House budget plan keeps Rock Island Trail development funds

      The state House has voted to preserve more than $69-million in federal dollars to support development of another hiking and biking trail on a former railway.  That funding survived two attempts to redirect it over concerns some House members have about its use.

Representative Tim Taylor (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Governor Mike Parson (R) recommended that appropriation, which would use funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).  It would pay to revitalize a 78-mile stretch of the former Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad corridor, commonly referred to now as the “Rock Island Trail.”  Work would include the stabilization of tunnels and bridges. 

      Bunceton representative Tim Taylor (R) said his family owns property along the Katy Trail, Missouri’s other hiking and biking trail along a former railway.  He said he’s seen how communities have benefitted from being along that trail.

      “It has brought a sense of small prosperity to our community.  When the railroad left, as it did on the Rock Island, much of the town ceased to exist.  We have prospered and those towns and cities along the Rock Island are going to prosper just like the Katy Trail.”

      The Rock Island corridor runs through Bland, hometown of Representative Bruce Sassman (R).  He said hiking and biking trails are engines for economic development, and this is Missouri’s chance to expand them.

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

      “I have been working on this Rock Island development project for 35 years, almost half of my life, and it’s a vision to create a trail system and a trail route that is unlike anything in the country and maybe in the world.  I wish you could see this project through my eyes.  I wish you knew the history of this project,” said Sassman.

      Taylor and Sassman were among those who spoke against amendments that would have blocked that $69-million from going to the trail.  One of those, offered by Chillicothe Republican Rusty Black, would have diverted that money to maintenance that has been deferred on other Department of Natural Resources’ properties.

      “In my eight years up here, every year we have had this fight with DNR about maintaining what we already have.  This is a one-time use of funds that, if we spend it on the trail, is going to further dilute the sales tax money that they get to use to maintain all of the other parks in the state,” said Steelville Republican Jason Chipman.  “What we have already is in bad shape and we could put a big dent in the maintenance needed for all of the other parks that bring in a whole lot of people to Missouri rather than partially work on this one.”

      “I think there’s arguments to be made for and against the Rock Island Trail,” said Representative Dirk Deaton (R-Noel), the House Budget Committee’s vice-chairman.  “I think it’s compelling to me as a conservative, as a fiscal conservative, you’ve got to take care of what you’ve got before you start taking on new things – building new things, acquiring new things, setting up new things, and we do have a substantial maintenance backlog within our state parks and so I think we really ought to address that before we do this, and then you can get to the question of, ‘If we do this.’”

Representative Scott Cupps (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Another amendment was offered by Shell Knob Republican Scott Cupps.  It proposed that the money be withheld from the project until lawsuits involving property owners along the Rock Island route are settled.

      “The rationale for that is there is concern that we will spend millions and millions of dollars on this project and, depending on what happens in federal court, we may not be able to complete it until this is resolved,” said Cupps.  “If you stand up for land owners’ rights and property owners’ rights … then you sure as heck better be a ‘yes’ on this.”

      Cupps noted that there were similar legal disputes for people who owned property along the Katy Trail, which he says weren’t settled until 11 years after that trail opened.

      Lawmakers who want work on the trail to proceed argued that those lawsuits’ outcomes will have nothing to do with Rock Island’s development.

Representative Jason Chipman (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “This is not about converting it back to ownership by these folks who are suing.  They simply seek to reclaim the money for land that was never part of their farm in the first place, whenever they purchased it,” said Representative Don Mayhew (R-Crocker).  “These lawsuits, this is a red herring.  It has nothing to do with it.  The state can proceed with this.”

      In the end the House voted down those amendments 53-81 and 62-70, respectively, and then voted to keep the money for the trail project in the budget. 

      Some, like Representative Jim Murphy (R-St. Louis), were glad to move forward that spending proposal.

      “When I leave here I think it’d be nice if I could look at one thing and say, ‘We did this for the future.  We did this for this state.  It’s long lasting.  We didn’t spend it on frivolous things.  We didn’t buy shiny objects.  We built something that our citizens can use now and in the future,” said Murphy.

