House approves bill meant to stop school-to-school movement of child abusers

The House has proposed that school districts open up lines of communication with one another to stop employees with a history of abusing students from going from one district to another.

Representative Rocky Miller (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

That is one of the things House Bill 739 aims to accomplish, according to its sponsor, Representative Rocky Miller (R-Lake Ozark).

“This bill would allow for school districts to contact an employee’s former employers from a list supplied by [The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education].  The schools would be required to disclose the actual violation of the schools’ regulations as it pertains to sexual misconduct with a student,” said Miller.

The legislation has the support of various child advocacy groups, who told lawmakers that right now, schools cannot share such information about former employees.  This often allows individuals with a history of abuse to find jobs in other districts and to abuse more children.

One of Hazelwood Democrat Paula Brown’s previous jobs was in human resources in a school district.  She said she was often in a terrible position.

“When someone calls to check a reference the only thing that we can reply with is, ‘We would not rehire them,’ with no explanation further than that,” said Brown.  “This will free up HR directors and assistant superintendents to speak the truth.  It will allow people not to be hired in other districts when they were fired from a different district,” said Brown.

“I think what we’re doing is not only saving children but affording school districts an opportunity not to be sued at the rate they are being sued at this point,” said Brown.

One provision added on the House Floor would require criminal background checks of anyone who volunteers with a school district, if that person will have regular or one-on-one contact with students or access to student records.

Representative Kathy Swan (R-Cape Girardeau) sponsored that amendment.

“We require background checks on school administrators, teachers, teachers’ aides, assistants, secretaries, cooks, bus drivers, and custodians, but not volunteers,” said Swan.

Representative David Wood (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Another piece added by the full House extends the definition of those who can be found guilty of abuse to include any person who developed a relationship with a child through school, even if the abuse did not occur on school grounds or during school hours.

Representative David Wood (R-Versailles) said this would close a “loophole” child advocates described to him.

“If the offense would happen on school grounds that’s easy enough to take care of, but when the offense happens off those school grounds, there’s been four cases in the last two years that [investigators have] had a lack of a preponderance of evidence,” said Wood.

The bill adds two-and-a-half hours to the training required of new school board members, which would be focused on identifying signs of sexual abuse and potentially abusive relationships between adults and children.  It would also require an hour of refresher training, annually.

Finally, the bill requires schools to offer students trauma-informed, developmentally appropriate sexual abuse training for grades six and above.  Parents who don’t want their children to receive that training could choose to opt-out of it.

The House voted 150-4 to send the bill to the Senate.

Earlier story:  House committee considers legislation to stop abusive teachers from going to new districts

House proposes increase in state aid to sheltered workshops

The Missouri House has voted to increase state financial support to sheltered workshops.

Representative Rory Rowland’s has a son, JP, who has Down syndrome and loves working in a Kansas City-area workshop. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

House Bill 2644 would increase from $19 to $21 dollars the amount the state pays to workshops for every six-hour or longer day worked by a handicapped employee. Backers say the boost would give those workshops and their employees more financial stability, while reaffirming the state’s support for them and the work they do.

HB 2644 is sponsored by Representative Rory Rowland (D-Independence), whose son JP has Down syndrome and works in a Kansas City-area workshop.

“I want to thank everyone in this body for your kindness and support of this,” an emotional Rowland told his House colleagues. “This means so much to my family [and] my son.”

Many lawmakers spoke while HB 2644 was before the House about the workshops in their districts and what those mean to their communities, and their employees.

Representative David Wood (R-Versailles) has been on the board of directors for a workshop in his district for more than 30 years. He said the employees of that workshop would rather be there than have a day off even on holidays.

“You see these workers not grumbling about being there. They want don’t want to take off. They want to be at work. They want the socialization. They want to feel a worth,” said Wood. “When you’re packaging something that they can go to Wal-Mart and see on the shelf and say, ‘Hey, I packaged that. I did that work,’ it gives them a feeling of self-worth that nothing else can.”

Representative Richard Brown (D-Kansas City) is the parent of a daughter with cerebral palsy who died at the age of 15.

Representative David Wood has been on the board of directors for a sheltered workshop for more than 30 years.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

“As a parent I often wondered, ‘Where would my child be able to go to work?’” Brown told his House colleagues. “A lot of the kids that she went to school with, they work at a sheltered workshop in my district called Southeast Enterprises, and when I look at kids like Dwayne Bell or Tiffany Johnson I see the joy that comes from their heart from going to work every day and having the ability to maintain a job and having a sense of purpose and a sense of self-worth from doing a job each day.”

Hermann Republican Justin Alferman said the value of workshops doesn’t only come from what they mean to their employees. He spoke about a component for air conditioner compressors that is made at a workshop in his district.

“It’s not just about giving these individuals a job. They are huge economic drivers of our communities,” said Alferman.

