Governor signs bill to let domestic violence, sexual violence, stalking, victims break leases

Victims of domestic violence would have an easier time getting away from their abusers under bills signed into law this week by Governor Mike Parson (R).

Representative Jim Neely (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bills 243 & 544 would allow a person who has been, is, or is in imminent danger of being a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking to break a lease without penalty.

Often individuals trying to get away from abuse must find a new place to live, but if their name is on a lease that can present an obstacle.

“We hear from advocates and victims on a regular basis that they don’t feel safe where they’re living, they’re not able to get out of their lease,” said Jennifer Carter Dochler, Public Police Director for the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.  “They’re faced with two choices:  either continuing to live there where they don’t feel safe, or breaking their lease and then having a more difficult time getting another lease and having a financial burden due to that.”

Representative Jim Neely (R-Cameron) said he has owned properties in the past.  He said this new law could help some tenants who find themselves in dangerous positions.

“You don’t want problems within an apartment building to affect other people also, so it’s really a win-win for the person who’s being, so-to-speak, victimized and then the other tenants within a complex,” said Neely.

The legislation also keeps victims from being denied tenancy or evicted because of their status as a victim or potential victim.  Carter Dochler said this is something else that happens often.

“We recognize that landlords want to be able to protect their property and premises, yet sometimes it’s actually putting victims in a not safe circumstance.  We feel like the provisions that were put into this legislation balance both the safety needs of victims and some protections for landlords,” said Carter Dochler.

She said Missourians who need to utilize this new law, or otherwise need help dealing with an abusive situation, can find that help at domestic violence shelters throughout the state.

“That’s part of the role of the advocate, when they’re safety planning with an individual and weighing their options about relocating, is being familiar with laws such as these,” said Carter Dochler.  “Most people in the general public are probably not going to be aware that this law exists until they are connected with a service provider who’s knowledgeable about it and can share that information with them and help them navigate that process.”

Carter Dochler said while there are other issues she wants to see addressed, this is the latest in a series of laws passed by the Missouri General Assembly that will help people dealing with abuse.

“We are incredibly grateful for how much support we have received from the legislature on issues related to rape and abuse.  We had a very successful legislative session in 2018, and although the housing bill – House Bill 243 – is the only piece of priority legislation that passed in 2019, it is, for us, a huge success,” said Carter Dochler.  “This is a piece of legislation that advocates and survivors have been asking for, for many years.”

HBs 243 & 544 also specify what evidence a landlord must accept as proof of a domestic violence or stalking situation, and allow a landlord to access a fee for early termination of a lease.

The language also clarifies Missouri law against the nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images, better known as “revenge porn.”

The legislation becomes effective August 28.

Earlier story:

Bills would let victims of domestic or sexual violence or stalking get out of leases

House moves to lift hospice care death investigation requirement; change aimed at comforting families

Legislation in the Missouri House would lift the requirement, under certain circumstances, that the death of a person under hospice care be investigated.

Representative Bill Kidd (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Backers of House Bill 242 and an amendment added to House Bill 447 say that Missouri law requiring coroners and medical examiners to investigate a death in a home doesn’t account for the increase in the use of hospice care for terminal patients.

“The coroner does not have to come out and see that person who we all know is dead from cancer or a well-documented terminal illness,” said the proposal’s sponsor, Cameron Republican Jim Neely.

The legislation would allow the physician treating a patient or the hospice director to certify when a patient has died due to natural causes relating to a disease or known illness.  A coroner or medical examiner must be notified within 24 hours of such a death.

The legislation is personal for at least a couple of representatives.        Republican Bill Kidd (Buckner) told his colleagues his wife died after about three weeks in hospice care.  He said hospice care allows a terminally ill person and his or her family a great deal of comfort and assistance

“At the end of that it is an emotional experience to have a coroner want to come into your house and look at the body – and by the way, the body has to stay there untouched, which means that hospice cannot clean the body, cannot prepare it, which also means that the funeral home cannot come in and take the body away.  The family has to stay there with the body in the house … because you haven’t called the coroner,” said Kidd.

“If any of you, I hope never, have to go through a hospice in-home death experience, but the last thing you want is the intrusiveness of a coroner coming in and accusing you of maybe doing something nefarious, and that’s kind of what it is,” said Kidd.

