Missouri House endorses statewide prescription drug monitoring program

The Missouri House has given preliminary approval to a statewide monitoring program for prescription drugs.  Supporters say it will combat abuse of prescription drugs.  Opponents say it will lead to more people switching to heroin and other illegal drugs, and cause an increase in overdose deaths.

Representative Holly Rehder (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Missouri is the only state in the nation without a statewide program, though a program started by St. Louis County encompasses roughly 87-percent of the state’s population.

House Bill 1693 would replace St. Louis County’s program with one that covers all of Missouri and puts additional protections in place for those whose data would be in the Monitoring program.

It would create an online database that doctors and pharmacists could use to record and monitor the purchases of pills and visits to pharmacies.  For the seventh year, Representative Holly Rehder (R-Sikeston) is the proposal’s sponsor.  She said it would help fight what has been called an “epidemic” of prescription drug use.

“I ask that you all hear me say that this is not a silver bullet.  I have said that now for eight years, but as all states have said, this is a cornerstone in their fight against the epidemic,” said Rehder.

Representative Justin Hill (R-Lake St. Louis) has opposed creation of a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) each year he has been in the House.  He argues that such programs have not worked, and said by taking away pharmacies as places abusers can get prescription drugs the state would be pushing abusers to illicit drugs.  He said after St. Louis County’s PDMP was implemented the rate of drug overdose deaths increased in areas it covered.

“We’re okay with maybe putting another tool in the toolbox but at the expense of more lives.  I’m not okay with that,” said Hill.

Rehder acknowledged the increase in overdose deaths but maintained PDMPs are effective tools in detecting and stemming addiction before it worsens.

Representative Justin Hill (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“What we’re trying to do is to stop band-aiding this epidemic.  We’re trying to work on the root of the problem, so we want to stop people from getting to that point,” said Rehder.

“As a grandmother who got my grandbaby out of a meth lab, who was living in one, there is no way that I would have the passion for this bill if I did not know from researching the data that this gets to the underlying problem,” said Rehder.  “We must stop addiction on the front end.  We must allow our providers to see it.”

Representative Glen Kolkmeyer (R-Odessa) said he backs the bill because not having a PDMP statewide means people can simply go to counties that do not have it to keep getting drugs to abuse or sell.

“My issue is … when we’re doing it patch quilted together is … if you’re from one county [which has PDMP] you’ll go to another county that doesn’t have it,” said Kolkmeyer.   “That’s why we need it statewide.”

Rehder said her bill includes protections against information in the PDMP database being used to take away Missourians’ rights under the 2nd and 4th Amendments.  She said those protections do not exist in the St. Louis County program.

Several proposed amendments to HB 1693 were voted down, including one that would have removed the bill from law if overdose deaths increase after its passage.

The bill was perfected by a roll call vote of 95-56.  Another favorable vote would send it to the Senate.

House proposes tougher license revocation laws for those who hit workers, emergency responders

The Missouri House has proposed that the Department of Revenue Director be given authority to revoke the license of a driver who hits a road or utility worker in a highway work zone or an emergency responder at the scene of an emergency.

Lyndon Ebker

House Bill 499 was written in response to the death of a highway worker nearly three years ago.  The man who struck and killed Lyndon Ebker in a work zone near New Haven was later revealed to suffer from macular degeneration that impaired his eyesight, but he was still driving more than two years later.

HB 499 was sent from the full chamber back to a House Rules committee for more work after some legislators raised concerns that earlier versions of it would deny a person of due process.  Bill sponsor Aaron Griesheimer (R-Washington) said the changes address that.

“There were some concerns expressed to me that, well what if there was a mechanical issue on your vehicle and you struck a highway worker, and so we added some language in there that states whether the investigator had probable cause to believe the person’s negligent acts or omissions contributed to his or her vehicle striking that individual,” said Griesheimer.

Ebker’s family and the Department of Transportation pushed for the legislation.  Lawmakers heard that the workers who’d been on Ebker’s crew felt unsafe because they knew the man who’d killed him was still on the road.

Kansas City representative Greg Razer (D) was one of those who listened to their testimony in a committee hearing.

“That was a tough day to sit through … hearing the pain of those families, and these are men and women who are working very hard for our state in rain, sleet, snow, blazing hot sun, and I hope we can go forward with this and also let Missourians know that when you get to a work zone you need to slow down.  You need to pay attention and be extra cautious,” said Razer.

Odessa Republican Glen Kolkmeyer also sits on the Transportation Committee.  He said he’s glad to see this proposal advancing.

“I had a firefighter killed in the line of duty by a gentleman who came over a hill that should have never been on the road,” said Kolkmeyer.  “We’re getting to name that road after that firefighter that was killed.”

Representative Aaron Griesheimer (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Under the bill an officer investigating a work zone or emergency zone accident in which a worker or emergency responder was hit can file a report to the Department.  The Director will revoke a driver’s license if he finds, based on that report, that the driver was at fault.

The driver then will have 15 days to prove competency by retaking and passing the driver’s test or by appealing to courts local to where the accident happened.  If the court finds the driver was involved in hitting a worker; the work or emergency zone was properly marked; and the investigating officer found probable cause that the driver was at fault, the license revocation would stand.

Representative Rudy Veit (R-Wardsville) was one of those who raised concerns about due process with the earlier bill language.  He said that 15 day provision answers his concerns.  He now supports the bill.

