House debates reinstating tax credits for shows, movies shot in Missouri

Missouri lawmakers are debating whether the amount of money that comes into the state when movies and TV shows are filmed here is enough to merit giving producers a tax break in return.

Representative Kathy Swan (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Cape Girardeau representative Kathy Swan (R) says it is.  She’s proposing in House Bill 923 that the tax credit for production of film projects in Missouri be reinstated.  It was eliminated in November, 2013.

Swan’s district is where the major motion picture Gone Girl, starring Ben Affleck, was filmed in 2013.  She says one need look no further than how that benefited her region to see these credits are worthwhile.

“With a $7.9-million boost to the regional economy of Cape Girardeau … the state redeemed $2.3-million in tax credits, generating a net of $4.7-million in economic activity in the State of Missouri,” Swan said.  “116 Missouri crew members were hired, 1,400 local extras, 7,000 hotel room nights paid for and secured, cars rented, set supplies, office supplies were all purchased from local businesses, and food was catered for workers.  In addition, university students had the opportunity to apprentice alongside professionals.”

Swan said since the film tax credits were allowed to expire the state has missed out on more than 10 projects that could’ve carried more than $150-million of economic impact.  That includes projects that are set in Missouri, such as the Netflix series Ozark, starring Jason Bateman.

That series, a dark drama about drug money laundering that has been renewed for a third season, is set around the Lake of the Ozarks, yet is mostly shot in Georgia.

That frustrates Lake Ozark Republican Rocky Miller.

“The Ozarks happen to be in Missouri … they are not in Georgia,” said Miller.  “The beautiful Lake of the Ozarks doesn’t have a whole lot of pine trees, nor a muddy bottom, nor a lack of fun stuff that goes on in the Ozarks, and I know for a fact that if it were not for the lack of this film credit we would have greater exposure for the actual, beautiful, bluff-laden Lake of the Ozarks rather than the pine tree surrounded lake from somewhere in Georgia.”

Miller said for a series like Ozark to have filmed at a site already so popular with tourists such as the Lake of the Ozarks would have brought tourism dollars to Missouri for years to come, exceeding the $150-million impact Swan referenced.

Not everyone is sold on the proposal.  St. Louis Republican Jim Murphy said to vote for this bill would be a “vote for shiny objects.”

Representative Jim Murphy (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“What we’re talking about here is spending $45-million over the next ten years, or $4.5-million next year for a shiny object – to bring in a [transient] film crew to film a film just to make us feel good,” said Murphy.  “Would that $4.5-million be better spent bringing a factory here that year after year will employ Missourians?  That’s what tax credits are for.  Not for shiny objects.”

Amendments to the bill would require applicants for the film tax credit to disclose any political contributions in excess of $25 made to a Missouri candidate or party; allow municipalities where a project is being filmed to offer a local one-percent tax credit that would trigger a greater tax credit from the state; and require a film receiving the credit to include a logo and statement in its credits indicating it was shot in Missouri.

Another favorable vote would send Swan’s proposal to the Senate.

House approves bill meant to stop school-to-school movement of child abusers

The House has proposed that school districts open up lines of communication with one another to stop employees with a history of abusing students from going from one district to another.

Representative Rocky Miller (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

That is one of the things House Bill 739 aims to accomplish, according to its sponsor, Representative Rocky Miller (R-Lake Ozark).

“This bill would allow for school districts to contact an employee’s former employers from a list supplied by [The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education].  The schools would be required to disclose the actual violation of the schools’ regulations as it pertains to sexual misconduct with a student,” said Miller.

The legislation has the support of various child advocacy groups, who told lawmakers that right now, schools cannot share such information about former employees.  This often allows individuals with a history of abuse to find jobs in other districts and to abuse more children.

One of Hazelwood Democrat Paula Brown’s previous jobs was in human resources in a school district.  She said she was often in a terrible position.

“When someone calls to check a reference the only thing that we can reply with is, ‘We would not rehire them,’ with no explanation further than that,” said Brown.  “This will free up HR directors and assistant superintendents to speak the truth.  It will allow people not to be hired in other districts when they were fired from a different district,” said Brown.

“I think what we’re doing is not only saving children but affording school districts an opportunity not to be sued at the rate they are being sued at this point,” said Brown.

