Proposal would add 17 year-olds to legal definition of ‘missing child’

      The definition of a “missing child” in Missouri law would include 17 year-olds under a proposal heard by a House committee this week.

Representative Bishop Davidson (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Republic representative Bishop Davidson (R) said he heard from a constituent about a 17 year-old who ran away from home and police could not act to retrieve her.  He said her family felt she was in an unsafe and abusive situation, and noted that they still have responsibility for her care until she turns 18.

      “It’s really a question about at what point are you considered a child and at what point are you considered an adult.  I think if we want to allow for a 9 year-old or a 10 year-old or an 11 year-old, at some point in time that line has to be drawn.  In all of the law we draw that line at 18.  Here we draw it, curiously, at 17,” said Davidson.  “In terms of whether or not a child is considered a child or an adult, I think that there should be consistency across the law.”

      Davidson presented the proposal to the House Committee on Children and Families, the members of which raised some concerns. 

      “If you’re 17 and living in a bad environment at your home … if you leave this would actually give law enforcement people the authority to retrieve you and force you to go back home?” asked Republican Randy Pietzman (Troy)“I’m just thinking of scenarios growing up, people I know that have left home at 16.  They dropped out of school, they left home because it was a bad environment, and 90 percent of those people are pretty well off and doing very well, and I’m just thinking if they’d have been forced to stay there for another year they might not be doing as well as they are.”

      Davidson said it would, but noted there are other systems in place to help a young person in such a situation.

      “Now would I want an officer or someone close to the family, I mean if the child is running away at 17 could that be a pause for concern?  Could that stir up some questions that go, ‘Hey, did they run away for any particular reason that maybe we should look into?’  Sure, that’s a whole other conversation,” said Davidson, who added that he appreciated Pietzman’s reservation. 

      Several committee members thanked Davidson for opening the discussion.  Shrewsbury Democrat Sarah Unsicker recently read about a 17 year-old who was dropped from the foster care system but was not emancipated, so among other things she could not enter into a contract such as a lease to find housing.   

      “The report I got from the government says law enforcement refused to file a missing persons report or issue a pickup order due to the child’s age … so I think it’s really important that law enforcement know that they need to look for missing kids when they’re 17 years old,” said Unsicker. 

      Representative Marlene Terry (D-St. Louis) asked Davidson about expanding his bill to specify that law enforcement search for such individuals, and what must be done in that search.

Representative Marlene Terry asks Rep. Bishop Davidson about his bill, as Representatives Hannah Kelly (light blazer) and Mary Elizabeth Coleman, Chair of the House Committee on Children and Families, listen. (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “What I’m finding is that there are not procedures in place that make it manadatory to actually search for individuals that are missing.  A lot of times they’ll put up pictures and it’s a blank picture and not a photo.  All those things are important.  Even with the age, makes a difference, there’s other things that make a difference that might be helpful to make the search more valuable,” said Terry.

      “I come to this with a very open mind,” Davidson told Terry.  “This is not an issue that I have been most closely involved in and so I’m excited to see where the conversations go.”

      Mountain Grove Republican Hannah Kelly said in her experience, much frustration for caseworkers comes from directives being handed down without understanding of what would be necessary for them to be met. 

      “I would just ask to be able to have a continuing part in that conversation with you about what the ultimate structure looks like … what does it take to go do this,” said Kelly. 

      “I hope that this piece of legislation won’t leave this committee just in the form that it’s in now,” said Davidson.   

      His bill, House Bill 1559, is scheduled for a second hearing by the committee on Wednesday, and it could be voted on and/or amended at that time.

Houses passes vehicle tax credit bill, answering call of special legislative session

The Missouri House has passed legislation aiming to allow people to keep getting multiple tax breaks when trading in more than one vehicle on a new one.

