House committee: Missourians not properly warned about possible smaller refunds, greater taxes owed

House members investigating the Department of Revenue say it hasn’t prepared Missourians for owing more income tax debt or getting smaller tax refunds this year, and that many Missourians could suffer because of it.

Missouri Department of Revenue Director Joel Walters testifies to the House Special Committee on Government Oversight (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

An error in Missouri tax code that dates back at least to 2004 was only recently discovered.  Its end result is that while changes in federal tax code will cause Missourians’ overall tax debt to decrease, they could see a greater remaining income tax bill or a smaller refund than they anticipated.

Members of the House Special Committee on Government Oversight looked back over the Department of Revenue’s efforts to alert Missourians about how the tax code has changed and what it could mean for them.  House Minority Leader Crystal Quade (D-Springfield) said those efforts were off message.

“I’m not seeing anywhere in here saying, ‘Hey, you might not get as much money back as you thought,’” said Quade.  “We’ve had enough conversations to understand how we got here and where we’re at, but ultimately a lot of the legislators’ concerns lies with the people who are expecting to get money back, who have budgeted their lives around this money coming back and they may not get it.”

“Are you going to do anything to make sure that people know that what they’re expecting to receive may not be the case?  ‘Cause your tweets aren’t,” Quade added.

Chairman Robert Ross (R-Yukon) said his committee’s chief goal is to make sure Missourians aren’t faced with a similar situation again, and that means the Department must do a better job of communicating.

“The Department was proud to send out press releases to talk about the bicentennial license plate that we switched over to … they spread the news whether it be on social media, whether it be in press releases, you read about that in the paper, there were different TV interviews; there was a lot of notoriety about a new license plate, however now that this mistake has occurred the Department of Revenue does not want to ‘fess up,” said Ross.  “Let the taxpayer know that an error occurred and what they should be expecting as we get closer to April.”

Lawmakers have been asking the Department for examples of how taxpayers might be affected.  Director Joel Walters said his Department has declined to offer examples because the many variables in filing means any two people filing the same way, with the same annual income, could see wildly different impacts.

Representative Robert Ross chairs the House Special Committee on Government Oversight (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Legislators told Walters they still want examples so they have a better idea what some Missourians might face.  Quade said the impact the changes will have on one Capitol employee are alarming.

“A staffer who makes about $30-thousand a year – single mom of three.  In last tax cycle she received $128 back from the state and $7,240 in federal.  This year she owes $304 to the state and [will get back $4,275 from the federal government], so that’s a $3,500 swing, and that’s for someone who works here,” said Quade.

Quade noted that it is illegal for a state worker to owe the state income tax.  She said that is just one way the situation could impact individual Missourians that they must be informed about.

Walters told the committee he agrees that communication should be improved.  He also stressed that he believes it is a minority of Missouri taxpayers who will experience a significant change in their tax returns, “but those are important people and people that we stand ready to work with.”

“We’ve created a dedicated phone line to help individuals with this.  We consistently work with taxpayers who need more time to pay their taxes or are struggling to pay their taxes, and we’ve put a page right up front on our website where immediately you go there, you can say if you need assistance – here’s where you can go to get assistance,” said Walters.

Ross said the committee will also be exploring what options are available to taxpayers who might be facing increased tax debt, “Maybe deferred payment plans … what actually the Department has the authority right now, without statutory changes occurring, but then what other options may possibly need to be addressed through statute.”

One legislator raised the question of some kind of tax debt forgiveness on the grounds that the Department made a mistake, but Ross said for such an idea to move forward seems unlikely.

The committee will meet again next week when, Ross said, it will ask more questions of Walters and review the examples that legislators have requested, which he urged the Department to at last prepare.

Missouri legislature votes to ease regulation of hair braiders, curb future business regulations

Legislation aimed at decreasing regulation of Missouri businesses has been approved by the General Assembly.

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

The state House voted Tuesday for the final passage of House Bill 1500, which started off as a bill to ease regulations of hair braiders, but added to it is language that will make the state think twice about imposing regulations on new professions.

