House logs 372 proposals on first day of filing for 2022 session

      Wednesday at the Missouri Capitol there was a sense of new energy in the air.  Christmas decorations were going up, the weather was that of a spring day, and most of all, new bills were dropping everywhere.  December 1 is a day when Missourians get a first look at what legislators will consider as the filing of bills for the 2022 legislative session began.

Representative Cyndi Buchheit-Courtway files a piece of legislation for the 2022 session. (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “Prefiling day is basically a holiday if you’re an elected official down here in Jefferson City.  It’s a good day to be back in the building, it’s exciting.  You can kind of feel in the air that it’s almost time to get back into the swing of things,” said Representative Mark Sharp (D-Kansas City).

      Farmington Republican Dale Wright said it’s often better for legislation to be filed early, as that can give it a better chance of gaining traction early in the session and a better chance at passage.  That means a lot of proposals are brought in on day 1.

      “It’s amazing how many bills get filed.  I’m always amazed at all of the work that House Research and the analysts do.  They don’t get enough credit,” said Wright.

Click here to view the bills filed in the House for the 2022 legislative session.

      For some legislators there is some strategy involved in whether they want to put a proposal forward sooner or later.

      “I’ve spoken to other members that believe if they prefile something it gives the opposition a month to work on attacking that bill,” said Representative Nick Schroer (R-O’Fallon)“I’m one that’s fully transparent.  People know what I’m going to file, they know where I stand on issues, and give them an extra month, I don’t care.  I just think that voters and the constituents need to know what work is being done in the interim, what work is going to be done in 2022.”

      Wright said Missourians should know that it’s a hectic day in the Capitol.

      “I truly believe that the people who are serving up here are serving for the right reasons, and that is to be advocates and be the voice of the people back home, and wo when we file these bills it’s usually for something that helps our constituents back home, but in general, also for the State of Missouri.”

      Prefiling can feel very different for House Democrats, who face a supermajority of Republicans.  Kansas City Democrat Ashley Aune said even when proposing legislation they know will be opposed, members of her caucus can be serving a purpose.  She said one piece of advice she has held onto came from fellow Representative Tracy McCreery (D-St. Louis).

Legislators can begin filing legislation for the coming session on December 1 of the preceding year. (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “She tells me that filing a piece of legislation as a member of the superminority is like starting a conversation, and that’s what this is for us, especially with the bills that we know aren’t going to go anywhere.  It gives us a chance to start a conversation not only with our constituents to signal that we are working for them and doing the work that they sent us down here to do, it gives us an opportunity to have the conversation with our colleagues across the aisle and say, ‘Hey, this is a priority for me.  Where can we meet in the middle?’”

      Sharp said the enthusiasm of filing day is encouraging, but it’s also a reminder to be thoughtful in what is filed.

      “A lot of times people swing for the fences and a lot of times that’s just not feasible in most cases, especially as a member of the superminority.  Sometimes you have to just get some of the breadcrumbs that haven’t been picked up in the past,” said Sharp.

      Joplin Representative Lane Roberts (R) said he believes it’s important for each legislator to give consideration to not only their own bills, but what others are filing, and that includes those in the opposing party.

      “The fact is that that there’s an awful lot of people on that floor who are sincere.  They want to do the right thing, and when they file bills it’s because they believe that it has some meaning.  Some, maybe more than others, but none of it is meaningless, and whether you’re one side of the aisle or the other, I’ve found that people on the opposite side of the aisle from me sometimes say very smart things,” said Roberts.  “Listening to folks who are presenting the bill, listening to what they have to say, it’s changed my mind a time or two.  It has overcome some preconceived notions that while I may not intended to have it, it just happened.”

      On Wednesday in the House, 372 measures were filed for the 2022 session.  The session begins January 5.

Feminine hygiene products now free to all women incarcerated in Missouri

      Women incarcerated in Missouri prisons and jails will now have access to feminine hygiene products free of charge, under legislation that became law in July.

Representative Bruce Degroot (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Senate Bill 53, signed into law by Governor Mike Parson (R) on July 14, included language that requires city and county jails to join the state’s prisons in providing those products to female inmates at no cost.  Many facilities had already been doing this.  The new law codifies that practice and extends it to those facilities that weren’t. 

      Research in 2018 showed that in Missouri’s two female prisons, more than 80 percent of women were making their own hygiene products, and those they were given for free were ineffectual.  These homemade products were often resulting in infections or other complications.

      The same language found in SB 53 was also sponsored by Representative Bruce DeGroot (R-Ellisville) in his House Bill 318.  DeGroot said the measure was a way to provide dignity to incarcerated women, while saving the state money.

