Missouri legislature completes special session, sends two bills to Governor Parson

The Missouri legislature moved quickly to pass two bills that were the subject of a special session called by Governor Mike Parson (R).

Representative Kevin Austin (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Parson called lawmakers back into session to reexamine issues covered in two bills he vetoed.  One of those would establish statewide standards for treatment courts, such as drug and veteran courts; the other would allow high school computer science courses to count toward graduation requirements for math, science, or practical arts credits.  The House voted on Wednesday to send those bills to the Senate, and today the Senate approved those bills without making any changes to them.  That means they go to Parson for his consideration.

Representative Kevin Austin (R-Springfield) sponsored House Bill 2, which deals with treatment courts.  Such courts in Missouri provide a court-supervised, comprehensive treatment program as an alternative to jail time.  Lawmakers and prosecutors agree the program is not an easy out for a defendant.

Over the years courts have been established in numerous districts in the state but without universal guidelines for how to operate.  HB 2 seeks to provide those.

“It allows the expansion of treatment courts to counties that don’t have it but would like to have it.  It also allows for the coordinating commission to establish best practices based on scientific research that’s been done on the effectiveness of treatment courts and what works and what doesn’t,” said Austin.  “It allows for more data collection as well, it allows for technical assistance from [The Office of State Courts Administrator] to these courts.”

Austin said one of his favorite parts of the bill is a transfer clause, which will allow defendants who are candidates for treatment courts but are in a circuit that doesn’t have them, to be transferred to a circuit which does have them.

“That is not going to result in just dumping from one county to another of these defendants.  It has to be agreed to by both the transferring county and the receiving county.  It has to be agreed to by the prosecuting attorney as well as the defendant,” said Austin.

Austin said treatment courts save lives and improve the quality of lives, and not just the lives of the defendants that go through them.

“There’s people that interact with that person every day.  Maybe it’s their family, maybe it’s their neighbors, maybe it’s the merchants who they might otherwise be shoplifting from, it’s us as taxpayers.  It affects all of us in a very positive way.  It’s a way that we can restore dignity and return this person to a productive life,” said Austin.

House Bill 3 would let computer science courses count toward math, science, or practical arts credits needed for graduation.  Under the bill students could begin in middle school to be prepared for the opportunities they could have in the job market.  Its sponsor, Holts Summit Republican Travis Fitzwater, has been working on STEM legislation for years.

Representatives Jeanie Lauer and Travis Fitzwater (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“I’m thrilled it’s done,” Fitzwater said on Wednesday after the House passed his legislation.

“What we need is broadening opportunities and this is doing that for kids … and at the heart of it that’s what I’m trying to accomplish with this bill,” said Fitzwater.

Representative Jeanie Lauer (R-Blue Springs) chaired the House Committee on Workforce Development and worked with Representative Fitzwater on the computer science portion of HB 3.  She said it could help move Missouri forward in workforce development.

“We know that from site selectors that are looking for where to place businesses that is the top item that they’re looking for in criteria is what is the workforce pool, and in order for us to be competitive not only within our state but with other states we have to increase the talent that we have, and this is certainly a step toward that,” said Lauer.

Parson announced on August 30 his call for the special session and legislators worked quickly to pass new versions of these bills that addressed the concerns he cited with his vetoes, while spending as little time as possible on the special session.  The session’s costs were lessened because it coincided with the constitutionally-mandated veto session.

Missouri legislature called into special session for STEM, treatment court bills

The Missouri Legislature will convene for a special session next month to reexamine two bills vetoed by Governor Mike Parson (R).

One bill dealt with guidelines for treatment courts.  The other allows high school computer science courses to count toward graduation requirements for math, science, or practical arts credits; and aims to begin preparing students at an earlier age for the opportunities they could have in the job market.

In Parson’s veto messages, he said the treatment courts bill appeared to violate the state constitution’s prohibition on legislation covering multiple subjects.  He objected to a provision in the education bill that he said seemed to narrow a bidding process down so that only one company could qualify.

