Representative Ed Lewis's Capitol Report

March 25, 2024

Missouri House Concludes First Half of Session

We completed the first half of the legislative session in the Missouri House of Representatives with the passage of several legislative priorities. As members headed into the mid-session break, they were able to approve bills giving parents more control over their children’s educational options, improving public safety, creating more accessible childcare options, and safeguarding the integrity of the elections process. The priorities passed during the final week before the break join a long list of legislative accomplishments produced by the House.

In total, the House approved and sent nearly 40 pieces of legislation to the Senate before the break. Among those bills is HB 2134 sponsored by Representative Ed Lewis. This bill is designed to protect Randolph County Residents from the unregulated and unsafe practices which resulted in the empty basin east of Cairo. This bill is in the Senate and will have its first hearing on that side of the General Assembly on Tuesday at 8:45 am.

Having had a week off for mid-session break, House members will focus their efforts on approving the Fiscal Year 2025 state operating budget. The state spending plan must be approved by both the House and Senate by Friday, May 10. The House and Senate also will work to pass a number of other legislative priorities before the session concludes on Friday, May 17.

Some of the other bills approved by the House during the first half of the 2024 legislative session include:

Open Enrollment

HB 1989 would prioritize school choice and open enrollment, aiming to empower families in choosing the best education for their children. The bill allows K-12 public schools to accept students from neighboring districts, aiming to improve educational quality, parental involvement, and access to programs. It includes a three percent cap on student transfers annually and establishes the Parent Public School Choice Fund with an $80 million appropriation for transportation and special needs education. This bill would allow districts the option to opt into the program and that state funds follow the student, while local funds remain within the district. The decision-making process remains with the receiving district, aiming to provide choice within the public school system.

Reducing Regulatory Burden

HB 1960, known as the Regulatory Sandbox Act, aims to alleviate regulatory burdens to foster innovation and entrepreneurship. It establishes a Regulatory Relief Office within the Department of Economic Development, allowing businesses to apply for exemptions from certain state laws or regulations for a two-year period. The bill sponsor highlighted the need for an alternative mechanism for innovators and entrepreneurs to navigate regulatory obstacles, given the substantial regulatory burden in Missouri. The act aims to remove entry barriers for businesses, particularly benefiting entrepreneurs and small businesses, fostering economic growth and innovation.

Protecting Children’s Identities

HB 1720 allows for the closure of records under the Sunshine Law containing personally identifiable information of minors aged 17 and under, held by public governmental bodies, except when requested by the Division of Labor Standards. This measure is seen as a significant step for public safety, aiming to protect minors by safeguarding their personally identifiable information and identities.

EV Charging Station Changes

HB 1511 mandates that cities and counties cover the costs of electric vehicle chargers when requiring businesses to install them. The legislation shifts the financial responsibility of installation, maintenance, and operation of these chargers to the municipalities imposing the requirement. The bill sets a limit of five stations per parking lot with more than 30 spaces. The sponsor argued that mandating businesses to install chargers is burdensome and infringes on their freedoms.

Moratoriums on Evictions

HB 2062 prohibits counties, municipalities, or political subdivisions from implementing eviction moratoriums unless permitted by state law. The bill aims to safeguard property rights and ensure consistency in eviction regulations statewide. Supporters argue that eviction moratoriums disrupt landlord-tenant contracts and emphasize that eviction is governed by state law, but the intent is not to force renters out but to establish a uniform rule for all in the state. The legislation responds to local agencies halting evictions during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and addresses concerns about the impact of moratoriums on landlords. Overall, the bill seeks to strike a balance between protecting property rights and maintaining the stability of the landlord-tenant relationship.

Improving Public Safety

The Missouri House passed HB 1659, a comprehensive bill aimed at reducing crime in the state, which has now been sent to the Senate. The bill includes provisions addressing juvenile treatment in the legal system, combating online harassment and stalking, and introducing "Blair's Law" to penalize celebratory gunfire. Notably, the bill incorporates provisions from a previously vetoed bill, SB 189, with Governor Mike Parson expressing support for several retained measures. Key components of HB 1659 include changes to juvenile certification hearings and the establishment of a task force to address cyberstalking and harassment. Additionally, the bill introduces Blair's Law to address celebratory gunfire, increases penalties for assaulting law enforcement animals, and expands definitions of persistent offenders. It also allows prosecutors to file motions to vacate judgments and creates new felony offenses related to controlled substance delivery. Furthermore, the bill permits cities and counties to establish civilian oversight entities for police agencies and creates a fund to support local offices of the State Public Defender. Overall, the early transmission of HB 1659 to the Senate reflects the House's prioritization of crime prevention efforts.

