Prison nurseries proposal heard in House committee

      A proposal to put a nursery in Missouri’s prisons has gone in front of a House committee.

Representative Curtis Trent (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Bills filed by Representatives Bruce DeGroot (R-Ellisville) and Curtis Trent (R-Springfield) would let incarcerated women who meet certain conditions live with infants for up to 18 months. 

      The House Judiciary Committee heard that the program has been used in numerous other states, in some cases for decades.  In those cases it has led to better outcomes for mothers and children and reduced recidivism among mothers.  These and other factors have also saved money for those states. 

      Trent said in New York, more than 74-percent of women who left prison with their infants were still living at home with those children after 3 years, “which I think shows pretty readily that they haven’t [gone back to prison] at that point.  They have maintained those family ties, and you see an improved outcome with all that.”

      “We do want to take care of kids who are in a very precarious situation.  We do want to do everything that we can to seek justice in the correctional system, but also make sure that justice doesn’t work an injustice by breaking a family apart that doesn’t have to be,” said Trent.

He said under the proposal, potential participants in the program would first be screened. 

      “We make sure that the mother will be screened for any kind of mental health problems that might exist and that there is no record of violent conduct or child abuse conduct that has occurred in the past, because the goal is to have better outcomes for children in all cases.”

      The committee heard from Maggie Burke, who was a warden at a prison with a nursery, in Illinois.  She assured the committee that these programs do work, and that Missouri should adopt one.

      “You walk into any [prison], I’ve been in dozens of state facilities, and there is always a facility culture, and what you’ll see in every facility that has babies, you’ll see the culture is just different,” said Burke.  “When you have babies in a facility it kind of lowers everybody’s anxiety.”

      Representatives of the Department of Corrections told the committee that in anticipation of this proposal, they traveled recently to Indiana and viewed a prison nursery program there.  They said they came away with ideas that could be utilized in Missouri, and suggestions for tweaks to the legislation filed by DeGroot and Trent.

Maggie Burke, who was the warden at a prison in Illinois which had a nursery, testifies to the Missouri Judiciary Committee about that program.

      Representative Mary Elizabeth Coleman (R-Arnold) thanked the Department for working on this and said she sees it as a continuation of previous legislative efforts. 

      “Briefly I wanted to thank you both very much for your openness to this program and for leading the charge on the anti-shackling [of pregnant women] legislation four years ago,” said Coleman.  “Thank you so much for your willingness to look at this, and thank you for your other work that you’ve been doing on human dignity.”

      Liberty Democrat Mark Ellebracht said, “This is more of a comprehensive approach to taking a pro-life philosophy to folks in Missouri.  It’s pro-mother, it’s pro-infant, it’s pro keeping families together.”

      Lawmakers heard that in other states, prison nurseries are supported largely by donations from private groups, and the same is considered likely to happen in Missouri.  Burke said Illinois’ program was funded without any state dollars.

      The bills propose that the nursery would be regulated by the Department of Corrections, though it could hand some responsibility to the Department of Health and Senior Services. 

      DeGroot wasn’t able to be at the hearing, which focused on his bill.

      The committee has not voted on the legislation.

House votes to offer lifetime orders of protection to domestic abuse victims

      The House wants victims of domestic abuse to be able to get lifetime orders of protection against their abusers.  That would be possible under a bill sent to the Senate this week.

      Orders of protection are generally only effective for one year.  House Bill 744 would allow a judge, after a review of the case, to issue one for the lifetime of the abuser.

Representative Lane Roberts (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      It is sponsored by former Department of Public Safety Director and former Joplin Police Chief, Representative Lane Roberts (R-Joplin).

      “I spent a great deal of my life having to look women in the eye and explain to them why I could not do what I knew needed to be done to help them, and I had to leave them living in fear and could not put a stop to it.  Finally I find myself in a position to actually do something about it,” said Roberts.  “If I never do anything more in this body than pass this particular bill I will still have made a contribution that I’ll take home and feel good about.”

      Under the bill a judge considering whether an order should last for a lifetime would consider the evidence of the case; the history of abuse, stalking, and threatening; an abuser’s criminal record; previous orders of protection; and whether the respondent has violated probation or parole, or previous orders of protection.

      Lane said the women who bravely came to testify on his bill shared stories of horrific abuse that had continued for years.

      “26-week pregnant women being beaten with a shovel, women who were sexually abused in a hospital while they were medicated, ex-fiancées being shot and paralyzed, women beaten so badly that they have to have facial reconstruction,” said Roberts.

