Missouri House advances right-to-work bill, rejects sending it to voters

The state House has advanced a right-to-work proposal but rejected Democrats’ attempt to have Missourians vote on it.

Representative Doug Beck offered an amendment that would have had a right-to-work proposal go to a vote of the people, if passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Eric Greitens.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Doug Beck offered an amendment that would have had a right-to-work proposal go to a vote of the people, if passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Eric Greitens. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Right-to-work is a priority for the Republican super majorities in both chambers and of Governor Eric Greitens (R).  The plan the House voted on would bar union membership or the paying of union dues from being a condition of employment.  It would make violators of that prohibition guilty of a Class “C” misdemeanor and would require county prosecutors and the state Attorney General to investigate complaints of violations.

Most Republican House members say the bill would make Missouri more competitive against neighboring states, would increase wages, and argue that requiring union membership violates employees’ rights.

Democrats say right-to-work will lower wages and would be a government overreach into contracts between unions and employers.

St. Louis Democrat Doug Beck proposed an amendment that would put right-to-work before voters if it is passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Greitens.

“A bill of this magnitude which will affect every working person in Missouri – everybody who makes a paycheck like I do, union and non-union alike – deserves to go to a vote of the people,” said Beck.

Representative Holly Rehder (R-Sikeston) is sponsoring right-to-work legislation in the Missouri House.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Holly Rehder (R-Sikeston) is sponsoring right-to-work legislation in the Missouri House. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Republicans like Paul Curtman (R-Union) say voters spoke on the issue when they elected a Republican governor to go with Republican supermajorities.

He said Democrats are calling for a vote on the bill now that there is a Republican governor who won’t veto it, but years ago they opposed a Republican bill that would have put the issue to voters at a time when Democratic Governor Jay Nixon would have vetoed it.

“They’re only using this amendment strictly for political exploitation of the rights of the people,” said Curtman.  “When it’s convenient to special interests you let the people vote.  When it’s not convenient to special interests you don’t let them vote, or you let them vote – whatever the case may be.”

Representative Clem Smith (D-Velda Village Hills) said the argument that the election of a Republican governor means the people want right-to-work doesn’t hold up.

“I didn’t hear anybody use that argument when we had a Democratic governor and he was vetoing bills,” said Smith.  “Some of the same individuals were saying, ‘Oh, that’s not what the people want.’  But the people elected him, so we can’t use that logic.”

Ballwin Republican Shamed Dogan said to put the issue to voters would defeat the purpose of having elected representatives.

“If you’re going to put a referendum clause on this piece of legislation it could also be put on every piece of legislation that this body takes up,” said Dogan.  “The purpose of a representative government, which we have here, is that we represent the will of our districts, the will of our people, collectively the will of the State of Missouri, and if we’re going to put referendum clauses on every piece of legislation that comes across here we might as well just get up and leave.”

Republican-led opposition carried a vote defeating Beck’s amendment, and the House then voted to advance the right-to-work bill 101-58.  Another vote for the bill would send it to the state Senate.

House makes good on Speaker’s promise: gift ban proposal first out of gate

The Missouri House made good on its speaker’s promise that the first bill it would send to the Senate this year is a proposal to ban gifts from lobbyists to legislators.

Representative Justin Alferman's gift ban proposal garnered more votes than its 2016 version.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Justin Alferman’s gift ban proposal garnered more votes than its 2016 version. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 60 is sponsored by Hermann Republican Justin Alferman.  He said its goal is to ban the giving of, “individually, personally consumable gifts,” to legislators.

“What we are limiting is legislators’ ability to take free things,” said Alferman.

Under the bill, meals to which all members of the General Assembly and all statewide elected officials are invited to and that are held in Missouri with 72-hours’ notice would be allowed.

The bill was amended from its initial version to remove language regarding legislators accepting meals at events at which they speak.  Alferman said a review of other state law and the Ethics Commission’s interpretation, that language was found to be unnecessary.

