House sponsor of ag tax credits ready for special session

Governor Mike Parson is calling legislators back to Jefferson City in two weeks for a special legislative session to address a number of proposals to support the state’s farmers.

Representative Brad Pollitt (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      The governor in July vetoed a bill that included the extension or creation of tax credits benefitting urban and family farms, biodiesel producers, retailers of biodiesel and higher ethanol blends, meat processors and others.  The governor said the two-year expiration proposed by the legislature for those credits wasn’t long enough, especially given that the legislature passed and he signed incentive programs with six-year sunsets for non-ag interests.

      Representative Brad Pollitt (R-Sedalia) carried that package of ag legislation, House Bill 1720

      “They’re important to the small farmer.  These are not big corporate agriculture tax credits.  These are family farm tax credits.”

Pollitt said giving farmers economic support is now more important than ever.

      “We don’t want to go back to what happened in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s in agriculture and I think these tax credits could be a great help to the agriculture folks in the State of Missouri,” said Pollitt.  “That’s when a number of farmers went out of business because interest went up.  Right now I think our fuel’s tripled or at least [two-and-a-half times as expensive], the input cost on fertilizer has [more than] doubled, so the input cost, no matter what you do in agriculture, has went up immensely … this is all contributing to a situation that could get bad.”

      Tax credits always face a lot of opposition for a variety of reasons.  Pollitt said he supports ag tax credits especially because when family farms go out of business, it is unlikely they will return.

      “Corporate agriculture will take that over.  I’m not opposed to corporations at all but if we want to keep the family farm in business then we have to give that family farm some incentives with these tax credits,” said Pollitt.  “There are folks that don’t like tax credits.  They say you’re giving somebody an unfair advantage.  Well I don’t think any of the tax credits that we passed in the agriculture omnibus bill gives any farmer an advantage over anybody else.  It gives them, actually, a level playing field.”

      At least one of the tax credits that HB 1720 would have extended, for the Missouri Agricultural Small Business Development Authority, has already lapsed, and Pollitt said it does need an extension of more than 2 years.

      “The MASBDA tax credits expired last December 31 so they are no longer in play.  If you’re going to get somebody to invest in those MASBDA tax credits, four years is about the shortest you can go because of the process and so a 2-year MASBDA tax credit doesn’t work.”

      The governor also called on the legislature to pass a plan to reduce income taxes for Missourians.  Pollitt is supportive of that as well.  All in all he believes this special session will be doing the work citizens want their legislature to do.

      “I believe that the people in the state of Missouri would like to see an income tax cut but I think that the majority of the people understand that we can’t cut too deep.  I think the majority of the people want to keep our family farms around and want to give those family farmers some incentives and some opportunities to increase their farms but at the same time stay in business, and that’s what this is about,” said Pollitt.

      “I appreciate the governor’s efforts on this special session.  He’s worked extremely hard, he’s traveled around the state and I know he’s met with all the ag groups numerous times, he’s met with as many legislators and senators that will meet.”

      The special session will begin September 6. 

Panel on veteran suicides hears from family of one fallen soldier

      House members are concerned about the mental health of veterans in Missouri, and by how many of the state’s veterans have committed suicide.  The House Interim Committee on Veterans’ Mental Health and Suicide held Wednesday its first of four scheduled hearings, this one focused on what is already available and what is being done to offer help to veterans.

Representative Dave Griffith (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      The committee’s chairman, Representative Dave Griffith (R-Jefferson City), is a former U.S. Army 8th Special Forces Group Green Beret.  He said part of his goal with the committee is to generate awareness of the issues veterans are facing and how they can be helped. 

      “It’s meant to shine a light on mental health issues and suicide that we’ve got in the State of Missouri and what we can do with it.  It begins with the veteran community but it also goes back to what happens in each one of our communities across the state.  It doesn’t matter whether you live in the metro or whether you live in rural Missouri.  The issues are still there and we see it all the time.”

