convenience store close to the facility.  It’s a job he couldn’t have gotten just a few months ago because the store sells lottery tickets.

      He thinks the new law is making a big difference for him, and will do so for others in similar circumstances.

      “I believe it’s going to help out a lot, man, because not everybody wants to stay in trouble and not everybody wants to stay in the system as a felon.  People do want to change,” said Mikel.

      He became emotional in expressing gratitude that the law passed.  He said with the holidays approaching it will allow him to do something for his two young adult children.

      “I’ll tell you, to have a job and be able to do something for my kids, man, it’s a blessing.  Being a drug addict and an alcoholic most of my life, my kids missed out on a lot, man, and I feel like a big piece of s**t over that.  Now that I’ve turned my life around, I have a relationship with my kids, I can call my kids, I can go see my kids any time.  It does help out a lot, man.  It helps out a lot.”

      Mikel expressed thanks not only to Representative Toalson Reisch, but to all the legislators who voted for her proposal, and to Governor Mike Parson (R) for signing it into law.

      “It does feel good that there are people out there that really care,” said Mikel. 

“Being an addict I can tell you one thing … not everybody wants to be an addict.  Once you become an addict … the main thing that goes through an addict’s head is, ‘How can I change?’”  Mikel said.  “I understand that a person has to want to change, truly, and they have to show it, but it’s hard to show it when you don’t have people that wants to back it up, and it’s nice to know that there are people out there that are giving people a chance and that wants to help people that want to help their self.”

      Some would dismiss or even look down on a job such as working at a convenience store, but advocates agree it is a big deal for someone in a position like Mikel’s.  He adds that he genuinely enjoys working there, and even as a child he thought it could be a fun job.

      “You see just different personalities.  I’m the type of guy that I want to help a lot of people.  I want to help the people that are weak and the people that are addicts, I want to help people in their faith, so I believe this job’s going to help me in my dream because it helps me read people and it helps me figure people out more.  I’m using it to my advantage.”

      Toalson Reisch had the opportunity to meet Mikel for the first time just a few days ago, at an in2Action Christmas Dinner. 

      “We just hit it off, and he thanked me for giving him the opportunity.  He loves his job,” said Toalson Reisch.  “When I see these success stories, like Henry, that it’s making a real impact on real people in their lives, it just gives me hope.”

      The last time Toalson Reisch’s proposal came to a vote on the House floor the vote in favor of it was 148-1. 

Earlier story: New Law a ‘game changer’ for some felons seeking work

House logs 372 proposals on first day of filing for 2022 session

      Wednesday at the Missouri Capitol there was a sense of new energy in the air.  Christmas decorations were going up, the weather was that of a spring day, and most of all, new bills were dropping everywhere.  December 1 is a day when Missourians get a first look at what legislators will consider as the filing of bills for the 2022 legislative session began.

Representative Cyndi Buchheit-Courtway files a piece of legislation for the 2022 session. (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “Prefiling day is basically a holiday if you’re an elected official down here in Jefferson City.  It’s a good day to be back in the building, it’s exciting.  You can kind of feel in the air that it’s almost time to get back into the swing of things,” said Representative Mark Sharp (D-Kansas City).

      Farmington Republican Dale Wright said it’s often better for legislation to be filed early, as that can give it a better chance of gaining traction early in the session and a better chance at passage.  That means a lot of proposals are brought in on day 1.

      “It’s amazing how many bills get filed.  I’m always amazed at all of the work that House Research and the analysts do.  They don’t get enough credit,” said Wright.

Click here to view the bills filed in the House for the 2022 legislative session.

      For some legislators there is some strategy involved in whether they want to put a proposal forward sooner or later.

      “I’ve spoken to other members that believe if they prefile something it gives the opposition a month to work on attacking that bill,” said Representative Nick Schroer (R-O’Fallon)“I’m one that’s fully transparent.  People know what I’m going to file, they know where I stand on issues, and give them an extra month, I don’t care.  I just think that voters and the constituents need to know what work is being done in the interim, what work is going to be done in 2022.”

      Wright said Missourians should know that it’s a hectic day in the Capitol.

      “I truly believe that the people who are serving up here are serving for the right reasons, and that is to be advocates and be the voice of the people back home, and wo when we file these bills it’s usually for something that helps our constituents back home, but in general, also for the State of Missouri.”

      Prefiling can feel very different for House Democrats, who face a supermajority of Republicans.  Kansas City Democrat Ashley Aune said even when proposing legislation they know will be opposed, members of her caucus can be serving a purpose.  She said one piece of advice she has held onto came from fellow Representative Tracy McCreery (D-St. Louis).

Legislators can begin filing legislation for the coming session on December 1 of the preceding year. (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “She tells me that filing a piece of legislation as a member of the superminority is like starting a conversation, and that’s what this is for us, especially with the bills that we know aren’t going to go anywhere.  It gives us a chance to start a conversation not only with our constituents to signal that we are working for them and doing the work that they sent us down here to do, it gives us an opportunity to have the conversation with our colleagues across the aisle and say, ‘Hey, this is a priority for me.  Where can we meet in the middle?’”

      Sharp said the enthusiasm of filing day is encouraging, but it’s also a reminder to be thoughtful in what is filed.

      “A lot of times people swing for the fences and a lot of times that’s just not feasible in most cases, especially as a member of the superminority.  Sometimes you have to just get some of the breadcrumbs that haven’t been picked up in the past,” said Sharp.

      Joplin Representative Lane Roberts (R) said he believes it’s important for each legislator to give consideration to not only their own bills, but what others are filing, and that includes those in the opposing party.

      “The fact is that that there’s an awful lot of people on that floor who are sincere.  They want to do the right thing, and when they file bills it’s because they believe that it has some meaning.  Some, maybe more than others, but none of it is meaningless, and whether you’re one side of the aisle or the other, I’ve found that people on the opposite side of the aisle from me sometimes say very smart things,” said Roberts.  “Listening to folks who are presenting the bill, listening to what they have to say, it’s changed my mind a time or two.  It has overcome some preconceived notions that while I may not intended to have it, it just happened.”

      On Wednesday in the House, 372 measures were filed for the 2022 session.  The session begins January 5.