House votes to allow felons to work in places that sell alcohol and lottery tickets

A House Bill that would remove the restriction on felons working in businesses that sell alcohol and lottery tickets was sent Thursday to the Senate.  House Bill 1468 would also lift the requirement that employers with liquor licenses notify the state of any employees with felony convictions.

Representative Cheri Toalson Reisch (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Bill sponsor Cheri Toalson Reisch (R-Hallsville) said the bill will not only make it easier for felons to find jobs, thus reducing recidivism; it will also make more workers available.  She said her county, Boone, has the lowest unemployment rate in the state and more potential workers are needed.

“We need more people to fill these entry level positions and have a place to start, and this will also enable them to support themselves and their families,” said Toalson Reisch.  “I like to use my local Casey’s General Store as an analogy.  You cannot make pizza and donuts in the back because they sell lottery tickets and alcohol in the front.”

The bill passed with broad bipartisan support.  Columbia Representative Kip Kendrick (D) said it is common sense legislation.

“These individuals who have paid their debt to society and are back out trying to make a living, we should be doing all that we can as a state to make sure that they are welcome back in their communities.  Part of welcoming back is ensuring them access to jobs and employment opportunities … to make sure that they are finding ways to make a living and reintegrate back into society,” said Kendrick.

Ballwin Republican Shamed Dogan said the bill includes a provision that would prevent an individual from selling lottery tickets if convicted of a past crime that involved those.

“[Toalson Reisch] has worked these particular business owners.  They’re very supportive of this for their own freedom to hire folks with a record and it’s something that is in line with a lot of the criminal justice reforms that we’ve supported that are pro-economic growth and pro-personal growth for these people,” said Dogan.

The legislation cleared the House 148-1.  Last year several amendments were added to the proposal and it failed to pass out of the House, but this version of the bill has no amendments.

Its supporters include the Missouri Petroleum Marketers Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, Empower Missouri, and the Missouri Catholic Conference.

House committee seeks input from all sources in hearings on civil asset forfeiture, racial profiling

The House’s Special Committee on Criminal Justice will meet next week and again in August to develop potential legislation dealing with civil asset forfeiture and racial profiling by law enforcement.

Representative Shamed Dogan (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The hearings have been spurred by the 2018 Vehicle Stops Report from the Office of Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R), and a report from State Auditor Nicole Galloway (D) on civil asset forfeiture.

Committee Chairman Shamed Dogan (R-Ballwin) cited Galloway’s report which said $9.1-million in cash and property was seized in 2018, compared to $7.1-million in 2017.  He called the findings a “call to action” for the committee and the legislature to balance Missourians’ rights against law enforcement’s duty to protect the public.

“We want to try and curb some of the abuses of that and come to some kind of a compromise where law enforcement can go after drug cartels.  No one’s trying to prohibit them from going after people who are drug dealers, but we just want to make sure that whenever possible, they do that through state law, which does require criminal convictions before you can take someone’s property,” said Dogan.

The traffic stops report showed the largest racial disparity in vehicle stops in state history, with African-Americans 91-percent more likely to be stopped by law enforcement than whites.

Dogan said the findings are frustrating, especially since that disparity has grown from about 27-percent in the 2000 report.

“I don’t think it makes sense to try to say that that increase in the disparity is because African-Americans are driving worse,” said Dogan.  “One of the explanations, to me, that make sense is just that law enforcement, for whatever reason, is wasting a lot of their time and resources on people who haven’t done anything wrong because they’re in search of people who have done something wrong, and that’s just a waste of their time and energy.”

Dogan said the disparity continues in the statistics on vehicle searches.

“Once the vehicles are stopped, they search the vehicles of African-Americans and Hispanics more than they do whites, but they’re less likely to find guns, or drugs, or other contraband on blacks or Hispanics than they are on whites, so again this is a mismatch of resources,” said Dogan.  “Why are you searching people of those racial categories more when they’re less likely to be carrying something illegally?”

St. Louis representative Steven Roberts is the top Democrat on the Committee on Criminal Justice.  He said there could be several legislative solutions for racial profiling.