In order to charge for braiding someone’s hair in Missouri a person must undergo 1,500 hours of training to obtain a cosmetology license.  The sponsor of HB 1500, Ballwin Republican Shamed Dogan, said that training does not cover hair braiding.  Dogan said that’s overly burdensome on people who often learn braiding as a practice handed down by family through generations.

“I’m very grateful that we’re going to be able to take hair braiding from a 1,500 hour license requirement to merely four to six hours of watching an instructional video on health and safety,” said Dogan.

Critics of an earlier version of HB 1500 said they were concerned hair braiders whose training was not extensive enough could pose health risks, including that they would not be able to recognize diseases involving the scalp and could spread those conditions.

HB 1500 now requires that a hair braider watch a four-hour video on health and safety.  House Democrat Leader Gail McCann Beatty (D-Kansas City) said she would have liked more hours to be required, but is glad that is a requirement and not optional, as it was under an earlier version of the bill.

“I think the definition of a good bill is one that no one is totally happy with,” said McCann Beatty.

The Senate added to House Bill 1500 the language of House Bill 1928, sponsored by Yukon Republican Robert Ross, which aims to discourage unnecessary state regulation of businesses.  The bill also lays out what considerations must be made before a regulation is imposed.

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

“This bill will require that we look through and actually quantify the risk that is going to exist to the public in the operation of this unlicensed profession and why we, as a state, would need to step in and regulate that,” said Ross.  “It also states that … if we’re going to impose regulation on this that we should start with the least restrictive form of regulation, and then based on that risk to the public, then move that up.”

“That will fulfill the promise that many of us – most of us – have made, to reduce regulations,” said Representative Keith Frederick (R-Rolla) of Ross’ language, “and the best way to reduce them is don’t put them in place in the first place unless they’re really essential.”

Kansas City Republican Kevin Corlew encouraged his colleagues to vote for HB 1500 as it returned from the Senate.

“I think this bill enables small business and entrepreneurs to do what they love to do, to do something that they’re good at and to make a living out of it.  This is a bill that enables government to get out of the way, cut unnecessary red tape, and allow entrepreneurs to do their craft,” said Corlew.

With the House’s 137-11 vote on Tuesday the legislation is now ready to be delivered to Missouri’s governor.

House budget committee votes to continue barring state funding for DUI checkpoints

The House Budget Committee has proposed a state spending plan that would continue to keep state-appropriated funds from going to impaired driving checkpoints.

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

Last year the House proposed that $20-million made available for grants to law enforcement agencies not be allowed for use in checkpoints.  That proposal became part of the final budget plan for the fiscal year that began July 1, 2017.  Law enforcement agencies can conduct checkpoints but have to find other ways to pay for them.

The idea was controversial but has the backing of House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob), who cited data from the Department of Transportation showing saturation efforts – periods of increased law enforcement patrols on the roads – result in more arrests per dollar.

Representative Kathie Conway (R-St. Charles) remains adamant in her opposition to the prohibition.  She proposed letting $500,000 be used on checkpoints in the Fiscal Year 2019 budget, and argued that checkpoints are effective.

“Checkpoints are not really used to catch drunk drivers and impaired drivers.  They’re mostly to make the public aware of the risk of being caught,” said Conway.  “There’s been ten studies reported in five separate papers that the impact of sobriety checkpoints showed relative decrease in alcohol-related crash fatalities of 9-percent, and that’s just the fatalities.  Two of these studies showed a decrease of 64-percent in one and 28-percent in the other of blood alcohol content above the legal limit.”

Those who supported barring state-appropriated funds from going to checkpoints last year stood by their decision.  Representative Justin Hill (R-Lake St. Louis) said what’s happened in the last year shows it was correct.

“We were pretty confident last year when we spoke about focusing this fund to methods that work and actually remove drunk drivers off the road because after all, that is the goal – to arrest drunk drivers and get them off the road to make our roads safer,” said Hill.  “In the first six months, without using these funds to use checkpoints, we saw an increase of 15-percent statewide in DWI arrests, and you know some may say that’s kind of a long shot to say that’s due to the lack of checkpoints, but I truly believe that sometimes this body has to make tough decisions to force the hand to do what not only is right, but to do what’s effective and efficient.”

