Missouri legislature votes to ease regulation of hair braiders, curb future business regulations

Legislation aimed at decreasing regulation of Missouri businesses has been approved by the General Assembly.

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

The state House voted Tuesday for the final passage of House Bill 1500, which started off as a bill to ease regulations of hair braiders, but added to it is language that will make the state think twice about imposing regulations on new professions.

In order to charge for braiding someone’s hair in Missouri a person must undergo 1,500 hours of training to obtain a cosmetology license.  The sponsor of HB 1500, Ballwin Republican Shamed Dogan, said that training does not cover hair braiding.  Dogan said that’s overly burdensome on people who often learn braiding as a practice handed down by family through generations.

“I’m very grateful that we’re going to be able to take hair braiding from a 1,500 hour license requirement to merely four to six hours of watching an instructional video on health and safety,” said Dogan.

Critics of an earlier version of HB 1500 said they were concerned hair braiders whose training was not extensive enough could pose health risks, including that they would not be able to recognize diseases involving the scalp and could spread those conditions.

HB 1500 now requires that a hair braider watch a four-hour video on health and safety.  House Democrat Leader Gail McCann Beatty (D-Kansas City) said she would have liked more hours to be required, but is glad that is a requirement and not optional, as it was under an earlier version of the bill.

“I think the definition of a good bill is one that no one is totally happy with,” said McCann Beatty.

The Senate added to House Bill 1500 the language of House Bill 1928, sponsored by Yukon Republican Robert Ross, which aims to discourage unnecessary state regulation of businesses.  The bill also lays out what considerations must be made before a regulation is imposed.

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

“This bill will require that we look through and actually quantify the risk that is going to exist to the public in the operation of this unlicensed profession and why we, as a state, would need to step in and regulate that,” said Ross.  “It also states that … if we’re going to impose regulation on this that we should start with the least restrictive form of regulation, and then based on that risk to the public, then move that up.”

“That will fulfill the promise that many of us – most of us – have made, to reduce regulations,” said Representative Keith Frederick (R-Rolla) of Ross’ language, “and the best way to reduce them is don’t put them in place in the first place unless they’re really essential.”

Kansas City Republican Kevin Corlew encouraged his colleagues to vote for HB 1500 as it returned from the Senate.

“I think this bill enables small business and entrepreneurs to do what they love to do, to do something that they’re good at and to make a living out of it.  This is a bill that enables government to get out of the way, cut unnecessary red tape, and allow entrepreneurs to do their craft,” said Corlew.

With the House’s 137-11 vote on Tuesday the legislation is now ready to be delivered to Missouri’s governor.

House Speaker: Committee investigating governor will ‘have the time it needs to finish its work’

Missouri’s House Speaker said he doesn’t want to constrain the committee he created to investigate allegations against the state’s governor.

House Speaker Todd Richardson (image center) takes questions from reporters following the House’s adjournment on Thursday, 04/19/2018. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

“This committee’s going to have the time it needs to finish its work,” Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) said to reporters on Thursday after the House adjourned for the week.

A St. Louis grand jury in February indicted Governor Eric Greitens (R) for felony invasion of privacy.  He is accused of taking, without consent, an intimate photo of a woman with whom he had an affair in 2015.  A circuit judge in St. Louis today declined Greitens’ request to dismiss that case.

Earlier this week Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) said he has enough evidence for a felony charge against Greitens for violating campaign laws.  Hawley said Greitens took a list of those who donated to his charity for military veterans, The Mission Continues, and transferred it to his political campaign to use in fundraising efforts.

The developments concerning Greitens this week have some calling for the House to take action concerning him now, but Richardson said the chamber will stick to the plan he announced last week.  Preparations are continuing for the House to call itself into special session in case more time is needed for its members to review the recommendations of the Special Investigative Committee on Oversight, when those recommendations are ready.

“The committee didn’t believe, at that point in time, that they would be able to finish their work before the end of session.  I think they still believe that they need additional time to do that work, which is why we have begun the process of calling ourselves into a special session,” said Richardson.  “My point last week and my point this week is, there’s not going to be an artificial timeline or a deadline here.  We’re going to let the committee work, we’re going to let them work as thoroughly as they need to, and when they come back with recommendations we’ll be ready to take them up.”

As for the decision today by Judge Rex Burlison to allow the invasion of privacy case against Greitens to continue, Richardson said it has no bearing on what the House does and it never would have.