Representative Steven Roberts (photo: Ben Peters, Missouri House Communications)

“The first thing, of course, is recognizing, look, there’s a problem here, then we can go forth fixing the issue, and I think the Attorney General’s report further proves what a lot of us have known:  that we’ve got a problem here,” said Roberts.

Roberts hopes the hearings this summer will help the committee flesh out the language of House Bill 444, which proposed banning the confiscation of assets from a person who hasn’t been convicted of a crime.

Dogan said he wants anyone with something to say about these issues to weigh in, and that includes members of the public, prosecutors, and law enforcement.  He said past efforts to pass legislation dealing with these issues have run into resistance, particularly from law enforcement groups, and he wants to get past that.

“We really do have to have buy-in from law enforcement but we also have to have constructive criticism, because I think the frustration with myself and a lot of my colleagues is just that law enforcement says ‘no,’ to these bills, or to the idea of reforms, but they never give us something that they can say ‘yes’ to.  Let’s come to a compromise on racial profiling,” said Dogan.

The Special Committee’s hearings take place Wednesday, July 24 at 9 a.m. in the St. Louis County Council Chambers, and Thursday, August 1 at 1 a.m. at the Robert J. Mohart Multi-Purpose Center in Kansas City.

House bill to relax mandatory minimum sentencing signed into law

Judges will be able to ignore Missouri’s mandatory minimum sentencing requirements in some cases, under a House Bill that was signed into law this week by Governor Mike Parson (R).

Representative Cody Smith (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Missouri law requires that offenders with one prior conviction serve at least 40-percent of a prison term.  Those with two prior convictions must serve at least half their term, and those with three or more must serve 80-percent.

House Bill 192 contained language that would give judges flexibility in sentencing for some nonviolent offenses.  It was part of a broader look at criminal justice reform that House members have been pursuing over several sessions.

The language was proposed by Representative Cody Smith (R-Carthage).

“When Governor Parson signed House Bill 192 that was the most significant mandatory minimum sentencing reform, to my knowledge, that we’ve ever had in Missouri,” said Smith.  “That’s an incredibly rewarding feeling when we know that it’s become clear that harsh mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent crimes only leads to bad outcomes, and this is a way that we can start to help change the trajectory of people’s lives.”

Smith said the number of people in Missouri’s prisons has steadily grown for decades.  He said many of those being incarcerated are non-violent offenders, who have a high rate of recidivism and of committing increasingly violent offenses.

“I’ve heard it said that prison is finishing school for hardened criminals,” said Smith.  “You go in for something that may be relatively innocuous in terms of violence … you come out and you’re a hardened criminal.”

Smith, who is also the chairman of the House Budget Committee, said reducing Missouri’s prison populations would also save the state money.  He notes that as recently as 2017, Missouri was on track to need two new prisons to accommodate the growing number of offenders.

“I believe that the mandatory minimum reform language that’s in House Bill 192 will help deter those costs by keeping people out of prison – again we’re talking only about folks convicted of non-violent crimes – keeping them out of prison is better for them, better for their families, better for society, and also better for taxpayers who don’t have to pay to keep them in prison.”

Ballwin representative Shamed Dogan (R) chairs the House Special Committee on Criminal Justice, which handled not only HB 192, but Smith’s original legislation, House Bill 113.  He said the mandatory minimum sentencing changes will allow judges those cases to be judges.

“That is something that will give people more second chances – people who shouldn’t be in prison as long as that mandatory sentence would determine,” said Dogan.  “A judge can look at that person’s overall life; they can look at the particulars of their offense, and really just letting judges do their job, which is to make tough decisions without having their hands tied behind their backs by mandatory minimum sentences.”

Other language in HB 192 will keep counties from putting an individual back in jail for failing to pay the cost of his or her earlier jail term.

The bill’s provisions take effect August 28.

Sweeping criminal justice reform package prepared for consideration

The House Speaker has said criminal justice reform is a priority in the remaining weeks of the session, and a bill containing several proposed reforms has just been compiled.  It has the backing of a man made famous by President Donald Trump earlier this year.