House Speaker Elijah Haahr and Representative Becky Ruth discuss the passage of a vehicle tax credit bill, in response to the special session’s call.  (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The chamber’s Republicans say the language of House Bill 1 will allow Missourians to keep doing what they’ve been doing and say it will help all consumers.  Many House Democrats voted for the bill, though some in that caucus decried it as “corporate welfare” and said it was a topic unworthy of a special session.

The House voted today, 126-21, to send the bill to the Senate.

Governor Mike Parson (R) called a special session to coincide with today’s annual veto session to deal with the issue in response to a Missouri Supreme Court ruling in June.  The Court said state law allows a tax break to be awarded only on one vehicle, when multiple vehicles are traded in toward a new one.

Sponsor Becky Ruth (R-Festus) said her bill will give much-needed tax relief to Missourians from all walks of life.

“A young mother who is trying … maybe she’s got two cars that don’t run well and she’s trying to upgrade to a good, dependable car to take her child to school; to get to work herself.  This impacts someone that may have lost their spouse and they need to trade in those two cars to be able to get a good, reliable car.  This impacts senior citizens who are trying to downsize.  This impacts just normal, everyday working people,” said Ruth.

Shrewsbury Democrat Sarah Unsicker agreed the bill will affect some individuals, but said it will also let corporations keep from paying their “fair share.”

“There are approximately 14-thousand vehicle sales estimated to be impacted by this bill.  The Department of Revenue cannot estimate how much this tax credit costs the state or how many vehicles are commercial sales,” said Unsicker.  “If we make this just about individuals like those the sponsor referenced I would support this bill.  However, I believe this bill is, to a substantial extent, corporate welfare, and therefore I will be voting against it.”

An amendment that would have made the tax credit available only to individuals and businesses of 12 or fewer employees was voted down.

Democrats argued that the tax credit issue was not pressing and did not merit the calling of a special session.

“This Supreme Court Decision didn’t just help us figure out, this summer, that this was an issue.  Since 2008 there have been 17 administrative hearings to ask this question of whether folks are allowed to trade in multiple cars to offset the car they buy.  In all 17 administrative hearings they found they couldn’t,” said St. Louis representative Peter Merideth (D)“Regular people, regular folks were being told they couldn’t claim this credit, but we didn’t consider it an emergency.”

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade (at podium) and other House Democrats were critical of the legislature’s special session not including discussion of Medicaid eligibility and gun laws. (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Ruth argued that the law needed to be clarified, and addressing it in a special session makes sure no eligible vehicle trades will happen without the award of tax credits, thanks to a window of 180 days before or after a new vehicle purchase in which to offset the owed sales tax.

“If you’re one of those people since the Supreme Court decision on June 25, 2019, that’s trying to figure this out … if we do this now, those folks are still going to be able to take advantage of that credit.  If we wait and we do this next session they’re not going to be able to take advantage of that credit,” said Ruth.  “The people that come before them, the people that come after them, will, and this could possibly set our state up for lawsuits.”

Ruth calls the legislation is a way to keep Missouri law consistent.

“We simply went in and made this clear and direct … so that the citizens of Missouri can continue to do business the way they are accustomed,” said Ruth.

“The problem that I have with that is the ‘business as usual’ that we’ve been doing has been established by the Supreme Court to be against the law,” said Kansas City representative Ingrid Burnett (D)“Rather than take to task the [Department of Revenue], who has been breaking the law, we have decided to call a special session to come here to change the law.”

House Democrats said lawmakers’ time would have been better spent debating changes to gun laws, and several among them filed proposals to that end.

They also wanted to see attention given to Medicaid enrollment.  House Minority Leader Crystal Quade (D-Springfield) said Missourians with life-threatening medical conditions are losing coverage.

“There were several important issues that the legislature could have taken up in special session that could have made a positive impact on all Missourians.  This was not one of them,” said Quade.

House Speaker Elijah Haahr (R-Springfield) said any time a special session is called people will point to other issues it could have dealt with.

“That’s not really my decision.  If the governor thinks it’s important … we were coming up here anyway for the veto session.  It’s an issue that we could work on.  It’s an issue that, as you saw, had pretty broad support,” said Haahr.