      In discussing how serious is this issue in Missouri, the Department of Mental Health’s Veterans Services Director, Jon Sabala, told the committee that in 2019 the national veteran suicide rate was 31.6.  Missouri’s rate was 43.4. 

      “Even though Missouri does not have the highest rate of veteran suicide, which is a plus, we are still very high – definitely in the top ten in the nation.  Regardless of these rates we know that any suicide death, one or more is too many, so the goal is zero,” said Sabala.

      Missouri Veterans Commission Executive Director Paul Kirchoff agreed that the state’s rate is among the worst in the country.

      “Active duty suicides are at the highest since the great depression.  176 confirmed or pending suicide deaths for active duty in 2021, 174 in 2020, 188 veteran suicides in 2019 and that’s just in Missouri, which is significantly higher than the national average or the general population’s suicide rates.”

      In talking about what various agencies are doing to offer help, Kirchoff said the Commission launched in 2021 the Veteran’s Portal, which lists hundreds of available resources for veterans and their families.

      “As you can see, the top left [on the website] is mental health.  It’s one that we know is a priority so it is prominent on our portal.  This is at veteranbenefits.mo.gov and to date … we’ve had over 20,000 hits on that site.  It’s not enough.  We need more.  We need more veterans, we need more families to know about this and know that it is a site that they can go to reach resources that they need.”

      Devin Norton is the director of the veteran treatment program at Signature Psychiatric Hospital in Kansas City.  She told the committee that current or former military personnel seeking help often find barriers that prevent or delay treatment.

      “For example I have a veteran right now that is going through the program and he was hospitalized for suicide ideation in March … and has been working since March to ge approval from the Veterans Administration to come in for treatment, and he just got it two weeks ago,” said Norton.  “His risk factors present for completion of suicide were very high:  No support system; long history of trauma; several deployments; no current providers, so he was very high risk.”

      Norton said this individual successfully entered treatment because he was persistent, but said many veterans don’t know how to advocate for themselves and don’t trust the system with which they must deal.

      The committee closed Wednesday’s session with testimony from the family of Lieutenant Colonel Matt Brown.  Brown was a loved and well known husband and father of three.  He served in the Army National Guard which included a 14-month deployment to Afghanistan in 2009, and was about to take command of the 203rd Engineer Battalion.  He took his own life in November of last year.

      Brown’s wife, Kelly, spoke to the committee in the hope of using her family’s experience to break the stigma associated with mental health and to play a role in preventing more such tragedies.

      “Matt had trauma very early in life that was completely unresolved.  Then you take into consideration the two career paths that Matt chose:  law enforcement and military.  We all know there’s an expectation for those guys to remain strong and to not look weak, so the effects of all of his trauma were just stuffed away,” said Kelly. 

      She said the stigma surrounding mental health issues must be addressed as a root of the problem.

      “Military leaders need mandatory education on how trauma physically changes your brain … we cannot expect someone who has experienced a trauma to be approached the same.  They don’t have the same set of coping skills that people without trauma have, so training would be high on the list, I would think, of things to be important.”

      Brown’s daughter, Bailey Blackman, told the committee that she never expected her father to take his own life.

      “Unfortunately I don’t have many answers or solutions.  I just need everyone to understand how real this is and that it can happen to anyone.”

      The committee will meet again in August. 

Income tax cut, reform likely topics in expected special session

      A tax break for most Missourians and a restructuring of the state’s income tax brackets will likely be considered by legislators in a special session that Governor Mike Parson (R) is expected to soon call.

Representatives Peter Merideth (left) and Cody Smith (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      That’s according to House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith (R-Carthage), who says he’s looking forward to seeing what the Governor outlines in a plan to be aimed at helping Missourians facing high prices and high inflation.  The top Democrat on the Budget Committee, Peter Merideth (D-St. Louis), says he wants a plan that goes beyond changing income taxes, so that all Missourians would be helped; not only those who pay that.

      Governor Parson earlier this month vetoed a proposed $500-million tax rebate plan sent to him by legislators in May, saying he prefers a permanent tax cut.  He has said he will call for a special session of the legislature to consider that cut. 