Kansas City Democrat Richard Brown said his wife battled cancer for 12-years.  She was in hospice for two weeks before she died in 2018.

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

“The one thing that she wanted was death with dignity.  That’s what this amendment does, is it allows those person that are in hospice to die with a sense of dignity,” said Brown.  “My wife did not want to go to a coroner and be subjected to an autopsy when we knew what the cause of death would be.”

“I’m asking that for all Missourians who want to die with dignity that you allow them to do so when we know what the imminent cause of death will be when they are in the care of hospice providers,” said Brown.

“In a hospice situation hospice is there on doctor orders, hospice has their own doctors and physicians that come in and access the patient.  They already know – everybody has come to the conclusion that this is a terminal case, and it is not necessary for the coroner to intrude into your private home at such a fragile time,” said Kidd.

Neely’s stand-alone bill, HB 242, has been approved by two House committees and could soon be brought to the floor for debate.  HB 447, to which the language of 242 has been amended, has received initial approval in the House and could soon be sent to the Senate.

Bills would let victims of domestic or sexual violence or stalking get out of leases

When a person is trying to get out of a domestic violence situation one of their needs is a place to live, sometimes for children as well as their self.  If that person is under a lease agreement, property owners are under no legal obligation to release that person.  This could have lasting repercussions both financially and in finding another place to live.

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

House Bills 243, 544, and 683 Sponsored by Representatives Jim Neely (R-Cameron), Jean Evans (R-Manchester), and Raychel Proudie (D-Ferguson), are aimed at helping such individuals.

“This legislation would go a long way to help victims get a safe place to live,” said Heather Silverman with the National Council of Jewish Women – St. Louis.

Those bills would prevent anyone at risk of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking from being evicted, being denied tenancy, or violating a lease agreement as a result of that risk.  A person who was a victim or in imminent danger of being victimized would be able to use that as a defense if a landlord takes them to court.  The bills would establish what evidence a landlord must accept as proof of such situations.

Kate Heinen with the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault told the House Committee on Children and Families, “In 2014 … 23,000 women and children were denied shelter [in Missouri] because the shelters were full, and shelters are often full because people arrive in one and then realize that there’s going to be a much longer trajectory before they can access safe housing because of their disrupted rental history, because there’s no laws to protect them.

Representative Raychel Proudie (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“Allowing someone to be resolved of their lease agreement when they show some supporting documentation from a local program agency – an order of protection, a court record, anything that’s listed in the bill – is profound.  It’s huge.  It’s going to save lives,” said Heinen.

Heinen said individuals attempting to escape domestic violence often find it difficult to find a new place to live after facing problems getting out of a former residence.

“Either an eviction judgement on their record as a result of experiencing violence and being seen as a troubled tenant, or their rental history looks spotty because they’re seen as a troubled tenant as a result of experiencing violence, and then it makes it impossible for them to rent in their city or other places in their state,” said Heinen.

Representative Proudie’s legislative assistant, Holly Bickmeyer, told the committee she was 14 when she lost her mother due to domestic violence.  She thinks legislation like these bills could have made a difference in her life.

Representative Jim Neely (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“I feel like if something like this had been in place to where we would have been able to leave, it’s entirely possible that I would still have my mother today,” said Bickmeyer.  “Speaking as someone who has lived through that, I can tell you how much of a help something like this would have been.”

The committee held hearings on HBs 243 and 544 on Tuesday morning.  There was no opposition voiced.  Daryl Dewe, a registered lobbyist for the St. Louis Apartment Association, joined those testifying in support.

“Our landlords, most of all, we want our tenants to be safe and secure,” said Dewe.  “If that means, in a situation like this, helping them to a safe space more easily, then it’s the right thing to do.”

The bills would allow landlords to impose a termination fee when a tenant or lessee wants to terminate a lease early.

The committee has not yet voted on HBs 243 and 544.

Extensive Foster Care reforms passed in 2018 session set to become effective

The Missouri legislature this year passed a number of provisions aimed at making life better for children in the state’s foster care system.  Legislation that has become law would help children get an education, proper medical care, and ease their transition out of state care.