Representative Shamed Dogan (left, in red tie) listens as Matthew Charles talks about his release under the federal First Step Act, and his support for HCB 2, the Missouri First Step Act. (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Committee Bill 2, also being called the Missouri First Step Act, was assembled by the House Special Committee on Criminal Justice.  It is a compilation of several individual bills, some of which have already been passed by the House.

Trump featured Matthew Charles during his State of the Union Address.  Charles is the first person released from prison under the federal First Step Act, a federal reform bill signed into law by Trump in December.

In 1996 Charles was sentenced to 35 years in prison for selling crack cocaine.  In prison he turned his life around and earned an early release in 2016.  Though he was living a productive life, a court decision overturned his release and sent him back to prison until he was released under the First Step Act.

He’s excited about a provision in HCB 2 that would let judges ignore mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes in Missouri.

“It would allow the probation officer as well as the judge to make an assessment on the amount of time that needed to be imposed on somebody for that crime, or the amount of time they will actually serve for that offense, whereas rehabilitation has been taken away from prison for a long time,” said Charles.

The stand-alone mandatory minimum sentences legislation, House Bill 113 sponsored by Representative Cody Smith (R-Carthage), has been sent to the Senate and awaits a committee hearing.

HCB 2 will be carried by the committee’s chairman, Representative Shamed Dogan (R-Ballwin), who has been a proponent of criminal justice reform during his five years in the House.

“These measures are all evidence-based.  They will all help us save enormous amounts of taxpayer money while also improving public safety, and they’ll give people who’ve made mistakes in their lives a chance to be treated with dignity while incarcerated and to have more of a chance of rebuilding their lives whenever they get out,” said Dogan.

HCB 2 would apply the state’s law restricting the use of restraints on pregnant offenders to county or city jails.  That bars the use of restraints on a woman in the third trimester of pregnancy and through 48-hours after delivery while they’re being transported except in extraordinary circumstances, which must be documented and reviewed.

Representative Mary Elizabeth Coleman (R-Arnold) sponsors that legislation (House Bill 1122).  She said it’s about the safety of those offenders, but also of their babies.

“It’s making sure that when women are in labor, when women are in advanced stages of pregnancy, and when they have really no risk of harm that we’re really treating people as people and that we’re being appropriate as well,” said Coleman.  “It’s not about trying to be lax on people who have committed crimes.  They’re paying their costs, but a pregnant woman is very vulnerable and we want to make sure that she and her child are delivered safely.”

Representative Cheri Toalson Reisch (at podium) speaks about her portion of HCB 2, the Missouri First Step Act (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Another piece of HCB 2 coming from a bill sponsored by Coleman (House Bill 920) would require that feminine hygiene products are available to women being held in the state’s prisons or on state charges in county and city jails.

“That is not an issue that I expected to be tackling but you find out certain things and you think, ‘How is it possible that as a state we’re not providing adequate hygiene supplies to those who are in our care and custody?’” said Coleman.

Representative Cheri Toalson Reisch (R-Hallsville) sponsored House Bill 189, to allow people convicted of felonies to work in certain businesses that sell alcohol or lottery tickets, such as grocery or convenience stores.  That is also included in HCB 2.

“Where I’m from in Boone County we have 1.5-percent unemployment.  This is the second lowest in the country.  We cannot find enough employees.  We would like to put these felons to work,” said Toalson Reisch.  “We need them to avoid recidivism and make better lives for themselves and their families.”

Two of the other pieces of HCB 2 would restrict the use of drug and alcohol testing by privately operated probation supervisors (House Bill 80Justin Hill, R-Lake St. Louis); and would keep courts from putting people in jail for failing to pay the costs associated with prior jail time (House Bill 192Bruce DeGroot, R-Chesterfield).  Both of those stand-alone bills have been sent to the Senate for its consideration.

HCB 2 includes language to allow for the early parole of certain inmates over the age of 65 (House Bill 352, Tom Hannegan, R-St. Charles); to stop the confiscation of assets from a person who hasn’t been convicted of a crime (House Bill 444, Dogan); and to prohibit discriminatory policing (House Bill 484, Dogan).