      Smith, who spearheaded that tax rebate plan as the best proposal thought possible at the time, said he would also prefer a permanent cut.  He spoke to Parson on Tuesday to get a better idea of what the governor might propose.

      “We are busy now collaborating with the senate and the governor himself to try to find a starting point and then from that point the legislature will take over and will hopefully put forth a good product, at the end of the day, for the governor to sign,” said Smith.  “It’s important that we try to keep this simple and try to make it as impactful to as many Missourians as possible.  I think the income tax is the best way to do that, and trying to simplify the tax code in the process I think is also a worthy goal.”

      Merideth said he and fellow Democrats were glad that the rebate plan was vetoed, but he’s concerned that a cut to the income tax won’t help the Missourians who need help the most. 

      “A third of Missourians don’t make enough money to pay [the income tax], and those are, of course, the third of Missourians that are having the hardest time right now, so if all we’re focused on is a tax cut on income, that’s not really a big help for people,” said Merideth. 

“That said, our income tax brackets are completely out of date.  We haven’t had updated brackets in like 100 years.  Democrats have actually long advocated for updating those to a more progressive tax rate structure.  Now, we have yet to see what that proposal’s going to look like but there’s a path that we could get on board with,” he added.  “Democrats are generally supportive of relief for those that make the least and generally resistant to relief for those that are doing just fine, at the expense of our long-term budget.”

      Smith agrees that the state’s brackets are outdated and should be revised, if not eliminated, and doing so would help all income earners.

      “Our highest tax bracket in Missouri is for anyone that makes over $9,000 annually.  At one time that was a considerable amount of money … but now most folks who work at all generally make more than $9,000 per year … so we [would be] helping lower income folks by addressing that top line number.  Additionally I think we can take a look at some of the tax brackets on the lower end and see if we can reconfigure those or eliminate those entirely so that folks on the lower end of the income spectrum won’t pay taxes up to a certain amount.  That would provide relief on those lower income folks.”

Merideth thinks permanently cutting the income tax right now is not a good idea.  He said the state is in a great position with revenue right now, but the next time there’s a downturn, cuts made now could put the state in a bad position. 

The governor has expressed confidence that Missouri’s good fortune will continue, and Smith agrees. 

      “I would guess that we may have a general revenue surplus in excess of $2-billion by the time we come back to the next legislative session and that is just unprecedented … we’ve got federal money set aside for Medicaid, we’ve got general revenue dollars sitting in the state’s treasury for all purposes, and I think there’s never been a better time to cut taxes and still be able to protect the priorities that we have in the budget,” said Smith.  “I think we’re probably looking at 3 to 5 years where we are very well situated even after a tax cut.”

      Smith said while the state is enjoying increased revenues and never-before-seen surpluses, Missourians are dealing with high inflation, high gas prices, and other factors that are causing many to struggle.  He said this is the right time for the legislature to do something to help.

      “Rather than issue stimulus checks, which is talked about in Washington from time-to-time, certainly we’ve seen that … I believe the best way to combat things like inflation is let [Missourians] keep more of their own money,” said Smith. 

      Merideth said he and other Democrats would also like to see the legislature talk about things besides the income tax, such as eliminating taxes on groceries and other essentials.   

      The governor has said he is also planning to have the legislature consider six-year extensions to tax credits under the Missouri Agriculture and Small Business Development Authority.  He vetoed a bill that would have extended them by two years.

      Dates for a special session have not been set. 

House bill signed into law that could put more traffickers behind bars

      A new state law could lead to more prosecutions in Missouri of human traffickers.

Representative Patricia Pike (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Governor Mike Parson (R) recently signed into law House Bill 1472 to change in state law definitions related to currency and money laundering.  That might not sound like trafficking legislation, but advocates say it is.