“The Missouri legislature is a separate and co-equal branch of government and no matter how that decision had gone today, the House and the Senate would continue to go through our process,” said Richardson.  “Our role and responsibilities here are different than the role of the court in the City of St. Louis so it doesn’t impact it at all.”

Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty and Representative Gina Mitten, who is the ranking Democrat on the House Special Investigative Committee on Oversight, answer questions from reporters after the House adjourned on Thursday, 04-19-2018. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

Richardson and other members of House Republican leadership said this week they believe Greitens should resign.  The President Pro Tem of the Missouri Senate, Ron Richard (R), said this week he also believes Greitens should resign, and if he does not, Richard believes he should be impeached and that effort should begin now.

Richardson said he believes he and the Senate president remain committed to the same process.

“He and I have been in constant contact, and we both want the House committee and the legislature to execute a thorough and fair process, and a process that makes sure that the members of the general assembly – who are going to be tasked with deciding some of those recommendations – that they have the most information that they need in front of them to make a good decision,” Richardson said.

The leader of the House Democrats, Gail McCann Beatty (D-Kansas City), said she thinks Speaker Richardson is handling the situation with caution, but she is anxious to see the chamber take further action regarding Greitens.

“From my perspective I think I have seen enough [to vote on impeachment now].  This is a cloud over our state.  It’s embarrassing, and we need to be moving forward to resolve this sooner than later,” said McCann Beatty.

The investigative committee has continued to meet, and has hearings scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.

Missouri House adopts resolution launching investigation of charge against Gov. Greitens

“We will do our best.”

Representative Jay Barnes presents a resolution that would launch the House’s investigation into a felony charge against Gov. Eric Greitens. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

That was the final statement to the House Thursday from Representative Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City) before the chamber adopted a resolution that launches its investigation of a felony charge against Governor Eric Greitens (R).  Barnes will chair the Special Investigative Committee on Oversight that will conduct that investigation.

A St. Louis grand jury last month indicted Greitens for felony invasion of privacy.  He is accused of taking, without consent, an intimate photo of a woman with whom he had an affair in 2015.

House Resolution 5565 authorizes the Committee.  It was approved 154-0.

Barnes discussed with other members how the investigation will be conducted.  He said the committee will close its hearings to the public when witnesses are giving testimony.

“The reason for that, if you think about legal process and the context of a trial where testimony is given, other witnesses in a case are excluded from the courtroom while a separate witness is testifying … lawyers call that, ‘invoking the rule.’  So we could ‘invoke the rule,’ but if we have a public hearing, invoking the rule means nothing because everything that a previous witness says would be reported to other potential witnesses and they could come in and that would color their testimony based on what they had heard previous witnesses have said, and I think the best way to get accurate information is to close those hearings so that other potential witnesses don’t know what previous witnesses said,” Barnes explained.

Barnes said the first witnesses the committee will question are individuals that were identified in publicly-available documents and documents that have been reported on, though he did not name them.  He said subpoenas would be sent to those witnesses.  Based on their testimony, more individuals could be called to testify.

House Speaker Todd Richardson (right) and Majority Floor Leader Rob Vescovo (left) talk with Representatives Jay Barnes (second from right), who chairs the Special Investigative Committee on Oversight, and Representative Don Phillips (seated), the vice chair of that committee. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Democrats expressed concerns that they would like more clarity about what possible actions will remain after the committee completes its work, but in the end they joined in supporting the resolution.

Columbia representative Kip Kendrick (D) said the situation with the governor has become a distraction for lawmakers.  He wished the committee well in conducting its investigation.

“It’s an embarrassment for everyone in this body, for everyone in this chamber, for the whole state,” said Kendrick.  “The charge of this committee to hold this investigation is very serious.  Outside of passing the budget this year it’s probably the most serious thing that’s happening … I hope that everyone in this chamber, on both sides of the aisle, don’t enter into the partisan bickering or partisan fights on this moving forward.  There are going to be attempts to make this a partisan issue and it’s not.  This should be a fair and thorough process that should be allowed to play out.”

House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty (D-Kansas City) asked Barnes about the process, and at the end of her inquiry told him, “We’re putting all of our trust in you to handle this properly.”

Barnes acknowledged to the chamber the levity of the job before him and the committee.

“This is a solemn and serious obligation.  Thank you for the trust that you have placed in me and the members of this committee and the trust that this body places in us.  We will do our best,” said Barnes.

