Veto session: House votes to fund programs fighting child abuse, neglect; Senate disagrees

      The Missouri House voted Wednesday to override Governor Mike Parson’s (R) vetoes of several spending proposals in the state budget, including one aimed at stemming the sexual abuse of children in Lincoln County. 

Representative Randy Pietzman (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      The Senate did not concur on those overrides and allowed the governor’s actions to stand, and those proposals to fail.

      House members including Lincoln County representative Randy Pietzman (R-Troy) took to the floor expressing anger and frustration that Parson rejected $300,000 to fund a 3-year pilot program that would’ve hired investigators, a prosecutor, and staff to address an increase in sex offenders in the region.

      “I have children in my district that are getting ravaged … I’d like to read you the list of the cases but I think it’s just too much.  Children in my district getting raped and made child pornography with them.  It’s going on and we’ve got to stop it,” said Pietzman.

      He said that line item would be enough to get the program started and after 3 years local officials could sustain it after that.

Pietzman said he was approached with “offers” by people who didn’t want him to even propose the override.

      “Screw those guys.  I’m fighting to the end for these kids.  They deserve justice.  This is small piece of pie of our budget but it can do so much good if we get it into the hands of the right people, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

      Pietzman directed his criticism squarely at the governor, saying this was a plan he and others in the county worked for years to develop.  The governor has said that a federal grant program can be used to address this issue but Pietzman says that will not work.

      “Unlike [the governor] I’m not looking for a photo opportunity saying this is what I’m doing.  I’m doing it for those kids,” said Pietzman.

      The House voted 150-3 in favor of that override.

      The chamber also voted 151-3 to reverse the governor on a $2-million item that included 3-percent pay raises for caseworkers and supervisors in the Children’s Division.  These employees deal with abuse, neglect, and other issues facing children in the custody of the state.

Representative Raychel Proudie (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Representative Raychel Proudie (R-Ferguson) said Missouri is having a hard time retaining those workers, partly because of how much they are paid.

      “Some of these workers [are] being spat at, cursed at, threatened  [while] trying to protect the children of this state when they can just go down to the local wizard stand or the local Wal-Mart and get paid more, and deal with less.  We owe them better than that,” said Proudie.

      On another vote, the House voted to restore funding for court costs to the owners of certain wedding venues.  St. Louis Republican Jim Murphy said these owners were years ago told by the Department of Revenue they did not need to pay sales tax, but years later the Department sent them bills for tens of thousands of dollars in back taxes.  Eventually everything was paid back to those owners but the court costs.

      Murphy said the Department harmed and lied to those Missourians.  “This year there was $150-thousand put into the budget to do the right thing, and that’s give these people their money back … well the governor, in his wisdom, and I cannot explain why, vetoed this,” said Murphy.  “We have promised these people over and over again that we would do right by them, only to have the rug pulled out from under them.”

      The House supported that override 152-2.

      It also voted 112-38 to override a veto on $700,000 for a Community Improvement District along Business Loop 70 in Columbia.

      These overrides were sent to the Senate, which voted to reject two of them and did not vote on the other two, so the governor’s vetoes stand.

Bill containing several provisions to protect children becomes law

Lawmakers and children’s advocates are praising the signing into law of legislation with several provisions meant to help the state better care for children, including those who have been abused or trafficked.

Representative Diane Franklin chairs the House Committee on Children and Families. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Emily van Schenkhof with Missouri KidsFirst called Senate Bill 160 the best piece of legislation to come out of the 2017 regular legislative session.

“We came together as the General Assembly, outside advocates, [and] the governor’s office to pass some really important legislation,” said van Schenkhof.  “It really was, I think, an example of how when we prioritize children we really can come together to make good policy decisions and makes sure we get things across the finish line that make our state safer for children.”

Van Schenkhof said one of the most important pieces of SB 160 prevented the destruction of some 11,000 records related to cases of children that were abused but the perpetrator could not be identified.  An appeals court ruling put those records in jeopardy.

“That was an extremely time-sensitive piece of the bill,” said van Schenkhof.  “Children’s safety could have been at risk if we didn’t have this information in our system.”

SB 160 was carried in the House by Representative Diane Franklin (R-Camdenton).  She said the ability to retain such records allows investigators to detect patterns in cases of abuse or neglect.

“The first time that, perhaps, it’s reported or it becomes known to the department, the child may be only three months old and it’s just been identified that abuse has taken place.  If we’re not able to retain those records, then let’s say they’re two years old and there’s abuse and we’re not able to see that there’s a pattern in that child’s life of who they’re with that is resulting in harm to the child,” said Franklin.

Another key provision in SB 160 changes the definition of child abuse and neglect to include trafficking.  Van Schenkhof said under state law, the ability for the state Children’s Division to get involved in a case hinged on a perpetrator having care, custody, and control of a child.

“In trafficking cases often times that caretaking role, or that care, custody, and control piece is missing, and so Children’s Division can’t provide the sort of protective interventions that are necessary,” said van Schenkhof.

Franklin said the provision to change those definitions was “paramount.”  It also makes available to Missouri more federal money, and aids in prosecution of both state and federal cases by aligning Missouri’s definition with that of federal law.

SB 160 also establishes the Foster Care Bill of Rights, to establish in law how foster children will be treated and how their rights will be protected.  Another provision allows children entering foster care to be placed with people who are not related to, but have a close relationship with, the child or the child’s family – otherwise known as “kinship placements.”

SB 160 also extends through 2023 the existence of the legislature’s Joint Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect.

Van Schenkhof praised the work done by Franklin on this legislation.

“Diane Franklin was just a rock star.  She worked so hard on this bill.  She really left no stone unturned.  She really understood that kids’ lives were going to be at risk if we were going to lose these 11,000 records,” said van Schenkhof.

Governor Eric Greitens (R) signed SB 160 into law last week.  The provisions dealing with the definitions of abuse and neglect and with retention of abuse records became effective immediately.

Note:  Emily van Schenkhof’s last day with Missouri KidsFirst was last week.  In July she begins work as the Executive Director of the Children’s Trust Fund.