Foster reforms aimed at giving more children permanency sent to governor

      The legislature has proposed several measures meant to give more Missouri children a chance to get out of the foster care system and into permanent homes, and to help foster and adoptive parents afford the costs of caring for and adopting children.

Representative Hannah Kelly watches as fellow legislators cast votes for one of the two foster care reform bills she sponsored. (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      House Bills 429 and 430 were agreed to this week and now await action by Governor Mike Parson (R), who lawmakers say has indicated support for them.  Mountain Grove Republican Hannah Kelly sponsored both.

      HB 430 would expand current tax credits for the adoption of Missouri children with disabilities to be available in any adoption, while giving priority to instances involving Missouri children with disabilities.  Kelly said of a program capped at $6-million a year, less than $30,000 was claimed last year.

      She said by allowing a broader offering of this credit, more Missouri children will have the opportunities for permanent families.

      “When people say it should stay to be Missouri children.  Well if a Missouri family wants to adopt a child then that’s a Missouri child in my mind,” said Kelly.  “If you’re a Missouri taxpayer we’re going to support you in your effort to open your home and your heart to children in need.”

      HB 429 authorizes an income tax deduction for expenses related to providing care as a foster parent. 

      It also creates a “Birth Match” program.  It would require the state Children’s Division and the State Registrar’s Office to compare birth reports with information on parents who have been convicted of certain crimes.  When parents have history of the specified crimes, Division personnel will make contact with the family to see if any action is appropriate. 

      This could include seeing whether any crimes are being committed, but Kelly said in a broader sense it is about seeing whether the family is in need of any of the types of assistance the state could facilitate.

      “Birth Match is intended to match the families with the services to prevent a repeat of previous situations,” said Kelly.  “If you can step in and offer services, whether that be parenting classes, whether that be … do you need to be signed up for Medicaid … do you need prenatal care … do you need, OK you need a washer and a dryer.”

      “That is the heart of Birth Match, is to allow government departments to communicate faster … in regards to ensuring the overall outcome is safety of baby and mom and dad and whoever else is in the picture,” said Kelly. 

      HB 429 also increases the age threshold for abandoned infants and children from one year or under to under three years old.  It sets a time frame of six months before a petition of termination of parental rights is considered in cases of neglect by a parent. 

Foster care reform is a priority for House Speaker Rob Vescovo. (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Kelly said by restructuring this and other parts of law, impediments to giving a child a permanent home are removed.

      “The research was showing us that [children] were getting ‘caught in limbo,’ is the best way to put it,” said Kelly.  “This is expected very much to help make sure that kids don’t get stuck in what can feel like forever being hung between, ‘Okay, I know that I’m abandoned by my bio-family but I also need a termination of parental rights process to happen before my family who wants to adopt me can officially be my adoptive family.”

      Kelly credits House Speaker Rob Vescovo (R-Arnold) with making the legislation a priority, which pushed these bills to be the first non-budget measures sent to the governor this year.  She said not only did he make these issues priorities, he bravely, publicly shared his own personal story of having been in Missouri’s foster care system as further evidence of the need for reform.

      “His willingness to tell his story; his willingness to lay it out there and personally exemplify why this matters has been huge,” said Kelly. 

      The legislation received overwhelming bipartisan support.  The final House vote on HB 429 was 127-8; the vote on HB 430 was 142-0.

VIDEO: Representative O’Donnell promoted to Lt. Commander

Representative Michael O’Donnell (R-St. Louis) received Monday a promotion to Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy, on the Missouri House Chamber floor.  In front of his House colleagues, O’Donnell accepted the promotion in a ceremony that combined Navy traditions with House traditions. It was conducted by Representative Mike Haffner (R-Pleasant Hill), a Navy veteran.  House Speaker Rob Vescovo (R-Arnold) and Majority Floor Leader Dean Plocher (R-St. Louis) assisted in the ceremony.

House Committee advances foster care, adoption supports

      A House Committee has voted to make adopting or fostering children in Missouri easier, with its support for two bills that are early-session priorities for chamber leadership.

      The House Committee on Children and Families unanimously passed House Bill 429, which would authorize an income tax deduction for foster care expenses; and House Bill 430 which would expand the state’s existing $10,000 tax credit for the adoption of children with special needs to any adoption. 