      The House voted today to advance that spending plan to the Senate.

House votes to protect Task Force 1 members’ jobs

      When Missouri Task Force 1 was deployed to Louisiana last August in response to Hurricane Ida and in December after tornadoes hit Kentucky team members knew that when they came home they would be able to return to their jobs.  When they were deployed to Joplin after an EF-5 tornado devastated that community, they couldn’t be as certain.  The Missouri House has voted to change that.

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

      When Task Force 1 is deployed out-of-state its members are protected by the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).  Deployments in-state aren’t covered by such a law.  House Bill 2193 would change Missouri law to mirror USERRA.  This would mean the Task Force’s more than 200 volunteers’ jobs would be protected no matter where they go.

      “It just makes their employment rights the same if they’re deployed within the State of Missouri or outside the State of Missouri,” said bill sponsor Cheri Toalson Reisch (R-Hallsville).

      “They have those rights currently in federal law but not in state law,” Boone County Fire District Chief Scott Olsen, who heads up Task Force 1, told the House Committee on Public Safety.  “When we deploy to state disasters we are deployed as a state asset, not as a federal asset.  You cannot deploy as a federal asset in your own state, so we would like to have the same USERRA protections … that our members receive for federal deployments.”

      Last year Toalson Reisch filed a similar proposal that stalled in the Senate after clearing the House 153-0.  This year’s proposal has similar broad support.  Kansas City Democrat Ashley Bland Manlove said in support of HB 2193, “Me being in the National Guard, I heard about guys – and I know this is Task Force 1 but this will make them like the National Guard to where you can’t get fired for a deployment, basically.  That is a thing that has happened.”

      The House voted 150-0 to send HB 2193 to the Senate. 

      Task Force 1 is one of 28 search and rescue teams of its kind and is the only one in Missouri.  Its volunteers come from throughout Missouri.

House approves increased protections for domestic violence victims

      The House has voted to make several changes in state law meant to make victims of domestic violence safer.  It’s sponsored by a man who, during his career in law enforcement, was often frustrated by how laws limited what he could do to help victims.

Representative Lane Roberts (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “This bill seeks to plug some of the gaps in our laws that allow abusers to circumvent the system and continue to use the system actually to further abuse their victims,” said Representative Lane Roberts (R-Joplin).

      A key provision of Roberts’ House Bill 1699 would specify that a defendant in an abuse case will be considered to have been notified of an order of protection if they are notified in any reasonable way.  In effect, this would make clear that orders of protection remain place until otherwise ordered by a court.  

      “What happens today is that when somebody files for an ex parte order and then a hearing is scheduled the temporary order stays in effect until the hearing.  If the abuser chooses not to show up in court and later pleads ignorance, he didn’t know what went on in court, there have been some successful defenses to violating the order because of this so-called ignorance.  What this bill does is say that when you get served that temporary, those provisions are going to remain in effect and they don’t expire simply because the hearing is being held.  Those protections go on and the individual can’t plead ignorance.”

      Jennifer Carter Dochler with the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence said this was the provision that was the most exciting.

      “Although all of them are going to have an important impact … that has been such a gap and has created so many safety issues for survivors,” said Carter Dochler.

      Another portion would allow victims in domestic violence cases to testify via video conference.  Roberts says often, domestic cases are dismissed because victims refuse to testify.

      “It’s not because the victim doesn’t want to be there.  The truth of the matter is in many cases the victim is simply afraid to be in the same room.  The victim does not want the abuser to know where they’re going to be at a particular time, and so it’s important that we give this person some kind of security if we possibly can,” said Roberts.

      Carter Dochler said victims who testify in court now often take great measures to plan for their own safety during that appearance. 