      “Remember, for traffickers human trafficking is about making the highest profit possible with the lowest risk to get caught by law enforcement.  This is the key.  For that reason traffickers need to find ways to eliminate anything, any ways that could lead law enforcement and authorities to them … or be used as evidence,” said Doctor Shima Rostami, Executive Director of Gateway Human Trafficking based in Chesterfield.  “For that reason virtual currency and engaging peer-to-peer mobile payments has been playing a great role for payments concerning trafficking operations lately, and because the laws haven’t been updated … to help prosecutors and law enforcement use the evidence they can gather from these forms of transactions, it’s been very difficult for prosecutors and law enforcement to follow the footprints of traffickers in trafficking operations.”

      Dr. Rostami says prosecutors are often left with no evidence aside from the testimony of victims, and victims often refuse to testify.  This can be for many reasons stemming from their experience, including traumas they suffered or because trafficking organizations may still have leverage over them such as threats against their families or even holding family members hostage. 

      She offered examples, including that of a victim who was kidnapped as a child and is now an adult.  Over the course of her experience she was raped more than 24,000 times.

      “It is going to be impossible for that human being to be in the same courtroom to testify against the trafficker in front of the trafficker.  All of the trauma, what they went through; the pain comes through them and keeps them back from actually functioning.”

      Dr. Rostami said these situations made it more important that Missouri’s law be updated so that evidence of virtual money laundering can be used at trial.

Doctor Shima Rostami (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “It’s golden if we could use that other evidence, like money laundering evidence, to prove the trafficking operation … however if you won’t be able to prosecute trafficking charges, at least other physical evidence can help prosecutors charge traffickers with other criminal charges rather than just letting them go because we don’t have enough evidence to use against them.”

      HB 1472 adds to state law definitions for “cryptocurrency,” “financial transaction,” and “transaction;” and replaces the definition for “currency” with one for “monetary instruments.”  It was sponsored by Representative Patricia Pike (R-Adrian), who has worked on several trafficking issues during her 8 years in the House.  She said those continue to be important in Missouri because its location makes it important for trafficking.

      “We are a crossroads in the United States.  There’s a highway and transportation hub of the United States going through Missouri.”

      “I’m looking forward to following this legislation as it’s incorporated into the legal system and seeing what kind of difference it makes in the years to come,” said Pike.

      The House voted 141-2 to send that bill to Governor Parson.

Legislative package addresses domestic violence, trafficking

      Missouri legislators passed a package of measures intended to protect victims of sexual and domestic violence and trafficking before the 2022 regular session drew to a close on May 13.  Senate Bill 775 contained language sponsored by several House members, and now awaits action by Governor Mike Parson (R).

Representative Hannah Kelly (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “It’s our big legislative win for this session,” said Jennifer Carter Dochler, who was the legislative liaison for the Missouri Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Violence during the regular session. 

      The bill was handled in the House by Representative Hannah Kelly (R-Mountain Grove), who was glad to see it reach the governor’s desk despite issues in the legislature that created challenges for all legislation this year.

      “At the end of the day the process that our founding fathers set out caused it to be that we were able to come together and accomplish something good despite our differences and that is a beautiful thing that everybody needs to walk away remembering should always be our highest priority.  You’re not going to find a better [issue] to do it on than this.”

      Kelly said of particular importance to her, personally, in SB 775 is the language that establishes the “Sexual Assault Survivors Bill of Rights.”  This seeks to make sure victims know their rights regarding the gathering of evidence and related medical exams; access to incident reports; and protections from intimidation and harassment by an attacker. 

      Kelly said someone important in her life is a victim of rape and, “The provisions in this bill, I believe, would’ve brought justice for this person in a swifter manner.”

      The Bill of Rights portion is meant to, among other things, give some clarity and guidance to victims, who often find themselves traumatized and with no knowledge of what to do or to whom to turn.

All [that a victim knows] is a really horrible thing has happened that nobody ever dreams will happen to them,” said Kelly.  “The heart and soul of it is protecting victims and providing stronger protections and providing education … and what greater cause to unite behind than educating and empowering victims in these horrible situations to know what their rights are and to know the pathway by which they can appropriately seek justice.”  