Representative Hannah Kelly (photo: Ben Peters, Missouri House Communications)

      The bills’ sponsor, Representative Hannah Kelly (R-Mountain Grove), said both proposals have been stalled in past years but are priorities of House Speaker Rob Vescovo (R-Arnold)

      “Because of Speaker Vescovo’s leadership we are looking at sending this thing to the House floor, sending it to the Senate right away, and it’s just awesome,” said Kelly.  “Today doesn’t have anything to do with Hannah Kelly, it has to do with Speaker Vescovo’s leadership and people who have gone on before me and plowed the ground.”

The proposed tax deduction for foster care would begin January 1 and continue for six years unless extended by the legislature.  Parents who foster children for at least six months would be eligible for a deduction of up to $2,500, or $5,000 for a couple filing jointly. 

Those who foster for fewer than six months could apply for a prorated deduction.  Kelly said extending help to those foster parents is no less important.

“Sometimes children need a safe place for just a few weeks while mom and dad get a house cleaned, or while they take certain trainings, or perhaps they simply need a temporary place to stay while they find a permanent placement, and so this also allows to be supportive to the foster parents who provide that respite care, that temporary place,” said Kelly.

      Kelly said anything that makes it easier for a child in foster care to be adopted isn’t just good for that child, it makes financial sense for the state. 

In the case of her own daughter, who she adopted last year at the age of 18, “If she would have stayed in the system she would have stayed there until she was 21 … from a financial standpoint … the state would’ve spent $21,000 just as a base amount, before she aged out of the system.”

      Vescovo, who was adopted out of foster care, called on House members last week to join him in expanding the adoption tax credit.

Missouri House Speaker Rob Vescovo (photo: Ben Peters, Missouri House Communications)

       “Together we can make adoption a possibility for many families who may not have the money but have the love and support to give a wonderful life to a person in need.”

      He also asked for members’ support for foster care reforms, including a tax deduction, “which can encourage more Missouri families to open their doors and their hearts to our young people in need.”

      “We know we have more than 13,000 kids in the foster care system and more enter the system every year.  We must take every step possible to give each and every one of these kids an open door of opportunity so they can grow into healthy, productive adults,” said Vescovo.

      With the committee’s action today, those bills will go before another committee and could be heard by the full House next week.

House proposes increase in state aid to sheltered workshops

The Missouri House has voted to increase state financial support to sheltered workshops.

Representative Rory Rowland’s has a son, JP, who has Down syndrome and loves working in a Kansas City-area workshop. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

House Bill 2644 would increase from $19 to $21 dollars the amount the state pays to workshops for every six-hour or longer day worked by a handicapped employee. Backers say the boost would give those workshops and their employees more financial stability, while reaffirming the state’s support for them and the work they do.

HB 2644 is sponsored by Representative Rory Rowland (D-Independence), whose son JP has Down syndrome and works in a Kansas City-area workshop.

“I want to thank everyone in this body for your kindness and support of this,” an emotional Rowland told his House colleagues. “This means so much to my family [and] my son.”

Many lawmakers spoke while HB 2644 was before the House about the workshops in their districts and what those mean to their communities, and their employees.

Representative David Wood (R-Versailles) has been on the board of directors for a workshop in his district for more than 30 years. He said the employees of that workshop would rather be there than have a day off even on holidays.

“You see these workers not grumbling about being there. They want don’t want to take off. They want to be at work. They want the socialization. They want to feel a worth,” said Wood. “When you’re packaging something that they can go to Wal-Mart and see on the shelf and say, ‘Hey, I packaged that. I did that work,’ it gives them a feeling of self-worth that nothing else can.”

Representative Richard Brown (D-Kansas City) is the parent of a daughter with cerebral palsy who died at the age of 15.

Representative David Wood has been on the board of directors for a sheltered workshop for more than 30 years.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

“As a parent I often wondered, ‘Where would my child be able to go to work?’” Brown told his House colleagues. “A lot of the kids that she went to school with, they work at a sheltered workshop in my district called Southeast Enterprises, and when I look at kids like Dwayne Bell or Tiffany Johnson I see the joy that comes from their heart from going to work every day and having the ability to maintain a job and having a sense of purpose and a sense of self-worth from doing a job each day.”

Hermann Republican Justin Alferman said the value of workshops doesn’t only come from what they mean to their employees. He spoke about a component for air conditioner compressors that is made at a workshop in his district.

“It’s not just about giving these individuals a job. They are huge economic drivers of our communities,” said Alferman.