HCB 2 awaits a hearing by a House committee before it can be sent to the full chamber for debate.

Earlier stories on two of the bills that are part of HCB 2:

House votes to prevent jailing of Missourians for failing to pay jail bills (HB 192)

Missouri House endorses elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes (House Bill 113)

House approves ethics reforms for local officials, open records exemption changes

The Missouri House has voted to enact a number of ethics reforms for local  officials, but support for the bill was tempered by an amendment that creates exemptions to the state’s open records, or “Sunshine,” law.

Representatives Nick Schroer (left) offered an amendment adding exemptions to Missouri’s open records law to a bill sponsored by Representative Shamed Dogan that dealt with ethics reform for local officials. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 445 extends to local officials the ethics policies that state lawmakers and statewide officials are now subject to.  It would bar lobbyists from making expenditures for local government officials, superintendents, or members of school boards or charter school governing boards.  Such expenditures could also not be made for those officials’ staffs or specific members of their families.

The bill would also keep elected or appointed local officials from becoming lobbyists for two years after leaving office.  It would limit to $5 per day the amount a gift to such officials can cost, and cap at $2000 any campaign contributions for municipal, political subdivision, and special district office races.

Bill sponsor Shamed Dogan (R-Ballwin) has proposed that language for several years, based on how he saw local officials being lobbied while he was a city councilman in Ballwin.

“This is simply making sure that that same ethical standard to which we hold ourselves is also going to apply to our local elected officials, who have the same level of public trust, who are also trusted with taxpayer dollars, and who we also expect not to profit from their public service,” said Dogan.

A previous year’s version of Dogan’s bill received 149 votes when the House sent it to the Senate.  This year’s version passed out of the House on Thursday, 103-47.  Democrats said the lessening of support was due to an amendment to Dogan’s bill that they say “guts” Missouri’s open records law that has been in place since 1973.

“I appreciate [Representative Dogan] and his quest to make Missouri a better place and also improve the perception that people have and the confidence that folks have in their elected officials,” said Kansas City Democrat Jon Carpenter.

“But at the same time I’m going to vote against House Bill 445 today because unfortunately it doesn’t just do those things.  It also upends almost five decades of open records and transparency law in this state.  In fact almost unquestionably, when this bill passes it’s going to be the most radical undermining of open records and transparency law in state history,” said Carpenter.

The amendment, offered by Representative Nick Schroer (R-O’Fallon), would add to exemptions from the Sunshine law any personal cell phone numbers, social security numbers or home addresses; records of constituent case files including any correspondence between an elected official and a constituent; and any document or record “received or prepared by or on behalf of” an elected or appointed official “consisting of advice, opinions, and recommendations in connection with the deliberative decision-making process of said body.”

“I took a massive interest in trying to protect the integrity of our positions,” said Schroer.

Schroer discussed with Representative Steve Helms (R-Springfield) incidents in the news that he said are the types of things he wants to prevent.

Representative Jon Carpenter and other Democrats said the changes HB 445 would make to Missouri’s open records law go too far. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications

“The Huffington Post ruined an entire family for one person’s tweets, doxing them,” said Schroer.

“So you mean the Huffington Post printed private, personal information out on social media because they disagreed with a tweet that one of the family members made?” asked Helms.

“Correct,” said Schroer.  “They accessed personal information just like I am trying to protect here.”

Democrats were largely unmoved by the concerns Schroer cited.

“I believe [Representative Schroer] protests way too much,” said Representative Deb Lavender (D-Kirkwood)“I don’t think the statute we have currently in place allows half of what he’s just told us is sunshineable … I don’t hand out people’s social security numbers.  I won’t give addresses.  I’m covered in the law that we have today.”

Dogan said he felt the provisions offered by Schroer regarding constituent information were necessary.

“I am concerned about people’s e-mail addresses, phone numbers, other personal information being a part of the public disclosure and us not being able to redact that information really is concerning,” said Dogan.  “With that said I’m not sure about the portion that has been the most controversial where it’s talking about all communications.  I think that might have been an unintentional kind of overreach, so I’m a little bit concerned about that section and I would be willing to work on toning that language down somewhat.”