The committee, whose other members are vice chairman Don Phillips (R-Kimberling City) and representatives Jeanie Lauer (R-Blue Springs), Kevin Austin (R-Springfield), Shawn Rhoads (R-West Plains), Gina Mitten (D-St. Louis), and Tommie Pierson, Jr (D-St. Louis), is expected to begin holding hearings next week.

House rejects greater penalties for assaulting, killing police dogs, following emotional debate

The Missouri House has defeated a bill to increase penalties for assaulting or killing a law enforcement animal amid emotional debate led by black Democrats, who emphasized what they say those dogs represent to their communities.

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

House Bill 1649 would increase those penalties as high as a class-C felony, which carries up to ten years in prison, for killing a police dog or injuring it to the extent it cannot continue to be used as a police dog.

The sponsor of House Bill 1649, St. Charles Republican Robert Cornejo, has offered similar legislation for several years.  He said the penalties for hurting or killing a police dog are too lenient.

“Even if you treat it as property, with the tens of thousands of dollars that are invested in this property I don’t think that the punishment should be the same as failing to return a library book that’s worth ten bucks.  I think this is something that is right-sizing the punishment,” said Cornejo.

The bill was given initial approval last week but only after many Democrats spoke against it saying that police dogs have, in the words of Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty (Kansas City), “been used as a weapon against black citizens.”

House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

During debate before the vote whether to send the bill to the Senate, Representative Bruce Franks, Junior, (D-Ferguson) spoke with Cornejo about what police dogs meant to him.

“I can remember when I was in elementary school how much I would hate watching civil rights videos because of what they did with those dogs,” said Franks.

Some Republicans also talked about issues they had with the legislation.  Shamed Dogan (R-Ballwin) said under HB 1649 the penalties for killing or disabling a police dog would be greater than those for second degree rape or assaulting a person in a nursing home.  He also said the bill leaves no room for self-defense against a police dog and does not account for incidents in which a dog might be used improperly by police.

“This piece of legislation does not allow me to stand my ground against a police dog,” said Dogan.  “It is the irony of all ironies that those of us who support the Second Amendment would say that I have a right to self-defense, that I have a right to use deadly force against other people when I believe that my life is in jeopardy from them, but if I’m being charged at by a police dog then that right just goes away and I have to take whatever that dog is going to give me.”

Some Republicans said the issues that were raised caused them to change from favoring the bill in last week’s vote to opposing it.  Rolla Republican Keith Frederick told Beatty the legislation needs to be reconsidered.

Representative Shamed Dogan (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications

“I think if I were in the African American community and hearing the discussion that you’ve done today, I would very much be saying to myself, ‘You know, this is not good optics, for sure; it’s not a good perception,’” said Frederick.

The vote on the bill was 73-68, short of the 82 needed to send it to the Senate.  Cornejo noted that there were 14 members absent for that vote and said the bill could be brought up again for consideration, or that the issue should still receive attention.

“I think if we had full attendance the bill would’ve passed,” said Cornejo.  “I know, speaking with somebody already since the vote, there may be a motion to [reconsider] or we could revisit this issue as an amendment on the floor in the future.”

Beatty said she was, “a little bit,” surprised that the bill failed.

“I was very impressed by the fact that folks actually listened,” said Beatty.  “I don’t think when we did the perfection [vote] that people understood the deep-seeded anguish that people felt over this particular bill, particularly when we were basically saying that animal’s life takes precedent.”

Democrats also called for other bills dealing with police matters to be advanced.

“Until we face this issue head-on and look at the legislation that’s out there and really deal with the issue little pieces like this are not going to fix it and there’s going to be unintended consequences,” said Beatty.

Democrats propose multi-pronged attack on opioid abuse

Missouri House Democrats say the fight against opioid abuse is about more than passing a statewide prescription drug monitoring program.  They today unveiled a slate of legislation that would attack the problem by addressing a number of other issues.

House Democrat Leader Gail McCann-Beatty and Representative Gina Mitten speak about their caucus’ multi-bill approach to attacking opioid abuse in Missouri. (Photo; Chris Moreland, Missouri House Communications)

“The opioid disorder crisis is multi-faceted,” said House Democrat Leader Gail McCann-Beatty (Kansas City).

Democrats continue to support passage of a statewide prescription drug monitoring program to track the use of prescription narcotics.  Such legislation has advanced farther through the legislative process in each of the past few sessions, but fallen short of passage.  Last year St. Louis Democrat Fred Wessels sponsored such legislation that was combined with a bill sponsored by Sikeston Republican Holly Rehder and fell just short of final passage.  Both representatives will sponsor such legislation again this year.