Representative Kevin Austin (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Treatment courts in Missouri provide a court-supervised, comprehensive treatment program as an alternative to jail time.  Participants must complete a rigorous regimen including interventions and supervision in order to complete the program.  Drug courts, juvenile treatment courts, and veterans’ courts are some examples of these programs.

House Bill 2562 was sponsored by Springfield Representative Kevin Austin (R).  He said in the past the legislature has dealt with treatment courts in a “piecemeal” fashion, and the main goal of the bill was to consolidate the various types of treatment courts and lay out best practices.

“When we start a new treatment court in a county or a circuit, the judge that has that can have some direction and have some guidance on what to do … this is going to provide some of those directions and best practices, which are also evolving as we learn more about treatment courts nationally,” said Austin.

The bill would also allow defendants in a circuit that lacks a treatment court to be transferred to one in another circuit, with certain approvals.

Austin said treatment courts benefit not only participants, but also their families and communities, and they save the state money through factors such as decreasing incarcerations.

The House handler of the education legislation is Representative Travis Fitzwater (R-Holts Summit), who has worked on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) bills for several years.  He doesn’t believe that Senate Bill 894 needed to be vetoed, but is “thrilled” the governor and legislative leadership saw the issue as important enough to revisit it in a special session.

Representative Travis Fitzwater (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“I think we just need to make sure that we broaden it to the extent that it makes it a process where more software companies can have access to it,” said Fitzwater.

Fitzwater said the STEM portion of SB 894 is aimed at middle school students.

“Why it’s so important to have the curriculum in middle school is because there are studies that show that 25-percent of high schoolers don’t have any idea what’s available to them in career fields when they graduate, and that’s a real problem,” said Fitzwater.  “The reason to have it early it middle school is the earlier the better in giving them some career paths that may interest them or to weed out maybe some fields that they’re not interested in as well.”

Fitzwater said by readdressing his legislation in a special session rather than waiting for the new session to begin in January, its provisions might not have to be pushed back another school year.  This would allow another grade level of students to benefit from it.

Austin said the sooner the legislature can deal with the treatment courts issue, the sooner the state’s courts can begin implementing the most effective practices.  It would also make a difference for defendants who could benefit from treatment courts but might not have access to them, especially in cases in which the transfer language would apply.

The special session will begin Monday, September 10 and will overlap with the annual veto session, which was already scheduled to begin Wednesday, September 12.

Additional audio:  Kevin Austin says treatment courts offer an alternative to jail time, but a defendant must go through a rigorous process to successfully complete the program and faces that jail time if he or she fails.

“Treatment court is not a ‘get out of jail free’ card.  It requires a ton of hard work by the defendant or the participant in the drug court … We’re changing lifestyle habits so it’s not something we can do in six months. It takes time.  The participant or defendant realizes that and actually signs a contract agreeing to this lengthy, arduous process.”

Missouri House considers legalizing medical use of marijuana

The Missouri House is one vote away from proposing that Missouri legalize the medical use of marijuana by people suffering from certain terminal or debilitating conditions.

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

House Bill 1554 would expand on a law passed in 2014 that allows the use of a cannabis extract, cannabidiol (CBD) oil, to treat intractable epilepsy.  If HB 1554 became law, a patient suffering from conditions including cancer, HIV, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and post-traumatic stress disorder could use medical marijuana if a doctor signs a statement saying he or she could benefit from its use and that all options approved by the Food and Drug Administration have been considered.

The bill is sponsored by Representative Jim Neely (R-Cameron), who is also a doctor.

“There’s a lot of people in my world, from the hospice and the long-term care world, that feel that this would be appropriate for people to ease the pain, suffering, and the side-effects of the opioids and this might be the best way to go,” said Neely.  He said the bill would give people, “another option at the end stages of life.”

House members including Travis Fitzwater (R-Holts Summit) spoke about loved ones that might benefit from the legislation, such as his mother and sister who have multiple sclerosis.

Fitzwater said their neurologist, who he knows and trust, has said they should have the option of using marijuana for pain treatment.