      “The victims of this find themselves going to court every single year when it goes on and on.  In one case one of these victims has been to court 68 times in nine years,” said Roberts. 

      Kansas City representative Mark Ellebracht (D) is an attorney who has counseled women who are experiencing abuse.  He said it is more than frustrating to know that they must go back to court every year to deal with the case.

Representative Mark Ellebracht (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “Often when they go back to court, their abuser [can represent himself], which means he gets to cross-examine her and ask her very sensitive, very personal questions and harass her again in front of a court because of the way the system works.  This bill is designed to fix that,” said Ellebracht.  “It’s a very, very good bill.”  

      The bill would also allow courts to include pets in dealing with domestic abuse.  This would include awarding possession of a pet and considering abuse or threatened abuse of a pet in making decisions in the case.  Legislators said often abusers threaten or harm a pet in an effort to control or terrorize a victim.

       The House voted 151-2 to send that legislation to the Senate.

Earlier stories:

Lifetime order of protection would be possible under House proposal

Representative, former police chief, proposes tighter stalking laws


Ellebracht = EL-eh-brockt

House members denounce state’s seeking payback of unemployment benefits

      House members from both parties are not happy that Missourians are being asked to pay back unemployment assistance they received in error through no fault of their own.

      Department of Labor Director Anna Hui told the Special Committee on Government Oversight overpayments are “kind of built into” the unemployment system.  The Department is expected to make an eligibility determination and get a payment out to an applicant within 14 days, generally based solely on information provided by the applicant.  As additional information comes in, often from the applicant’s current or past employers, it could prove he or she was not eligible.

Missouri Department of Labor Director Anna Hui (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

She said for 2020 that amounted to about $150-million in benefits that the Department paid out and now wants back.

Hui told the committee Governor Mike Parson (R) has made clear that he wants the Department to seek collection of those overpayments, viewing them as taxpayer dollars that went to ineligible individuals. 

      Several legislators said they have heard from constituents who have been asked to pay back thousands of dollars in state or federal relief, sometimes months after they received it.  One constituent was asked to repay about $23,000.

      “You’re going to be hard-pressed to find a more fiscally conservative person in here than me, but I think we screwed up as a state government, to ask folks [for that money] back this late in the game,” said Representative J. Eggleston (R-Maysville).   

      St. Ann representative Doug Clemens (D) said for Missouri to ask people already struggling financially due to covid to pay back thousands of dollars is wrong.

      “Need I remind you of our median income in this state?  Most people in my district make $26,000 a year, and you’re asking for $11,000 payback?” said Clemens.  “We’re talking about keeping Missouri’s economy going.  We’re talking about equity and conscience … [It’s] taxpayers’ money, it’s these people’s money, and frankly we’re in a crisis.  They need to keep it. 

      “Because that money’s already spent on mortgage, it’s already spent on food on the table, and frankly we have a responsibility to the common welfare here.”

      Representatives, including Raychel Proudie (D-Ferguson), said the reasons given to individuals for their ineligibility were not always clear. She read a letter the Department sent to one of her constituents telling them they had to repay for a “miscellaneous reason.”  Proudie called that “unacceptable.”

      “As a State of Missouri employee and someone elected, I sincerely apologize that this was the caliber of correspondence you got from a state agency because it tells you nothing … how dare us do that?” said Proudie.

Members of the House Committee on Government Oversight, including (front row, from left) Reps. Tony Lovasco, Scott Cupps, Doug Clemens, (next row, from left) Richard Brown, Mark Ellebracht, and Raychel Proudie (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Federal directives have given states the option not to require repayment of assistance from the federal government, which makes up the majority of the $150-million the Department overpaid.  Hui explained that Missouri is choosing to seek repayment of federal relief. 

Proudie thinks the state shouldn’t be expending its resources to pull money from Missouri’s economy just to send it back to the federal government, and Representative Scott Cupps (R-Shell Knob) agrees.

      “It may be as low as only $30-million of it’s from the [state] trust and $120-million of it is federal funds … you are not going to catch Scott Cupps in favor of rounding up money out of Missouri’s economy and sending it to Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden in Washington D.C.” said Cupps.  “The feds are literally telling us, ‘Hey, forgive it.  Forgive it.’”

The Department is required by state statute to collect overpayments out of the state fund.

