House debates reinstating tax credits for shows, movies shot in Missouri

Missouri lawmakers are debating whether the amount of money that comes into the state when movies and TV shows are filmed here is enough to merit giving producers a tax break in return.

Representative Kathy Swan (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Cape Girardeau representative Kathy Swan (R) says it is.  She’s proposing in House Bill 923 that the tax credit for production of film projects in Missouri be reinstated.  It was eliminated in November, 2013.

Swan’s district is where the major motion picture Gone Girl, starring Ben Affleck, was filmed in 2013.  She says one need look no further than how that benefited her region to see these credits are worthwhile.

“With a $7.9-million boost to the regional economy of Cape Girardeau … the state redeemed $2.3-million in tax credits, generating a net of $4.7-million in economic activity in the State of Missouri,” Swan said.  “116 Missouri crew members were hired, 1,400 local extras, 7,000 hotel room nights paid for and secured, cars rented, set supplies, office supplies were all purchased from local businesses, and food was catered for workers.  In addition, university students had the opportunity to apprentice alongside professionals.”

Swan said since the film tax credits were allowed to expire the state has missed out on more than 10 projects that could’ve carried more than $150-million of economic impact.  That includes projects that are set in Missouri, such as the Netflix series Ozark, starring Jason Bateman.

That series, a dark drama about drug money laundering that has been renewed for a third season, is set around the Lake of the Ozarks, yet is mostly shot in Georgia.

That frustrates Lake Ozark Republican Rocky Miller.

“The Ozarks happen to be in Missouri … they are not in Georgia,” said Miller.  “The beautiful Lake of the Ozarks doesn’t have a whole lot of pine trees, nor a muddy bottom, nor a lack of fun stuff that goes on in the Ozarks, and I know for a fact that if it were not for the lack of this film credit we would have greater exposure for the actual, beautiful, bluff-laden Lake of the Ozarks rather than the pine tree surrounded lake from somewhere in Georgia.”

Miller said for a series like Ozark to have filmed at a site already so popular with tourists such as the Lake of the Ozarks would have brought tourism dollars to Missouri for years to come, exceeding the $150-million impact Swan referenced.

Not everyone is sold on the proposal.  St. Louis Republican Jim Murphy said to vote for this bill would be a “vote for shiny objects.”

Representative Jim Murphy (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“What we’re talking about here is spending $45-million over the next ten years, or $4.5-million next year for a shiny object – to bring in a [transient] film crew to film a film just to make us feel good,” said Murphy.  “Would that $4.5-million be better spent bringing a factory here that year after year will employ Missourians?  That’s what tax credits are for.  Not for shiny objects.”

Amendments to the bill would require applicants for the film tax credit to disclose any political contributions in excess of $25 made to a Missouri candidate or party; allow municipalities where a project is being filmed to offer a local one-percent tax credit that would trigger a greater tax credit from the state; and require a film receiving the credit to include a logo and statement in its credits indicating it was shot in Missouri.

Another favorable vote would send Swan’s proposal to the Senate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legislature includes money for K-3rd grade dyslexia screenings in FY ’19 budget

The budget approved last week by the Missouri legislature includes some money for screening children for dyslexia while they are in kindergarten through the third grade.  Those screenings are required under a bill the legislature approved two years ago.

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

That bill, House Bill 2379, was sponsored by Cape Girardeau Republican Kathryn Swan.  It required those screenings to begin in the coming school year and created a task force to develop recommendations for how they should be conducted.

The budget includes $250,000 that would help some schools pay for those screenings.

Students who have dyslexia often struggle in every subject in school, can fall behind their peers, and even be victims of ridicule because of their struggling.  Swan said beginning to screen all students for dyslexia will reveal earlier which students have it and need to be educated differently so that they don’t have those struggles.

“When we’re talking one out of five people being dyslexic, it’s not something that’s outgrown; it’s a neurological disorder that tends to run in families that people accommodate for sometimes themselves, but obviously it can impact reading and you have to be able to read in order to learn,” said Swan.

Swan said identifying earlier in life those who have dyslexia and then helping them deal with it could also save the state money in the long run in a number of ways, not the least of which being to keep some of those students off a path that often leads to prison.

“Not only does it make sense from helping students graduate from school on time and prepared, whether they want to go into the workforce or whether they want to go on for some kind of additional training or go to college, but it can also help prevent some substance abuse, incarcerations in prison – most incarcerations in prison are related to a substance abuse of some sort – so long-term this is a small investment to make with a big return on family lives and on success in one’s career and life,” said Swan.

Swan said she would like to have seen more than $250,000 go toward dyslexia screenings, but was grateful that the state could provide any money toward that purpose.  She also said the fact that there is now a line in the budget to support screenings increases the likelihood that the state will spend more toward them in future years.

Swan has spent several legislative sessions working on issues related to dyslexia.  She said after realizing that one in five people must deal with that condition, she saw that those people need help.

“We had to do something not only to help the quality of life for people, we had to do something because of the impact it has on our prisons and the rest of society, because that does impact the rest of society,” said Swan.  “So it just became critical and we had to do something, and I felt as the educational community we were not being responsible if we were not addressing this need because it is such a significant need.”

HB 2379 also required additional training for teachers so that they can recognize the signs of a possible dyslexia diagnosis.

“We’re going to screen grades K-3, so if there’s a student outside that – maybe there’s a student that transfers in – so we want teachers to have the knowledge in order to be able to determine, ‘You know, there might be something going on here, I think we need to screen this student,’ or, ‘Let’s try moving him or her closer to the board,’ or, ‘Let’s not make them read aloud in a round-robin,’ or, ‘Let’s give them more time for their test,’ or, ‘Let’s give them an oral test,’” said Swan.  “We’ve got to help arm the teachers with information so they know some simple things they can do in the classroom to help.”