      “When I did court advocacy … we would have the bailiff walk us out and things like that, so just the ability to be able to teleconference in for getting your order of protection is also something that will be incredibly helpful for the safety of the victim, and may also increase the likelihood of somebody feeling comfortable continuing to pursue an order of protection,” said Carter Dochler. 

She said another hurdle for victims testifying for an order of protection, sometimes, is finding childcare, and video conferencing could negate that issue.

      HB 1699 would also specify that courts cannot make a victim or their family reveal in court the victim’s current address or workplace unless necessary. 

“This is something that you’d think would be common sense,” said Roberts.

      Earlier versions of the legislation had caused concern for some lawmakers, specifically that the video testimony provision would violate the constitutional right of accused abusers to face their accusers in court.  Roberts worked with other legislators to deal with issues in the bill leading to the version the House passed.

Representative Ian Mackey (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “I was a little hesitant at first, I’ll admit.  I’m somebody who likes to protect the rights of those who wish to confront their accusers in court,” said Representative Ian Mackey (D), who is an attorney in St. Louis.  “Through conversations with [Roberts] and other folks involved in this issue I think the needle was threaded just as finely and carefully as it could be.  I think this protect victims.  It also protects the accused.  It’s a great product.”

      “The bill handler made some changes and I just think it made a much better bill.  It was a good bill to begin with but it needed some changes.  He did that,” said Robert Sauls, a Kansas City Democrat who is a former Jackson County Prosecutor and public defender. 

      Sauls told Roberts, “I appreciate your willingness to listen and the changes you made.”

      HB 1699 would also specify that when a defendant is ordered to pay the victim’s attorney fees, that order covers the entire proceeding; and that a person convicted of domestic assault who is ordered to attend a batterer-intervention program will be responsible for paying for that program.

      Carter Dochler said the legislation would make a number of small changes in Missouri law each of which would make a big difference in the lives of victims.

      “I really appreciate Representative Roberts’ commitment to finding gaps and figuring out what he can do to close them,” said Carter Dochler. 

      The House voted 147-0 to send the proposal to the Senate.

House votes to better prepare K-12 students with computer science courses

      The House has voted to better equip the state’s children for working in tech industries that demand an education in computer science. 

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

      House Bill 2202 would require the state’s public high schools to offer some form of computer science class and allow students to count such classes toward graduation requirements for science and practical arts credits, to satisfy admission requirements at colleges and universities. 

      The bill expands on legislation approved in 2018 that allowed computer science courses to count toward math, science, or practical arts credits needed to graduate high school.  That bill, like HB 2202, was sponsored by Holts Summit Republican Travis Fitzwater.

      “It provides an opportunity for kids to get the workforce training that our economy in the State of Missouri and our businesses desperately need.  There’s over 10,000 open computer science engineering jobs in our economy in just the State of Missouri.  Those jobs average over $80,000 a year,” said Fitzwater. 

      Fitzwater said the bill will help answer the needs of the growing list of innovative companies in Missouri.   

“It’s really important that we’re providing training and giving kids opportunities at a much younger age to get the training they need to enter the workforce for all these jobs that are available, for all these opportunities that are available.”

      The bill received unanimous support in the House, which voted 148-0 to send it to the Senate. 

      St. Louis Democrat Bridget Walsh Moore said this will help Missouri catch up.

      “Computer science should’ve stopped being an elective about 30 years ago and it definitely needs to stop today.  It is an essential part of our education.  We want to make sure that the children of Missouri are being properly educated so they can compete in a modern workforce.”

      Kara Corches with the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry told House members Missouri is a top state for technology jobs with high rankings in both diversity, and women, in the tech workforce, and said HB 2202 would help build on that. 

      “Missouri is really moving up in the rankings and so our hope is to do everything we can to not just secure these rankings but even to continue to rise in those rankings and continue to attract and build tech talent.”

      The bill would also create the Computer Science Education Task Force to help shape schools’ approach to computer education. 

      “It develops a broad strategy.  Not just how do we come up with curriculums but how do we have a strategy on the whole for computer science opportunities for kids?” said Fitzwater.  “Coming up with how we, as a strategy, think about educating our kids in these developing fields.”