Representative Jim Neely carried Senate Bill 819 in the House and chaired a committee tasked with examining issues related to foster care. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) in January created the Special Committee to Improve the Care and Well-Being of Young People, to focus on foster care issues.  That committee and its chairman, Representative Jim Neely (R-Cameron), handled many of these provisions and oversaw combining several of them into one bill, House Committee Bill 11.  Many of them later became part of Senate Bill 819 which was passed and has been signed into law.  The provisions in that bill become effective August 28.

The Director of Missouri’s Office of Child Advocate, Kelly Schultz, has been a foster parent to 17 children over the years.  She said both as a foster parent and as the director, this year has been “huge,” for professionals, families, and most importantly children in foster care.

“Just to recognize what the professionals in foster care and what the foster families go through, and that really talking about it and just going through and looking at just everyday decisions that we make – as the legislative body, as the executive branch and policy – what those decisions are and how they impact the children in care,” said Schultz.

She said this year the legislature took steps toward doing the most important thing changes can do for children in Missouri:  to “normalize” their lives relative to those of their peers.

“Normalizing mistakes, normalizing learning, because that’s honestly what the teen years are about a lot of times, is testing boundaries, learning from that, moving forward, taking chances and risks,” said Schultz.

Schultz described some of the changes the legislature approved this year as “low-hanging fruit;” issues that were easily fixed that could have a major impact on the lives of children and those who work with them.

One example is a provision that allows children in state care to get bank accounts in their own name after they turn 16.  That measure was originally found in a bill handled by Representative Don Phillips (R-Kimberling City).

“I think it really gives the foster children some freedom, it gives them some independence, some responsibility, and they don’t have to have a co-signer or anything like that where most would have to have, and I just think it’s a wonderful opportunity for them,” said Phillips.

House Speaker Todd Richardson in January created the Special Committee to Improve the Care and Well-Being of Young People, which spent much of the 2018 session examining foster care issues. Much of its work became law in SB 819. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Schultz said as a foster parent, that provision doesn’t just help children.  She was once “on the hook,” when a child whose account she was a co-signer on overdrew that account.

Another provision will allow fees for birth, death, or marriage certificates to be waived if those documents are requested by certain state agencies on behalf of a child under juvenile court jurisdiction.

The sponsor of the original legislation dealing with that, Representative Mike Kelley (R-Lamar), said the fees for those documents might be considered nominal to most people, but they can seem insurmountable to children trying to gain their independence.

“It’s hard for most citizens to realize that $10 or $15 to someone who doesn’t have a job and has no way to make income is a huge amount of money and a burden upon those citizens that truly are wards of the state that we should be looking out for and doing what we can to help them be successful,” said Kelley.

Also included in SB 819 are provisions to:

– Allow a child who is homeless or in state care and who has not received all his or her required immunizations to enroll in school, daycare, preschool, or nursery for up to 30 days while he or she begins getting caught up on those immunizations.

– Expand assessment and treatment services for children in foster care.  It would require such services for all children in foster care – currently it is required only for those under the age of ten – and would require that those services be completed in accordance with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ periodicity schedule.  Current law requires screenings of children in state custody every six months.

– Allow minors to contract for admission to a rape crisis center if qualified as specified in the act

SB 819 also creates the “Social Innovation Grant Program.”  It will create a state program to fund pilot projects that seek to address social issues such as families in generational child welfare, opioid-addicted pregnant women, or children with behavioral issues who are in residential treatment.  Projects receiving grants should have the potential of being replicated to get the most out of state funds and address such concerns.

Earlier stories:

House prepares extensive foster care reform legislation

House approves limited medical marijuana proposal

The Missouri House has voted to allow those suffering from terminal and debilitating conditions to use medical marijuana.  The proposal now goes to the state Senate for consideration.

Representative Jim Neely sponsored HB 1554, a medical marijuana proposal, that the House sent to the Senate on May 1, 2018. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

House Bill 1554 would expand on a law passed in 2014 that allows the use of a cannabis extract, cannabidiol (CBD) oil, to treat intractable epilepsy.  If HB 1554 became law, a patient suffering from conditions including cancer, HIV, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and post-traumatic stress disorder could use medical marijuana if a doctor signs a statement saying he or she could benefit from its use and that all options approved by the Food and Drug Administration have been considered.

The House voted 112-44 to send that bill to the Senate, but some Republicans spoke against IT even though it is sponsored by one of their fellows.

Pacific Republican Kirk Mathews said the legislative process is not the proper way for a drug to be approved.