Several Republicans voted against HB 445.  Dogan said most or all of those were likely opposed to campaign finance limits, which many Republicans believe limit free speech.

Today’s vote sends the legislation to the Senate, where several lawmakers in both parties said they expect it will undergo further revisions.

Missouri legislature takes steps toward addressing ‘rape kit’ backlog

The Missouri Legislature this session passed three provisions aimed at addressing the thousands of untested rape kits in the state.

The Missouri legislature passed some measures that would address how forensic examination kits, or “rape kits,” are handled in Missouri. Advocates say the changes will likely result in more prosecutions and cases being closed, and better resolutions for victims. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Those kits include DNA samples and other evidence collected in medical examinations conducted after sex crimes.  The Attorney General’s Office has learned of more than 5,000 forensic evidence kits that have gone untested in Missouri.  The exact number remains unclear as not all agencies in the state responded to that office’s inquiries.

Public Policy Director with the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Jennifer Carter Dochler, said for a kit to be sitting on a shelf when a victim wants it to be tested is, “incredibly traumatizing.”

“When they have come forward and told their story and wanted to participate in the process it really is disheartening,” said Carter Dochler.

The Attorney General’s report suggested among other things that the state secure funding for testing kits; create a statewide tracking system for kits; and create standards for the handling of kits.  Those recommendations were addressed by the legislature in its session that ended in May.

House Bill 1355 includes language that requires the Attorney General’s Office to create a statewide tracking system for forensic evidence from sexual assaults.

That provision was originally sponsored by Representative Donna Lichtenegger (R-Cape Girardeau), who hopes it will send a message to victims in Missouri.

“I think that they’ll know now that we’re really serious in trying to find the person who violated them,” said Lichtenegger.

The budget approved by the legislature also gives the Attorney General’s Office authority to apply for a federal grant to fund a statewide tracking system.  The office should learn in September whether it will receive that grant money.

HB 1355 also requires that hospitals and other medical providers should notify law enforcement when they have a forensic evidence kit; that law enforcement shall take possession of a kit within 14 days of that notification; law enforcement shall take it to a laboratory for testing within 14 days of taking possession of it; and that law enforcement will hold on to a kit for 30 years if the related crime has not been prosecuted.

Carter Dochler says this will bring statewide continuity to how evidence kits are treated.

“We have so many inconsistent practices in the state:  inconsistent practices regarding how soon law enforcement picks up the kit; whether or not the kits are submitted for analysis; definitions we’re using,” said Carter Dochler.  “This should help create much more consistent terminology and practices across the state.”

Carter Dochler said it is hoped that with these provisions becoming law, more sex crimes in Missouri will be prosecuted.

“Especially when we’re talking about serial offenders and being able to show a pattern, having multiple kits and the same DNA among those kits is going to be a very important tool for prosecution,” said Carter Dochler.

She said some issues that still must be addressed concern how a kit will be handled when the victims in the associated case has not made a decision whether to report the crime to law enforcement.  She said many of these “unreported” kits remain in hospitals.

“What we’d like to see is consistent practice across the state regarding unreported kits,” said Carter Dochler.  “There should be a centralized place to store unreported kits across the state.  We should also have a consistent practice of how long are they kept before they’re destroyed.”

She said some of those issues could be addressed in departmental rules and regulations, and might not require future legislative action.  HB 1355 does define “reported” and “unreported” kits, and she said those definitions are a first step toward consistency.

Even with such areas still requiring attention, Carter Dochler said from the Coalition’s point of view, the 2018 legislative session saw the passage of many important laws.

“This was an incredibly successful legislative session for us.  We are incredibly proud and very hopeful for the changes it’s going to make in survivors’ life and experience,” said Carter Dochler.

House votes to condemn Missouri high court’s 1852 decision in Dred Scott case

The Missouri House has voted, in the presence of one of Dred Scott’s descendants, to denounce the 1852 decision  by the Missouri Supreme Court to deny Scott his freedom.