      “These women were receiving additional medical treatment at the cost of the Missouri taxpayer when they did fashion their own products in order to save money,” said DeGroot.

      The proposal had broad bipartisan support.  One of its most vocal advocates was Representative Tracy McCreery (D-St. Louis)

      “What the research has shown is that if you don’t provide people with adequate products, they end up with poorer mental health outcomes and also with infections that can be really quite costly for the government since we’re responsible for healthcare when people are incarcerated,” said McCreery.

      Representatives McCreery and DeGroot both worked with an organization called Missouri Appleseed regarding the issue.  Appleseed is a nonprofit based in St. Louis.  Founding Director Liza Weiss said women in Missouri prisons were having to choose between things like buying adequate hygiene products, or talking to their children on the phone.

Representative Tracy McCreery (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “Women in Missouri prisons who have a GED, they make approximately $8.50 a month, and before this bill passed tampons were being sold in the canteen; a pack of 20 was like $5.36,” said Weiss.  “We’ve heard so many stories … that often times women would be turning down visits with an attorney or even with their family members because they were so ashamed that they weren’t able to take care of their menstrual cycle … they were worried about being embarrassed.”

      McCreery said part of what was so encouraging about this legislation was its bipartisan nature.

      “A lot of Missourians and even a lot of elected officials are really tired of the hyper-partisanship, and this was one of those issues where people from both sides of the aisle and also males and females came together to make this change happen, and I think that we need to do more of that,” said McCreery.

      The fiscal year 2022 budget also includes $240,000 to pay for providing those products to women in county and city jails and detention centers.

Pronunciations:

DeGroot does not include the “oo” sound = [de-GROTE)

Weiss rhymes with mice = [wice]

House vote sends statewide PDMP proposal to Governor

      After roughly a decade of legislative consideration, the Missouri legislature has voted to create a statewide prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP).

Representative Travis Smith (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      The program would consolidate information on the prescription of controlled substances so that pharmacists and physicians can identify those who might be dealing with addiction.  The House approved the bill, Senate Bill 63, 91-64, sending it to Governor Mike Parson (R).  Parson has signaled support for a PDMP.

      If SB 63 becomes law it would make Missouri the last state in the nation to enact a statewide PDMP.     More than 80-percent of the state is covered by a PDMP that began in St. Louis County a number of years ago.  This would replace that plan and have different requirements for the sharing of data.

      PDMPs are intended to identify and flag the practice of “doctor shopping,” when individuals go to multiple doctors and multiple pharmacists seeking to accumulate a large supply of a drug in order to abuse or sell it.  Supporters say the program will save lives and help get those with addictions into treatment.

      “Every law enforcement person I talked to, every doctor says it will prevent deaths in the future, and if you can prevent just one person from dying I think that means something.  I think this will prevent hundreds, if not thousands,” said Representative Travis Smith (R-Dora), who carried the bill in the House.   

      Opponents say PDMPs will create a database of Missourians’ private medical information which the government shouldn’t have.  Lake St. Louis representative Justin Hill, a former undercover drug enforcement officer, said PDMPs haven’t worked in other states and the one based in St. Louis County isn’t working.

Representative Justin Hill speaks against the PDMP proposal as Senator Holly Rehder, its sponsor, watches debate. (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “This has dire consequences.  The death rate in St. Louis County has actually increased because people are pushed away from pharmacies to buy their narcotics, which they are addicted to, on the street.  If you truly care about the lives of people that are addicted to these drugs then you want them to be discovered at the pharmacy.  You want them to doctor shop,” said Hill.  “You turn down that person at a doctor’s office or pharmacy, they’re still going to get their drug.”

      Smith said he’s heard those concerns, and if the bill becomes law he intends to monitor the impact of a PDMP in Missouri.  If it doesn’t work he will work to fix or eliminate it.

      “My argument to those people is this:  most heroin users did not start off as heroin users.  They had some kind of prescription for the opioid.  They get the opioid and because there wasn’t a monitoring program they got too much of it.  They got addicted,” said Smith.  “My idea is, if we can work with doctors and pharmacists and monitor it, we can catch it before it ever happens.”

      The bill passed the House with mostly Democratic support, with around 30 Republicans voting in favor.  Representative Tracy McCreery (D-St. Louis) has been in favor of a PDMP throughout her 8-year legislative career.

      She credited Senator Holly Rehder (R-Sikeston), who has sponsored and pushed for passage of a program through most of her 8 years in the House, and was the sponsor of SB 63.