“I don’t know of any other medicines that become medicine by an act of the legislature versus the process that we’ve gone through for years in the history of our country and medicine in our country, with FDA clinical trials, double-blind studies, etcetera, etcetera,” said Mathews.

He also argued that the bill is too broad in what conditions it would allow medical marijuana to be used for, because it would allow the Department of Health and Senior Services to add conditions to that list if at least ten physicians sign a petition calling for it to be added.

“We don’t know what conditions we are allowing this to be used for if we pass this bill,” said Mathews.

Representative J. Eggleston (R-Maysville) said passing HB 1554 would send Missouri down a similar path to that the nation has taken with opioids.  Those are now seen as the crux of a health crisis, but they started off as a way to treat pain.

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

“Surely the companies behind them would only care about relieving others’ pain and doctors would only prescribe for that reason, and the recipients would only use them for that reason and not use them for that reason and not use them for recreational fashion, and surely it wouldn’t get away from us to where other people would rob medicine cabinets or things like that, and yet all of that stuff is happening.  Now we’re having to deal with the aftermath of those unintended consequences,” said Eggleston.

The bill was sent to the Senate on the strength of bipartisan support.  Representative Clem Smith (D-Velda Village Hills) told bill sponsor Jim Neely (R-Camdenton), who is a doctor, that he hoped the bill would become law.

“I know in your career you’ve seen a lot of different things, seen a lot of people that have been impacted, and maybe in your thinking, you’re like, ‘Hey, this might help them get through life or increase their standard of living,’ so just wanted to thank you for it,” said Smith.

The bill also earned support from some in House leadership, including the Majority Floor Leader, Rob Vescovo (R-Arnold).

“I think [Representative Neely] has done a fantastic, fabulous job, channeling this down to what the members of this body wanted to see,” said Vescovo.  “I’m going to go ahead and cast my vote for the terminally ill in my district and across the state.”

HB 1554 goes to the Senate with less than three weeks remaining in the legislative session.

Earlier stories:  

Missouri House considers legalizing medical use of marijuana

Bill to legalize limited medical marijuana heard in House committee

Missouri House considers legalizing medical use of marijuana

The Missouri House is one vote away from proposing that Missouri legalize the medical use of marijuana by people suffering from certain terminal or debilitating conditions.

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

House Bill 1554 would expand on a law passed in 2014 that allows the use of a cannabis extract, cannabidiol (CBD) oil, to treat intractable epilepsy.  If HB 1554 became law, a patient suffering from conditions including cancer, HIV, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and post-traumatic stress disorder could use medical marijuana if a doctor signs a statement saying he or she could benefit from its use and that all options approved by the Food and Drug Administration have been considered.

The bill is sponsored by Representative Jim Neely (R-Cameron), who is also a doctor.

“There’s a lot of people in my world, from the hospice and the long-term care world, that feel that this would be appropriate for people to ease the pain, suffering, and the side-effects of the opioids and this might be the best way to go,” said Neely.  He said the bill would give people, “another option at the end stages of life.”

House members including Travis Fitzwater (R-Holts Summit) spoke about loved ones that might benefit from the legislation, such as his mother and sister who have multiple sclerosis.

Fitzwater said their neurologist, who he knows and trust, has said they should have the option of using marijuana for pain treatment.

“I trust his opinion.  He went to medical school.  He knows what he’s talking about.  He’s spent his career focused on multiple sclerosis and his patients are mainly multiple sclerosis patients,” said Fitzwater.  When he tells me that … [my] mom or [my] sister should have the option to come to their neurologist and discuss treatment options for pain – and this is a gentleman who is as professional as anybody I’ve ever met – they ought to have that opportunity.”

“Patients that have these debilitating diseases ought to have an option … when the doctors agree and there are professionals involved that know more about what’s going on with those patients than we do,” said Fitzwater.

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

Representative Gina Mitten (D-St. Louis) said a colleague of hers who is a practicing attorney must break her oath to uphold the law by using marijuana to treat her epilepsy, rather than use the prescription drugs that caused her to have a psychotic episode among other side effects.

“How is it that it’s okay to have to spend a night, or two nights, or three nights in a hospital due to medication that’s been prescribed and creates all kinds of other side effects, as opposed to something that we know in other states has worked very well for this disease?” asked Mitten.

