House vote sends statewide PDMP proposal to Governor

      After roughly a decade of legislative consideration, the Missouri legislature has voted to create a statewide prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP).

Representative Travis Smith (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      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.

      “Every law enforcement person I talked to, every doctor says it will prevent deaths in the future, and if you can prevent just one person from dying I think that means something.  I think this will prevent hundreds, if not thousands,” said Representative Travis Smith (R-Dora), who carried the bill in the House.   

      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.

Representative Justin Hill speaks against the PDMP proposal as Senator Holly Rehder, its sponsor, watches debate. (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “This has dire consequences.  The death rate in St. Louis County has actually increased because people are pushed away from pharmacies to buy their narcotics, which they are addicted to, on the street.  If you truly care about the lives of people that are addicted to these drugs then you want them to be discovered at the pharmacy.  You want them to doctor shop,” said Hill.  “You turn down that person at a doctor’s office or pharmacy, they’re still going to get their drug.”

      Smith said he’s heard those concerns, and if the bill becomes law he intends to monitor the impact of a PDMP in Missouri.  If it doesn’t work he will work to fix or eliminate it.

      “My argument to those people is this:  most heroin users did not start off as heroin users.  They had some kind of prescription for the opioid.  They get the opioid and because there wasn’t a monitoring program they got too much of it.  They got addicted,” said Smith.  “My idea is, if we can work with doctors and pharmacists and monitor it, we can catch it before it ever happens.”

      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.

      “I think that what her legislation is doing is truly putting a statewide PDMP forward, and to me that is something that is ultimately going to save lives.”

      Proponents say under SB 63, Missourians’ medical information will only be available to doctors and pharmacists.

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.

New law will affect school start dates beginning next year

Some schools will be starting classes later under a bill signed into law last month by Governor Mike Parson (R).

Representative Jeff Knight (photo by Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

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.

“The tourism dollars that are lost in August because these schools start earlier and earlier and earlier was becoming significant,” said Knight.  “There was some opposition from a lot of school groups talking about local control, but at the same time, we need those revenues to help fund schools.”

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.

“Big Surf water park testified during the committee that they actually closed the Big Surf water park last year August 13.  It wasn’t because people quit coming to Big Surf, it was more that all of their workers and employees were going back to school,” said Knight.

Knight said agriculture is also affected as students who would be working on farms are pulled away for classes during potential harvest periods.

“There are still people in our area, with the drought earlier last year and the rain situation of early this year, there’s still people cutting hay right now,” said Knight.

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.

“[School districts who opposed the change] would argue that we get out in the middle of May and you can make up for tourism in that, and my response was, ‘Have you ever jumped in the lakes or the rivers in the middle of May?’  They’re extremely cold … where in August, it’s still extremely hot.”

Knight, who is a former educator, said extending the start date cutoff from 10 to 14 days means districts can still start reasonably early.

“Ten days before the first Monday is a Friday.  Well, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to start school on a Friday.  14 days means you can start on a Monday, but you still gain, in some years, an extra weekend, and in some years, depending on how the holiday falls, two weekends,” said Knight.

The provision of HB 604 regarding schools’ start date doesn’t affect districts until the start of the 2020-21 school year.

Effort lead by family of MODOT worker killed by driver results in new license revocation law

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.

Lyndon Ebker was killed in an April, 2016 crash while he was working in a MODOT work zone near New Haven. The driver who hit him was allowed to continue driving for more than two and a half years, and Ebker’s family and MODOT workers said that was wrong.

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).

“I just want people to think about it when they’re seeing the cones or the orange flags, even the trucks, I want this law to make them stop and think, ‘That gentleman was hit and killed because somebody didn’t slow down,’ or even just to remember that they’re humans that are standing there,” said Herbel.  “Awareness really is the biggest thing for us.”

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.

“I have heard stories from some MODOT employees that worked with Mr. Ebker that feared for their lives because knowing that this gentleman was out there driving still,” said Griesheimer.  “I’d heard another report that he had almost hit somebody else in the City of Hermann, so it was definitely a safety factor involved in this.”

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.