      Dan Thacker represents a union including about 500 school bus drivers and monitors.  He said many of them make salaries that would put them near the poverty level, yet roughly 400 are being asked to pay back thousands of dollars.

      “Now we want to take $9,000, $10,000 back from them?  Where are they going to get it?  These are hardworking individuals that did nothing wrong or fraudulent.  They simply did exactly what was urged for them by the Missouri Department of Labor.”

      St. Joseph Republican Bill Falkner said any legislative action will have to balance the waiving of repayment by Missourians with protecting businesses, as some of these overpayments are charged to them.

      “There’s consequences to every action that we want to do … we have to keep in mind what we can do for those businesses to protect them so we’re not asking them to pay for a mistake,” said Falkner. 

      Committee members also spoke directly to Missourians during the hearing.  Cupps said the repayment situation is adding to already heightened stress for struggling Missourians.  He wants them to know he and other legislators are paying attention, and are looking for a solution.

      “There’s somebody that could get a letter in the mail that could say that they owe the state $7,200 back, and there could be divorces because of this,” said Cupps.  “I want people to know this:  do not do anything dumb because the state has sent you a letter that says you owe them money.  Don’t do it.  If you’re stressed out about it stop being stressed.” 

Representative Jered Taylor chairs the House Special Committee on Government Oversight (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Liberty representative Mark Ellebracht (D) asked Hui whether it makes financial sense for Missouri to seek these repayments.

      “If all of these people begin to appeal … how much money are we looking at spending here … are we tripping over the dollars to get to the dimes when it comes to actually recouping this money?”

      Hui told the committee that Missouri is on pace to need a loan to support the state’s unemployment trust, likely by around June.  She did not offer a projection of how great that loan might be.  She said this could cause employers to have to pay more, as that loan is repaid.

      Witnesses and lawmakers alike suggested that repayment decisions have seemed arbitrary and inconsistent, with some people being ordered to pay back only federal funds, some to pay back only state funds, and some told to pay everything or nothing. 

      Three Democrats have filed bills to address unemployment relief overpayments:  Clemens, LaKeySha Bosley (St. Louis), and Peter Merideth (St. Louis).  The committee’s chairman, Jered Taylor (R-Republic) and Representative Cupps are developing proposals.

House bill to end modern ‘debtors’ prisons’ in Missouri signed into law

A House bill that became law Tuesday aims to keep Missourians from being jailed for failing to pay the costs of being jailed.

Representative Bruce DeGroot (center, standing) watches as Governor Mike Parson signs a bill he sponsored, House Bill 192, into law. (photo; Ben Peters, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 192, targeting so-called “debtors prisons” in Missouri, was signed into law by Governor Mike Parson (R).  It will do away with “show cause” hearings, in which defendants must provide a reason for failing to pay “board bills” for time they spent in a county jail.  Failure to show cause often resulted in additional jail time and additional board bills that could add up to thousands of dollars.

HB 192 will let counties use civil means to collect jail debts, but they can no longer threaten additional jail time for failure to pay.

“[Courts] can still charge people for the time they spend in jail.  [They] can’t have show cause hearings anymore.  [Courts] can’t put people back in jail for not paying their jail bill,” said bill sponsor Representative Bruce DeGroot (R-Chesterfield).  “[Counties] can still sue that person civilly and reduce that debt to a judgment and garnish wages just like you would in a civil court with a credit card debt or a medical bill.”

DeGroot worked closely with Kansas City representative Mark Ellebracht (D) on the legislation.

“I think it means a lot in terms of just fairness and justice and how the system works,” said Ellebracht, “because once a person gets put in jail, once they get sent down for 30 days, their time is their punishment.  That’s the deal that we’ve made with people:  we’re going to sentence you to 30 days … now with regard to what you owe the sheriff for their bill … you can’t pay that bill off if you’re in jail on a warrant for not paying that bill, so it just makes sense that the sheriff should have to collect that money through the normal debt collection processes like any other creditor would have to.”

DeGroot and Ellebracht both credit St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger for spurring the legislation with a series of articles he wrote about the current system.  Those articles also earned Messenger a Pulitzer Prize.

In one case Messenger wrote about, a woman incurred more than $10,000 in “board bills” after stealing an $8 tube of mascara.

DeGroot said situations like that go against the principle of people who have paid their debt to society returning to being productive members of society, providing for themselves and their families, and getting back on the tax rolls.