“What we were trying to do was make sure that individuals can still speak to their local chambers or local business organizations and do so as part of a public presentation.  We quickly realized that the language that we included was unnecessary and probably was actually a loophole that could have been exploited,” said Alferman.

Other changes in the bill clarify that flowers and plants may be given to legislators as “expressions of condolence or congratulation,” and plaques given by organizations to recognize a lawmaker would be exempted from the ban as well.

The bill goes to the Senate which last year failed to advance a similar proposal.  Alferman thinks HB 60 is as likely as it can be to reach Governor Eric Greitens, who he notes has been supportive of a gift ban.

“I think with the added push from [Governor Greitens] and with the dedication of [Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard] and [Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kehoe] and Senator [Bob] Onder, I am confident that it has the best opportunity of passage that it ever has,” said Alferman.

The bill cleared the House with overwhelming bipartisan support, 149-5.  Some Democrats did say they hope it will not be the last action the House takes to address ethics, and Alferman said he agrees.

      “I think the next one on the plate absolutely should be Representative [Shamed] Dogan’s (R-Ballwin) bill to basically address the lobbyist concern that we have on local governments, that being cities, counties, school boards, school administrators,” said Alferman.  “I think that’s probably one of the most under understood and underutilized lobbyist restrictions that we have currently in the state.”

House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) said on the opening day of the session that he wanted a gift ban to be the first bill the House sent the Senate.

Missouri House asked to reject pay hike for legislators, statewide office holders

Missouri House members are being asked to reject a pay increase for themselves, the governor, and other statewide officials.

Representative Mike Bernskoetter (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Mike Bernskoetter (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The Missouri Citizens’ Commission on Compensation for Elected Officials recommended in its December 1 report an increase in pay over the next two years of five-percent for Representatives and Senators, and of eight-percent for the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Treasurer, Secretary of State, and Auditor.

House Concurrent Resolution 4, filed by Representative Mike Bernskoetter (R-Jefferson City), would reject the Commission’s recommendation and thereby block those pay raises.  To pass, it must be approved by two-thirds votes in each chamber and would go then to Governor Eric Greitens (R).  If no action is taken before February 1, the Commission’s recommendations would be enacted.

Bernskoetter, who recently spoke with House Communications about the chances the state will be able to increase the pay of its workers in the Fiscal Year 2018 budget, said this is not the time for legislators and other elected officials to get a raise.

“According to the budget chair it’s possible we’re going to have to cut $500-million out of the budget and I don’t know where we’re going to get the money from to do that and then give us a raise,” said Bernskoetter.  “Doesn’t really seem to compute.”

House Democrat Leader Gail McCann Beatty (D-Kansas City) agrees that the proposed increases should be rejected.

“We already see that we are having some budget challenges,” said McCann Beatty.  “I don’t believe that increases to the legislature or to the executive branch should be our priorities right now, and we also have to consider that our state employees are some of the lowest-paid state employees and if we’ve got dollars to increase salaries that is probably where that priority should be.”

Bernskoetter’s resolution is scheduled to be considered by the House General Laws Committee Tuesday at 2:30.  The Committee will likely vote on it during a hearing on the following day.

The Citizens’ Commission was created so that the power to control how much elected officials are paid lies with citizens.  It generally makes salary recommendations for elected officials and judges every two years.

House budget committee warned of impending fiscal challenges

The Missouri House Budget Committee was given a wake-up call in its first hearing.  First-year chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) explained to its members the challenges they will face in crafting the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Fitzpatrick has said that budget could need to be trimmed by $500-million.    Former Governor Jay Nixon (D) already restricted $201-million from the current budget, and Governor Eric Greitens (R) is expected to make further restrictions in it.  Fitzpatrick said the items for which funding in the current budget is blocked likely won’t be appropriated in the Fiscal Year 2018 plan.

Fitzpatrick said some are describing the current budget situation as the worst since 1981.