Wood said because of a combination of lagging state support and a pencil producer moving its operation from his district to the country of Mexico, the workshop he sits on the board of had to cut 45 of its employees.

“The state aid is extremely important. This is an extremely important program to the State of Missouri. They do work that you wouldn’t believe,” said Wood.

Rowland and other lawmakers thanked Majority Floor Leader Rob Vescovo (R-Arnold) and House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) for their support of the legislation.

HB 2644 goes to the Senate with less than two weeks left in the legislative session, but Rowland is optimistic that because of its subject matter it will receive enough attention to pass before the session’s end.

Earlier story:  Effort to reaffirm House support for sheltered workshops led by lawmaker whose son works in one

Missouri House votes to extend child care worker background checks

The Missouri House of Representatives has voted to increase protection for children in the state’s childcare facilities by broadening background checks on those facilities’ workers.

Representative David Wood (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

Versailles Republican David Wood told his House colleagues the state is not conducting background checks including fingerprints of those who come from out of state and apply to be childcare providers.

“We want to make sure our children in Missouri are safe.  When you have a childcare provider and currently a fingerprint background check is not required so we’re only checking inside the state, so we could have a violent offender coming from another state crossing in and working in our childcare facilities … this is just a good safety issue for children,” said Wood.

Wood said his House Bill 2249 would put Missouri in compliance with federal regulations.  Missouri is currently operating under a federal waiver, and once that expires on September 30, Missouri will lose about $5-million in federal grant money.

Unless and until it passes, he said parents don’t have much ability to know the background of those workers taking care of their children.

“These smaller providers actually have more restrictions than the larger ones do.  They do the fingerprint background checks, but those that are receiving state money and federal money in the state of Missouri aren’t required to right now, so this fixes that,” said Wood.

Applicants undergoing background checks would be allowed to work in child care facilities while the check is being conducted, but could not be left with children unsupervised during that time.  A worker would have to undergo a new check every five years.

The bill’s requirements would not apply to facilities not getting state or federal money, to those taking care of children within three degrees of relation to themselves, or those who have four or fewer children in their care.

The House voted 131-4 to send HB 2249 to the Senate.  The same language is included in another bill, House Bill 2042, which has also been sent to the Senate.

The language of HB 2249 is also found in House Bill 2042, which reforms the sex offender registry.

See our story on HB 2042 by clicking here.

House endorses minimum age for Missouri marriage licenses

The House this week voted to set a minimum age at which people in Missouri can get a marriage license, but the bill met more resistance than last year.

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

Marriage licenses can now be issued to persons younger than 15 under certain conditions.  House Bill 1630 would increase that age to 17 and require a court hearing on whether the marriage is advisable.  No licenses would be issued when either party is younger than 15, or when one party is 21 or older and the other party is younger than 17.

Bill sponsor Jean Evans (R-Manchester) began offering the legislation last year as a way to fight human trafficking; particularly cases in which abusers bring young trafficking victims to Missouri to marry them.

“Currently we do not have a minimum age of marriage in Missouri and this bill seeks to correct that,” said Evans.  “In addition it will protect young people from predators and those who might do them harm with forced marriages.”

The bill had bipartisan support, including from St. Louis Democrat Michael Butler, who said it’s appropriate for the legislature to set a minimum age for things like marriage.

“A decision to get married … is a very important decision, and minors in a lot of cases, we know, generally don’t have complete control when that decision is made.  To create a way for young people in our state to be protected from tough decisions that aren’t made by themselves, and we know this is occurring, is something that we should be doing,” said Butler.

Shamed Dogan (R-Ballwin) who argued that Missouri has a serious problem with human trafficking.

“If someone over the age of 21 – someone 30 years-old comes to a high school and engages in sexual activity with a 15 year-old or a 12 year-old or anyone under the age of consent that’s statutory rape, and right now that person can legitimately get married.  That’s a problem,” said Dogan.

Similar legislation passed out of the House last year 139-1, but this year many Republicans opposed the bill.  Some, including Lincoln Republican Wanda Brown, don’t like the requirement that a court hearing decide whether a marriage license should be issued for someone between the ages of 15 and 17.

Representative Wanda Brown (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“I’m not opposed, necessarily, to raising the age limit for marriage.  What I’m opposed to is telling every parent in this state they’re not fit to make a decision for their child without asking a judge, and of course paying an attorney,” said Brown.  “The bill was brought forward in the name of stopping human trafficking.  This is a made-up concept.  This does nothing to stop the traffickers.  This only takes the parental rights of good, law abiding citizens.”

Others like David Wood (R-Versailles) expressed concern the bill might affect religious populations living in their districts.