“We try to keep our roads primarily open while we’re working on them.  It’s a considerable challenge, but we have to do it safely so we can honestly look at our employees and say the way that we’re structured will guarantee you the ability to go home every single day after shift to your family and friends, every time throughout your entire career,” McKenna told House Communications.  “We have a memorial here just about 100 yards from where I’m sitting right now with the names of not only Lyndon Ebker, but 133 other MODOT employees that through our history have lost their lives providing public service on behalf of Missouri.”

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

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 he saw someone doing something that was going to hurt themselves or hurt other people he did not hesitate to speak up, and that’s why this law is so fitting because if he had lived through this accident he would’ve done something to keep people safe.  He would not have just taken the injury and went on.  He would’ve turned around and fought for something to change.”

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.

Earlier stories:

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

Family of MODOT worker killed in work zone asks lawmakers to toughen license revocation law

Judge who sentenced man to 241 years meets with lawmakers seeking his clemency

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 Evelyn Baker (retired) (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“I will talk to anybody and everyone who is in a position to help undo an injustice,” said Judge Baker.

Baker sentenced Bostic to 241 years in prison after a string of crimes in 1995.  Now 40, Bostic would not be eligible for parole until the age of 112.

“We had that whole concept of the violent predator juveniles.  What we didn’t have was the knowledge from science in terms of brain development in adolescents,” said Baker of when she sentenced Bostic.  “The law said he is a certified juvenile, therefore can be treated as an adult.  Bobby was far from being an adult.  He was a 16-year-old kid and I treated him as if he were a hardened adult criminal.  I know now that was wrong.”

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.

Bobby Bostic has told Judge Baker and Rep. Schroer there are others in prison who deserve to have clemency considered.

“He’s turned into a responsible young man who accepts full responsibility for his actions.  He doesn’t minimize what happened.  He doesn’t excuse what happened,” said Baker.  “My experience as a judge has always been that people who accept full responsibility, make no excuses for their actions, express true remorse … don’t come back into the system again, and that’s Bobby.”

Schroer and Baker both believe that being sent to prison was actually a benefit to Bostic, who himself told the judge he expected to be dead in his early 20s.

“God is working miracles.  It if wasn’t for the judge cracking down and being as hard as she was on Bobby, it wouldn’t have probably opened his eyes to create the man that he is today,” said Schroer.  “If she would’ve been soft on him he might’ve been back out on the street to commit more crimes and actually become a more hardened criminal.”

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.

“Bobby’s not the only Bobby.  There are Bobbys and Bobbetts not only in the Missouri Department of Corrections but all throughout this country,” said Baker.

Representative Nick Schroer and Judge Evelyn Baker (retired) (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

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.

“The Parson administration has indicated that they were taking a fresh look at all of those petitions and I know that they are still doing it right now … but whether we need to form a task force or a committee to help expedite that process, I’m wide open to forming something like that,” said Schroer.

“My time up here is to serve the people of Missouri, and what better way to serve the people than look at their pocketbooks, look where the money’s going, and look at the people that have actually been placed under the control of the state to see how we can actually get them out [to] become a productive member of society,” said Schroer.

Judge Baker said she has corresponded with Bostic regularly and she plans to meet with him in prison.

Schroer said it could be a couple of months before he submits legislators’ signatures with the letter urging Governor Parson to grant clemency to Bostic, while other parts of that effort move forward.

House budget committee considering $301-million bonding proposal for transportation

A plan to use $301-million in bonds to repair 215 of the state’s bridges is now in the hands of the House Budget Committee.

Senator Dave Schatz (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Governor Mike Parson (R) proposed the original idea, which was revised in the Senate to lower the cost of interest on the bonds.  The Senate voted last month 26-7 to send it to the House.

The provisions of Senate Concurrent Resolution 14 would be triggered if the state accepts a federal grant to pay for replacement of the I-70 bridge over the Missouri River at Rocheport.

“I would not be advocating this proposal if it were not for the Rocheport bridge,” said the resolution’s sponsor, Senate President Pro-Tem Dave Schatz (R-Sullivan)“I think that is so critical to our state and to the movement of freight across this state.  That’s how important it is – for us to go down this path of bonding,”

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.