In explaining how the state got here, Fitzpatrick said it began with a June marked by a drop in state revenue collections coupled with increased tax refunds to Missourians.

“We literally went from tracking at 3.2% growth for fiscal year 2016 on June 15 to being at .9% at June 30,” said Fitzpatrick.  “I mean that’s a $200-million swing comparing one year to the next, in two weeks.”

Fitzpatrick said that is combined with continuing growth in Medicaid and costs in the Department of Corrections, including a growing likelihood that Missouri will need a new prison.  He said those and other factors lead him to believe Missouri’s problem is with growing expenses more than it is with a lack of revenue.

“Since I’ve been here we’ve had, my first year we grew ten percent.  The second year … we contracted one percent.  The third year we grew almost nine percent and then this last year we grew one percent.  If you average that across the four years that’s not horrible revenue growth,” said Fitzpatrick.  “But the mandatories – the things that are in statute that people are eligible for like Medicaid have grown faster and that’s the challenge.”

The message, then, to members of the legislature – especially those on the budget committee – has been that there will be very little if any new spending in the Fiscal Year ’18 budget.

Another challenge is that the legislature will be starting the budget process differently than it has in recent years, in large part because Governor Greitens will not deliver his proposed spending plan as part of his State of the State Address next week.  Unlike recent history, when governors have delivered their budget proposals with that address, Greitens’ plan will be released closer to February 1.

Fitzpatrick believes the fact that Greitens is building his administration from scratch combined with the gravity and complexity of the budget situation is behind the delay.

House and Senate budget makers base their proposed spending plans on that of the governor.  Fitzpatrick said the delay could cause the House to change how it does some things, but he remains confident the legislature will pass a balanced budget by the Constitutional deadline of May 5.

“If we have to mess with our hearing schedule a little bit, start a little bit before [Greitens’] budget release on some of these departments that have fewer decision items and some of the ones that are commission-appointed directors and so forth, then we may have to do that.  I’m going to try not to do that but we’ll do whatever we have to do.”

The House’s appropriations subcommittees will begin holding hearings next week.

Legislator exploring ways to improve state employee benefits even if pay hike not possible for FY ’18

The Missouri legislature could have a difficult time building a pay increase for state employees into the Fiscal Year 2018 budget, but there are other things it could consider to improve those employees’ benefits.

Representative Mike Bernskoetter chairs the Joint Interim Committee on State Employee Wages (photo; Tim Bommel)
Representative Mike Bernskoetter chairs the Joint Interim Committee on State Employee Wages (photo; Tim Bommel)

The Joint Interim Committee on State Employee Wages has heard a follow-up report from St. Louis-based CBIZ Human capital Services.  CBIZ studied nearly 38,000 of Missouri’s 50,000 employees.  It’s already reported to the legislature that those employees are the least paid in the nation, with compensation more than 10-percent below what is recommended to compete in the job market.

The study said it would cost the state $13.69-million to bring more than 5,000 of those state workers’ pay up to the minimum CBIZ recommended to be competitive in the market.  That would be a one-percent increase in the state’s payroll.

Committee Chairman Mike Bernskoetter (R-Jefferson City) said building that into the budget that legislators will propose over the next couple of months could be difficult based on what he’s heard from the House’s Budget Committee Chairman, Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob).

“I’ve heard reports where he thinks we’ll have to cut $500-million out of the budget,” said Bernskoetter.  “Hopefully it won’t be that bad but I guess we’ll see as they go through the process.”

Bernskoetter said he does believe that if there is enough money to increase state employee pay, it is among Fitzpatrick’s priorities.

“If the budget is the way he thinks it is it’s going to be tough this year, but he’s led me to believe he’s interested in improving state employee pay,” said Bernskoetter.

He said even if the state can’t begin increasing state employees’ pay this year, the study makes clear a path toward improving that pay.