One provision added on the House Floor would require criminal background checks of anyone who volunteers with a school district, if that person will have regular or one-on-one contact with students or access to student records.

Representative Kathy Swan (R-Cape Girardeau) sponsored that amendment.

“We require background checks on school administrators, teachers, teachers’ aides, assistants, secretaries, cooks, bus drivers, and custodians, but not volunteers,” said Swan.

Representative David Wood (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Another piece added by the full House extends the definition of those who can be found guilty of abuse to include any person who developed a relationship with a child through school, even if the abuse did not occur on school grounds or during school hours.

Representative David Wood (R-Versailles) said this would close a “loophole” child advocates described to him.

“If the offense would happen on school grounds that’s easy enough to take care of, but when the offense happens off those school grounds, there’s been four cases in the last two years that [investigators have] had a lack of a preponderance of evidence,” said Wood.

The bill adds two-and-a-half hours to the training required of new school board members, which would be focused on identifying signs of sexual abuse and potentially abusive relationships between adults and children.  It would also require an hour of refresher training, annually.

Finally, the bill requires schools to offer students trauma-informed, developmentally appropriate sexual abuse training for grades six and above.  Parents who don’t want their children to receive that training could choose to opt-out of it.

The House voted 150-4 to send the bill to the Senate.

Earlier story:  House committee considers legislation to stop abusive teachers from going to new districts

House Committee considers legislation to stop abusive teachers from going to new districts

The Missouri House is looking for ways to keep schools from hiring people known to have sexually abused students while working in other districts.

Representative Rocky Miller and Missouri KidsFirst Director of Public Policy, Jessica Seitz. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 739 sponsored by Lake Ozark Republican Rocky Miller would require full disclosure between districts about former employees, and require a district to contact any district or charter school a person previously worked for, for background information.

Cara Gerdiman, Executive Director of Kids Harbor Child Advocacy Center, said with such requirements not already in place, some abusers are able to impact more children’s lives before being caught.

“Kids are put at risk and there’s lifetime consequences for that, ranging from mental health issues to medical issues to just their well-being, and the trauma that they’ve experienced,” said Gerdiman.

Jessica Seitz with Missouri KidsFirst told the House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education the bill would be another positive step toward protecting children in Missouri schools.

“According to a 2010 GAO report, on average a teacher offender will be passed to three different districts before being stopped,” said Seitz.

The bill would add 2.5 hours of training focused on sexual harassment to what is required of new school board members.  Returning school board members would be required to take at least one hour of refresher training annually.

Seitz said that increased training is one of the most important pieces of HB 739.

“Every organization that serves children, and particularly schools, must operate under the assumption that some people who sexually abuse children may work for them,” said Seitz.  “Organizations that serve children have an obligation to create an environment that is inhospitable to sexual abuse.  These environments must be nurtured from the top with leaders, such as the school board, who understand the risks and actively work to train staff and volunteers, and institute child protection policies.”

Gerdiman said board members will be better equipped to protect children with the additional training the bill would mandate, “so that they are more aware of the signs and symptoms of child abuse; the process of disclosure when a child is ready to talk about what has happened to them; as well as grooming behaviors that adult alleged perpetrators and juvenile perpetrators may use,” said Gerdiman.

The bill would also require annual, age appropriate sexual harassment training for students in grades 6 and up.  Some lawmakers questioned whether the legislation should include an option for parents to opt out of that training for their children.

HB 739 would specify that exemptions to Missouri’s open records law, or “Sunshine Law,” would not allow a district to withhold documents on a person if they relate to a confirmed violation of policies against abusing students.

“It’s just to make sure that you can’t hide behind the sunshine law if you’ve been abusive towards a student,” said Miller.

Lawmakers on the committee are also considering whether the bill should be broadened to include abuse not directed at students.

The committee will consider the legislation and potential changes to it at a future hearing, before voting on whether to advance it to the full House for debate.

Gas tax increase goes from legislature to voters on November ballot

The legislature is asking voters whether they want to increase Missouri’s gas tax to pay for road and bridge work and to boost support of the Highway Patrol.