Pacific Republican Paul Curtman sponsored adding PTSD to the legislation.  He described what he knows some of his fellow comrades in the Marine corps faced, and said leaving this issue facing veterans out of the bill would be a “travesty.”

He spoke about a fellow Marine from Missouri whose experience overseas included having to routinely wash the blood of friends out of the back of a Humvee.  Curtman said the man was prescribed by the Veterans’ Administration drugs that had numerous side effects.  For a time he used marijuana and that worked for him, but he was arrested and forced to return to the drugs prescribed by the VA.

“The VA came by and said if you ever [use marijuana] again you’re jeopardizing your ability to use any of your VA benefits.  So, after being on house arrest for a while with the VA checking up on him to make sure that he was taking the synthetic drugs that the VA wanted him to take, his father came home just a few weeks later only to find that his son had put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger,” said Curtman.

Under the bill the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services would issue medical cannabis registration cards to approved patients, or to parents in the cases of minor parents.  The bill would only allow the use of smokeless forms of marijuana.  HB 1554 also lays out how marijuana could be legally cultivated by licensed growers under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture.

Another favorable vote would send the legislation to the Senate.  Two years ago the House rejected a bill that would have asked voters whether to legalize the limited, medical use of marijuana.

House prepares extensive foster care reform legislation

An increased focus on issues concerning foster care in Missouri has resulted in a bill containing 11 different reforms meant to make life better for children who are in, and who leave, that care.

Representative Jim Neely chairs the House Special Committee to Improve the Care and Well-Being of Young People and sponsors HCB 11, a comprehensive foster care reform bill. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) in January created the Special Committee to Improve the Care and Well-Being of Young People to focus on improving the state’s child welfare system.  That committee is chaired by Cameron Representative Jim Neely (R), who selected 11 of the bills assigned to it to be combined into House Committee Bill 11.

Neely, a doctor, said improving the lives of children has been his priority since a young girl who’d been abused came into his office about ten years ago.

“This young lady said a lot of adults had let her down, and so I chewed on that and thought about life and what I needed to do, and that was probably the seed that caused me to run for office a few years later,” said Neely.

Neely said some of the things HCB 11 would change in Missouri law are “quick” or “simple” fixes that could have significant impacts, especially in situations in which foster children have been described as, “falling through the cracks.”

“There’s an incident in the Kansas City area where a child was over in Kansas and if we’d been able to share information with the State of Kansas we might have been able to prevent a horrid situation over there,” said Neely.  “We’re just trying to make [things] a little more user friendly and get the foster parents a little more safety net.”

HCB 11 includes language that would update background checks on foster families so that the Children’s Division would know immediately if a foster parent is charged with a crime that would disqualify him or her from being a foster parent.  Current law only allows checks every two years.

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

That portion of the bill came from House Bill 1944 sponsored by Representative Sonya Anderson (R-Springfield).

“House Bill 1944 would allow the Department of Social Services to utilize the RAPBACK program, which is the Record of Arrest and Prosecution, and so it’s a more instant update if a foster care parent or someone who resides in the house has been charged with a crime,” said Anderson.  “We want to make sure that [foster] children are in the safest environment as possible.”

HCB 11 would also expand assessment and treatment services for children in foster care.  It would require such services for all children in foster care – currently it is required only for those under the age of ten – and would require that those services be completed in accordance with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ periodicity schedule.  Currently children are screened every two years.

The original sponsor of that language is Representative Lauren Arthur (D-Kansas City), who said it would ensure that children in foster care receive more appropriate care, and the comprehensive screenings will in turn save the state money by catching medical conditions earlier and aiding in preventative care.

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

“This would change the requirements so that every child in foster care is receiving these kinds of screenings, not just children under the age of ten.  Additionally it means that they’ll receive more appropriate care, so according to the experts – the American Academy of Pediatrics – our children in foster care will go to the doctor according to their recommendations and that schedule as opposed to the legislature saying they have to go every two years,” said Arthur.  “For older kids in foster care, often when they are pulled out of school more than their peers it adds to a feeling of stigma – they feel like they’re different from their classmates – and we certainly don’t want them to feel different or have to go to the doctor more than anyone else just because they’re in foster care.”