“We have a blueprint for the future, so there is something in that,” said Bernskoetter.  “We have a plan that hopefully we can implement in the future.  If not this year, next year.”

Some of CBIZ’s other recommendations could be worked on this year, however.  One is that Missouri replace its step-based system for awarding salary increases.  A CBIZ representative called it “archaic,” and expensive to administer.  Bernskoetter said he is reviewing proposed legislation to make that change.

Another recommendation is that Missouri return to requiring that an employee work five years to be vested rather than ten years.  Bernskoetter liked that idea as well.

“Say we have Governor Greitens and he wants to bring in the best and the brightest … even if he was here for two terms – eight years – they would not get anything out of it other than their salary.  They wouldn’t be vested,” said Bernskoetter.  “That’s one way of compensating the best and the brightest.  If we can’t at least give them a great salary, we’ve got a good benefit package.”

Bernskoetter would also like to see state employees given more flexibility, where possible.

“Obviously you have some places – the Department of Corrections – where you have to be staffed 24-hours a day and you can’t really be flexible.  But if we can be flexible in certain departments – if people want to work 6 to 2, or if they can work from home, I think I need to sit down and talk to different departments and be more flexible with employees,” said Bernskoetter.  “If we can’t give them a pay raise, then be more flexible with their schedule.”

CBIZ won a bid of up to $300,000 to conduct the pay study.

Our earlier stories:

House Members optimistic about taking first step in improving state employee pay

Legislators to learn more about state employee pay study at meeting next week



House proposal to ban lobbyist gifts advances through first committee

A state House proposal aimed at banning gifts from lobbyists to elected officials has taken its first step toward debate by the full chamber.

Representative Justin Alferman said HB 60 is nearly identical to a gift ban proposal he filed in 2016, which was passed out of the House with 147 votes in favor.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Justin Alferman said HB 60 is nearly identical to a gift ban proposal he filed in 2016, which was passed out of the House with 147 votes in favor. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 60 is sponsored by Hermann Republican Justin Alferman, who presented the legislation to the House Committee on General Laws.

“We are trying to eliminate the undue influence of lobbyists on legislators in the building.  That is the individually, personally consumable gifts from lobbyists to legislators,” Alferman told the committee.  “These are the one-on-one dinners, these are the press boxes at sporting events in the state.  That’s what we’re trying to limit.”

In addition to the prohibitions on expenditures by lobbyists for elected officials, the bill would remove reporting requirements that would not be necessary with a ban in place.  It would exempt from those prohibitions flowers and plants, items such as plaques given to lawmakers recognized by an organization, speaking fees, and items that are returned.

The bill would allow lobbyists to provide meals that are offered to all members of the House and Senate as well as all statewide elected officials.  Omitted was a requirement that an invite to those elected officials be made in writing at least 72 hours before the event.  Alferman said that will be amended into the bill because it is “vital” that it be included.

“What we’re trying to do is alleviate any possibility that you would have, say, ‘Hey guess what, me and six other people in the General Assembly, we’re going out right now and we’ve got a lobbyist who’s paying for it,’ and you send out an email  blast and say you know what, ‘We’ll give you five minutes to show up.  Well, no one showed up except us.  We’re going to report it to the entire General Assembly.’  That’s wrong and I know for a fact that has happened in the past and you’ve had group expenditures for a meal of ten, or five, or less,” said Alferman.

“Giving the 72-hours written notice … to all members of the General Assembly including, but not limited to the attorney general and the auditor, I don’t think any lobbyist is crazy enough to try to circumvent this statute, if enacted, having to send a copy to the attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer of the state,” said Alferman.

Democratic Representatives Tracy McCreery, Lauren Arthur, and Peter Meredith were critical of HB 60 saying it falls short of being an all-out ban of gifts from lobbyists to elected officials.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Democratic Representatives Tracy McCreery, Lauren Arthur, and Peter Meredith were critical of HB 60 saying it falls short of being an all-out ban of gifts from lobbyists to elected officials. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Democrats said the proposal falls short of being an absolute ban on lobbyist gifts to elected officials, and called for it to be more restrictive.