Representative Peter Merideth (D-St. Louis) supported the partial opening up of state funds to checkpoints.  He said he believes checkpoints are effective, at least when used in conjunction with other things like saturation efforts.  He also believes checkpoints are fairer.

“What I would point out is that when we rely solely on individual officers pulling over individual vehicles we have significant research and evidence that those stops much more disproportionately impact poor and minority communities, and at the very least a checkpoint is a uniform way to check everybody fairly, regardless of your color, regardless of the type of car you drive,” said Merideth.

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

Many backers of the prohibition on state funds being used for checkpoints say checkpoints are unconstitutional because vehicles are stopped without probable cause.  Yukon Republican Robert Ross said while he supports law enforcement and knows Conway does too, he said the issue is one of due process.

“Checkpoints are a system of being guilty until you can prove yourself innocent.  That’s exactly counterintuitive to the way this country was set up and how we should operate,” said Ross.

The committee rejected Conway’s amendment.  If that decision stands through the completion of a budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2019, the prohibition on state-appropriated funds being used for checkpoints would continue.  Conway said she would continue to try to lift it.

“I’ve stood in crowds of 200 and 300 police officers that were going out to do saturation and/or DUI checkpoints.  They’re very enthusiastic about their programs.  I’ve stood and talked with parents and spouses and children of people that were killed by drunk driving and they’re very supportive of DUI checkpoints; in some places it’s up to a 70-percent approval of the citizens where checkpoints are used,” said Conway.  “For some it simply boils down to a constitutional issue and their minds will not be changed, but I think it’s also – since it has been found constitutional under both Missouri and United States Supreme Courts – that until that changes we have to go with the constitutionality of it, and I must say that public safety is always at the forefront of most things that I do.”

The full House, when lawmakers return from spring break next week, will debate the proposal that was passed out of the chamber’s Budget Committee.  The issue could be debated again then.

House Budget Committee unhappy with how Greitens administration created drug monitoring program

State House Budget Committee members are not pleased with how Governor Greitens’ (R) administration paid for a new prescription drug monitoring program.

The Missouri House Budget Committee (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The Governor created the program with an executive order issued in July.  It includes a $250,000 no-bid contract with Express Scripts, under which that company provides data to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.  The Department uses that data to try to identify prescription drug abusers.

Legislators on the budget committee are frustrated that the administration created and found a way to pay for that program without their input or approval.

Versailles Republican David Wood said it looks bad for this new program to have been announced at a time when the governor has withheld money from other state programs, and after the legislature refused to fund many things saying the state is in a tight budget year.

“It makes me look like a liar,” said Wood.

The Office of Administration’s budget director, Dan Haug, told legislators the money came from additional federal funds for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that the state had not anticipated it would get.  He said the administration was free to use that money as it saw fit, and used it to address what it sees as a crisis:  prescription drug abuse.

Yukon Republican Robert Ross said the administration circumvented the legislature’s authority and used money that could have supported other state needs, including some the legislature voted to pay for but that later saw the governor withhold the funding.

Budget Director for the Greitens’ Administration, Dan Haug, took the brunt of criticism from House Budget Committee members over how the administration paid to create a prescription drug monitoring program. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“You are taking that money away from someone else,” said Ross.  “Now we could have that discussion of whether it’s more deserving to go to the kids, or whether it’s more deserving to go to the seniors, or whether it’s more deserving to go to those with disabilities, but at the end of the day you are taking that money from one of these other groups.”

Criticism came from both supporters and opponents of prescription drug monitoring with those on both sides saying their problem was not with the program the governor launched, but with how he launched it.

It also came from both political parties.

Springfield Democrat Crystal Quade told Haug it was “extremely frustrating” that CHIP money was used in a way that the legislature had no say in.

“I hope that as you all continue to come up with these new ideas to address this crisis that you bring them to use before you start moving money around,” said Quade.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) suggested the administration should not move forward with its drug monitoring program, and to instead bring it as a proposal to the legislature during the next budget process.  He urged administration officials to halt the transfer of that CHIP money to pay for the program, and to not sign a contract with Express Scripts.