“I have a very large Mennonite population.  Mennonite population typically marries relatively young,” said Wood.  “My court could get really backed up waiting on a judge to approve a lot of these weddings when they’re approved by the family, they’re approved by the church, and they’re welcomed in the community.”

Regarding concerns like those of Wood, Evans said her bill is very similar to one in place in Pennsylvania where there are significant, similar religious populations.

“If you’re under 18 you have to have parent permission and go before a judge, and the judge just has to basically say there’s nothing – there’s no ill will here.  There’s not somebody taking advantage of someone.  This is a good fit, the families support it, and go forward and get married,” said Evans.  “It’s very similar to that and it’s worked very well in Pennsylvania where, again, they have much larger communities of Amish and Mennonite even than we do here in Missouri.”

Evans also said the bill does nothing to prevent a religious wedding ceremony.

Despite increased opposition over last year, a bipartisan 95-50 vote sent the bill to the Senate.  Last year Evans’ similar legislation was approved by a Senate committee but advanced no further.

Another measure backers say will help fight human trafficking became the first bill sent to the governor’s office in 2018.  Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) signed House Bill 1246.  The bill, sponsored by Adrian Republican Patricia Pike would require the development of posters displaying information on human trafficking.

House Budget Committee unhappy with how Greitens administration created drug monitoring program

State House Budget Committee members are not pleased with how Governor Greitens’ (R) administration paid for a new prescription drug monitoring program.

The Missouri House Budget Committee (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The Governor created the program with an executive order issued in July.  It includes a $250,000 no-bid contract with Express Scripts, under which that company provides data to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.  The Department uses that data to try to identify prescription drug abusers.

Legislators on the budget committee are frustrated that the administration created and found a way to pay for that program without their input or approval.

Versailles Republican David Wood said it looks bad for this new program to have been announced at a time when the governor has withheld money from other state programs, and after the legislature refused to fund many things saying the state is in a tight budget year.

“It makes me look like a liar,” said Wood.

The Office of Administration’s budget director, Dan Haug, told legislators the money came from additional federal funds for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that the state had not anticipated it would get.  He said the administration was free to use that money as it saw fit, and used it to address what it sees as a crisis:  prescription drug abuse.

Yukon Republican Robert Ross said the administration circumvented the legislature’s authority and used money that could have supported other state needs, including some the legislature voted to pay for but that later saw the governor withhold the funding.

Budget Director for the Greitens’ Administration, Dan Haug, took the brunt of criticism from House Budget Committee members over how the administration paid to create a prescription drug monitoring program. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“You are taking that money away from someone else,” said Ross.  “Now we could have that discussion of whether it’s more deserving to go to the kids, or whether it’s more deserving to go to the seniors, or whether it’s more deserving to go to those with disabilities, but at the end of the day you are taking that money from one of these other groups.”

Criticism came from both supporters and opponents of prescription drug monitoring with those on both sides saying their problem was not with the program the governor launched, but with how he launched it.

It also came from both political parties.

Springfield Democrat Crystal Quade told Haug it was “extremely frustrating” that CHIP money was used in a way that the legislature had no say in.

“I hope that as you all continue to come up with these new ideas to address this crisis that you bring them to use before you start moving money around,” said Quade.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) suggested the administration should not move forward with its drug monitoring program, and to instead bring it as a proposal to the legislature during the next budget process.  He urged administration officials to halt the transfer of that CHIP money to pay for the program, and to not sign a contract with Express Scripts.

“My suggestion would be to not do that,” said Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick called the use of that money, without the legislature’s approval, a “breach of trust.”

House votes to block new state park creation until current parks’ maintenance is caught up

The state House has proposed that Missouri shouldn’t create any new parks until it catches up on taking care of the ones it has.

Representative Randy Pietzman (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Randy Pietzman (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

It’s sent House Bill 698, sponsored by Representative Randy Pietzman (R-Troy), to the Senate.  That would require that before any new parks are established and before any parks are expanded by more than 10-percent in acreage, the state’s current parks should be maintained, brought up-to-date, and have all maintenance work completed.

HB 698 would allow the Department of Natural Resources to accept the donation or gift of additional land, but no work could be done to it except to address public health, safety, or welfare concerns, until the other requirements of the bill are met.  It would also require the Department to report annually to the General Assembly on maintenance at state parks and historic sites.

Pietzman said the bill is about making the Department of Natural Resources more accountable and more communicative with Missouri residents.  He said the state has more than $200-million in state park maintenance backed up, but in recent years the Department has created and prepared new parks while letting others stay at various levels of disrepair.

La Monte Republican Dean Dohrman said the bill would go toward supporting one of the state’s top industries:  tourism.

“We want to bring people in here.  We don’t want to take them out to our showcases and they be dilapidated,” said Dohrman.  “We want nice, clean facilities.  We want to keep those facilities, I think, to a high mark.”

