When Missouri Task Force 1 was deployed to Louisiana last August in response to Hurricane Ida and in December after tornadoes hit Kentucky team members knew that when they came home they would be able to return to their jobs. When they were deployed to Joplin after an EF-5 tornado devastated that community, they couldn’t be as certain. The Missouri House has voted to change that.
When Task Force 1 is deployed out-of-state its members are protected by the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). Deployments in-state aren’t covered by such a law. House Bill 2193 would change Missouri law to mirror USERRA. This would mean the Task Force’s more than 200 volunteers’ jobs would be protected no matter where they go.
A proposed new tax credit would give a boost to community-based drug treatment programs throughout the state. The plan’s sponsor says these programs do a lot of good and give back to their communities but some are facing financial challenges and she wants to see them get more support.
Under House Bill 2527 a taxpayer who makes a donation to a faith-based organization, peer- or community-based organization, or recovery or community center or outreach that offers addiction recovery services could claim a tax credit for an amount equal to half of that donation. Up to $2.5-million in tax credits could be awarded in one year, subject to the legislature appropriating the money for them.
Toalson Reisch said some of these programs are struggling, and others are looking to expand. She said in either case, this legislation could give them the help they need and thereby help more Missourians.
Mission Gate Prison Ministry works with more than 300 men, women, and families each hear. Program Director Stephen Hunt told the House Committee on Ways and Means this bill would encourage more contributions to his organization.
Toalson Reisch filed this proposal last year but late in the session, so it only cleared one committee. With it getting traction earlier this year she is optimistic it can become law. The Ways and Means committee approved HB 2527, sending it on to another committee.
She proposes that these tax credits be offered for six years, at which time they would expire unless renewed by the legislature.
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.
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.
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.
An advocate says a new law that began as a Missouri House bill is a “game changer” for people trying to establish new lives after felony convictions.
The legislation eliminated a prohibition on those with felony convictions working in places which sell lottery tickets. It also lifted the requirement that businesses who sell alcohol report to the state when they hire someone with a felony. The changes have been sponsored for several years by Hallsville Republican Cheri Toalson Reisch, and was signed into law this summer and took effect August 28.
Dan Hanneken is the Executive Director of In2Action, a program that helps people transition out of prison. He says the most important factor in a convicted felon not returning to prison is their ability to find employment.
The legislation had broad support, and was viewed as helping fight recidivism and unemployment while supporting criminal justice reform and helping the economy by boosting the eligible workforce. The House voted 148-1 for the 2020 version of the bill.
Hanneken said the law before this change was very frustrating for the people he works with, who often want to rebuild their lives, provide for their families, and simply have a path forward after prison.
A House Bill that would remove the restriction on felons working in businesses that sell alcohol and lottery tickets was sent Thursday to the Senate. House Bill 1468 would also lift the requirement that employers with liquor licenses notify the state of any employees with felony convictions.
Bill sponsor Cheri Toalson Reisch (R-Hallsville) said the bill will not only make it easier for felons to find jobs, thus reducing recidivism; it will also make more workers available. She said her county, Boone, has the lowest unemployment rate in the state and more potential workers are needed.
A House committee has voted to allow felons in Missouri to work in businesses that sell alcohol and lottery tickets.
House Bill 1468 would bar the state from prohibiting felons from selling alcohol only because they have been guilty of a felony, and from keeping someone convicted of a crime from selling lottery tickets. It would also lift the requirement that employers with liquor licenses notify the state of any employees with felony convictions.
Toalson Reisch told the House Special Committee on Criminal Justice her county, Boone, has the lowest unemployment rate in the state at less than two percent, and employers struggle to find enough workers.
“The biggest predictor of recidivism is if you can get a job or not when you’re out from incarceration, and so the more we can do to lower barriers to getting back to employment, the better chance we have for true criminal justice reform in this state,” said Baker.
Last year the proposal advanced well through the legislative process but became bogged down when it was attached to other legislation. Toalson Reisch is optimistic about its chances of becoming law this year because it is being debated early in the session and because it continues to have broad, bipartisan support. She hopes to keep the bill free of other language so it can stand on its own.
The committee voted unanimously to advance the bill. If approved by a second committee it will be considered by the full House.
The House Speaker has said criminal justice reform is a priority in the remaining weeks of the session, and a bill containing several proposed reforms has just been compiled. It has the backing of a man made famous by President Donald Trump earlier this year.
House Committee Bill 2, also being called the Missouri First Step Act, was assembled by the House Special Committee on Criminal Justice. It is a compilation of several individual bills, some of which have already been passed by the House.
Trump featured Matthew Charles during his State of the Union Address. Charles is the first person released from prison under the federal First Step Act, a federal reform bill signed into law by Trump in December.
In 1996 Charles was sentenced to 35 years in prison for selling crack cocaine. In prison he turned his life around and earned an early release in 2016. Though he was living a productive life, a court decision overturned his release and sent him back to prison until he was released under the First Step Act.
He’s excited about a provision in HCB 2 that would let judges ignore mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes in Missouri.
Another piece of HCB 2 coming from a bill sponsored by Coleman (House Bill 920) would require that feminine hygiene products are available to women being held in the state’s prisons or on state charges in county and city jails.
The state legislature has voted to memorialize two law enforcement officers fatally shot in 1933 by naming sections of Interstate 70 for them.
Highway Patrol Sergeant Benjamin Booth was the first member of the Missouri State Highway Patrol to be killed in the line of duty. He and Boone County Sheriff Roger Isaac Wilson were killed by two men they had stopped at the intersection of Highways 40 and 63.
On June 14, 1933, Booth was on a day off when Wilson called him in to help set up a roadblock as part of an effort to catch two men who robbed a bank in Mexico earlier that day. The two men they stopped were not the robbers but were armed, and when their vehicle was stopped they shot the two law enforcement officers. Wilson, 43, died at the scene. Booth, 37, died on the way to a hospital.
Senate Bill 999 would designate I-70 in Columbia from Rangeline Street to Business Loop 70 the “Sergeant Benjamin Booth Memorial Highway,” and would make I-70 from Highway 63 to Rangeline the “Sheriff Roger I. Wilson Memorial Highway.” The House finalized passage of that bill last week, ahead of National Police Week.
Wilson is the grandfather of former Missouri Governor Roger Wilson, whose father was 15 when Sheriff Wilson was killed. He told House Communications the recognition will mean a lot to the Wilson and Booth families.
SB 999 has been sent to the governor to await his attention.
The murders of Sheriff Wilson and Sergeant Booth triggered a massive manhunt including the use of roadblocks and airplanes. Authorities eventually caught up to the two men responsible. One of them was later hung in one of the last state executions by hanging in Missouri. The other man, who testified against his partner, spent 12 years in state prison before being paroled. He moved to Iowa, married and had four children, and his sentence was eventually commuted.
The Missouri House has proposed repealing the state’s prevailing wage law. Backers say the bill will allow more public works projects to move forward. Opponents say it will lower wages and drive more people onto public assistance programs.
Missouri’s prevailing wage law sets a minimum salary that must be paid to individuals working on public projects, such as the construction or repair of bridges, school buildings, and fire stations. If House Bills 1729, 1621, and 1436 pass, bidders on such projects would pay the state or federal minimum wage, whichever is higher.
The bills are being carried on the House Floor by Representative Jeffery Justus (R-Branson). He is one of those who say eliminating the prevailing wage would allow public tax dollars to accomplish more in any given project because the law artificially inflates the wages paid to workers.
Democrats argued that repealing prevailing wage would cause workers to receive less in wages and benefits. St. Louis representative Karla May, a member of the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), said that law exists for a reason.