“What people campaigned on, what our governor-elect campaigned on, and what has been promised to voters is an outright, complete ban and that’s not what this is,” said Representative Lauren Arthur (D-Kansas City).  “This has loopholes that you could drive a truck full of swag through.”

Democrats focused their criticism of House Bill 60 on its exemptions.

Arthur asked whether the exemption for flowers could include a lobbyist paying for flowers for a lawmaker’s wedding.

“Flowers are expensive for a wedding and if a legislator decided, ‘I’m really close friends with this lobbyist.  They’re attending my wedding and I’d like to ask them to pay for my flowers,’ that no longer becomes a small expense,” said Arthur. 

Alferman said in looking at bans in other states, most have an exemption for flowers and plants, “and I don’t think a single legislator told me that they had a problem or that this was a, ‘exemption you could drive a truck through.’”

St. Louis Democrat Tracy McCreery thinks the bill should include a definition of “speaking engagement,” as it allows lobbyists to continue to provide meals to lawmakers at those.  She said a definition would tighten up that exemption.

“I have been at a conference before where the host of the conference set aside time for every elected official in the room to speak for a minute or two so it could qualify,” said McCreery. 

Alferman said he took offense at the use of the word, “loophole,” in describing the exemptions in his legislation.

“By implying that it’s a loophole you’re implying that it was done in a devious nature and deliberately and it certainly was not,” said Alferman.  “I’m very open to tightening down any of this language to make it better so long as we are actually moving for progress on this and not just trying to hinder the bill’s success.”

Alferman expects the legislation to have a greater chance of passage this year than in 2016 when it cleared the House but not the Senate.  That is due in part to support from Governor Eric Greitens, who after being sworn in today signed an executive order aiming to ban lobbyist gifts to members of his staff.

The General Laws Committee voted to pass HB 60 and it next goes to a hearing by the House Rules Committee, Tuesday afternoon at 1:30.

House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) has said he wants a gift ban bill to be the first thing the House sends the Missouri Senate this session.

House committees to deep dive into Missouri business regulations and licensing

Two state House committees are preparing to dive into the state’s framework of regulations and licensing requirements in an effort to make it easier to own and operate a business in Missouri.

House Speaker Todd Richardson (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
House Speaker Todd Richardson (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) announced in his opening day address that he’s instructed the House Committee on Government Efficiency and the House Committee on Professional Registration & Licensing to review those requirements.

Richardson said Missouri regulations have slowed the success in Missouri of ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft and lodging companies HomeAway and AirBnB, and he said there are other examples.

“We’ve talked a lot time talking about hair braiding.  It’s ridiculous to me that you’ve got to go through the kind of hundreds hours requirement that you have to go through in this state just because you want to braid hair to make a little extra money,” said Richardson.

Richardson said he wants those committees, “to look at the places where Missouri is out of step with the regulatory requirements necessary to protect the public’s safety.” 

Representative Robert Ross (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Robert Ross (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The Committee on Professional Registration & Licensing is chaired by Yukon Republican Robert Ross, who said tempering business regulations is a balancing act.

“We have a responsibility to protect the individuals across the State of Missouri, but yet when the scale moves too far the other direction – when regulations become burdensome to business, that aren’t really effectively serving that purpose of protecting the public … it’s our responsibility to step in and pare those back to where we effectively meet the needs of protecting the public while, however, not being overly burdensome to businesses across the state,” said Ross.

Representative Delus Johnson (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Delus Johnson (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

St. Joseph Republican Delus Johnson chairs the Committee on Government Efficiency, who said it could be a multi-year process to vet all the regulations and requirements that are in place.

“Having these committees working hand-in-hand is going to be an asset for every person that’s either trying to get a job or to create a business that creates jobs in the state,” said Johnson. 