The House and Senate agreed last week on a $28.3-billion spending proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1.  That plan will next go to the governor for his consideration.

Earlier stories:

Task Force on Dyslexia issues recommendations for dyslexia screenings of Missouri students

Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia holds first hearing, Rep. Swan selected as chair

Task Force on Dyslexia issues recommendations for dyslexia screenings of Missouri students

A Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia has completed its work and released recommendations for having Missouri public school students screened for dyslexia.

Representative Kathy Swan (left) listens as Kim Stuckey, Director of Dyslexia Specialists at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, discusses the report of the Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia. (photo; Chris Moreland, Missouri House Communications)

The Task Force’s report to legislative leaders and the governor recommends that all students in kindergarten through grade three be screened for dyslexia and related disorders beginning in the 2018-19 school year.  It also recommends that students who have not been previously screened, and who have been identified as “struggling” in literacy, be screened.

The Task Force was chaired by Cape Girardeau representative Kathy Swan (R), who said early identification of reading difficulties is key to helping children get the education they need.

“By identifying and addressing this reading failure, students will not only be successful in school but successful in life.  If our children do not learn to read they will, and cannot, read to learn,” said Swan.  “This small investment today will have long-term benefits for not only students and families but for the economic and social benefits of our communities and for our state.”

It is also recommended that schools require two hours of in-service training in assessing reading difficulties.  Currently schools are required only to offer such training.

Swan said it is also important that Missouri colleges’ and universities’ teacher education programs address dyslexia characteristics, identification, and intervention.

Task Force member Erica Lembke chairs the Department of Special Education at the University of Missouri.  She said she is excited about what the recommendations could mean for teacher education programs.

Erica Lembke, chair of the Department of Special Education at the University of Missouri, comments on the report of the Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia. (photo; Chris Moreland, Missouri House Communications)

“It’s critically important that this content is delivered and infused in our teacher preparation courses at the colleges and universities in Missouri,” said Lembke.

The Task Force’s report says the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) should recommend a process for universal screening that includes a multi-tiered support system.  It stresses that districts should make clear to parents that a positive screening for dyslexia is not a diagnosis.

The Task Force was created with the passage of House Bill 2379 in 2016.  It required that public schools in Missouri screen for dyslexia and related disorders, and established that DESE would develop rules for screenings based on the Task Force’s recommendations.

Earlier story:  Legislative Task Force on Dyslexia holds first hearing, Rep. Swan selected as chair

Work underway in House in special session on abortion issues

The state House has started work on the second extraordinary session of 2017; this one called by Governor Eric Greitens (R) for the legislature to deal with issues related to abortion.

Representative Hannah Kelly (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Republicans say the special session is an important chance for the state to reaffirm a commitment to protecting unborn children and making sure women receive proper care from abortion providers.  Democrats say it is about attacking women’s healthcare in the face of recent court decisions.

Representative Kathy Swan (R-Cape Girardeau), who has a nursing background, is sponsoring House Bill 3, which would change the laws regarding the conditions and care at abortion providers.  She said it is based in part on violations of medical procedures and protocols that have occurred at those facilities.

“Such as expired drugs, or single-use drugs that were still there – single use drugs obviously are to be utilized on a single patient and then discarded – dusty equipment, rusty equipment, that sort of thing,” said Swan.  “That’s what I have been saying for the last four to five years is that those standards need to be maintained regardless of the procedure, regardless of the facility.”

Swan’s bill would require facilities that provide abortions to prove that doctors performing abortions are physicians licensed in Missouri; to be subject to rules at least equal to those for ambulatory surgical centers; and be subject to unannounced on-site inspections at least once a year.  HB3 would also create the misdemeanor crime of “interference with medical assistance,” for preventing or seeking changes in medical care to a patient.

Democrats including Stacey Newman (D-St. Louis) note the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law regarding regulations of abortion providers in that state, and a court has placed an injunction against a similar law in Missouri.  She argues that the additional regulations Swan and others propose will also prove unconstitutional.

“This is up to a court to decide, but that’s again another waste of time and money that we’re wanting to pass more things that are really going to fit under that same purview,” said Newman.

Representative Hannah Kelly (R-Mountain Grove) has filed House Bill 9 that she said aims to protect pregnancy resource centers and maternity homes from undue discrimination and ensure protection of women’s healthcare.  She is also concerned additional abortion clinics could open in St. Louis thanks in part to a law passed by St. Louis earlier this year.

“If we don’t put a stop to it, it will be in two words an ‘abortion sanctuary,’ that we will be responsible for and the blood will be on our hands because we didn’t do anything to protect the lives that have the promise in the Declaration of Independence of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” said Kelly.

Representative Crystal Quade (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Democrats defend the St. Louis statute as preventing discrimination in housing and employment against women who are having or have had abortions, are pregnant, or use birth control.  Springfield Democrat Crystal Quade said her constituents view that less as an issue of being for or against abortion, and more about local governments being able to govern.

“If my city council members and our mayor, or by a vote of the people, determine that something for our city is best, the fact that the legislature comes in and will look at a specific city and a specific thing that their people have decided is best for them and say, ‘No, you can’t do that,’ is worrisome,” said Quade.  “I think that we have a real concern – I know I do – with just the separate branches of government and if we’re actually following what we should be, and I think that goes to the governor’s call as well – how he was so very specific to what statutes he wanted us to look into.  I personally feel like he was legislating through that call.”

The House has held a committee hearing Wednesday on some of its legislation dealing with these and other abortion-related issues, but has not met as a full body.  Several House members say it will seek first to take up any legislation the Senate is successful in passing and debate whether pass that.

The House is anticipated to take up the Senate’s legislation next week.