Representative Jean Evans (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The House voted 88-60 to complete passage of House Bill 1460.  It would ask voters in November whether to increase the state’s fuel tax by two-and-a-half cents a year for four years – a ten cent total increase by July, 2022.  The current tax is 17-cents per gallon.

If passed, projections are the increase would generate about $421-million when fully implemented.  $128-million would be for local governments for road construction and maintenance.  The remaining $293.3-million would be appropriated by the General Assembly between the Department of Transportation to be used solely for road and bridge work, and the Highway Patrol.

Representative Jean Evans (R-Manchester) sponsored HB 1460, which was amended by the Senate to include the gas tax proposal.

“This is a vote to allow the people of Missouri a vote on how they want to pay for roads and bridges, how they’d like to fund their law enforcement,” said Evans.  “Send this vote to the people.  This is a vote for freedom and for safety.”

Kansas City Democrat Greg Razer said he was glad to see the House considering the ballot issue that would give the state a chance to take on pressing road and bridge work.

“We have these projects all over Missouri.  We need to address it.  This is a fantastic opportunity to allow the people of Missouri to make a decision on the future of our roads and bridges,” said Razer.

Kansas City Republican Kevin Corlew chaired the 21st Century Missouri Transportation System Task Force.  It recommended a gas tax increase to help support transportation funding.  He said whether such an increase will happen should be up to voters.

“Allow our citizens the opportunity on the November ballot to make a choice and to determine whether or not we can go forward with the 21st century Missouri transportation system, or will we be stuck with the transportation system that was built in the 20th century and continues to be funded with 20th century dollars.” said Corlew.

The House vote sent HB 1460 to the Secretary of State, who’s office is preparing it for the November ballot.  Many of the 60 “no” votes were cast by Republicans.

Representative Phil Christofanelli (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

St. Peters representative Phil Christofanelli (R) called the proposal a “massive” and “deceptive” tax increase.

“The voters already had an opportunity to vote on raising taxes for transportation.  They said, ‘no,’ and here we are, coming back today, poll testing different ideas, how can we sell this idea that the voters have already rejected?”  said Christofanelli.  “We’re all going to go back to our districts – many of us in this [Republican] majority – and tell people how conservative we are, we are conservatives.  The voters believe that conservatives are here to shrink the size of government and not to grow the size of government, and that is exactly what we’re doing today.”

Representative Rocky Miller (R-Lake Ozark) said this measure is flawed and he will oppose it even though his district needs road maintenance and improvements.

“My district will come after me like a crazy person for voting against this, but there’s no way in the world I’m voting for this, and if it passes I’m going to work my guts out to kill it at the poll,” said Miller.

HB 1460 was originally a bill that would waive state tax liability on cash prizes awarded to Olympic medalists.  Another provision in the bill would create an “Emergency State Freight Bottleneck Fund,” that would pay for road projects costing $50-million or more that would relieve bottlenecks or delays of 20 minutes or more on Missouri roads.

The bill would also allow alternative fuels to be taxed at a substantially equivalent rate by 2026.

Because it was changed to include the ballot language for the gas tax, the language voters will see on the ballot will also ask them whether the state should waive tax liability for Olympic medal winners and could include language about the Bottleneck Fund as well.

House votes to require notification of both parents when minors seek an abortion

The Missouri House has voted to require the notification of both parents when a minor in Missouri seeks to have an abortion.

Representative Rocky Miller (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The House voted 113-37 on Monday to pass House Bill 1383.  It would require that a parent or guardian giving consent for a minor to have an abortion notify any other custodial parent or guardian in writing before the minor gives her consent.  It would not apply in an emergency or for custodial parents or guardians that have been found guilty of certain crimes, are listed on the sex offender registry, are the subject of an order of protection, have had parental rights terminated, or for whom the whereabouts are not known.

Missouri law now requires that a minor seeking an abortion and one parent or guardian of that minor give written consent before the procedure can be performed.

HB 1383 is sponsored by Representative Rocky Miller (R-Lake Ozark).

“It just comes down to common sense,” said Miller.  “We just need to be able to notify the other parent if the other parent is a good parent.  In addition this bill has the added benefit of notifying a good parent if the other parent … happens to not be a good parent.”

The bill was opposed by many Democrats including Stacey Newman (D-St. Louis), who argue that teens could be put in danger because the parents it would require them to notify could be abusive.