      That task force would be one entity that would receive demographic data to be collected under the bill.  Walsh Moore said she was glad to see the inclusion of that effort toward ensuring that children of color and girls are encouraged to enter the computer science and STEM fields. 

Fitzwater agreed, “We want to know what kids in the state are taking these classes.  That’s why it’s in the underlying bill and I’m glad it’s there.”

      HB 2202 also defines “computer science course” as any elementary, middle, or high school course that embeds computer science content with other subjects.   

Earlier story: Missouri legislature completes special session, sends two bills to Governor Parson (From 2018)

‘Bentley’s Law’ would mandate child maintenance for children whose parents die in DUI crashes

      People who are convicted of killing a parent or parents while driving drunk in Missouri could have to pay child support to surviving children, under a proposal now before a House committee. 

Representative Mike Henderson (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      House Bill 1954 is also known as “Bentley’s Law.”  It would require that such convicted persons would have to pay maintenance to surviving children until they turn 18, or if they enroll in college, until they complete a degree or turn 21. 

      The bill specifies that a judge weighing a maintenance order should consider the financial needs of the children; the resources of the children’s caregivers, if any; the standard of living the children would have had; the children’s physical and emotional condition and needs; their physical and legal custody arrangements; and any child care expenses of surviving caregivers.

      Sponsor Mike Henderson (R-Bonne Terre) said the bill is about making sure children in this situation are taken care of.

      “Right now they have civil action they can take.  We all know that, but we also know one out of every seven drivers on the road are uninsured … so if you’re going to take civil action it’s usually with the insurance company … this bill doesn’t take away the civil action … but it gives them a chance to try to apply for child maintenance for the children left behind,” said Henderson.  “We’re not trying to put everybody back in prison … but just trying to get them to take some responsibility for these kids as they move forward.”

      Henderson was presented the idea for Bentley’s Law by Cecelia Williams.  In April of last year her son, his fiancée, and their 4 month-old son were killed in an accident involving an allegedly drunk driver.  She named the proposal after one of their surviving children, whom she is now raising. 

She told the House Committee on Crime Prevention that after the accident she did some research and found what she called a “ton” of repeat offenders.

      “It does not seem to stop.  I see people who will go to prison, they come back out and they’re a repeat offender again and they don’t learn.”

      “I wanted to make sure that these children who don’t have their families were going to have that financial stability for them, so that when they go on in life, even going to further their career that that money was going to be there for them,” said Williams.  “By creating Bentley’s Law I believe that’s what’s going to help the children and it’s going to help people to think twice and not do it again.”

      The committee also heard from Jennifer Wamsganz, Program Director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Missouri.

“Bentley’s Law better ensures justice and accountability for convicted impaired drivers.   MADD believes that passing Bentley’s Law will make people think twice before getting behind the wheel impaired.  If a person makes the choice to drive impaired and kills a parent the person will encounter another consequence for their deadly decision. 

      “To the victims of impaired drivers Bentley’s Law allows for another avenue of restitution to help injustice.”

      Committee chairman Lane Roberts (R-Joplin) told Henderson, “Civil remedies not withstanding there are many, many opportunities to escape responsibility by these drivers.  What really intrigues me about your bill is it gives the state a role in ensuring that those responsibilities are met.”

      The bill specifies that if surviving parents or guardians bring a civil suit against the person convicted of drunk driving, no maintenance will be ordered or it will be offset by any civil award that is granted.

      The committee is scheduled to vote next week on that bill.

House acts to stem property tax spikes on used vehicles

      The House has given initial approval to a plan to lessen the increases Missourians will see in their property taxes due to rising vehicle values.

Representative Brad Hudson (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Representative Brad Hudson (R-Cape Fair) is a former county assessor.  He explained to his colleagues that the values of vehicles in the National Auto Dealers Association price guide have increased significantly.  This guide is what assessors must, by statute, use to assess the values of Missourians’ cars. 