Washington Republican Paul Curtman said the bill represents the type of policy the state should be using on other issues as well.

“We should not be acquiring more property for our state parks if we don’t even have the ability to actually maintain the programs that we have right now,” said Curtman.  “I think if we go back home and we tell people we had an opportunity to rein in government spending and make sure we’re spending money only on things that we can actually manage, people would expect us to say that we voted for that rather than against it.”

The bill passed out of the House 85-62; only a few more votes than enough necessary for passage.  Many, including some of Pietzman’s fellow Republicans, said it goes too far.

High Ridge Republican John McCaherty said he supports seeking greater accountability, but said prohibiting new parks until all maintenance is caught up is unrealistic.

“That’s never going to happen.  It’s never going to be completed.  It wouldn’t be completed at your house.  It’s not going to be completed at my house.  There’s always going to be a building that needs repair, there’s always going to be electrical work that needs to be done, there’s always going to be some project somewhere within the state of Missouri that needs to be done,” said McCaherty.

McCaherty said the bill would tie the hands of the new administration of Governor Eric Greitens (R) in response to lawmakers’ perception of mismanagement that occurred under Greitens’ predecessor.

Representative David Wood (R-Versailles) is concerned the bill would interfere with a project to add 144-miles of the former Rock Island Railroad to the state’s trail system.  He said the bill’s prohibitions would not block the state from taking that property in an anticipated donation from Ameren, but it would prevent the state from putting fencing along it.

“If we can’t spend the money, the gates for the crossings, the signs for the crossings to keep people off of the trail, the way to keep the cattle and the sheep, the livestock in place will not be put in unless it’s done at the property owner’s expense,” said Wood.

He is also concerned that without supervision of the newly-donated land, people will trespass on it.

HB 698 has gone to the Senate with four weeks left in the legislative session.

House budget plan would save program to get low-income youths into workforce

The single biggest change the House made during floor debate of its budget proposal this week would continue a program that aims to help low-income youth enter into the workforce.

Representative Bruce Franks (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Bruce Franks (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

St. Louis City Democrat Bruce Franks, Junior, saw that Governor Eric Greitens (R) had proposed cutting all funding to the Summer Jobs League within the Department of Economic Development.  Franks proposed taking $6-million from unused funds in two programs within Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to restore it, and the House voted to accept Franks’ proposal.

The Summer Jobs League gives 16- to 24-year-olds from low-income homes in the St. Louis or Kansas City areas the chance to work in a business in a field they’re interested in.

“It’s really a comprehensive approach to youth violence prevention,” said Franks.  “We serve the underserved:  the highest crime rate areas, highest poverty within the city.”

The largest portion of the state’s appropriation to the Summer Jobs League will pay the salaries of the youth participants – up to $8.50 an hour for up to 240 hours.  Franks said that is part of the incentive for businesses to participate.

“The jobs and the small businesses really benefit from having extra employees that they don’t have to pay that payroll, or that salary, so it really helps the small businesses when they can get three or four youth, teach them a great program, how to work, how to own their own business,” said Franks.

Participating businesses often hire the Summer Jobs League youths after their League term has expired.

Franks said Summer Jobs works in conjunction with other programs such as Prison to Prosperity, which helps youth in the St. Louis region transition out of prison.

“Now we’ve got youth that are getting out going straight to a job, straight to financial literacy, financial empowerment.  Summer Jobs doesn’t just offer summer jobs.  It offers 24-hour mentoring, behavior modification, job readiness training; all these different things to get you not only ready for the workforce but to continue on within the workforce,” said Franks.

Franks’ proposal earned praise from Republicans including Versailles Representative David Wood, who called it a better use of TANF dollars, “to catch the youth, get them into summer job programs, and teach them how to work early on.”

House Budget Committee Vice Chairman Justin Alferman (R-Hermann) said Franks, “worked extremely hard to find the funding for this program.”

House Democrat leader Gail McCann Beatty (Kansas City) said her law firm participated in Summer Jobs, and she worked with several young people through it.

“It is a great opportunity to work with these students, and sometimes you are the most positive influence that they have,” said McCann Beatty.

Franks thanked Alferman as well as House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R), Budget Committee member Representative Crystal Quade (D-Springfield), and others, for helping him find money for the League.

Many of Franks’ fellow lawmakers commended him on being a freshman member of a superminority who secured a large change in the state’s budget, but Franks said that’s not what he felt good about.

“It feels great because I was able to help the underserved.  It feels great because I was able to work across party lines and we were able to come together to serve my community,” said Franks.  “All too often the community that I serve has felt like they’ve been left out, and to have representatives on both sides truly care, truly vote in the interest of the people, that matters more than anything.”

The House’s budget proposal has been sent to the State Senate, which will propose its own changes.  Once the two chambers agree on a spending plan, it will be sent to Governor Greitens.