After roughly a decade of legislative consideration, the Missouri legislature has voted to create a statewide prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP).
The program would consolidate information on the prescription of controlled substances so that pharmacists and physicians can identify those who might be dealing with addiction. The House approved the bill, Senate Bill 63, 91-64, sending it to Governor Mike Parson (R). Parson has signaled support for a PDMP.
If SB 63 becomes law it would make Missouri the last state in the nation to enact a statewide PDMP. More than 80-percent of the state is covered by a PDMP that began in St. Louis County a number of years ago. This would replace that plan and have different requirements for the sharing of data.
PDMPs are intended to identify and flag the practice of “doctor shopping,” when individuals go to multiple doctors and multiple pharmacists seeking to accumulate a large supply of a drug in order to abuse or sell it. Supporters say the program will save lives and help get those with addictions into treatment.
Opponents say PDMPs will create a database of Missourians’ private medical information which the government shouldn’t have. Lake St. Louis representative Justin Hill, a former undercover drug enforcement officer, said PDMPs haven’t worked in other states and the one based in St. Louis County isn’t working.
The bill passed the House with mostly Democratic support, with around 30 Republicans voting in favor. Representative Tracy McCreery (D-St. Louis) has been in favor of a PDMP throughout her 8-year legislative career.
She credited Senator Holly Rehder (R-Sikeston), who has sponsored and pushed for passage of a program through most of her 8 years in the House, and was the sponsor of SB 63.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Some schools will be starting classes later under a bill signed into law last month by Governor Mike Parson (R).
Missouri law has allowed school districts to begin classes up to ten days before the first Monday in September, but an earlier start date could be set if a district’s board approves it in a public meeting. A provision in House Bill 604 repeals that provision, and allows districts to set start dates no earlier than 14 days before the first Monday in September.
The provision was proposed by Lebanon Republican Jeff Knight, who said earlier start dates hurt two of the state’s top industries: tourism and agriculture.
Knight said at least one study found a 30-percent decrease in July and August lodging tax collections at the Lake of the Ozarks over the last decade. He compared that to changes in school start dates and saw that in that time, many districts that had been starting after Labor Day ten years ago were now starting around the second week of August.
Knight said what can’t be measured in dollar amounts or percentages are the family vacations that might be altered by earlier start dates, and the memories and experiences families could be having together by being allowed more time in the summer months. He said for many families, taking vacation in the spring simply isn’t as appealing.
The family of a highway worker killed at a job site hopes a law signed this month will keep others from facing the same tragedy.
The driver who struck and killed Lyndon Ebker in a work zone near New Haven more than three years ago had impaired vision, but was allowed to keep driving until this past November when his license was revoked for life. Ebker’s family and the Department of Transportation said that driver put others in danger and he should’ve been forced off the roads more quickly.
House Bill 499 would require the Department of Revenue’s Director to revoke a driver’s license if a law enforcement officer reports that the driver’s negligence contributed to a worker or emergency responder being hit in a work or emergency zone.
Ebker’s daughter, Nicole Herbel, pushed for the legislation, which was signed into law this month by Governor Mike Parson (R).
The accident that killed Ebker happened in Representative Aaron Grieshemer’s (R-Washington) district, and he sponsored HB 499. He said he was concerned with how long the man who killed Ebker was allowed to keep driving while his case moved through the courts.
The legislation was a top priority for the Department of Transportation this year, so much so that MODOT Director Patrick McKenna testified for it in a House committee. He told lawmakers it was needed to help protect the agency’s workers.
McKenna thanked all those involved in getting HB 499 through the legislative process and into law, including Rep. Griesheimer, Governor Parson, the Ebker family, the bill’s Senate sponsor, Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, and Justin Alferman, Parson’s legislative director who also filed the legislation when he was a state representative.
Herbel said though her family suffered a tremendous loss, they didn’t back HB 499 out of seeking revenge. She said they were doing what her father would’ve done.
If a driver’s license is revoked under the new law, the license holder can seek its reinstatement by taking and passing the written and driving portions of the driver’s test, or petitioning for a hearing before a court local to the work zone where the accident occurred.
HB 499’s language is also included in Senate Bill 89, which has also been signed by the governor. Both bills effect August 28.
Another provision in HB 499 increases the fees licenses offices can charge for state services, such as issuing driver’s licenses and license plates.
A judge who sentenced a man to more than two centuries in prison now says that man deserves to be freed. Judge Evelyn Baker is joined by numerous House members and others lobbying for clemency for Bobby Bostic.
Judge Baker traveled this week to Jefferson City to meet with Representative Nick Schroer (R-O’Fallon), who earlier this year began gathering lawmakers’ signatures on a letter asking Governor Mike Parson (R) to grant clemency to Bostic. About 50 legislators have signed that letter and Schroer said more have committed to, but he put the effort on hold while the clemency process is advancing.
Bostic was 16 in 1995 when he and an accomplice robbed a group of people delivering Christmas presents to the needy. He shot one victim who sustained a minor wound. The pair then carjacked and robbed a woman.
Baker said Bostic has turned his life around in prison. He obtained his G.E.D. and a paralegal diploma, took a victim advocate course, and completed a course in non-profit management and grantsmanship. He’s written four non-fiction books and 8 books of poetry.
Schroer has talked to the governor and First Lady Teresa Parson about Bostic’s case and said they are both receptive. He also hopes that in this effort to see Bostic be granted clemency, it will open doors for others in Missouri’s prisons who have similar arguments to be made.
Schroer said he learned that the governor’s office has a stack of clemency requests that date back to the administration of Governor Bob Holden (D), who left the office in 2005. He hopes to see those examined.
Schatz told the committee that it would be up to the Department of Transportation whether to accept a federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant if it could receive enough in that grant to proceed with the Rocheport bridge project.