      “If those assessed values increase then our constituents could see their personal property taxes increase on vehicles that are a year older and have more miles on them,” Hudson told the House.  “I want to give assessors the ability in statute to take care of this.”

      The State Tax Commission testified in favor of the bill when it was in a House committee.  Its legislative liaison, former state representative David Wood, explained that statute requires assessors to base vehicle values on NADA prices from each October.  He’s seen reports that vehicle sales prices year-to-year have increased as much as 40-percent. 

He explained that assessors use average trade-in values and not sales values, but those will still cause significant increases for taxpayers.  Wood told his former colleagues that even a 10-percent increase in used car values would equal an increase of about $100-million in collected taxes statewide.  A 15-percent increase would equal an increase of about $165-million. 

      “This is a significant number.  The Commission felt it was necessary to at least give the legislature the opportunity to address the situation.”

      House Bill 2694 would allow assessors to, instead of being restricted to using October’s NADA values, use the trade-in value for a given vehicle from that edition or either of the last two years’ October NADA guides.  

      “Any assessor that is worth his or her salt, in my opinion, is going to do the very best that they can to meet the guidelines they’re required to meet and help the taxpayer,” said Hudson.  “I was an assessor for nine years and there’s no way that I would want to have to sit across the desk from one of my constituents and explain to them why that vehicle that is a year older with more miles on it is worth more now and I’m going to hit you with a higher assessment and that means that more than likely your taxes are going to be higher come November.”

      The bill has received broad support during its journey through the legislative process so far.  Warrensburg Republican Dan Houx told fellow lawmakers, “This is probably the best thing we can do in this building this year.  This affects everyone in our districts back home.”

      HB 2694 would allow assessors to make similar determinations of the assessed value of recreational vehicles and agricultural equipment using values from the past two years, as those vehicles have seen similar increases in value.

      The House has perfected the bill.  Another favorable vote would send it to the Senate.

New registry of murderers proposed

      Missouri’s current sex offender registry would be expanded to include a registry of individuals who are on probation or parole for first or second degree murder under a bill being considered in the House.

Representative Lane Roberts (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      The legislation would not simply add such individuals to the existing registry, according to bill sponsor Lane Roberts (R-Joplin)

“This is a separate column.  It does not mix the data.  It would rename the registry, ‘Sex offender and violent offender registry.’  Its purpose is to allow the public to know who is on parole for second degree murder,” Roberts told the Committee on Crime Prevention

Roberts explained that Missouri citizens often don’t know when someone guilty of such violent crimes is living or working near them.

“Conviction of second degree murder often is the result of a plea bargain.  Often the underlying conduct is first degree murder,” said Roberts.

Legislators on the committee asked whether such information is already available to the public through avenues such as the Missouri Court System’s website.  He said that isn’t always an avenue for an average Missourian. 

Further, he said such state-based resources won’t list such individuals when they come to Missouri from other states through the interstate compact, and most Missourians don’t even know that can happen.

      Testifying for the bill was Mona Lisa Caylor, who said it was a man on parole for a 1983 murder in Tennessee who murdered her sister, Willana “Anita” Dunn in 2016 and dropped her body down an abandoned mine shaft. 

      Caylor told legislators her sister allowed her killer into her life and was even renting her home from him.  She and her family knew nothing about his criminal background, or that the life story he had told them was a lie.

      “Why are paroled violent murderers allowed to be anonymous?” Caylor asked the committee.  “Why would we not want to know who is working, who is living in our community that’s a murderer?”

      “They deserve a second chance.  They get their chance.  There’s not a parole board that can ever guarantee that someone is not going to reoffend,” Caylor added.

      Representative Rasheen Aldridge Jr. (D-St. Louis) wondered what this registry would accomplish, and what it would mean for individuals who are trying to reintegrate into society after serving their prison time.