“I trust his opinion.  He went to medical school.  He knows what he’s talking about.  He’s spent his career focused on multiple sclerosis and his patients are mainly multiple sclerosis patients,” said Fitzwater.  When he tells me that … [my] mom or [my] sister should have the option to come to their neurologist and discuss treatment options for pain – and this is a gentleman who is as professional as anybody I’ve ever met – they ought to have that opportunity.”

“Patients that have these debilitating diseases ought to have an option … when the doctors agree and there are professionals involved that know more about what’s going on with those patients than we do,” said Fitzwater.

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

Representative Gina Mitten (D-St. Louis) said a colleague of hers who is a practicing attorney must break her oath to uphold the law by using marijuana to treat her epilepsy, rather than use the prescription drugs that caused her to have a psychotic episode among other side effects.

“How is it that it’s okay to have to spend a night, or two nights, or three nights in a hospital due to medication that’s been prescribed and creates all kinds of other side effects, as opposed to something that we know in other states has worked very well for this disease?” asked Mitten.

Pacific Republican Paul Curtman sponsored adding PTSD to the legislation.  He described what he knows some of his fellow comrades in the Marine corps faced, and said leaving this issue facing veterans out of the bill would be a “travesty.”

He spoke about a fellow Marine from Missouri whose experience overseas included having to routinely wash the blood of friends out of the back of a Humvee.  Curtman said the man was prescribed by the Veterans’ Administration drugs that had numerous side effects.  For a time he used marijuana and that worked for him, but he was arrested and forced to return to the drugs prescribed by the VA.

“The VA came by and said if you ever [use marijuana] again you’re jeopardizing your ability to use any of your VA benefits.  So, after being on house arrest for a while with the VA checking up on him to make sure that he was taking the synthetic drugs that the VA wanted him to take, his father came home just a few weeks later only to find that his son had put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger,” said Curtman.

Under the bill the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services would issue medical cannabis registration cards to approved patients, or to parents in the cases of minor parents.  The bill would only allow the use of smokeless forms of marijuana.  HB 1554 also lays out how marijuana could be legally cultivated by licensed growers under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture.

Another favorable vote would send the legislation to the Senate.  Two years ago the House rejected a bill that would have asked voters whether to legalize the limited, medical use of marijuana.

House votes to outline lengths guards can go to, to protect Callaway nuclear plant

The Missouri House has approved a bill aimed at increasing security at the state’s only nuclear power plant.

Representative Travis Fitzwater (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 1797, called the “Nuclear Power Plant Security Guard Act,” would create the offense of “trespass on a nuclear power plant, and make it punishable by up to four years in prison.  The bill also allows armed guards at the plant to use or threaten physical or deadly force if they believe it necessary to protect themselves or others protects them from civil liability for conduct covered in the bill.

Representative Travis Fitzwater (R-Holts Summit), whose district includes Ameren’s Callaway Energy Center, proposed the Act.

Fitzwater called the plant, “a very unique spot in our state, a very unique asset to our economy.  It just gives [guards] statutory authority to protect that facility.”

The bill had bipartisan support, including from Representative Bob Burns (D-St. Louis) who recalled touring the plant when he was first elected to the House 6 years ago.

He said the state can’t do enough to protect the plant, “Particularly with what we’ve been hearing for the past couple of years about our electric grid.  Things like Callaway, those are targets for terrorists, and if something happened to Callaway it wouldn’t just hurt Callaway, it would hurt our whole state and our region.  I mean it could make Chernobyl look like a firecracker.”

The bill passed 134-8.  One of those 8 “no” votes was cast by Kirkwood Democrat Deb Lavender, who said guards at Callaway already have the authority the Act would allow, including authority to use deadly force when there is a “reasonable belief” that it is necessary.

“We already have measures in place that protect this plant.  I don’t think this plant is fragile.  For those of you who don’t know, we hire a SEALS team to attempt to break into Callaway once a year.  They have never been successful,” said Lavender.

The Act now goes to the Senate for its consideration.