“A bill like this, in my opinion, is win-win.  Yes, it helps the people that would otherwise be burdened with these jail bills, but it also helps our entire society as a whole,” said DeGroot.

Representative Mark Ellebracht worked across the political aisle with Rep. DeGroot to end what many called modern ‘debtors prisons’ in Missouri. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

In presenting HB 192 DeGroot was the most visibly animated and joyful he has been in his three years in the legislature.  He admits he was very enthused about the legislation.

“The reason I went to law school was I loved the book To Kill A Mockingbird … and I wanted to be Atticus Finch.  I wanted to change the world, and after you graduate from law school you’ve got student debt, you have houses, and kids, and cars, and who knows what, trips to Disneyworld, and you forget about being Atticus Finch.  Well now my kids are grown, and you don’t have quite the pressures you used to, and I view [House Bill 192] as probably the best thing I ever did with my law degree.”

Following their success with HB 192, Ellebracht said he and DeGroot are talking regularly about other topics they hope to team up on.

Ellebracht says any differences he and DeGroot have in party or other issues don’t really have any bearing on criminal justice reform, “When we’re looking at something and we’re saying to ourselves, ‘[Missouri law is] really handicapping a lot of folks in the economy by preventing them from getting good jobs, and [Missouri law is] really handicapping a lot of businesses by putting them in a position where they can’t afford to be hiring folks who have had that little minor scrape in their background, for fear of some kind of public retribution, or maybe a lawsuit here or there or something like that, so we need to figure out a way that we can adjust the way we do things so that it’s more fair for everybody involved.”

HB 192 also included language that would allow judges to waive mandatory minimum sentencing requirements for non-violent offenders who meet certain criteria.

Both provisions become effective August 28.

Earlier stories:  

Legislature proposes reforms to end ‘debtor’s prisons,’ mandatory minimum sentences

House votes to prevent of jailing of Missourians for failing to pay jail bills

Legislature proposes reforms to end ‘debtor’s prisons,’ mandatory minimum sentences

The Legislature has approved bipartisan legislation that would keep Missourians from being put back in jail for failing to pay the costs of being put in jail; and would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes.

Representative Bruce DeGroot (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 192 aims to end charging prisoners board bills” for their stays in jail.  Persons who don’t pay those bills can be required to come to a “show-cause” hearing and risk additional jail time.  Lawmakers said this amounted to putting people in a “debtor’s prison.”

The bill would allow counties to seek to collect jail bills through civil means, with no threat of jail time.  The House’s 138-11 vote on Monday sends that bill to Governor Mike Parson (R).

Bill sponsor Bruce DeGroot (R-Chesterfield) worked closely with Liberty Democrat Mark Ellebracht on the legislation.  DeGroot said current law is putting Missourians who’ve committed minor crimes and who can’t afford to pay fines and boarding costs back in jail, where they only incur more boarding costs.

“The people who don’t pay their fines and court costs who got put in jail because they couldn’t afford to bond themselves out, and now all of a sudden they owe $1300 for their week in jail and fines and court costs, and then they come before the judge and the judge says, ‘You owe $1300,’ and they say, ‘I don’t have it,’ and he says, ‘Fine, come on back next month and have at least $100,’ so they come on back the next month and they don’t have it and the judge puts them in jail, or they don’t show because they can’t get a babysitter or they can’t get off work, or they do get off work and they get fired,” said DeGroot.

DeGroot said in one case, a woman who stole an $8 tube of mascara incurred more than $10,000 in “board bills.”

Representative Mark Ellebracht (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Ellebracht said the legislation is proof that opposing parties who often vehemently disagree can come together to do good things.

“We worked well together on this issue because we worked as colleagues and we respected each other’s opinion, and we made what I regard as a very, very good bill, and we are correcting a problem that a lot of people face in the State of Missouri,” said Ellebracht.

The Senate added to HB 192 legislation to allow judges to waive mandatory minimum sentencing requirements for non-violent offenders who meet certain criteria.  That was the goal of House Bill 113, which the House passed in February, 140-17.

It was sponsored by Carthage Republican Cody Smith.

“It’s been shown in other red states like Texas and Oklahoma that if we change the way we treat folks – non-violent offenders – we can lead to better outcomes by keeping them out of prison, to the extent that that’s possible.  It leads to better outcomes in their lives, their families’ lives.  It leads to savings by not having people incarcerated in state prisons,” said Smith.