      SB 775 also clarifies definitions in Missouri law regarding “sexual contact” and “sexual conduct.”  Representative David Evans (R-West Plains) said he dealt with at least one case, during his 28 years as a judge, in which unclear definitions regarding contact with minor victims hindered prosecution.

      “Taking ambiguous law or badly written law and making it clear is important clearly for the victims of crime but also clarifies, which is required in criminal law, exactly what the crime is,” said Evans.  “None of us can be convicted of a crime that’s ambiguous.  That’s protection under due process … it’s good to have specific law especially when you’re dealing with a very serious felony.”

Representative David Evans (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      SB 775 would specify that no persons younger than 18 will be prosecuted for prostitution, and if located by law enforcement while engaged in commercial sexual acts, they will be considered a victim of abuse and referred to the Children’s Division and juvenile officers to receive help.  It also eliminates the requirement that a person under 18 and charged with prostitution must prove they were coerced to avoid conviction.

      These were provisions found in legislation sponsored by Representative Ed Lewis (R-Moberly), who said the laws regarding these individuals needs to be focused on getting them help. 

      “A lot of times a minor can be in that lifestyle and not even know that they’re being trafficked, not even know that they’re being abused.  They think, ‘Well no, I’m doing this of my own free will,’ but they’re not.  They’re being abused and used by some adult for their own gain, and we have to get them the help they need to help them to understand that this is not right,” said Lewis.  “Instead of looking at these people who have come to rescue them as rescuers they can look at them as the enemy and we have to make sure that they get the help that they need so they understand what their outcome should be and how to get back to what we would call a normal life free of abuse.”

      Other related sections deal with prosecuting those who attempted to engage in sexual acts or pornography-related offenses with individuals under 18. 

      The bill also contains language sponsored by Representative Lane Roberts (R-Joplin) dealing with orders of protection.  It would state that a person with an order of protection against them cannot skip a court date regarding that order and then plead ignorance to knowing it was still in effect.  He and Carter Dochler say this defense has often been successful for abusers who would violate an order and then say they didn’t know it was in place because they didn’t attend a hearing. 

      Roberts has often said that this and other proposals he has filed stem from his time in law enforcement – including as Joplin’s police chief and the director of the Department of Public Safety – and times in his career when he couldn’t help a victim because of how the law was written. 

      “Sometimes the law doesn’t serve the victim and sometimes, frankly, the process to provide due process to the person that’s accused ultimately re-victimizes the victim, so it’s been very frustrating to me throughout my [law enforcement] career.  Now I’m in a position to do something about it.”

      Along that same line, Roberts said a provision in SB 775 that is important to him is one that allows victims to testify via video rather than have to appear in court for a domestic violence proceeding. 

Representative Lane Roberts (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Roberts says too often, a victim is afraid to proceed with prosecution for fear or retribution by their abuser.  This provision addresses that fear; specifically that requiring a victim to appear in court creates an instance in which their abuser will know where and when to find them. 

“If you read the newspapers you will frequently see where a domestic violence case was dismissed because the victim didn’t show up to testify.  I can’t tell you how many times that’s because they were afraid to show up but I guarantee you it’s a significant part of the number of people who don’t show up, and why.”

      With all these issues, legislators have to craft language that protects victims but also allows for due process for those who are accused.  Evans believes with SB 775, Missouri gets closer to finding the right balance between those considerations, “and again that’s one thing I really enjoy doing, is balancing the rights of those that are charged but making it absolutely clear to protect the victims of the crimes as well.  I think we’re getting there.”

      The House vote that sent SB 775 to the governor was 141-0.  Carter Dochler said the Coalition is, “very grateful and really excited [that] at a time where there has been so much turbulence on different issues that everybody could really come together and find agreement on items that would make things better for victims of domestic violence or sexual assault, or some other related judicial proceedings.”