Another portion of HCB 11 comes from House Bill 1862 sponsored by Representative Phil Christofanelli (R-St. Peters).  It would enable investigations of abuse of children in foster care in Missouri when it happens outside of the state.

Current law prevents Missouri Social Services workers from investigating reports of abuse of Missouri children in foster care if the abuse doesn’t occur in Missouri, and prevents them from communicating with counterparts in other states about abuse or potential abuse.  Christofanelli said his bill would remove those barriers and fix what he called a, “bureaucratic technicality.”

“This is just eliminating some loopholes that have resulted in some unfortunate situations in the past and making sure that we have full communication across state lines to protect kids,” said Christofanelli.

He said HCB 11 is combining a number of efforts to fix situations in which lawmakers are told, all too often, that children are being “left behind.”

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

“It’s one of the most rewarding parts of being in the legislature and it’s such an easy fix.  It’s shocking to me that this hasn’t been done yet because we’ve seen case after case where problems like this arise across state lines,” said Christofanelli.  “Our kids are our greatest asset here in Missouri and if there’s anything that we can do to help keep them safe then we’re going to do it as the legislature, so I’m honored to be a part of that process.”

Some lawmakers expressed concerns with the portion of the bill because other states might release information about abuse claims – particularly unsubstantiated claims – that Missouri would not release.  They expressed a desire to see that concern addressed before the bill could become law.

The House is prepared to vote on whether to send HCB 11 to the Senate.  The bill is broadly supported, including by Columbia Democrat Martha Stevens, who sits on the Special Committee to Improve the Care and Well-Being of Young People.

Stevens said she’s glad to be on the committee but says it has more work to do even if HCB 11 becomes law, “particularly with children aging out of the foster care system, so I’m hopeful that in the interim, with stakeholders and advocates and experts and folks on both sides of the aisle we can bring forward more solutions next year to help address issues around foster care and support the Missouri youth that are aging out of foster care.”

      Other parts of HCB 11 would:

– Provide free birth certificates to children in foster care, making it easier for them to become independent (found in House Bill 1470 sponsored by Representative Mike Kelley, R-Lamar)

– Allow more time for a case management plan to be developed for a child entering foster care (found in House Bill 1637 sponsored by Representative Neely)

– Allow foster children aged 16 years and older to open a checking or savings account with the consent of the Children’s Division or juvenile court, giving them the ability to cash paychecks and better access to jobs  (found in House Bill 1715 sponsored by Representative Don Phillips, R-Kimberling City)

– Make closed under law any records regarding placement of children into foster care or kinship placements, and specify who can access those records and when (found in House Bill 1966 sponsored by Representative Robert Cornejo, R-St. Peters)

– Allow a child who is homeless or in the custody of the Children’s Division, but the whereabouts of his or her immunization records is unknown, to be enrolled in school for up to 30 days while efforts are made to find those records, and if needed, another 30 days after that for the child to get caught up on immunizations (found in House Bill 2139 sponsored by Representative Lynn Morris, R-Nixa)

– Define when juvenile courts have jurisdiction over a child under 21, streamlining situations in which a child is in a safe situation but juvenile court involvement is interfering with the family (found in House Bill 1728 sponsored by Representative Bill Lant, R-Pineville)

– Establish guidelines for educating children in court-ordered group homes or institutions for delinquent or neglected children (found in House Bill 2625 sponsored by Representative Lyle Rowland R, Cedarcreek)

– Create the “Trauma-Informed Care for Children and Families Board” to encourage cooperation between agencies that deal with children and utilize trauma-informed treatment programs (found in House Bill 2217 sponsored by Representative Cora Faith Walker, D-Ferguson)

House proposes criminalizing ‘revenge porn’

The Missouri House has voted to criminalize what is often called, “revenge porn;” sharing or threatening to share private sexual images of a person without that person’s consent.  Such sharing often happens by the uploading of those images to the internet.

Representative Jim Neely (photo; Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 1558 would make such sharing of images a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison and would make threatening to share them a felony carrying up to four years in prison.  The bill covers photographs, videos, digital recordings, and other depictions.

The bill is sponsored by Representative Jim Neely (R-Cameron), who said it’s simply an issue of common sense.

“I’m not afraid of the subject.  A lot of people can’t handle certain subjects and it doesn’t bother me to talk about it so there it is,” said Neely.