“I understand the immediate need.  I understand the importance of the Rocheport bridge … if that bridge were to fail that’s a national problem, but I think about what happens in this body 10, 20, 30 years from now,” said Kansas City representative Greg Razer (D).  “The last thing I want to see is for us to set a precedent where in future General Assemblies the people sitting in our seats right now decide which roads get built, when they get built … a member’s political weight in this building should not be deciding which roads get built and when.”

Representative Greg Razer (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

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.

“I believe it’s critical for us to do something … not long term, I agree, [this] is not the right way to do this, but right now we have something before us that is critical in nature,” said Schatz.  “Four to six, or eight hour traffic delays on I-70 is unacceptable.”

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.

“I’m in a position now of what I consider two bad votes.   I vote, ‘Yes,’ and I’m voting to put us more into debt and opening up Pandora’s Box of GR.  I vote, ‘No,’ and we have eight hour backups on I-70.  That’s the position I’m in,” said Razer.

The committee has not voted on SCR 14.

Bill honoring the late Rep. Cloria Brown becomes law

Missouri House members have taken time this session to honor one of their own.

Representative Cloria Brown (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communciations)

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.

“This says a lot for Cloria … who she was,” said Parson.  “What she accomplished, the goals she had in mind, with the representation she made of her family that are here today, and a representation of you – of all of us that work in this building when you have people like that come along sometimes and show us all that there’s a higher road to take.”

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).

“Cloria Brown was a joy to so many people; her family, her friends, the legislators, and the citizens.  We loved her smile, we loved her very defined work ethic,” said Pike.  “As a state representative she served with grace and she served with commitment.”

Earlier story:  Missouri legislature approves human trafficking hotline posters

Brown also co-sponsored House Bill 1562 in 2016, which expanded Missouri’s law against sex trafficking to include advertising a child participating in a commercial sexual act.  That bill was sponsored by current House Speaker Elijah Haahr (R-Springfield).

Earlier story:  Missouri toughens laws against human trafficking, sponsor says more to come

Representative Jim Murphy (R-St. Louis) now represents what was Brown’s district.  He also knew her personally.

“Cloria, your legacy inspired us not to sit idly by, but to continue to stand up for those who have no voice,” said Murphy.

Governor Mike Parson, House Speaker Elijah Haahr, members of former Rep. Cloria Brown’s family, and dozens of current and former lawmakers attended the signing of legislation naming a portion of highway in honor of Brown. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Scott Sifton’s (D-Affton) Senate district overlaps the district Brown represented, and they served together in the House.  He praised Brown for representing the refugee population in her district.

“For anybody that knows south St. Louis County, it is an area that demands a lot of accountability and attention from its elected leadership.  Folks there take things very seriously,” said Sifton.  “What that results in, and really demands, is a lot of hard work and close connection of the people that represent that area to the constituents they serve, and nobody exemplified that better, in the time that I have been involved, than Cloria Brown.”

Brown was buried in St. John’s Cemetery, which overlooks Lindbergh Boulevard, a portion of which will now be named for her.

The sign designating that section of road in her name will be paid for by private donations.

Missouri legislature completes special session, sends two bills to Governor Parson

The Missouri legislature moved quickly to pass two bills that were the subject of a special session called by Governor Mike Parson (R).

Representative Kevin Austin (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

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.

“It allows the expansion of treatment courts to counties that don’t have it but would like to have it.  It also allows for the coordinating commission to establish best practices based on scientific research that’s been done on the effectiveness of treatment courts and what works and what doesn’t,” said Austin.  “It allows for more data collection as well, it allows for technical assistance from [The Office of State Courts Administrator] to these courts.”

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.

“That is not going to result in just dumping from one county to another of these defendants.  It has to be agreed to by both the transferring county and the receiving county.  It has to be agreed to by the prosecuting attorney as well as the defendant,” said Austin.

Austin said treatment courts save lives and improve the quality of lives, and not just the lives of the defendants that go through them.