Springfield Republican Curtis Trent said both provisions speak to priorities that Governor Parson and Chief Justice Zel Fischer both spoke about when addressing the House and the Senate earlier this year.

“It’s a question of who we want in our prisons.  Do we want people in our prisons who are mainly a threat to themselves – they have poor judgement – or do we want people in there who are truly a threat to society, who are predators, who are going to victimize other people, not just for minor, monetary amounts, but in ways that are truly life-altering, and I think those are the people who we want to prioritize,” said Trent.

It’s now up to Governor Parson whether HB 192 becomes law.  If it does, it would take effect August 28.

House votes to prevent jailing of Missourians for failing to pay jail bills

The Missouri House has voted to keep judges from putting people back in jail for failing to pay for the costs of keeping them in jail.

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

House Bill 192 would keep a person’s failure to pay a jail for housing that person, from resulting in more jail time that would result in additional housing costs.  Instead, a local sheriff could attempt to collect such costs owed through civil proceedings, or a judge could waive those costs.

The legislation is sponsored by Chesterfield Republican Bruce DeGroot, who worked closely with Liberty Democrat Mark Ellebracht.

HB 192 has broad, bipartisan support, as members of both parties agreed that being jailed for failing to pay so-called “board bills” only created a cycle of debt that some Missourians have been trapped in for years.  Legislators gave examples of individuals who had stolen items like makeup or candy, and years later owe tens of thousands of dollars to the local jails that had housed them.

“It just seems so contradictory that I can’t pay a $1000 bill, so you put me back in jail, so that when I get back out of jail now my bill is $1,500.  It just seemed to keep going for forever,” said Representative Deb Lavender (D-Kirkwood).

“In my opinion the goal of the criminal justice system … if you do something wrong, you should be punished.  On the other hand, once you’ve completed your punishment, once you’ve served your time in jail, man, the goal ought to be to get those people back out into society [to] be productive of society, paying for their families, rather than have them in jail dodging warrant servers, and get them back on the tax roll,” said DeGroot.

Ellebracht stressed that these “board bills” are not the same thing as court costs or fines that might be assessed against a defendant.

“When somebody gets thrown in jail, their time is their punishment.  That’s the point of it … but the money that’s accrued for your care – for your food, your clothing, the shelter over your head that the county’s providing – that’s money owed for a service provided incidental to your punishment,” said Ellebracht.  “So, the sheriff has every right to collect that money … they just don’t have a right to keep bringing you back to court and throwing you in jail, thereby accruing more board bills to do so.”

DeGroot said he doesn’t fault the judges in the state who have been jailing individuals over board bills.

Representative Mark Ellebracht (photo; Tim Bommel, House Communications)

“The judges in the counties that practiced this way, I think, are all trying to reform themselves now because they know that not only [the legislature] but the Supreme Court has an appetite right now for curbing this kind of behavior,” said DeGroot, “but they were just, in my opinion, just using the tools that they had available to them.  They didn’t know how else to collect, because the threat of jail time is much more severe than, ‘We’re going to take your stuff.’”

HB 192 would do away with hearings in which the court requires a defendant to show why he or she shouldn’t be jailed for failing to pay board bills.  Lawmakers heard that defendants are often required to appear monthly for such hearings and a warrant is issued for them if they fail to appear.

The bill is supported by a number of groups including the Missouri State Public Defender, the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

The House voted 156-1 to send the bill to the Senate for its consideration.

Missouri House proposes reform of sex offender registry

A bill that would update Missouri’s sex offender registry has been sent to the state Senate.

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

House Bill 2042 would classify the registry’s offenders into three tiers based on their offenses:  less-serious offenses would land an offender on the first tier, with those on the third tier having committed the most serious offenses.  Those on the first tier could petition the courts to be removed from the registry ten years after being placed on it.  Those on the second tier could petition after 25 years; those on tier three would remain on the registry for life.  Those who commit additional sex crimes or felonies while on the registry also could not petition for removal.

The bill’s sponsor, St. Charles Republican Kurt Bahr, said for some offenders to have the opportunity to come off of the registry will strengthen it, while giving those offenders a better chance at getting quality employment and jobs and put them at less risk of re-offending.

The bill was passed out of the House 144-2.  Bahr was surprised at the broad support it received.

“The issue at hand is controversial, but I think most people recognized that I worked very hard to keep it completely consistent with the existing federal law to begin with, and that it was a fair and balanced approach to deal with an issue that, while it’s something people don’t like talking about, needed to be addressed,” said Bahr.