“My suggestion would be to not do that,” said Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick called the use of that money, without the legislature’s approval, a “breach of trust.”

House budget proposal attempts to strengthen defunding of abortion providers

The budget proposed this week by the Missouri House attempts to strengthen an attempt started last year to defund abortion providers.

Representative Robert Ross (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Robert Ross (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The current fiscal year’s budget includes language that intended to keep all money appropriated by it from going to hospitals or clinics that perform abortions.  Yukon Republican Robert Ross proposed that prohibition, and said it needed to be strengthened.

“Despite that being a simple amendment last year, apparently [the Department of Social Services] was confused, and has chosen not to implement until recently … in this last month,” said Ross.

The House voted to adopt language offered by Ross for this year’s budget to use the definition of “abortion services” found elsewhere in state law.  Republicans including Sonya Anderson of Springfield said they hope this will clarify to the Department the legislature’s intent.

“Time and time again we have heard from our constituents that they do not support their tax dollars being used to fund abortions.  Last year we thought we had put a stop to this … yet here we are again a year later and Missouri is still sending taxpayer money to Planned Parenthood, an organization that is the largest abortion provider in Missouri,” said Anderson.

House Democrat leader Gail McCann Beatty called the amendment a “continued attack on women.”

“I think that amendment, while its target may be Planned Parenthood, this is going to cause some issues to our hospitals as well,” said McCann Beatty.

The statutory definition of “abortion services” includes not only performing abortions, but encouraging or referring a patient to have one.  Raytown Representative Jerome Barnes (D) said that means facilities besides Planned Parenthood could lose money.

Representative Deb Lavender (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Deb Lavender (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“Talking about abortion and providing fact-based information is not the same thing as providing abortions.  While the amendment maker may indeed target one particular provider, I am very concerned that any women’s health provider could be swept up in this amendment,” said Barnes.

Kirkwood Representative Deb Lavender (D) said the healthcare of women statewide could suffer under the prohibition.

“We are now in this amendment saying if you refer somebody for an abortion out of your facility, we’re not going to pay.  This now affects federally-qualified health facilities,” said Lavender.  “Make no mistake:  you think infant mortality in the Bootheel is high today?  Wait until you pass this amendment because you are going to prevent women from getting healthcare.”

Democrats also argue that tax dollars are already prohibited from being used to pay for abortions, but Republicans including Anderson say that isn’t enough.

“The taxpayers’ money is still going to fund Planned Parenthood.  It may not just be specifically for abortion but Planned Parenthood does offer abortion services in Missouri, so they do benefit from those taxpayer dollars,” said Anderson.

Ross’ amendment was adopted 115-35.  It is now part of the proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 that the House has sent to the Senate for its consideration.  The Senate will begin its work on that proposal next week.

Missouri House proposes giving Missourians choice of whether to get Real ID-compliant licenses

The state House has proposed a bill that would allow Missourians to choose whether to get a state ID that complies with the federal Real ID Act of 2005, so they can use it to do things like enter military bases and board planes.

Representative Kevin Corlew said House Bill 151 will give Missourians a  choice on whether to get a state-issued ID that complies with the federal Real ID Act of 2005.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Kevin Corlew said House Bill 151 will give Missourians a choice on whether to get a state-issued ID that complies with the federal Real ID Act of 2005. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 151 is sponsored by Representative Kevin Corlew (R-Kansas City), who called it a compromise, allowing Missourians to keep non-compliant IDs if they wish.  His Republican caucus was divided over the legislation, though, with some saying the Real ID Act threatens individuals’ privacy and personal information.

The Act was passed as part of the federal government’s response to the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.  In 2009 the Missouri legislature and then-Governor Jay Nixon (D), citing privacy concerns, adopted a law barring the state from issuing compliant IDs.  After January 2018, however, those without non-compliant IDs will not be able to get through airport security, and some federal facilities already enforce such a restriction.

It is that deadline that prompted Corlew’s legislation.