“There’s people that interact with that person every day.  Maybe it’s their family, maybe it’s their neighbors, maybe it’s the merchants who they might otherwise be shoplifting from, it’s us as taxpayers.  It affects all of us in a very positive way.  It’s a way that we can restore dignity and return this person to a productive life,” said Austin.

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.

Representatives Jeanie Lauer and Travis Fitzwater (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“I’m thrilled it’s done,” Fitzwater said on Wednesday after the House passed his legislation.

“What we need is broadening opportunities and this is doing that for kids … and at the heart of it that’s what I’m trying to accomplish with this bill,” said Fitzwater.

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.

“We know that from site selectors that are looking for where to place businesses that is the top item that they’re looking for in criteria is what is the workforce pool, and in order for us to be competitive not only within our state but with other states we have to increase the talent that we have, and this is certainly a step toward that,” said Lauer.

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.

House votes to override governor on four budget items; Senate takes no action

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.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick proposed the overrides of five vetoes the governor made in the state’s budget. The House voted for four of those overrides. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

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.

“The governor vetoed all the people and all the money for that particular program and my opinion is once you do that, you can’t fund that program,” said Fitzpatrick.  “That is going to come to a head in January.  It is going to be an issue and it will get dealt with in a different way.”

The top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Kip Kendrick (Columbia), agreed.

“I don’t know exactly how that program moves forward if the line’s been vetoed and the two [full-time employees] in the program have been vetoed.  We want to see the program move forward, but also how does the program exist if it doesn’t have a line and a place in the budget … I don’t want to see any of the services disrupted or interrupted, but that being said we need to make sure that we’re handling things appropriately.” said Kendrick.

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.

“We are making sure that we’re taking care of kids in the foster care system, we’re making sure that any charge of child abuse is being looked at and is being processed correctly so that the system works for the most vulnerable in our society,” said Bahr.

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.

“In our world today we want all moneys from government to have accountability, and we need to have a person in place in that commission that oversee this money, can answer questions, can develop the [requests for proposal], to allow this to take place to help the deaf, blind community,” said Rowland.

Shrewsbury Democrat Sarah Unsicker said the person currently overseeing these grants has a number of other jobs and is overwhelmed.

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

“People who are deaf/blind need additional services including language acquisition, communication assistance, and help with activities of daily living.  The Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is not equipped to deal with these specialized needs of this population by themselves and needs this staff person to assist with these needs,” said Unsicker.

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.

Bahr said those juveniles need proper defense attorneys to keep them from entering a “prison pipeline where they end up becoming a far larger cost onto our society as perpetual inmates.”

Representative Ingrid Burnett (D-Kansas City) said as a teacher she worked with elementary school children both before and after these public defender units for juveniles existed.

“The difference between the outcome for these children is staggering,” said Burnett.

Kansas City Democrat Barbara Washington said she has personal experience as a juvenile offender, and said the importance of juveniles having representation cannot be overstated.

“I sit here today because I had an attorney.  I sit here today because my parents could afford an attorney and I can state today that no one else who was incarcerated with me at that time was even able to graduate from high school, and that was because at that time there was not a public defender system totally dedicated to juvenile offender,” said Washington.

No hard feelings from the House toward the governor over budget vetoes

Both Fitzpatrick and Kendrick said the attempts to override Parson’s vetoes did not signal a battle between the House and the governor’s office.

“The governor came into office in June and basically had one month to review the budget at the same time he was trying to assemble his team.  I think that unfortunately there were some things they didn’t get the full picture on and had to make some decisions before they had all the information,” said Fitzpatrick.  “We’ll continue to work with the governor.  This is not intended to be an issue that is supposed to disrupt the relationship.  It’s just a part of the process.”

Kendrick was not critical of the governor, even regarding the veto of funding for time-critical trauma center inspections and the procedural issues surrounding its continued funding.

“Everybody makes mistakes, right?  We all make mistakes.  Sometimes you’ve just got to own up to the mistake that you make … I don’t think Governor Parson wanted to see this program disappear.  Soon after I think he realized that it’s an important program obviously not just to us here in the building but to everyone around the State of Missouri,” said Kendrick.