      “I think that what her legislation is doing is truly putting a statewide PDMP forward, and to me that is something that is ultimately going to save lives.”

      Proponents say under SB 63, Missourians’ medical information will only be available to doctors and pharmacists.

VIDEO House proposals would address HIV spread and stigma, abuse of IV and prescription drugs

The Missouri House again will weigh bills aimed at fighting intravenous and prescription drug abuse, as well as a bipartisan effort to fight a stigma against those infected with HIV.

Representative Holly Rehder (R-Sikeston) has prefiled legislation to legalize programs that give drug abusers clean needles, and for the seventh consecutive year has filed legislation to make statewide a monitoring program for drug prescriptions.  She and Representative Tracy McCreery (D-St. Louis) have also filed bills to change Missouri law that criminalizes exposing someone to HIV.

Supporters say needle exchange programs have been operating in the state for years, and don’t entice people to start abusing intravenous drugs.  Rather, they say, they ensure abusers aren’t transmitting diseases through dirty needles and it puts them in contact with medical providers who can facilitate getting them into treatment.

Several such programs already operate in Missouri, though they are doing so against the letter of the law.  House Bill 1486 would exempt those programs from the crime of “unlawful delivery of drug paraphernalia.”

House Bill 1693, dubbed the “Narcotics Control Act,” would make statewide a prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) like that maintained by the St. Louis County Health Department.  That program covers about 87-percent of Missouri’s population, in just over half its counties.  Rehder said that program has had great results but the whole state must be covered.

A PDMP is a database that physicians and pharmacists could use to track pill purchases and pharmacy visits, in an effort to find those who are potentially filling multiple prescriptions to support abuse.  Such proposals have met stiff opposition in past years, generally from those who say creating such a database would put sensitive medical information in danger of being breached.

House Bills 1691 (Rehder) and 1692 (McCreery) would reduce or eliminate the penalties for knowingly exposing someone with HIV.  Backers say the current penalties are too steep – the punishment for knowingly exposing to HIV someone who contracts the disease is on par with those for murder, rape, and forcible kidnapping.

Supporters say the harsh penalties are actually helping the spread of HIV by discouraging people from getting tested.

Both bills have been filed for the session that begins January 8.

Reps. Rehder and McCreery and advocates discuss the legislation in the video below:

Proposal would give state law enforcement, judges power to take guns from domestic abusers

House lawmakers are being asked to consider an effort late in the session to let judges take guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.

Representative Tracy McCreery (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

State law does not prevent those with full orders of protection against them from possessing firearms.  Federal law does, but that means federal agents have to enforce and prosecute such violations.  Advocates say that leaves many Missouri victims of domestic violence in terror, and many have been murdered, because their abusers were allowed to keep their guns.

House Bill 960 would match the state law to federal so that state judges could require that abusers not be allowed to possess or purchase firearms, and so that state authorities could enforce those orders.

The bill is sponsored by St. Louis representative Tracy McCreery (D).

“Adoption of this federal standard would still allow for constitutional carry, but would prevent perpetrators of domestic violence from owning a firearm,” McCreery told the House Committee on General Laws.  “I think that it’s important to empower local officials and believe that this bill’s passage would enhance our ability to assist victims.”

Colleen Coble, Director of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said Missouri needs a state law against gun possession by those convicted of violence against family members, and those who have an order of protection against them after a full court hearing.

“As a result of that, 57 Missourians – women – paid for that with their lives in the last year,” said Coble.  “This is not a Second Amendment issue.  This is a homicide prevention issue.  This is about public safety, and this is about accountability for those who are known by law enforcement officers to be the most likely to continue to escalate and use violence against their victims:  those who harm family members.”

The committee heard emotional testimony from several who had lost loved ones to domestic abusers who used firearms.  Carla West, the Court Advocate at New House Domestic Violence Shelter in Kansas City, said her sister was shot to death by her husband in 2013.  He had prior convictions for domestic assault.

“My brother-in-law, other than being abusive to my sister, was pretty much a law-abiding citizen,” said West.  “I believe with all my heart that if there would have been a law preventing him from having a gun he would have thought twice about having one, and my sister might still be here today.”

McCreery, who said she owns guns herself, said this issue stems from the passage of Senate Bill 656 in 2016, which allowed for constitutional carry in Missouri, effectively replacing the concealed carry permit system that had been in place.

“Within that permitting process for concealed carry was where law enforcement had the ability to deny someone a firearm due to a past conviction, so when we wrote that law and went from concealed carry to constitutional carry, the unintentional loophole that was created is we no longer had that permitting process, so that’s the loophole that was created, and I do believe it was unintentional,” McCreery said.