The legislation’s supporters include the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Bahr is optimistic that HB 2042 will have enough support to get through the Senate if that body chooses to move it before the session ends in May.

“The few senators I’ve talked to about the bill, like the representatives, have all supported the fact that this issue needs to be addressed, and so I don’t think there’s going to be any difficulty getting the bill through the because of the merits of the bill,” said Bahr

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

The bill’s broad bipartisan support includes Liberty Democrat Mark Ellebracht, who said lawmakers and the public are seeing now that the registry has been in place for years, what needs to be changed about it.

“Fifteen years ago, twenty years ago, it was all pretty new stuff.  We had the idea, we knew it was a good idea, we just didn’t know how the machinery was going to work.  Now we’re getting the bugs worked out, we’re getting the kinks worked out, figuring out what’s just under the law and what may have been a little heavy-handed, figuring out what we can continue to do to keep children and families safe, and we’re perfecting a good idea over time,” said Ellebracht.

Ellebracht believes there are potential constitutional issues with the legislation that will have to be addressed in the Senate, but he supports the concepts in the bill, including an amendment that broadens prohibitions on sex offenders participating in Halloween-related events.

“We’ve been having a problem with folks that are on the sex offender registry being prohibited from participating in Halloween-related activities on October 31, but on the Saturdays prior to when families go to their Trunk-or-Treats, they weren’t restricted and we had creeps showing up at various family events on the weekends prior to Halloween, so we cleaned up that language so we could keep them away from that stuff too,” said Ellebracht.

The bill also requires anyone on the registry who is convicted of child molestation in the first degree to be electronically monitored if he or she moves to a different county or city not within a county until that move is completed.

The Senate has referred the bill to its committee on Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence.

Earlier story:  

Missouri house considering reform of state’s sex offender registry

HB 2042 would also broaden background checks on childcare workers.  It includes the same language found in House Bill 2249, which has also been sent to the Senate.

See our story on HB 2249 by clicking here.

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.

House bill could mean less in lawsuit damage awards for failing to wear seat belts

People who sue makers of cars and their components after sustaining injuries related to those products could be awarded less money if they weren’t properly using a seat belt, under a bill being considered in the Missouri House.

Representative Nick Schroer (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Right now a person filing such a suit could see damages reduced up to 1-percent, but only if expert evidence is presented showing that failing to properly use a seat belt could have contributed to his or her injuries.  Representative Nick Schroer (R-O’Fallon), the sponsor of House Bill 1264, said such evidence is almost never presented if only because experts typically cost more to hire than the 1-percent mitigation would amount to.

HB 1264 would remove that 1-percent limit and the requirement for expert evidence, and leave to a jury the decision of whether the seat belt could have made a difference.  The jury would also have the option of whether to adjust damages by any amount.  The bill is going to be amended so that it will deal only with products liability cases.

“Now the manufacturer – whether it’s tires, auto manufacturer, seat belt, the tempered glass that’s put in there – they’re all making their product assuming, and making it safe in conjunction with, somebody wearing a properly fastened seat belt,” said Schroer.  “So this evidence would help – in certain situations – show, should somebody be made whole?  Is somebody actually negligent here?”

Schroer presented his bill to the House Special Committee on Litigation Reform.  Liberty Democrat Mark Ellebracht, who sits on that committee, said the legislation “speaks to fairness.”

Representative Mark Ellebracht (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“There’s nobody that doesn’t know that every car comes with a seat belt and doesn’t know how to use that seat belt, and I don’t think that it’s unreasonable for the jury to be able to consider the use or misuse of that seat belt, or non-use of that seat belt, when it comes to a person’s injuries in the context of a products liability claim,” said Ellebracht.  “I think that fairness should include the ability for the jury to take into account some of those facts and say, ‘Well maybe you should have been wearing your seat belt at the time of that accident and maybe it’s not entirely the fault of that product.’”

Ellebracht favors an earlier version of the bill that would increase the cap on the mitigation of damages from 1-percent to 25-percent rather than remove it entirely.  Schroer plans to amend that version of the bill to match language the Senate is considering, which removes the cap entirely.

Both representatives hope the legislation will have the added effect of compelling more Missourians to wear their seat belts.

The Committee on Litigation Reform is expected to vote on HB 1264 next week.