St. Louis Democrat Stacey Newman thanked Neely for tackling an issue that she said predominately effects women.

“I know that none of us would want our family members, our daughters, our granddaughters; anyone involved in a situation where photographs like this would be used to punish,” said Newman.

The Missouri Coalition Against Domestic Violence supports the legislation.  Public Policy Director Jennifer Carter Dochler said people who have been victims of “revenge porn” face a number of issues.

“Often times they feel very vulnerable and exposed because they did something to establish intimacy with a partner and now it’s been used against them and they don’t know who all’s seen it.  This wasn’t their choice that it was being distributed, they don’t know who’s seen it, they don’t know what’s being done with it.  Something was used against them that was not its purpose,” said Carter Dochler.

Liberty Democrat Mark Ellebracht was glad to see Republicans and Democrats come together to pass this bill on an issue he thinks most Missourians think is already addressed in law.

“A number of people that I’ve talked to, both from regular attorneys’ perspectives to the constituents that call me and express their concerns, everybody is a little bit surprised that something like this hasn’t been done already,” said Ellebracht.  “I think that it was a sorely needed measure that we needed to pass to put the law in this state where people expect it to be.”

In addition to creating the crime of “nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images,” the bill allows victims to file civil suits against those accused of the crime.

HB 1558 passed out of the House 149-1.  It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Bill to legalize limited medical marijuana in Missouri heard in House committee

Again this year the Missouri House has heard testimony on whether the state should legalize marijuana for limited medicinal use.

Representative Jim Neely (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Cameron doctor and state representative Jim Neely (R) has proposed allowing the use of marijuana to treat terminal conditions.  Neely said his House Bill 1554 would expand on legislation that became law in 2014 that allows the use of a cannabis extract, cannabidiol (CBD) oil, to treat intractable epilepsy.  It would also expand on Missouri’s “right to try” law that allows doctors and patients to use drugs that haven’t completed the approval process of the federal Food and Drug Administration.

The House Committee on General Laws heard from people who said marijuana did help or could have helped their loved ones.  Jane Suozzi said her daughter Kim was diagnosed with brain cancer shortly before she graduated with two degrees from Truman State University in 2011.

After studying and pursuing multiple experimental treatments Kim turned to marijuana shortly after her diagnosis.

“Kim viewed marijuana the same as all the other experimental options she pursued.  She didn’t enjoy it but it gave her some additional hope and sometimes relieved her nausea,” Jane Suozzi testified.  “I appreciate Doctor Neely’s efforts to afford people like Kim potentially life-extending access to experimental treatments including medical cannabis.”

The committee also heard from a number of veterans and organizations that represent them.  Kyle Kisner served in the Missouri National Guard for seven years and spent tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He said for years he was treated with opioids for pain and benzodiazepines for depression, during which time he said his personality was altered and he twice attempted suicide.

“Cannabis allows me to focus.  It’s allowed me to consistently hold some kind of employment for the past few years, and for the past year-and-a-half I’ve gone back to school and I’m currently finishing up two bachelor’s degrees at Lindenwood University; something I couldn’t do when I was nodding out on three to four hours a day taking some kind of opioid or something for anxiety,” said Kisner.  “There’s thousands of veterans out there that are taking that.  You guys asked if this is medicine.  I say, ‘Yes, absolutely, without a doubt this is medicine.’”

The Missouri Prosecutor’s Association spoke against the proposal.  Its lobbyist, Woody Cozad, said for Missouri to pass legislation legalizing marijuana at any level would fly in the face of federal statute.

“Nullification was decided by the Civil War.  Whether this legislature has previously attempted to nullify federal gun law or anything else doesn’t alter the fact that under our system of government, the system for which all of these veterans including myself fought, the states don’t nullify federal laws,” said Cozad, “and it just creates a confusion that at least our members can have a lot of difficulty dealing with.”

Legislators noted that Missouri already has laws that conflict with federal laws, and questioned whether prosecuting people like those who testified for the bill – veterans and those with serious medical conditions – would be a priority for any prosecutors.

Kansas City Democrat Jon Carpenter told Cozad several states have already legalized marijuana to some extent, in spite of federal law, “and I don’t see the mass confusion happening, so I’m not sure why we would anticipate having a different experience if we were to go down this path in Missouri.”