SB 775 includes several other provisions, including those that would make it a crime for any coach of minors to abuse a minor, whereas currently law speaks only to high school coaches; extends protections against the release of a victim’s personal information to include their personal email address, birth date, health status, or any information from a forensic testing report; and further restricts when the prior sexual conduct of a witness or victim in a sexual offense case may be inquired about in a legal proceeding.

Legislature votes to strengthen Kansas City’s shot at World Cup

      The Missouri legislature has offered an assist to Kansas City’s bid at bringing the World Cup to Kansas City, and with it, hundreds of millions of dollars to the state’s economy. 

Representative Jonathan Patterson (Photo credit: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “It’s estimated that it would bring $750-million to the state.  You’re going to need 50,000 hotel rooms.  [Fans] are going to come from all over the world and get to see all of Missouri.  They’re going to travel within Missouri and the country,” said Representative Jonathan Patterson (R-Lees Summit)“100-million people watch the Super Bowl.  One billion people will watch the World Cup, so this is equivalent to 7 to ten Super Bowls.”

      The House and Senate passed legislation that would exempt tickets to the 2026 World Cup from sales taxes if it is held in Kansas City, which is one of 22 cities among 16 potential host sites vying for the event. 

      Patterson, who has spearheaded the effort in the House to get this legislation passed, said FIFA (the International Federation of Association Football) stipulated that whatever state hosts the World Cup not charge sales tax on their tickets.  He said Missouri would be the first state to meet that requirement, assuming Governor Mike Parson (R) signs into law House Bill 1606 and/or Senate Bill 652, both of which were sent to him last week. 

Legislators say the measure is a priority for the governor.

      “So we are going to be first in the organizers’ minds about states that have filled out a criteria that they wanted to meet before awarding a host site,” said Patterson.  “So I think with [these bills] we put ourselves in a very good position to get a host site.”

      Representative Wes Rogers (D-Kansas City) said this legislation was in no way just about Kansas City.

Representative Wes Rogers (Photo credit: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “People from as far away as the Lake [of the Ozarks] will need to provide housing.  There’s not enough housing in [Kansas City] and there won’t be.  You’re talking about people staying in Columbia, probably even Jefferson City and the Lake, so it’s statewide economic impact,” said Rogers.  “And they’re going to be here for a month, too, and there’s only a few soccer games, so they’re going to be going back and forth from Kansas City to St. Louis, and they’re going to go down to Springfield, and they’re going to see what else is around.  It’s not just the games, it’s also everything people are going to do while they’re here.”

      Rogers is quick to note that while the legislation would exempt taxes on the tickets, it will not exempt taxes on all the other places people will spend money while attending the World Cup. 

“For every hotel room, for every meal that they eat, for any time they go to the convenience store they’re going to be paying a lot of taxes, just not on the tickets themselves.”

      Both representatives say Kansas City is a great sports town with impressive facilities to go with good food and other draws, and they would hold it up against the other potential host sites.

      “I think this would put it on the map and really showcase it to the world,” said Patterson.  “I think with [these bills] we put ourselves in a very good position to get a host site.”

      The proposed exemption has broad bipartisan support.  The House vote on SB 652, which included only that language, was 141-5.  That bill and HB 1606 are awaiting action by Governor Parson.

Rep. Fitzwater bids the House ‘farewell’

Representative Travis Fitzwater (R-Holts Summit) is leaving the Missouri House due to term limits. Before the close of his final regular session he thanked his family and colleagues.

“Our shared humanity should transcend politics.  We should be human to each other even though we disagree.”

“We are but a mist, and I think it’s helpful for us to have humility as a result of knowing that we are such a small thing in the grand scheme of things.”

Rep. Jason Chipman’s farewell to the House

Representative Jason Chipman (R-Steelville) is leaving the Missouri House due to term limits. Before the close of the final session of his time in the chamber he bid farewell and reflected on his time.

“There are some of these colleagues that I will never see again after I’m done here but I know that at a moment’s notice they would drop what they had going to come and help me if I needed it.”