‘Fresh Start Act’ seeks to lift roadblocks from people seeking to get back to work after crimes

The Missouri House voted to make it easier for people with criminal records to reintegrate into society by getting a job, and to save them from working toward getting a job only to find out after much time, effort, and expense that their offenses will disqualify them.

Representative Derek Grier (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The House has passed the “Fresh Start Act of 2019,” House Bill 564.  It would keep people from being barred from a job for committing crimes that have no relation to the work of that job.

“If you want to cut hair and be a cosmetologist, the cosmetology board can’t say you will not be allowed to get a license because you were convicted of mortgage fraud ten years ago,” said bill sponsor Derek Grier (R-Chesterfield)“It just doesn’t make sense and it prevents people that want to get to work from getting to work.”

The bill would also require applicants to be told in a timely manner whether their record will preclude them from getting a given job.

“We’ve actually had specific examples in this state where people have gone through the training, spent the time, energy, and money to get the training and go through the courses to get a license, and at the very last step they apply to the board and they are denied the license,” said Grier.  “In some cases people have spent six months to a year and tens of thousands of dollars to get that training only to find out later that they don’t qualify.  Well, I think that’s wrong.  I think we need to fix that.”

Grier said Missourians now must be licensed in order to work in one out of 5 jobs.  He said while licensure is supposed to be about protecting the health, safety, and wellbeing of the public, industry groups have turned it into something of a “protectionist strategy.”

“These occupational licenses have gone far beyond the original scope and intent of what they were created for,” said Grier.

Supporters of HB 564 said the proposal falls in line with other criminal justice reforms the legislature has put forward in recent years, as well as other efforts to fight recidivism.

Springfield representative Steve Helms (R) said what Missouri is doing now, in the cases of people who come off of a prison term and pursue the education needed for a specific job, is contradictory.

“What we’re saying on one hand is, ‘Turn your life around buddy, ‘cause you’ve made mistakes,’ and yet we’re putting barriers and impediments to them,” said Helms, “and then once you’ve spent the thousands of dollars, if you were able to get the degree or education, then we’ll tell you if we’ll even let you work in that occupation.”

Those convicted of crimes that are not violent or sexual in nature cannot be disqualified from an occupation for more than five years unless they re-offend in that time.  Those with convictions can petition a licensing authority about whether they are eligible for licensure and the authority must respond within 30 days after meeting, and not more than four months after getting the petition.

The bill does not apply to peace officers or law enforcement personnel.

The House voted 151-1 to send the bill to the Senate.

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.