The legislation has Republican backing.  As Dardenne Prairie Republican Ron Hicks told McCreery, “As one who, as you know, would definitely get on you about something [if I thought you were violating Second Amendment] rights on, I can agree with you on this.  I think it’s a loophole that might’ve been overlooked,” said Hicks.

No one spoke against the bill in the committee hearing.

Previous years’ versions of the bill have been sponsored by a Republican.  Each was heard by a House committee but did not advance.

With only four weeks remaining in the session, backers are hopeful that the language of HB 960 can be added to other legislation that is closer to passage.

The Committee has not voted on HB 960.

Story on last year’s legislation: 

Bipartisan House bills would close ‘loophole’ that allows domestic abusers to have guns

Missouri House proposes increased fines for poaching

It’s cheaper for a non-Missourian to come into the state, poach an animal, and pay the fine for that, than it is to buy an out-of-state hunter tag.  The Missouri House has voted to change that.

Representative Jered Taylor (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The House voted to send to the Senate House Bill 260, which would increase the fines for poaching wild turkeys, deer, elk, black bears, or paddlefish in Missouri.

“What I want to do is I want to make people think twice before they pull the trigger,” said bill sponsor Jered Taylor (R-Republic).

The bill would increase to between $500 and $1000 the fine for poaching a wild turkey or paddlefish; between $2000 and $5000 the fine for poaching a white-tailed deer; and between $10,000 and $15,000 the fine for poaching a black bear or elk.

Missouri in 2011 began bringing elk into the state from Kentucky with an aim of reestablishing the population of the animal here, and an eventual goal of having an elk hunting season.  The Department of Conservation says elk hunting could begin as early as next year and that could bring millions of dollars into the state, but Taylor said poaching is hurting the chances of that happening, and the current fines for poaching are not a deterrent.

“We’re spending on average about $30- to $40-thousand dollars per elk when we brought them back to Missouri to reintroduce them and the penalty to poach an elk is about $150 to $200 right now, if you’re caught,” said Taylor.

The poaching of paddlefish has been very lucrative because paddlefish roe is often sold on the black market as caviar.  This means one fish can be worth thousands of dollars.

St. Louis Representative Tracy McCreery (D) said she was glad to see the bill includes increased fines for poaching those fish.

“Paddlefish used to be abundant in the State of Missouri … now the reason they’re in Missouri is because we’re spending taxpayer money for stocking them … yet the fines for poaching them – for stealing them – are so low that people from out of state are willing to come in to steal paddlefish that is being purchased with taxpayer money,” said McCreery.

When a fine is collected under HB 260 that money would go to the school district in which the poaching incident occurred.

The House voted 149-10 to send the bill to the Senate.

Similar legislation was sent to the Senate last year and referred to a committee, but it did not receive a hearing.

Missouri House asked again to revamp HIV infection laws, endorse needle exchange programs

Missouri lawmakers will again consider a bipartisan effort to reduce exposure to and the transmission of HIV in the session that begins in January.

Representative Holly Rehder will again in 2019 sponsor legislation that would change Missouri laws to allow needle exchange programs; and to encourage people to be tested for HIV. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representatives Holly Rehder (R-Sikeston) and Tracy McCreery (D-St. Louis) have filed legislation that would change Missouri laws that criminalize exposing individuals to HIV.  Rehder will also file a bill that would let organizations give clean needles to users of illegal intravenous drugs.  Both proposals were also filed last session.

Rehder’s House Bill 168 would relax state laws against delivery of drug paraphernalia.  Programs that offer clean needles to users could register with the Department of Health and Senior Services and be allowed to continue operating.

Supporters say the offer of clean needles could reduce the spread among IV drug abusers of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C.  Representative Rehder said it also make s users 5-times more likely to enter drug treatment because the needle exchange programs put them in direct contact with medical professionals.

“You want that person who is using a syringe to go get a clean one so then they have that contact with someone who is medically educated, who has the information on how to get treatment, where to get help, for when that time comes that they do reach out for help,” said Rehder.

Rehder refutes opponents who have argued that needle exchange programs simply enable the abuse of IV drugs.

“A free syringe isn’t going to provoke a non-IV user to start using, nor will a free syringe cause an IV user to increase their use,” said Rehder.

Last session’s needle exchange legislation, House Bill 1620, was passed out of the House 135-13, but stalled in the Senate.

House Bills 166 and 167, filed by Reps. McCreery and Rehder, respectively, both aim to change Missouri laws that criminalize the act of knowingly exposing a person to HIV.