In addition, Democrats have filed bills that would require pharmacies to post information about methods and locations for the safe disposal of unused medication; require for medical professionals with prescribing authority at least four hours of training on the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs and recognizing addiction in patients; require the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to mirror federal regulations for prescribing opioids for chronic pain; require insurance coverage of medication assisted treatment and remove insurer-proposed barriers to addiction services; establish a sterile needle and syringe exchange pilot program; require the Show-Me Healthy Babies program to cover substance abuse treatment for women up to one year post-partum; and expand the use of CBD or hemp oil to include being used as a pain management alternative for those with a history of opioid abuse.

“Substance disorders need to have an all-of-the-above approach and what we’re proposing here is just that.  We’re not only talking about PDMP.  We’re talking about a number of other options; tools that should basically be put in the toolbox of not just the medical community but our entire community,” said Representative Gina Mitten (D-St. Louis).

Mitten is sponsoring the bills that deal with safe disposal of abused prescription medication and additional training for prescribers.

Missouri is the only state in the nation without a statewide prescription drug monitoring program.  Many counties in the state are participating in a program initially launched in the St. Louis region, and Governor Eric Greitens (R) signed an executive order creating a tracking program for some prescription information handled by one benefits provider.

The legislation discussed today by House Democrats is for the 2018 legislative session, which begins January 3.

House does not override any vetoes; aims for new plan to help disabled, elderly

The Missouri legislature did not act to override any of Governor Eric Greitens’ (R) vetoes of its legislation in the veto session that began Wednesday at noon.

Representative Deb Lavender came up with an earlier version of a “fund sweep” plan when the House was working on a proposed state budget. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The House was asked to consider overriding one veto; that of House Committee Bill 3.  That bill would have reduced cuts to reimbursement rates for nursing homes and in-home care providers by taking $35-million from surpluses in multiple state funds.  Governor Greitens called the proposal unconstitutional and a one-time fix to a long-term issue.

House and Senate leadership confirmed Wednesday those chambers would work together to create within three weeks a new funding solution to preserve care for the more than 8,000 Missourians who would be impacted by those cuts.

The House voted not to overturn that veto, 49-106, with most Republicans voting to sustain.

Kirkwood Democrat Deb Lavender was the chief architect of the idea of a “fund sweep,” as called for by HCB 3.  She made the motion to overturn the veto.

“With the unnecessary veto of House Committee Bill 3, the governor took away independence from these 8,000 individuals, stripped $34.5-million out of our local economies, and threatened the care provided by our nursing homes to our elderly,” said Lavender.  “By the stroke of his pen the governor ignored a hard-found, bipartisan compromise intended to ensure that the disabled and elderly individuals continue to get the care they need.”

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick is charged with representing the House in developing a new funding plan to preserve services for more than 8,000 disabled and elderly Missourians. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Republicans said voting to override the veto wouldn’t accomplish anything because the wording of HCB 3 gives the Greitens’ administration the option of sweeping those funds, so he could still elect not to do it even if the bill were passed.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) said the House should instead focus on the effort to create a new, long-term plan to maintain services to those 8,000 Missourians.

“Do I think that it’s possible to get to a place where we can put something on the table that can pass?  I think it’s absolutely possible,” said Fitzpatrick, who was asked along with Senator Mike Cunningham to work with their colleagues to develop a plan.

If they are successful, the legislature would next be asked to consider voting to call itself into special session to consider that plan.  That would require approval by at least three-fourths of the legislators in each chamber.

Democrats were not convinced that the answer is to wait for a new plan to be developed.

“We’ve had all summer to work on this and no one even saw that it was important enough to pull together,” said House Democrat leader Gail McCann Beatty (Kansas City).

The House adjourned with no motions having been made to consider overrides on any other vetoes.  The Missouri Senate did not send the House any veto overrides to consider.

Legislature’s budget aims for transparency in settlements with the state, agency workplace environments

The legislature has passed a budget that aims to make state agencies more accountable when lawsuits against them cost taxpayer dollars.

House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty made creating transparency with the legal expense fund one of her priorities this session.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty made creating transparency with the legal expense fund one of her priorities this session. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Lawmakers learned last fall that the Department of Corrections had reached millions of dollars in settlements in recent years with employees who had been harassed, discriminated against, and in some cases retaliated against.  Legislators said they didn’t know about apparent ongoing issues in Corrections because of how money for settlements was identified in the budget.