Wood said because of a combination of lagging state support and a pencil producer moving its operation from his district to the country of Mexico, the workshop he sits on the board of had to cut 45 of its employees.

“The state aid is extremely important. This is an extremely important program to the State of Missouri. They do work that you wouldn’t believe,” said Wood.

Rowland and other lawmakers thanked Majority Floor Leader Rob Vescovo (R-Arnold) and House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) for their support of the legislation.

HB 2644 goes to the Senate with less than two weeks left in the legislative session, but Rowland is optimistic that because of its subject matter it will receive enough attention to pass before the session’s end.

Earlier story:  Effort to reaffirm House support for sheltered workshops led by lawmaker whose son works in one

House approves limited medical marijuana proposal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Earlier stories:  

Missouri House considers legalizing medical use of marijuana

Bill to legalize limited medical marijuana heard in House committee

House votes to send project labor agreement ban to Governor Greitens

Missouri legislative Republicans’ labor reform agenda took another step Thursday with the final passage of a bill barring project labor agreements (PLAs) for public projects.

Representative Rob Vescovo began proposing a ban on project labor agreements for public projects when he was first elected to the House for the 2015 session. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Rob Vescovo began proposing a ban on project labor agreements for public projects when he was first elected to the House for the 2015 session. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The House voted to send Senate Bill 182 to Governor Eric Greitens (R), who had called for the elimination of PLAs.

Under a PLA, a governing body requires non-union contractors to pay union dues to workers on a project.  SB 182 would prohibit that, and would bar local governments from giving preferential treatment to union contractors.  Governing bodies that violate the bill’s provisions would lose state funding and tax credits for two years.

Republicans said PLAs are unfair to non-union workers and contractors.  Arnold representative Rob Vescovo (R) said PLAs discriminate against the largest segment of Missouri’s workforce.

“86-percent of that workforce will not be able to do work on those job sites or bid on those job sites unless they sign a project labor agreement,” said Vescovo.

Lake St. Louis Republican Justin Hill said PLAs amount to extortion.

“Those non-union contractors are forced to pay union dues into benefits that they will never receive,” said Hill.

Representative Bob Burns said project labor agreements are good tools for local governments, which the legislature should not move to take away. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Bob Burns said project labor agreements are good tools for local governments, which the legislature should not move to take away. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Democrats called the legislation an attack on unions.  Representative Bob Burns (D-St. Louis) said PLAs protect local governments by ensuring that they will have work done that is quality and completed on time by skilled workers.  He said his time on a board of education in Affton provided evidence of that.

“A lot of things that should have lasted 25, 30 years were failing after 5 years or 2 years, and these contractors were nowhere to be found,” said Burns.  “The district wouldn’t have to spend more funds to get something done and get it fixed if it would’ve been done properly in the first place.”

SB 182 was carried in the House by Vescovo, who began introducing such legislation as a freshman in 2015.  It is expected Greitens will sign the bill into law.

The House’s passage of SB 182 follows other labor reforms it has proposed, including the passage of a right-to-work bill signed into law by Greitens earlier this year.  That legislation prevents the collection of union dues or fees from workers as a condition of employment.

Earlier story:  House Republicans continue labor reform efforts; address project labor agreements

House Republicans continue labor reform efforts, address project labor agreements

The House Republican supermajority advanced another piece of its labor reform agenda, with the passage of HB 126 related to project labor agreements.

Representative Rob Vescovo (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Rob Vescovo (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The bill would bar required union agreements on public works projects.  Bill sponsor, Representative Rob Vescovo (R-Arnold) said project labor agreements discriminate against non-union workers and called them, “indefensible.”

“Project labor agreements are designed to stifle competition and force non-union contractors to become signatory on certain projects,” said Vescovo.

Democrats like Bob Burns (St. Louis) said project labor agreements allow local governments to guarantee quality work will be done.

“This is only for one reason:  to lower wages.  That’s all it’s about.  We want to pay less wages,” said Burns.  “They’re not talking about quality.  They’re not talking about safety.”

The bill goes to the Senate, which has already passed similar legislation.

The House earlier this session joined the Senate in sending Governor Eric Greitens a right-to-work bill, which was signed into law earlier this month.  The House also passed a bill supporters call, “paycheck protection,” which requires annual permission from a public union employee before union dues or fees can be taken from his or her paychecks.

Legislation dealing with prevailing wage laws, which make contractors pay a state-set minimum wage for trade workers on public projects, is moving through House committees and could be the next labor reform the chamber will debate.