“These workers are in a fearful position.  That’s every day cars are whipping by them, and there’s two types of people that will hit them.  One is those who aren’t competent to be driving.  This will quickly remove them from the road.  The second one is those who are driving reckless, and keep in mind those are the people we are putting more fear in,” said Veit.  “They know if they do something they’re going to have swift, fast consequences, and I think this is another tool in the chest we need to protect the workers and to honor the workers who do this dangerous work and let us keep our roads open.”

In November the driver who struck Lyndon Ebker pled guilty to two charges and his driving privilege was revoked for life.

The House voted 149-5 to send the bill to the Senate.

Earlier story:  Family of MoDOT worker killed in work zone asks lawmakers to toughen license revocation law

House advances ban on lobbyist gifts to local government and school officials

The state House is close to passing another ethics reform proposal – this one aimed at the influence lobbyists have on local elected officials.

Representative Shamed Dogan has proposed banning lobbyist gifts to local government officials since 2015.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Shamed Dogan has proposed banning lobbyist gifts to local government officials since 2015.  In 2016 it was added to a proposed ban on gifts to legislators and statewide elected officials. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 229 would bar gifts from lobbyists to local government officials, superintendents, school board members, members of charter school boards, and the staff and family members of such people.

The proposal is described as extending to local elected officials the same ethical reforms the House has proposed for members of the legislature and statewide elected officials, most recently in House Bill 60 which was sent to the Senate in January.

“It would simply bring local elected and appointed officials into the same standards that we’ve set for ourselves in terms of banning lobbyists gifts for them,” said the bill’s sponsor, Representative Shamed Dogan (R-Ballwin).

“It clears up the definition of local government lobbyists, which is somewhat murky right now.  Not everyone who gives gifts to local government officials right now is required to register as a local government lobbyist, so this requires them to do that,” said Dogan.

The bill originally extended its prohibitions only to governments and school districts with annual operating budgets of more than $10-million.  It was amended to remove that cap.

Representative Deb Lavender offers an amendment removing a provision that extended the gift ban only to officials in local governments and school districts with annual operating budgets of $10-million or more.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Deb Lavender offers an amendment removing a provision that extended the gift ban only to officials in local governments and school districts with annual operating budgets of $10-million or more. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

That amendment was offered by Kirkwood Democrat Deb Lavender.

“I think you can make a case the smaller you are – county, city, town or village – operating with a budget of $10-million or under that, you might actually be more apt to consider taking a gift or have your vote influenced,” said Lavender.

Odessa Republican Glen Kolkmeyer said he is glad the proposal would extend to superintendents, after an incident he said happened in the Wellington-Napoleon School District.

“The superintendent lobbied hard to put in a computerized climate control system in the school.  It was a quarter of a million dollars.  By the time they paid interest, because they had to finance it, it was a third of a million dollars, for them to use it for two or three years and for the next superintendent to walk in the door and scrap it,” said Kolkmeyer.  “I’m glad that this includes school superintendents because I think some of our superintendents are living pretty high on the hog by some of the perks that are given them.”

Dogan said he’s seen similar situations unfold in St. Louis-area school districts.

Dogan has also cited, in promoting his bill, an experience he had while a Ballwin Alderman.  He learned the city administrator had accepted World Series tickets from a trash company that had a no-bid contract up for approval with the city.

Just as HB 60 would allow lobbyists to contribute money to events to which all state elected officials and legislators are invited, HB 229 would allow lobbyists to pay for events to which all members of a political subdivision or all members of the General Assembly are invited.

HB 229 has broad bipartisan support.  One more favorable vote will send it to the Senate.

House passes bills meant to halt ‘venue shopping’

The Missouri House has passed a trio of bills meant to put an end to “venue shopping” in lawsuits, particularly in the St. Louis area.

Representative Glen Kolkmeyer (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Glen Kolkmeyer (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Proponents said House Bills 460, 461, and 462 would stop the practice of attorneys to seek to have cases involving people not from Missouri, alleging injuries that didn’t happen in Missouri, and against companies not from Missouri, heard in St. Louis based on the belief they’d have a better chance of winning there.

“St. Louis has become the nation’s courtroom,” said the bills’ sponsor, Representative Glen Kolkmeyer (R-Odessa).

Kolkmeyer said there are more than 8,400 plaintiffs from outside of Missouri involved in 140 cases pending in St. Louis.

“That’s overcrowding our dockets, we have judges coming from all over the state to fill in the St. Louis Courts, and it’s time that we pull back a little bit,” said Kolkmeyer.

He said the bills aim to make sure more such cases are heard in venues more appropriate to their circumstances.

Each of the bills passed with 97 or more votes, but they faced bipartisan opposition.  Parkville Republican Nick Marshall said it would hurt Missourians’ ability come together across county lines in cases against large companies.

“We have swept up into this bill someone that we didn’t meant to sweep up into this bill, and that’s the small plaintiffs throughout rural Missouri that have a common, large-pocketed defendant – either corporation or deep-pocketed insurance company,” said Marshall.  “We have these little Davids out there that cannot fight Goliath by themselves.”

The bills are the latest in a series of courtroom reforms passed out of the House this session, including new standards for who would be considered an expert witness in a trial.

Those bills have been sent to the state Senate.