      That’s just my concern, that we’re only giving people that, once they do do their time and we say ‘second chances’ and we believe in second chances, that this is kind of giving them a second chance but also saying, ‘Watch out for Tim down the street,” said Aldridge.  “[I] think it’s a good idea but I don’t understand the accountability piece or really the reasoning of adding them to a registry and we’re not giving them either the services they need or truly trying to give them a second chance without a black cloud being over them.”

      Roberts acknowledged Aldridge’s concerns.  He said that while no one should assume that because someone has committed one murder that they will commit another, he feels that if someone has overcome their conscious to kill once it raises concern they could do it again.

      “People of a certain caliber or a certain level of criminal activity have a different propensity and the consequences of their actions have a different consequence to the victims associated with those crimes.  That’s why we have a sex offender registry, because of the consequences of the crimes that they commit,” said Roberts.

      The bill, House Bill 1705, specifies that individuals on this new registry would come off of it when they complete their probation or parole.  The committee voted 7-1 to advance the bill, which now faces another committee before it could go to the full House.

Committee votes to let pharmacists dispense opioid relapse fighting medication

      A drug that would help former and recovering addicts fight off relapses would be more available under a bill being considered in the House.

Representative Jonathan Patterson (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      House Bill 2603 would allow pharmacists to sell and distribute naltrexone hydrochloride, a drug that helps stem the desire to use opioids or related substances.

      Bill sponsor Jonathon Patterson (R-Lee’s Summit) told the House Committee on Health and Mental Health Policy, “I think it would help and maybe even stop a few of the deaths that we see here in this state every year.”

      “If you had a person that was getting off opioids and they had this craving for the drug they could go to a pharmacy, the pharmacist could give them that drug and they could take it so that they don’t go and find heroin or any other, fentanyl; drugs that they use that they could overdose on.”

      Patterson explained that his legislation would expand upon a bill passed out of the legislature and signed into law in 2016 which allows pharmacists to sell Narcan, a drug that counteracts overdoses.

      Percy Menzies is the President of the Assisted Recovery Centers of America.  He told the committee that naltrexone is extremely effective and unlike Narcan, which is administered at the time of an overdose, it is preventative.  A person can take it to stave off a relapse.

“They can use it as a way to protect the neurons, the brain, from accidentally or impulsively using opioids.  Narcan’s half-life is only 30 to 45 minutes.  Naltrexone lasts for 24 hours, so you have a drug-free zone within your brain for a 24 hour period.”

      The committee heard that pharmacists would be able to give a person enough naltrexone to last several days.  Licensed clinical social worker Aaron Laxton explained this could then help bridge the time between when a person realizes they are about to relapse and when they can get into a treatment program.

“This is a stop-gap to allow us to get to the next week, until we can get to that open bed, until we can get to that clinical setting and we can start to make some strides.”

      Henrio Thelmaque with Assisted Recovery Centers of America and the Missouri Pharmacy Association also testified in support of the bill, saying, “The idea is to say, ‘Hey, if you are at risk of relapsing here is a preventative measure.”

      Thelmaque said relapses can often be triggered by stressful events such as the loss of a job or a breakup.  He said there have been greater instances of relapses in the last two years, likely due to the COVID pandemic.  He said last year there were 1,842 deaths in Missouri related to opioid overdoses.

      He said this bill could help significantly to reduce that number.

      “There shouldn’t even be one death regarding opioid overdoses, especially with the tools that we have now,” said Thelmaque.

      The committee voted 12-0 to advance Patterson’s bill.  Another favorable committee vote would send it to the full House.

House approves ‘No Patient Left Alone Act’

      The House has approved the easing of restrictions on visitors in hospitals and nursing homes such as those experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Representative Rusty Black (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representatives who backed the proposal cited instances of Missourians going for days or more and even dying without loved ones being allowed to see them.  Opponents said it should be up to facilities how best to place restrictions for the good of patients and residents.

      Called the “No Patient Left Alone Act,” House Bill 2116 was the combination of four pieces of legislation.  The sponsor of HB 2116 is Chillicothe Republican Rusty Black.