“We need to allow our citizens to choose a Real ID-compliant license so that they’ll be able to get on an airplane to fly across the United States or to fly to another state without having to go to the expense and time and burden of getting a passport, or passport card, or producing additional identification,” said Corlew.  “We need to be able to do that so that our businesses who service our military basis, also our family members who have military families throughout the country, that they can go and visit their loved ones, to see their graduations, to be a part of those ceremonies.”

Representative Steve Lynch’s (R-Waynesville) district includes Fort Leonard Wood, which quit accepting non-compliant IDs last year.  He said he has seen, as much as anyone in the House, how the issue is impacting Missourians.

“Everywhere I go, every weekend, I run across people that stop me and tell me we need to fix this issue.  People are angry.  They are frustrated,” said Lynch.

Opponents of the bill include Representative Robert Ross (R-Yukon), who called the choice proponents say the bill presents a “total joke.”

Representative Robert Ross was one of 35 Republicans that voted against the Real ID bill.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Robert Ross was one of 35 Republicans that voted against the Real ID bill. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Ross said the state is being “coerced” to adopt Real ID compliance by being told, “Your citizens are not going to be able to fly, they’re not going to be able to step onto a nuclear facility, we’re not going to let you into a military installation – which is completely false too.  If you’ve got a Missouri ID and a social security card, birth certificate, any other piece of identification, you can go in.”

Representative Rick Brattin (R-Harrisonville) said he is concerned the personal documents and information used to get a compliant ID will land in a government database.

“Everybody may think that this is a black helicopter mentality, but I do not think that this sort of information on a database, especially when it becomes completely nationwide, in the hands of a government, will ever be used for good,” said Brattin.

Others, like Representative Kevin Engler (R-Farmington), said voting against HB 151 would be denying constituents the ability to get a state-issued ID they can use to exercise their rights.

“I would suggest this:  If you look up and you see a ceiling, vote ‘Yes.’  If you look up and you see what might be the bottom of an alien spacecraft that’s coming down, and will beam us up to probe us, then vote, ‘No,’” said Engler.

The bill was passed with bipartisan support, 99-40, and now goes to the state Senate.

House committees to deep dive into Missouri business regulations and licensing

Two state House committees are preparing to dive into the state’s framework of regulations and licensing requirements in an effort to make it easier to own and operate a business in Missouri.

House Speaker Todd Richardson (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
House Speaker Todd Richardson (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) announced in his opening day address that he’s instructed the House Committee on Government Efficiency and the House Committee on Professional Registration & Licensing to review those requirements.

Richardson said Missouri regulations have slowed the success in Missouri of ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft and lodging companies HomeAway and AirBnB, and he said there are other examples.

“We’ve talked a lot time talking about hair braiding.  It’s ridiculous to me that you’ve got to go through the kind of hundreds hours requirement that you have to go through in this state just because you want to braid hair to make a little extra money,” said Richardson.

Richardson said he wants those committees, “to look at the places where Missouri is out of step with the regulatory requirements necessary to protect the public’s safety.” 

Representative Robert Ross (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Robert Ross (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The Committee on Professional Registration & Licensing is chaired by Yukon Republican Robert Ross, who said tempering business regulations is a balancing act.

“We have a responsibility to protect the individuals across the State of Missouri, but yet when the scale moves too far the other direction – when regulations become burdensome to business, that aren’t really effectively serving that purpose of protecting the public … it’s our responsibility to step in and pare those back to where we effectively meet the needs of protecting the public while, however, not being overly burdensome to businesses across the state,” said Ross.

Representative Delus Johnson (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Delus Johnson (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

St. Joseph Republican Delus Johnson chairs the Committee on Government Efficiency, who said it could be a multi-year process to vet all the regulations and requirements that are in place.

“Having these committees working hand-in-hand is going to be an asset for every person that’s either trying to get a job or to create a business that creates jobs in the state,” said Johnson. 

Ross is also going to file legislation known as, “The Sunshine Act,” which would require an analysis of proposed regulations before they are enacted.

Both committees are expected to begin meeting in the coming weeks.  The 2017 legislative session began Wednesday.