“This bill puts pregnant girls in grave danger of abuse from their abusers, from their traffickers, from their incestuous fathers, step-fathers, their custodial male parent, and yet we hear on this floor with previous bills that each one of you is against sex trafficking and child abuse … and yet each one of you knows exactly what dangers our teens face.  Each one of you women knows exactly how any angry parent could react, and each one of you women knows exactly why teens may only notify, may only talk to one parent – that parent that they trust for very good reason,” said Newman.

Representative Crystal Quade (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Crystal Quade (D-Springfield) said the bill could force teens to contact parents they don’t want to contact.

“What worries me about this bill are the young women who, as we’ve discussed, are abused by their parents, potentially, and don’t have the guts, don’t want to, don’t have the financial means, it’s purely not their path of coping, to go to the courts to get a piece of paper that says they don’t have to reach out to their potential abuser,” said Quade.  “As someone who doesn’t speak to their biological father I understand what it means to reestablish connections when you don’t want to, and if we as a legislative body are forcing young women to reestablish connections because they don’t want to go to court for whatever reason, it’s shameful.”

Newman said, “every major credible medical organization strongly opposes this bill.”

“They strongly oppose the idea of minors who request confidential services … they strongly oppose any type of intervention, any type of parental consent,” said Newman.

Miller disputed that argument, saying the American Medical Association’s position supports his proposal.

“’Physicians should strongly encourage minors to discuss their pregnancy with their parents.  Physicians should explain how parental involvement can be helpful and that parents are generally understanding and supportive.’  That is straight from the American Medical Association, so anybody that says differently is lying and it’s upsetting,” said Miller.  “I haven’t had any, any, any hard proof to me that there’s a problem with notifying a good parent.”

Miller argued that the majority of Americans believe in parental notification when a minor seeks an abortion.

“You’re worrying about these bad things that could happen but there’s an overwhelming amount of good that does happen when you discuss these things,” said Miller.  “You must have parental involvement when it’s involving a child like this.”

HB 1383 goes to the Senate, where similar legislation has been approved by committees in recent years but has not been passed in that chamber.

House committee considers change to abortion parental notification law

A Missouri House Republican is again asking to require that both parents be notified before a minor in Missouri can have an abortion.

Representative Rocky Miller (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Lake Ozark representative Rocky Miller says it’s a matter of common sense, but Democrats argue the legislation could put some young women in danger.

Missouri law requires that a minor seeking an abortion and one parent or guardian of that minor give written consent before the procedure is performed.  House Bill 1383 would require that the parent or guardian giving consent notify any other custodial parent or guardian in writing before the minor gives her consent.  It would not apply in an emergency or for custodial parents or guardians that have been found guilty of certain crimes, are listed on the sex offender registry, are the subject of an order of protection, have had parental rights terminated, or for whom the whereabouts are not known.

Miller first filed the proposal five years ago and related it to his own experience.  His daughter at 15 became pregnant with his granddaughter, who he and his wife later raised.

“I did have a 15-year-old child that got pregnant and by the grace of God they notified me, which was nice,” said Miller.  “If you remember the first time we had this bill five years ago we had testimony from a woman … that said when she was 15 they went and got an abortion … well later her father, it was a married family, found out about it and he looked at her and he said, ‘I just want you to know I would have done whatever it takes if you wanted to keep that child,’ and she said – it was really gut-wrenching testimony – she said that she looks at her three children now and knows that there should be a fourth.”

Democrats including Stacey Newman of St. Louis oppose Miller’s bill, saying its requirement could put teenage girls in danger. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

In a hearing of the House Committee on Children and Families, Democrats said major medical associations have opposed Miller’s proposal each year because its requirement could put teen girls in danger.  They say despite the exemptions in the notification requirement it could force the involvement of a parent who is abusive or otherwise a danger to a pregnant teen.

Kansas City obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Valerie French told the committee, “The bill could put scared teens at risk to do something that would harm themselves.  This law could be detrimental to teens’ health and safety because research shows that laws like this one can delay access to care and force a teen to take measures into her own hands.”

In two previous years Miller’s proposal has been voted out of the House and approved by a Senate committee, but was not passed out of the Senate.

The Committee on Children and Families has not voted on HB 1383.