Representative Tracy McCreery is again sponsoring legislation meant to encourage people to get tested for HIV by easing Missouri’s law regarding knowingly exposing others to the disease. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Both bills would expand those laws to criminalize knowingly exposing a person to any serious infectious or communicable diseases.  Both would also specify that individuals who attempt to prevent transmission, including through the use of a condom or through medical treatment that reduces the risk of transmission, are not knowingly exposing others to a disease.

McCreery and other supporters said those laws have actually discouraged people from getting tested and, if necessary, treated for HIV.

“Because of the way Missouri laws are written there is no motivation for people to know, and in fact not only is there no motivation but you can actually be charged with a more severe crime if you do know your HIV status,” said McCreery.

LaTrischa Miles, treatment adherence supervisor with KC Care Health Center, said in the time since Missouri’s and other states’ HIV exposure laws were written treatments have advanced so that people who might be in violation of those laws aren’t actually exposing anyone to a risk of HIV infection.

LaTrischa Miles with KC Care Health Center, which says Missouri’s HIV transmission laws are outdated and actually discourage people from getting tested and treated for HIV. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“Most do not account for prevention measures that reduce HIV transmission risk such as condom use; antiretroviral therapy; preexposure, which is prep; or the fact that if the virus is maximally suppressed to undetectable levels, the person living with HIV has a zero risk of transmission,” said Miles.

“If people are doing things that pose no risk of transmission then that act should not be criminalized,” said McCreery.  “Right now there are things in our laws that say if somebody commits a certain action, even if they absolutely pose no risk of transmission, they can still be charged with a crime.”

Rehder agreed with McCreery in saying that it’s time for Missouri to update its laws regarding HIV exposure and transmission, which were written in the 1990s.

“It’s important for our statutes to be updated as we become better educated and as technology and medicine advance.  Bottom line is we want people to get tested, know their status, and get treatment,” said Rehder.  “The Department of Justice along with many other national health organizations called for states to reform their HIV-specific laws many years ago because they run counter to many public health best practices.”

Last session’s versions of the HIV transmission laws legislation, House Bills 2675 (McCreery) and 2674 (Rehder) were subject to a hearing by the House Committee on Health and Mental Health Services.  The hearing was in the final days of the session so the bills did not advance, but the committee encouraged McCreery and Rehder to reintroduce the bills for 2019.

These three bills were among dozens filed by lawmakers on Monday, the first day legislation could be prefiled for the session that begins in January.

House approves bill backers say would reduce prescription drug costs

The Missouri House has approved a bill that backers say will save Missourians money on prescription drugs.

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

The sponsor of House Bill 1542, Representative Lynn Morris (R-Nixa), has been working at his pharmacy since 1977.  He said what many don’t know is that pharmacy benefits managers have pharmacists sign agreements that prevent them from telling customers when a drug’s out-of-pocket cost is less than the copay on their insurance plans, unless the customer asks about it.  Morris said that almost never happens because customers assume the cost through their insurance plans or networks will be the cheapest to them.

HB 1542 would eliminate those agreements, which Morris called, “gag orders.”

“Pharmacists want to tell the patient how to save money.  It’s extremely important to pharmacists to help those people,” said Morris.  “We owe it to our customers, we owe it to our patients, to always give them the best price, and these PBMs have forced us not to do that.”

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

The bill was broadly supported, having been sent to the Senate on a 138-7 vote.  Representative Tracy McCreery (D-St. Louis) said there should be nothing keeping pharmacists from being up front with customers.

“This bill is actually one of them that goes straight to the heart of addressing concerns that a lot of our constituents have, which is the rising costs of prescription drugs, and what they need to do in order to use their money most efficiently,” said McCreery.  “Pharmacists are a trusted profession – poll after poll shows that – and I think it’s shameful that pharmacists have been put in a position where there’s a gag order and they’re unable to capitalize on that trusted position.”

Morris said pharmacists agree to these “gag orders” as part of the contracts they sign with those managers.  Without signing such a contract a pharmacist cannot participate in the insurance programs handled by that manager.  He said that’s an issue for any pharmacist, but it’s especially critical for rural pharmacists, for whom the loss of any part of a customer base could mean closing the business.

Other provisions in HB 1542 would bar benefits managers from charging what Morris called “clawback” fees, or any fees related to a claim that has not been disclosed up front.  It would also prohibit benefits managers from keeping pharmacists from making statements to government officials or committees.

HB 1542 has been sent to the Senate.  Morris said similar legislation has been passed in other states or is pending.