      “The overall bill would – I’m going to use the word ‘force’ – healthcare providers to allow a patient to list up to four people that could come visit them while they’re in the hospital,” Black explained. 

      The plan drew an impassioned speech from Majority Floor Leader Dean Plocher (R-St. Louis) who spoke about his late father-in-law’s stay in a hospital that lasted more than 20 days, during most of which he was not allowed visitors.  Plocher said for much of this his family was not updated on his condition; his call light was not answered, and they were denied an explanation on the administering of unusual medications.  He complained of improper care and was at one point found to have a fork embedded in his skin and to be suffering from mouth sores.

      He said what happened to his father-in-law in the days before his death was not unique.

House Majority Floor Leader Dean Plocher (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “Health care facilities were allowed to arbitrarily set rules for visitation all while staff could come and go on a daily basis, and I guess they could, in fact, bring in viruses too.  Health care facilities essentially became prisons for our loved ones.  People were admitted.  One day you could have visitors, the next day you couldn’t.  People were confined without access to an advocate from those that knew them.  It was arbitrary and there was no recourse if you were locked away by a health care facility without access to visitors,” said Plocher.  “This bill protects all Missourians and all of our loved ones.  This bill is necessary and should be a right for of those receiving care, to have a visitor and an advocate by their side.”

      Several Republicans called the legislation perhaps the most important bill they could handle this year.

      “I truly believe that this bill will prevent a loss of life in many situations,” said Neosho representative Ben Baker (R), who chaired the committee that handled HB 2116.  “When you are in that situation where you have no one to turn to, no one that you know, no one that you have that personal relationship with, it’s extremely important for the mental well-being, the physical well-being of those patients in those situations to have that.  I can’t imagine what it would be like if I was in that situation where I had no one to advocate for me.”

      Some Democrats spoke against the measure saying health care facilities should be able to determine what practices are the safest for their staff and those in their care, particularly during a pandemic.

      “We all have rights and we all have freedoms and while your loved one is potentially needing support in one room, somebody else’s loved one is down the hall and they don’t need to be exposed to whatever it is that folks are bringing into that care facility,” said Representative Ashley Aune (D-Kansas City).

Representatives Ashley Aune (left) and Bridge Walsh Moore (Photos: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      “I can respect this is a horrible situation.  It was a horrible situation we were put in.  No one wants to keep family members from their loved ones in the hospital when they are sick.  No one wants to do that, but a lot of times it’s what has to be done,” said Representative Bridget Walsh Moore.

      “We all have high emotions about not being able to be with our loved ones at the end of their life , but I’m wondering if the policy, the legislation … takes the work and takes the authority, really, away from the people who are closest to the situation, working with their patients, to make a determination as to how safe, or not, it is for others to come in when people are sick,” said Representative Yolanda Young (D-Kansas City)

      Republicans maintained that they worked with health care industry representatives in creating a bill that would answer their concerns while not jeopardizing safety in health care facilities. 

      “It’s done in a very prudent way.  It does not open up visitation in a free-for-all manner.  It’s thoughtful to where there’s only a handful of people that can get in off of a list and only a couple at a time, the facility can screen those folks, and so we can have the best of both worlds.  We can have the safety that’s required but we can also have those visitation rights that is so important to the folks who need us to come in to hold their hand, to be with them, to help them with their mental health and physical health by being there for them in person,” said Representative J. Eggleston (R-Maysville).

      The bill specifies that a patient’s list of visitors would include a spouse, or parents or guardians in the case of a child.  Facilities could still deny access to patients under specified circumstances including at the request of the patient or law enforcement; when a person has signs and symptoms of a transmissible infection; or when the attending physician believes the presence of visitors would be detrimental to the patient.  The bill’s provisions do not grant visitors access to restricted areas like operating rooms or behavioral health units. 

      The House voted 120-27 to send the bill to the Senate.