Additional audio:  

Schroer:  “Now we have so many different safety mechanisms that are built in conjunction with one another, and if one of those cogs is not properly in the wheel or in the situation something may fail, and that’s why we think that during these times we need to update our statutes.”

Missouri House asked to consider multiple ethics reforms

House lawmakers continue to lay out a slate of proposed ethics reforms they believe would help restore the public’s trust in Missouri’s elected officials.

Representative Kip Kendrick (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Kip Kendrick (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Columbia Democrat Kip Kendrick presented to the House Committee on General Laws, House Bill 217, an omnibus bill encompassing a series of measures offered by other members of his caucus.  He said each proposed reform is based on promises made by candidates during the recent campaign cycle – promises that he says were endorsed by voters based on which candidates made those promises and won.

“There is the appearance, obviously, of corruption. There’s a lack of trust – I believe that we all see it – a lack of trust that the people have in how the processes unfold here at the State Capitol, at the federal level as well,” said Kendrick.  “The bill before you, make a strong argument that it’s an aggressive and comprehensive anti-corruption, reform bill.”

Two key provisions would build on work already done by the House toward ethics reform that House Democrats say they want to take farther than earlier proposals.  One aims to ban gifts and monetary donations from lobbyists to elected officials.

Kirkwood Democrat Deb Lavender is carrying the Democrats’ version of a proposed gift ban, House Bill 212.  She told lawmakers her bill would be tougher than House Bill 60, passed two weeks ago by the House.

Kirkwood Democrat Deb Lavender is carrying the Democrats’ version of a proposed gift ban, House Bill 212.  She told lawmakers under House Bill 60, passed two weeks ago by the House, organizations could exploit a provision that lets them provide meals for legislators at events as long as all members of the General Assembly and all state lawmakers are invited.

      “I have been invited to a Bar Association Dinner in Kansas City.  I’ve now been invited to one in Jefferson City and I’ve been invited to one in St. Louis.  A year ago I was invited to the one in St. Louis,” said Lavender.  “So as the entire General Assembly has now been invited to all three events, and perhaps more, here is how the Missouri Bar Association is already working around a bill that has passed on our floor; how they can still take you out and buy a meal and report it to the General Assembly so there’s no individual accountability.”

The other provision proposes extending the prohibition on elected or appointed officials or legislators becoming lobbyists from six months to five years after their term has ended, and would apply that to certain legislative staff.  It is also found in House Bill 213, sponsored by Representative Joe Adams (D-University City).

“This is what [Governor Eric Greitens] suggested in his campaign as he was running for the office, head of the state, so basically using his words,” said Adams.

Other provisions in HB 217 propose prohibiting any candidates’ committees from transferring their funds to their candidate’s family members; requiring former candidates to dissolve their candidate committees; and letting the Missouri Ethics Commission prosecute criminal cases and initiate civil cases if the state Attorney General declines to pursue either regarding an alleged ethics violation.  Those provisions are found in House Bill 214 (Tracy McCreery), House Bill 215 (Mark Ellebracht), House Bill 216 (Crystal Quade), respectively.

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

Republicans have their own proposals to further reform Missouri ethics laws.  Ballwin Representative Shamed Dogan wants to ban gifts from lobbyists to local government officials.

Dogan said such officials are held to a much lower standard than legislators.

“I was an alderman in my city before being elected to this position, and we had a trash contract that was before our city.  I subsequently found out, after we’d passed this trash contract on a no-bid basis, that our City Administrator had been lobbied by that trash company by taking him to game seven of the World Series in 2011,” said Dogan of his proposal, House Bill 229.

Republican Tom Hurst (Meta) presented House Bill 150, which would exempt individuals not paid to lobby from having to register or report as a lobbyist.

Hurst said he wants members of the public to know that they can talk to elected officials about issues that concern them without having to file as a lobbyist, and without fear of being prosecuted for failing to file.

“The gray area tends to make people that I talk to wary about what they think happens in this Capitol and what they can do, legally, without getting in any trouble,” said Hurst.

Republican Jean Evans said the bill could raise more issues.

“So what’s to keep someone who’s not registered as a lobbyist, who’s not paid, from, say, giving lavish gifts to a legislator that’s not being reported in order to affect some sort of change in legislation or in order to, say, perhaps influence a decision on procurement whether it’s at the state or local level?” asked Evans.

The committee has not voted on any of those bills.

House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) and other legislative leaders have said ethics reforms would continue to be a priority in the 2017 session.