Settlements had come out of a single line in the budget called the legal expense fund, which had no spending limit.  That meant legislators did not know how much money was being spent on settlements each year, and agencies didn’t have to explain to the legislature what was behind lawsuits against them.

The budget for the year starting July 1 would cap that line at $16-million.  If settlements exceed that, the Office of Administration can pull up to $10-million from other funds it controls.  If that isn’t enough, OA can then take money directly from the budget of the department involved in a given settlement.

The Attorney General has said he will also report to the legislature every month on the activity of the legal expense fund.  House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) said that’s why even if OA has to go to any of those additional places for settlement money, it must all pass through that fund.

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

“So it still has to go to the legal expense fund and then it has to be paid from the legal expense fund, so that shouldn’t impact [tracking that fund’s activity],” said Fitzpatrick.

Meanwhile the House has passed a bill that would require by law those monthly reports from the governor, but with the process moving slowly in recent weeks, House Democrat Leader Gail McCann Beatty (Kansas City) said she’s looking for other bills to which she can add that language.

“The Attorney General has been very cooperative and is now posting that information on his website so it is there for the first time.  I will be asking those other departments that don’t fall under the Attorney General to do the same voluntarily until we have the opportunity to actually pass this legislation,” said McCann Beatty.

Legislators believe that with the new budget provisions and reporting by the attorney general any future situations like that uncovered at Corrections will be exposed.

Meanwhile, a House subcommittee launched to investigate corrections and recommend changes in that department is close to releasing its report.

The legislature’s budget proposal is now awaiting action by Governor Eric Greitens (R).

House votes to require monthly reporting on settlements in cases against Missouri

The House has voted to increase transparency when lawsuits against state agencies are settled.  The legislation was prompted by the revelation that millions of tax dollars were paid out over several years in settling harassment and discrimination cases against the Department of Corrections.

Representative Paul Fitzwater (R-Potosi) carried HCB 7 on the House Floor.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Paul Fitzwater (R-Potosi) carried HCB 7 on the House Floor. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Committee Bill 7 would require the attorney general to report every month to the legislature and others about how the state’s legal expense fund – the fund from which money for settlements is taken – has been used.

Those cases against Corrections came to light late last year when an article on Pitch.com detailed several of them, and outlined how employees who complained about being harassed or discriminated against were victims of retaliation by fellow Corrections staff members.

House members said after the article came out that they were unaware of the settlements because those have been paid out of a line in the budget that has no spending limit on it.  That meant departments never had to come to the legislature and justify how much their settlement agreements were costing the state.

St. Charles Republican Kathie Conway, who chairs the appropriations committee that oversees Corrections, said this bill is needed.

“This is something that needs to be in statute so that the legislature is not caught unaware of all the goings on in different departments,” said Conway.

House Democrat Leader Gail McCann Beatty hopes to prevent state employees who have complained of harassment or discrimination from having to sign gag orders as part of court settlements.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
House Democrat Leader Gail McCann Beatty hopes to prevent state employees who have complained of harassment or discrimination from having to sign gag orders as part of court settlements. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Democrat leader Gail McCann Beatty (Kansas City) proposed that the reporting should cover all state agencies and not just the Department of Corrections.  She said the reporting requirements could lead the legislature to make changes in policies or laws to address issues resulting in lawsuits in other agencies.

She hopes the legislature will go further and address the signing of gag orders by state employees who complain of harassment or discrimination, as some in the Corrections cases did under the terms of their settlements.

“While we can sunshine and get this information it does not give that employee the opportunity to give their side,” said McCann Beatty.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) announced in March he would begin monthly reporting on the activity of the legal expense fund.  Legislators praised his decision but said HCB 7 is still needed to ensure future attorneys general will follow suit.

Hawley’s first such report comes out April 30.

HCB 7 would also require the Department of Corrections’ director to meet with the House’s committee overseeing that department twice each year to discuss issues with that department.

The House voted 150-1 to send the bill to the Senate, but only two weeks remain in the legislative session for that body to consider it.

House budget proposal attempts to strengthen defunding of abortion providers

The budget proposed this week by the Missouri House attempts to strengthen an attempt started last year to defund abortion providers.

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

The current fiscal year’s budget includes language that intended to keep all money appropriated by it from going to hospitals or clinics that perform abortions.  Yukon Republican Robert Ross proposed that prohibition, and said it needed to be strengthened.

“Despite that being a simple amendment last year, apparently [the Department of Social Services] was confused, and has chosen not to implement until recently … in this last month,” said Ross.