Representative Mike Moon (right) is joined by Lynne Jackson, the great-great-great granddaughter of Dred Scott. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

In that case, Scott vs. Emerson, Scott sought judgement that he, his wife, and their two children were free because they had lived in the free state of Illinois.  The Missouri Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s ruling in Scott’s favor and said the family was not free.

Scott went on to sue a New York man who succeeded Irene Emerson in ownership of Scott’s family.  That case, Scott vs. Sanford, is better known as it reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which also found against Scott.

Ash Grove Republican Mike Moon offered House Concurrent Resolution 86, which condemns the Missouri Court’s ruling.  He did so at the request of Scott’s great-great-great granddaughter, Lynne Jackson, who was in the House when HCR 86 was brought up.

“I was honored to be able to bring this resolution.  I don’t know why they asked me, but Miss Jackson, thank you,” said Moon.  “I’m extremely grateful … to be included in this process to condemn the Missouri court decision of 1852 … for all of us working with the lady from Dred Scott’s ancestry, Lynne Jackson, for abiding by her wishes.”

Ballwin Republican Shamed Dogan said the Missouri high court’s ruling, and that of the U.S. Supreme Court after it, made worse more than a century of debate over the status of people of color in the United States, and said for the legislature to pass HCR 86 is an important step.

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

“Denouncing that decision, denouncing the words within that decision – the words which helped to, for more than a century after those words were put forth by the Supreme Court as the law of the land, that helped to establish the foundation for Jim Crowe, for all kinds of other injustices done towards not just people of African descent but other people who were treated poorly by this country – we can take one small step by passing this resolution,” said Dogan.

Ferguson Democrat Courtney Allen Curtis offered an amendment to HCR 86 that he said tweaked the wording, at the behest of Jackson, to make sure the resolution reflected her spirit of reconciliation.

“I’m honored to be a part of this because it’s not every day that I move forward in the spirit of reconciliation, but to know that there are people out there that are better than me that are, it makes me look at my actions and what I do and ask if I’m doing the right thing … I’m glad that she did bring this to us,” said Curtis.

Jackson said for the legislature to be willing to say that the Missouri court’s 1852 decision was wrong is all she wanted.

Representative Courtney Allen Curtis (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications – click for larger version)

“The difference is that the U.S. Supreme Court decision was overturned by the 14th Amendment, but Missouri never dealt with the fact that they said times are not as they once were when we made [decisions in trials prior to Scott’s that granted freedom to people who had been slaves], therefore we’re not going to let you have your freedom – it was just a political motion, that’s all it was, to save the institution of slavery – so the fact that they’re just acknowledging that it’s wrong is important,” said Jackson.

“I also think it may have a more spiritual connection.  It might be just the mere fact that sometimes when people say, ‘I’m sorry,’ that everything changes.  You can reestablish relationships.  When people say, ‘I forgive you,’ when they acknowledge they’re wrong, it’s easier to get back and have that relationship with people,” said Jackson.

Jackson thanked Moon and the other representatives that worked and voted for HCR 86.  The House voted 134-2 to send that resolution to the Missouri Senate.

Moon expressed hope that the resolution will pass this year because July 9 is the 150th anniversary of the 14th Amendment, which overturned the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Scott vs. Sanford.

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 passes proposal to increase access to long-acting birth control, save Missouri money

The state House has again voted for a measure aimed at increasing women’s access to birth control while saving the state money.

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

House Bill 1499 would let health care providers use a long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) for a patient other than the one to whom it was initially prescribed.

When a woman in Missouri chooses to have a LARC implanted her doctor must order that device and the woman must return for another office visit to have it implanted.  If the woman changes her mind before the second visit and doesn’t want the device, Missouri law doesn’t allow it to be used for another patient.  It must be returned to its manufacturer and often it is destroyed.

The sponsor of HB 1499, Representative Shamed Dogan (R-Ballwin), said because Medicaid pays for those devices, the passage of his bill would save the state money.