Neely said his bill, as it is written, is about improving quality of life for patients.

“I remember, I may have been an intern, a doctor telling me that his goal as he was near the end of his life as a physician, what he did in life was to provide some comfort to people, and I guess that resonated with me,” said Neely.  “I think that’s what I’m after is that I’ve seen people struggle.  Narcotics aren’t effective, pain control, anxiety, depression, a variety of other issues that the marijuana may be beneficial.”

The committee has not voted on Neely’s bill.  Last year he filed the same language in House Bill 437 and it was voted out of two committees but was not debated in the full House.

House members again asked to consider legalizing medical marijuana in Missouri

The Missouri House is again being asked to consider legalizing marijuana for some medical purposes.

Representative Jim Neely (right) listens as Jackson County Sheriff Mike Sharp (left) testifies in favor of Neely's medical marijuana legislation, HB 437.  Jackson said he has a nephew that could benefit from medical marijuana.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Jim Neely (right) listens as Jackson County Sheriff Mike Sharp (left) testifies in favor of Neely’s medical marijuana legislation, HB 437. Jackson said he has a nephew that could benefit from medical marijuana. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 437 would allow the use of marijuana to treat irreversible debilitating diseases or conditions.  Its sponsor, Cameron Republican Jim Neely, said it would expand on two Missouri laws.  One allows the use of a cannabis extract, cannabidiol (CBD) oil, for treating intractable epilepsy.  The other is the “right to try” law that lets doctors and patients use drugs that haven’t completed the approval process through the federal Food and Drug Administration.

The bill would have the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services create a list of conditions for which patients could be allowed to use medical marijuana.  That list would have to include any conditions or diseases for which a clinical trial of medical marijuana has completed its first phase.

The bill would allow the Department to issue medical cannabis registration cards to Missourians 18 and older for whom a doctor has signed a statement saying the individual suffers from epilepsy or an irreversibly debilitating disease, could benefit from medical cannabis, and has considered all other treatment options.  Parents would be allowed to obtain registration cards for their children.

The House Committee on Health and Mental Health Policy heard from Doctor Adrianne Poe, who told the committee cannabis-based pain treatments would be safer than commonly used opioid-based medications.  She cited a report from the National Academy of Sciences, which said that cannabis is safe and effective in treating pain.

“That is in direct opposition to all of the literature that we have that shows there is not a shred of evidence for the safe and effective use of chronic opioids for chronic pain,” said Poe.  “According to the CDC guidelines which tell us that the very first thing that physicians need to do is find an alternative therapy to opioids for the treatment of chronic pain.  The National Academies has given us an answer on that and the answer is cannabis.”

Heidi Rayl told lawmakers Missouri should not stop with the passage of the law that has allowed her to treat her son’s seizures with CBD oil.

“This is where our state is lacking.  One type of medication does not treat everyone.  I, as Zaden’s mother, should have the right to choose what is best for him,” said Rayl.

Legislators were also told the passage of medical marijuana legislation would put Missouri’s laws in conflict with federal laws.

Jason Grellner with the Missouri, and National, Narcotics Officers' Association testifies against medical marijuana legislation.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Jason Grellner with the Missouri, and National, Narcotics Officers’ Association testifies against medical marijuana legislation. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Jason Grellner with the Missouri, and National, Narcotics Officers’ Associations, told the committee, “If you pass legislation that is in violation of the Supremacy Act of the United States regarding scheduled drugs, I don’t think you want me choosing which laws I enforce and which ones I do not.”

He also said passing a medical marijuana law would mean bypassing the FDA and its consumer protections.

“If I go to a Wallgreen’s in L.A. and buy a Tylenol and I go to a Wallgreen’s in New York City and buy a Tylenol, I am assured under FDA regulations that that is the same drug.  If I walk into a medical marijuana shop and buy purple Kush on Wednesday, there is really no assurance in any state that has medical marijuana that if I go back on another day or to another medical marijuana shop that I am getting the same drug, because there is no standardization of dose,” said Grellner.

Last year the House came the closest it’s ever been to passing medical marijuana legislation, but finally rejected a bill that would have allowed medical marijuana use only by terminal cancer patients in hospice care.

The committee’s chairman, Representative Keith Frederick (R-Rolla), said he is “contemplating” whether to have the committee vote on HB 437.