The House voted to adopt language offered by Ross for this year’s budget to use the definition of “abortion services” found elsewhere in state law.  Republicans including Sonya Anderson of Springfield said they hope this will clarify to the Department the legislature’s intent.

“Time and time again we have heard from our constituents that they do not support their tax dollars being used to fund abortions.  Last year we thought we had put a stop to this … yet here we are again a year later and Missouri is still sending taxpayer money to Planned Parenthood, an organization that is the largest abortion provider in Missouri,” said Anderson.

House Democrat leader Gail McCann Beatty called the amendment a “continued attack on women.”

“I think that amendment, while its target may be Planned Parenthood, this is going to cause some issues to our hospitals as well,” said McCann Beatty.

The statutory definition of “abortion services” includes not only performing abortions, but encouraging or referring a patient to have one.  Raytown Representative Jerome Barnes (D) said that means facilities besides Planned Parenthood could lose money.

Representative Deb Lavender (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Deb Lavender (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“Talking about abortion and providing fact-based information is not the same thing as providing abortions.  While the amendment maker may indeed target one particular provider, I am very concerned that any women’s health provider could be swept up in this amendment,” said Barnes.

Kirkwood Representative Deb Lavender (D) said the healthcare of women statewide could suffer under the prohibition.

“We are now in this amendment saying if you refer somebody for an abortion out of your facility, we’re not going to pay.  This now affects federally-qualified health facilities,” said Lavender.  “Make no mistake:  you think infant mortality in the Bootheel is high today?  Wait until you pass this amendment because you are going to prevent women from getting healthcare.”

Democrats also argue that tax dollars are already prohibited from being used to pay for abortions, but Republicans including Anderson say that isn’t enough.

“The taxpayers’ money is still going to fund Planned Parenthood.  It may not just be specifically for abortion but Planned Parenthood does offer abortion services in Missouri, so they do benefit from those taxpayer dollars,” said Anderson.

Ross’ amendment was adopted 115-35.  It is now part of the proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 that the House has sent to the Senate for its consideration.  The Senate will begin its work on that proposal next week.

Bill seeks better oversight of state settlements, after harassment in Corrections Department

House lawmakers shocked by what some have called an environment of harassment and retaliation in the Department of Corrections are considering a bill they hope will let the legislature know when such situations are present.

Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty presents House Bill 858 to the House Budget Committee. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty presents House Bill 858 to the House Budget Committee. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

An article on Pitch.com detailed numerous reports of employee-on-employee harassment in Corrections, including cases of retaliation against those who reported it.  Some cases resulted in lawsuits that have cost the state millions in settlements and more cases are pending.

House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty (D-Kansas City) has filed a House Bill 858, which would require the Attorney General to report to the General Assembly every month on activity concerning the state’s Legal Expense Fund.  That’s the fund from which the state pays all defense costs, including all settlements.

McCann Beatty and others say such reports would inform the legislature when there are problems in state agencies such as those coming to light in Corrections.

“We can’t possibly address the issue if we don’t know what’s happening,” McCann Beatty told the House Budget Committee, of which she was formerly a member.

As House Communications reported in December, lawmakers say they didn’t know about the repeated incidents of harassment in part because the Legal Expense Fund has for years had an open-ended dollar amount in it.  The line included an “E,” for “estimate,” which meant if expenses in that line exceeded what the legislature budgeted, more money could be spent on it.

That meant even though multiple lawsuits stemming from harassment cases in Corrections were being litigated and settled, the Department never had to come before the legislature and explain or justify the additional expense.

Budget makers plan to remove that “E” so that similar situations will have to be explained to the legislature in the future, but McCann Beatty’s proposal would require further accounting.

“It allows us to monitor what is going out of that fund so that we can see patterns, and see if there’s a problem,” said McCann Beatty.

Lawmakers say such oversight could reveal similar recurring problems in other state agencies.  McCann Beatty gave the Budget Committee information from the Attorney General’s Office showing the state had spent about $60-million on settlements in the past five years, though the legislature had only appropriated about $30-million for legal expenses.

In the fiscal year that began July 1, the Attorney General’s Office reports Missouri has expended more than $17-million in 24 settlements and 4 judgments.  Those settlements include 16 discrimination or retaliation claims among seven state agencies.

“I think if you look at that list you will see that these lawsuits – it is not simply the Department of Corrections, but in fact it is a statewide issue,” said McCann Beatty.  “As a legislature I think all of us want to see that climate changed.”

The budget committee is expected to vote on McCann Beatty’s bill tomorrow.