“The State of Missouri currently wastes hundreds of thousands of dollars every year as well as very expensive devices every year, and this bill will allow those devices to be reassigned which will save taxpayer money and will help to save women time and money with extra doctor’s visits,” said Dogan.

Dogan said in Fiscal Year 2017 about 1,800 LARCs were “abandoned” by patients in Missouri.  About 1,000 of those could have been used for other patients and that would’ve saved Missouri about $220-thousand.

The proposal has been sent to the Senate 133-10.  Last year it was passed as an amendment to other legislation, but was not passed in the Senate.

Earlier story:  

Backers say bill to allow reassignment of birth control devices would save money, increase access

House endorses minimum age for Missouri marriage licenses

The House this week voted to set a minimum age at which people in Missouri can get a marriage license, but the bill met more resistance than last year.

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

Marriage licenses can now be issued to persons younger than 15 under certain conditions.  House Bill 1630 would increase that age to 17 and require a court hearing on whether the marriage is advisable.  No licenses would be issued when either party is younger than 15, or when one party is 21 or older and the other party is younger than 17.

Bill sponsor Jean Evans (R-Manchester) began offering the legislation last year as a way to fight human trafficking; particularly cases in which abusers bring young trafficking victims to Missouri to marry them.

“Currently we do not have a minimum age of marriage in Missouri and this bill seeks to correct that,” said Evans.  “In addition it will protect young people from predators and those who might do them harm with forced marriages.”

The bill had bipartisan support, including from St. Louis Democrat Michael Butler, who said it’s appropriate for the legislature to set a minimum age for things like marriage.

“A decision to get married … is a very important decision, and minors in a lot of cases, we know, generally don’t have complete control when that decision is made.  To create a way for young people in our state to be protected from tough decisions that aren’t made by themselves, and we know this is occurring, is something that we should be doing,” said Butler.

Shamed Dogan (R-Ballwin) who argued that Missouri has a serious problem with human trafficking.

“If someone over the age of 21 – someone 30 years-old comes to a high school and engages in sexual activity with a 15 year-old or a 12 year-old or anyone under the age of consent that’s statutory rape, and right now that person can legitimately get married.  That’s a problem,” said Dogan.

Similar legislation passed out of the House last year 139-1, but this year many Republicans opposed the bill.  Some, including Lincoln Republican Wanda Brown, don’t like the requirement that a court hearing decide whether a marriage license should be issued for someone between the ages of 15 and 17.

Representative Wanda Brown (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“I’m not opposed, necessarily, to raising the age limit for marriage.  What I’m opposed to is telling every parent in this state they’re not fit to make a decision for their child without asking a judge, and of course paying an attorney,” said Brown.  “The bill was brought forward in the name of stopping human trafficking.  This is a made-up concept.  This does nothing to stop the traffickers.  This only takes the parental rights of good, law abiding citizens.”

Others like David Wood (R-Versailles) expressed concern the bill might affect religious populations living in their districts.

“I have a very large Mennonite population.  Mennonite population typically marries relatively young,” said Wood.  “My court could get really backed up waiting on a judge to approve a lot of these weddings when they’re approved by the family, they’re approved by the church, and they’re welcomed in the community.”

Regarding concerns like those of Wood, Evans said her bill is very similar to one in place in Pennsylvania where there are significant, similar religious populations.

“If you’re under 18 you have to have parent permission and go before a judge, and the judge just has to basically say there’s nothing – there’s no ill will here.  There’s not somebody taking advantage of someone.  This is a good fit, the families support it, and go forward and get married,” said Evans.  “It’s very similar to that and it’s worked very well in Pennsylvania where, again, they have much larger communities of Amish and Mennonite even than we do here in Missouri.”

Evans also said the bill does nothing to prevent a religious wedding ceremony.

Despite increased opposition over last year, a bipartisan 95-50 vote sent the bill to the Senate.  Last year Evans’ similar legislation was approved by a Senate committee but advanced no further.

Another measure backers say will help fight human trafficking became the first bill sent to the governor’s office in 2018.  Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) signed House Bill 1246.  The bill, sponsored by Adrian Republican Patricia Pike would require the development of posters displaying information on human trafficking.