The state is asking for a grant of $172-million, but might get less. Schatz said it would need to receive $50-million or more in order to build that bridge.
The issue some lawmakers expressed with the proposal is that it would require the use of money from the state’s General Revenue fund to pay down the bond debt. GR money has never been used for transportation, and some lawmakers fear setting the precedent that it can be.
Schatz told Razer he agrees and he would prefer to increase the state’s gas tax, but he recalled that three previous transportation funding proposals have failed either before Missouri voters or in the legislature.
Razer said in some way the legislature must find a long-term solution for transportation funding so the Department can make long-term plans and quit going deeper in debt for maintenance and upgrades. In the meantime, he said he has a tough decision to make about SCR 14.
Missouri House members have taken time this session to honor one of their own.
The House and Senate agreed on House Bills 448 & 206, to rename a portion of U.S. 61/67/50/Lindbergh Boulevard in St. Louis County the “Rep. Cloria Brown Memorial Highway.” Brown was a state representative representing part of south St. Louis County for more than five years. She died in March of last year after a battle with cancer.
That legislation was signed into law today by Governor Mike Parson (R), who was accompanied by Brown’s family and some of her colleagues, and in front of around 100 legislators.
Parson said it was significant that so many lawmakers stepped away to witness the signing while the busy legislative session is still underway.
Brown has been remembered by colleagues and even political rivals as hard working, tough, and compassionate. She worked on the House’s budget committee; proposed a ban on texting while driving; and backed measures aimed at fighting human and sex trafficking.
In 2017 Brown sponsored a bill to require the development and display in certain workplaces of posters with the Human Trafficking Hotline. The posters’ aim is to provide information on how victims can be helped and how to fight trafficking. A similar bill, House Bill 1246, became law last year, with Brown considered one of the driving forces behinds its passage. It was sponsored by Representative Patricia Pike (R-Adrian).
The Missouri legislature moved quickly to pass two bills that were the subject of a special session called by Governor Mike Parson (R).
Parson called lawmakers back into session to reexamine issues covered in two bills he vetoed. One of those would establish statewide standards for treatment courts, such as drug and veteran courts; the other would allow high school computer science courses to count toward graduation requirements for math, science, or practical arts credits. The House voted on Wednesday to send those bills to the Senate, and today the Senate approved those bills without making any changes to them. That means they go to Parson for his consideration.
Representative Kevin Austin (R-Springfield) sponsored House Bill 2, which deals with treatment courts. Such courts in Missouri provide a court-supervised, comprehensive treatment program as an alternative to jail time. Lawmakers and prosecutors agree the program is not an easy out for a defendant.
Over the years courts have been established in numerous districts in the state but without universal guidelines for how to operate. HB 2 seeks to provide those.
Austin said one of his favorite parts of the bill is a transfer clause, which will allow defendants who are candidates for treatment courts but are in a circuit that doesn’t have them, to be transferred to a circuit which does have them.
House Bill 3 would let computer science courses count toward math, science, or practical arts credits needed for graduation. Under the bill students could begin in middle school to be prepared for the opportunities they could have in the job market. Its sponsor, Holts Summit Republican Travis Fitzwater, has been working on STEM legislation for years.
Representative Jeanie Lauer (R-Blue Springs) chaired the House Committee on Workforce Development and worked with Representative Fitzwater on the computer science portion of HB 3. She said it could help move Missouri forward in workforce development.
Parson announced on August 30 his call for the special session and legislators worked quickly to pass new versions of these bills that addressed the concerns he cited with his vetoes, while spending as little time as possible on the special session. The session’s costs were lessened because it coincided with the constitutionally-mandated veto session.
The Missouri House voted to override the governor’s vetoes of four items in the state operating budget that became law in July. The Senate has opted not to take up those items for consideration, so the governor’s vetoes will stand.
The House voted to override Governor Mike Parson’s (R) vetoes on line-items that support juvenile advocacy units in the Kansas City and St. Louis offices of the state public defender; time-critical centers for heart attack and stroke patients in Missouri hospitals; independent reviews by the Office of Child Advocate of local offices that serve troubled youths; and the oversight of grants to organizations that serve the deaf and blind. The four items totaled more than $785,000.
House budget leaders said those items will be brought up for consideration when the legislature meets again in January, for the start of its regular session.
The House voted only on five budget items during its annual veto session, which began and ended Wednesday. On the fifth budget item, $50,000 for grants to law enforcement agencies for the purchase of tourniquets for officers, the House fell short of the constitutional majority needed for an override.
Money for inspections of state-certified heart attack and stroke trauma centers
House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) said after the governor vetoed money to fund inspections and certification of time-critical trauma centers for heart attack and stroke patients, his administration then said those inspections would be conducted anyway. Fitzpatrick said he wants to see the inspections continue, but for them to be funded by pulling money from parts of the budget not intended for them violates the role of the legislature in the budget process.
Money for Office of Child Advocate review of local abuse investigations
$100,000 for the Office of Child Advocate would pay for two people that St. Charles Republican Kurt Bahr said would conduct a thorough review of how child abuses cases are processed. He said the office needs those two additional staff members to keep up with that extra work.
Money for oversight of grants to organizations serving Missouri’s deaf and blind
The $45,000 for the Missouri Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing would pay for a person to oversee grants to organizations serving the deaf and blind. That position was created as part of House Bill 1696 passed in 2016, which was sponsored by Representative Lyle Rowland (R-Cedarcreek). He said those grants have been fully funded for the past two years.
Money for public defenders for juveniles in Kansas City and St. Louis
Fitzpatrick said the $487,000 for juvenile advocacy units in the St. Louis and Kansas City offices of the public defender system would ensure that the constitutional right to counsel for juveniles in those regions would be met.