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.

House Committee considers lifting statute of limitations in child sex abuse civil cases

The Missouri House is working early in the 2020 legislative session on a bill to remove the statute of limitations on civil actions stemming from child sexual abuse.

Representative Sheila Solon (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The legislature in 2018 lifted the statute of limitations on criminal prosecution of such cases, but the limit on civil cases remains.  It only allows civil actions to be brought before the plaintiff turns 31; or within three years of the discovery that an injury or illness was caused by childhood sexual abuse.     House Bill 1411 would eliminate that provision, but would not allow the filing of civil suits in cases for which the statute of limitations has already expired.

“It make sense that since the statute of limitations has been removed for criminal it should also be removed for civil,” said Representative Sheila Solon (R-St. Joseph), the sponsor of HB 1411. “For us to have a law on the books that has constraints in it on when a victim has to be brave, come forward, and stop fleeing these memories but get in fight mode, isn’t right.”

Solon said survivors who want to sue perpetrators are not just after money.

“Most victims who come forward and file a civil lawsuit, it’s because they’re trying to protect other children.  They want the perpetrator to be held accountable for their actions,” said Solon.

The House Committee on Children and Families heard from Bryan Bacon, who was abused in 1985 by a priest who was the assistant principal at Vianney High School in St. Louis.  Bacon’s memories of the abuse resurfaced after the statute of limitations, then still in place, prevented a criminal prosecution, but he was able to file a civil suit.  He did so after learning that the priest had other victims, and after officials denied any knowledge of abuse.

“I knew that I had to file a lawsuit, and for one primary reason; that if Brother Mueller had abused two students in 1969 and 1970 … in 1985 at Vianney, myself, there were certainly other victims between those two time periods,” said Bacon.  “My ability to file a civil suit against the Marianist order and conduct discovery resulted in the ability of many other victims of Brother Mueller to come forward and begin their healing journey.  After I filed suit an additional 80 victims came forward.”

Julie Donelon, president of the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA) in Kansas City, told lawmakers survivors of child sexual assault often repress memories of the event only to recall them when they are older and better able to deal with the trauma.  She said survivors should be allowed to file civil suits at any time to benefit other survivors, but also to offset the costs that can come from dealing with abuse – costs that often fall on the survivor and the state.

“By placing time limits on a survivor’s ability to seek a civil remedy for their abuse we are placing the burden back on those survivors while allowing the perpetrators to move forward without ever having to take accountability,” said Donelon.

No one testified against HB 1411 while several advocacy groups testified in support of it.  Those included Missouri KidsFirst, represented by Public Policy Director Jessica Seitz.

“It grants more access to the justice system for victims of child sexual abuse.”

The Committee approved Solon’s bill and sent it to a second, where it awaits a hearing.