Ross is also going to file legislation known as, “The Sunshine Act,” which would require an analysis of proposed regulations before they are enacted.

Both committees are expected to begin meeting in the coming weeks.  The 2017 legislative session began Wednesday.

Proposal to increase minimum age for marriage aims to fight sex trafficking

A freshman state representative has filed another effort to make Missouri less attractive to sex traffickers.

Representative Jean Evans (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Jean Evans (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Manchester Republican Jean Evans’ prefiled legislation would increase from 15 to 17 the minimum age at which a person can receive a marriage license.  Missouri law allows teens as young as 15 to get a license when extenuating circumstances exist, as long as one of the teen’s parents gives consent.

Evans said traffickers have been taking advantage of Missouri’s law, bringing trafficking victims to the state to marry their abusers.  That makes prosecuting the abuser difficult or impossible.

“That’s not something that we want to be known for, is a place for sex traffickers to come to do that sort of thing,” said Evans. 

Evans said such marriages are able to take place because parents are sometimes involved in trafficking their own children.  She said she learned about the issue from a report by KMOV reporter Lauren Trager.

“One of the things they discovered in the [House Task Force on Sex Trafficking] is that it was more prevalent than I think people may have realized.  I recall one case where there was a woman who reported she had been trafficked starting at the age of 3, by her parents,” said Evans.  “As disturbing and disgusting as that is, that is a reality that we’re dealing with, and to the extent that we can intervene we want to do so.”

Evans said practically, there is little done to investigate extenuating circumstances when a marriage license is sought for someone as young as 15.

“We’ve sort of left it to the recorder of deeds or whoever is issuing a marriage license in each particular county to determine that.  I believe that that’s not their responsibility.  They’re not social workers or FBI agents.  They’re just issuing the marriage license as long as they have one parent’s consent,” said Evans.  “I think it places an undue burden on them to investigate whether the circumstances are extreme, as outlined in the statute.”

Evans’ bill is not based on a recommendation from the Task Force on Sex Trafficking, but she has discussed the issue with its chairman, Springfield Representative Elijah Haahr (R).  She sees her bill as part of a broader effort to fight trafficking – an effort based largely on the work of that Task Force.

House members will be asked to consider other legislation related to trafficking – much of it based on the work of the Task Force.  HB 261 would require employers to display posters with the national trafficking hotline and related information.  Other recommendations by the Task Force deal with creating a position in state government to oversee anti-trafficking efforts, and supporting groups that offer victims treatment and assistance to transition out of trafficking.

Evans’ legislation is HB 270.

Bill for 2017 would expand newborn screenings to include two genetic diseases

The legislature will be asked in 2017 to expand screenings of newborns in Missouri to look for two more life-threatening diseases.

Representative Becky Ruth (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Becky Ruth (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Festus Republican Becky Ruth is proposing that infants be screened for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and mucopolysaccharidosis II (MPS II), otherwise known as Hunter syndrome.  Both are genetic diseases that can be fatal, but Ruth says the earlier they are caught, the better outcomes can be.

“It gives families hope and it gives us a chance to save the lives of even more babies here in Missouri,” said Ruth.

SMA results in a loss of physical strength that can include a lessened ability to walk, eat, or breathe.  It is the leading genetic cause of death for infants.

Hunter syndrome is caused by an enzyme deficiency that results in the buildup of harmful molecules that can affect a person’s appearance, mental development, organ function, and physical abilities.  An estimated 2,000 people have Hunter syndrome worldwide, with about 500 of those living in the U.S.

No drugs have been approved for SMA, but Ruth says one, nusinersen, could be approved by April.

      “The earlier [SMA] is detected the earlier [babies] can start therapy,” said Ruth.  “With this new drug that hopefully will get approved by the FDA this could be something that could affect newborn screening as well and could improve the outcome.”

There is no cure for Hunter syndrome, but Ruth says with it too, earlier detection could improve the lives or increase the lifespan of those children who have it.