Haahr said he has asked members of his caucus to research what some other cities in the nation have done to reduce violent crime, with the aim of preparing a legislative proposal for the regular session that begins in January.

As for Medicaid enrollment, Haahr said decreases in enrollment are due to factors including an improved economy and changes in 2016 to the Affordable Care Act (ACA); and a review of Medicaid eligibility that has seen ineligible recipients being taken off the program’s rolls.  He said if a need for hearings on the issue is presented to him, he will call for them.

House uses special session to pass bill aiming to bring jobs to Bootheel

The Missouri House worked quickly this week to let the Public Service Commission (PSC) clear the way for some 500 or more jobs in Southeast Missouri.

Representative Don Rone (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Don Rone (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The House has passed to the Senate a bill that would let the PSC consider lower utility rates for two companies – one that says it will reopen the Noranda aluminum smelter near Marston; the other saying it will to build a new steel mill at New Madrid, both in Southeast Missouri.

Both companies want lower utility rates that would allow those facilities to be profitable.  House Bill 1’s main provision would allow the PSC to consider whether to grant those rates.

Its sponsor, Representative Don Rone (R-Portageville), spoke passionately numerous times to his colleagues about the need for jobs in his region and the need for this legislation.

“On behalf of the people from my district I want to thank everybody in this body on both sides of the aisle whether you voted for it or against it, that’s fine.  The outcome was good for my people,” said Rone.

House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) said it is poetic that one of the facilities will be in an industrial park that bears the name St. Jude.

“I cannot think of anything more appropriate than to have the patron saint of lost causes be the location for this extraordinary project,” said Richardson.  “If you travel across rural Missouri there are people that believe industry is never coming back to rural Missouri … but the notion that we cannot bring industry and we cannot bring business back to rural Missouri is wrong, and we’re going to show it today.”

Similar language passed out of the House during the regular session 148-2, but did not pass out of the Senate.  Governor Eric Greitens (R) called legislators back to Jefferson City to reconsider the issue, and it was met with less support.

Some Democrats, including Fred Wessels (D-St. Louis), said granting lower utility rates doesn’t make sense when the state has other incentives to help lure businesses to Missouri.

“This is a nutty way to do business when you have alternative sources,” said Wessels.

Representatives Judy Morgan (D-Kansas City) and Sarah Unsicker (D-St. Louis) were among Democrats who didn’t feel comfortable with the fact that the name of the company proposing the steel mill hasn’t been shared publicly.

“I was just so uncomfortable with the fact that there was no guarantee on the number of jobs, there was no guarantee on a clawback provision, there was no guarantee on a salary … I think I would’ve supported the bill if it had some of those items in it,” said Morgan.

“We’re letting this unknown company dictate the terms of the negotiation without holding their feet to the fire to say, ‘You need to do what you’re promising,” said Unsicker.

Representative Fred Wessels (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Fred Wessels (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Some Democrats also contend that if the PSC grants a lower utility rate for those two companies other Ameren customers will have to pay more to make up the difference.

“My constituents, our constituents, don’t really care whether they’re writing a check to the IRS or the Missouri Department of Revenue or to Ameren, I mean it’s still money,” said Representative Tracy McCreery (D-St. Louis)“Should we be doing economic development on the backs of people who pay their electric bills, and is that the right way to make policy for this state?”

Rone said there’s no way to know for sure whether Ameren customers’ rates will increase.

“Everybody’s assuming – they don’t know.  What crystal ball are they looking at?” asked Rone.  “I’ve been working this since last January and I can’t tell you what the average rate is at that location.”

The special session was called by Greitens one week after Rone called attention to the issue in a passionate floor speech, in which he called several senators “heartless,” and “selfish,” for rejecting his proposal.

Rone’s bill goes to the Senate on the strength of a bipartisan 120-17 vote.  It includes a clause that would make it effective immediately upon being signed by the governor.