“Most often with this disease it’s not recognized until the ages of two to four years old.  By that time the disease is already progressing, so early detection is actually vital here,” said Ruth.  “Gene therapies can be started and it can lessen or completely reduce and regress some of the symptoms.”

In 2009 the legislature passed and the governor signed HB 716, The Brady Alan Cunningham Newborn Screening Act, named for Ruth’s grandson.  Ruth, not yet a legislator, testified for that bill.  She said Brady’s diagnosis was her introduction to certain rare diseases.

      “We have actually, to date, saved the life of about 120 children by expanding newborn screening,” said Ruth.  “We will be starting the [severe combined immunodeficiency] in January – testing that our legislature approved last year … Where some of this came from with SMA, they have developed an assay that kind of piggybacks with SCID to make it very, very reasonable and cost-effective and to make it possible for the testing.”

Ruth said that “piggybacking” means there should be little or no additional cost to screen for SMA, and she believes screening for Hunter syndrome can be done “very reasonably.”

The bill would make the additional screenings subject to annual funding by the state, and would allow the Department of Health and Senior Services to increase its newborn screening fees to pay for the additional tests.

Ruth said with the occurrence rate of SMA, it is something that should be tested for.  She said Missouri already tests for MPS I, so testing for MPS II is a “natural next step.”

Ruth’s bill is HB 66.  The 2017 session begins January 4.


Speaker Richardson previews the 2017 session in the Missouri House (VIDEO)

Labor, tort, education, ethics, and regulatory reforms will be among the focuses of the Missouri House Republican supermajority in the 2017 legislative session.

House Speaker Todd Richardson discussed his caucus' priorities for the 2017 session (watch the video at the bottom of this story or click on this photo to view).
House Speaker Todd Richardson discussed his caucus’ priorities for the 2017 session (watch the video at the bottom of this story or click on this photo to view).

“We want to have an aggressive approach early in session and really follow through on some of the things that we think the voters were talking about when they spoke in November,” said House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff).

Labor reform efforts will include work to pass legislation supporters call “right-to-work,” and “paycheck protection,” as well as reforms to project labor agreements.  Tort reforms will include resumption of efforts to pass legislation changing how expert witnesses are evaluated, and Missouri’s collateral source rule.

In education reform, Richardson says expansion of charter schools will be considered, and the caucus will look for ways to improve student achievement “across the board.”

“We’ve identified a task force of members in the House that’s going to start digging into those issues specifically,” said Richardson.

Richardson also wants to pick up where the legislature left off last year with ethics reform.  With that, his first goal in the House will be to again pass a bill banning gifts from lobbyists to legislators.

“I was proud of last year that we were able to take some substantive, meaningful steps forward on ethics reform but I don’t think anybody thinks that that job is complete,” said Richardson.  “We want the environment in Jefferson City to be better than it is today and that’s going to be an ongoing process.  This year that’s going to start with work on the gift ban.”

Republicans will also study Missouri’s regulations of businesses.

“We want to take this notion of cutting red tape and removing the regulatory barriers for business out of the campaign space and into the practical legislative space,” said Richardson.

He said the legislature will continue the work it began last year on a statewide regulatory framework for ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.  The House will also push legislation being called, “The Sunshine Act,” which would require an analysis of proposed regulations before they are enacted.

Richardson said the House will also take a more comprehensive look at what licensing requirements exist in Missouri, to see if it presents “unnecessary barriers” to employment.

He said such regulations affect a broad section of Missourians.  One example that has come up in legislation in recent years has been people who want to get paid to braid hair.

“You think about the notion of somebody having to go get literally hundreds of hours of training before the state will allow them to do a little hair braiding on the side because they want to earn some extra income,” said Richardson.  “It’s just something that doesn’t make sense when you explain it to most Missourians.”

The prefiling of bills for the 2017 legislative session began December 1.  The session begins January 4.