Boosting Childcare Through Tax Credits

The Missouri House swiftly passed a tax credit package aimed at alleviating the state's childcare crisis. The bill proposes tax credits for childcare providers, donors to daycare centers, and businesses covering employee childcare costs, addressing the workforce shortage and serving as an economic development tool. HB 1488 outlines three parts:

Child Care Contribution Tax Credit Act: Offers taxpayers a 75% tax credit for childcare contributions, capped at $20 million annually, with a 15% increase for contributions in "childcare deserts."

Employer Provided Child Care Assistance Tax Credit Act: Provides a 30% tax credit for businesses assisting with childcare costs, also capped at $20 million annually with the same increase for contributions in "childcare deserts."

Child Care Providers Tax Credit Act: Allows childcare providers to claim tax credits for withholding tax and capital expenditures, capped at $20 million annually with the same increase for contributions in "childcare deserts."

The bill is estimated to cost up to $70 million and is valid for six years for assessment of its impact on economic growth and tax revenue.

Initiative Petition Reform

HB 1749 proposes significant changes to the state's initiative petition and referendum process. The bill aims to amend the Constitution by introducing specific formatting standards and imposing new requirements for petition circulators, such as U.S. citizenship or Missouri residency. It prohibits payment to signature gatherers on a per-signature basis and standardizes petition signature pages. Key provisions include setting deadlines for challenges to ballot titles, establishing residency requirements for circulators, and limiting participation to Missouri residents. The bill emphasizes efficiency and integrity by standardizing approval procedures, including review by state officials and advance submission of sample sheets.

Boosted Funding for MOBUCK$ Program

The Missouri House passed HB 1803 with strong bipartisan support to bolster local lenders and stimulate economic growth. The bill aims to increase the aggregate investment amount for the MOBUCK$ program, administered by the Treasurer's Office, which assists local lenders in reducing interest rates for eligible buyers in Missouri. The proposed $400 million augmentation addresses the program's overwhelming demand and the need to counter inflation. Collaborating with the State Treasurer's office, the bill sponsor aims to expand the program's capacity to meet increasing demand. MOBUCK$ operates as a linked deposit program, allowing institutions to access funds at reduced interest rates, benefiting qualified borrowers by decreasing interest rates by 2-3 percent. The passage of HB 1803 signifies a commitment to providing vital financial support to Missouri's farmers, small businesses, and citizens amidst economic challenges and inflation.

Removing Mandatory County Seat Requirements

The Missouri House unanimously approved House Bill 1909, aiming to modernize local governance by eliminating the mandatory requirement for county committees to convene within the county seat before primary elections. This reform addresses geographical challenges in counties where the county seat may not be centrally located. HB 1909 also removes the stipulation regarding the meeting location designation by the St. Louis city committee chair.

Creating Fairer Taxation

HB 2430 would address concerns regarding increasing assessed values of motor vehicles. The bill proposes adjustments to personal property assessment procedures, aiming to align them more closely with real estate practices and potentially lower personal property taxes for residents. Specifically, it addresses anomalies in vehicle value assessments, ensuring that increases from the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Official Used Car Guide are not counted as new construction for personal property. The changes aim to create a fairer and more accurate representation of property values, potentially relieving tax burdens on residents.

Protecting Children and Vulnerable Persons from Trafficking and Exploitation Top of Form

The House passed HBs 1706 & 1539 with a vote of 143-1 to combat sex and human trafficking and protect vulnerable individuals. The legislation establishes the "Statewide Council Against Adult Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children." in the Attorney General’s Office. This piece of legislation was added in committee from Representative Ed Lewis’ HB 1450. These bodies aim to coordinate efforts, establish training guidelines, and enhance penalties for offenders. The bill mandates training for various professionals and expands the admissibility of statements from children and vulnerable persons in criminal proceedings. It also imposes restitution fees for individuals convicted of specified sexual offenses to support anti-trafficking efforts statewide.

Preventing Medicaid Funding Going to Abortion Providers

The Missouri House passed HB 2634, aimed at preventing abortion clinics from receiving Medicaid reimbursements. The bill makes it illegal for public funds, including Medicaid reimbursements, to support abortion facilities or their affiliates. It grants taxpayers and the Attorney General the right to enforce these provisions. Additionally, the bill amends existing statutes to require MO HealthNet participants to obtain services only from qualified providers and prohibits reimbursement to abortion facilities under the "Uninsured Women's Health Program." This move aligns with the state's majority party's efforts to limit abortion providers' access to Medicaid funds and follows Attorney General Andrew Bailey's lawsuit against Planned Parenthood Great Plains.

Emergency Funding to Support Border Security Initiative

The Missouri House approved a supplemental appropriations bill to provide emergency funds for deploying members of the Missouri National Guard to the U.S. southern border. Governor Parson activated 200 Missouri National Guard members and 22 Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers to support Texas Governor Greg Abbott's Operation Lone Star initiative. The bill, receiving bipartisan support, allocates $2.3 million to cover expenses related to emergency duties performed by the National Guard under the Governor's orders, including personal service and equipment expenses.

Advancing STEM Education and Career Development Opportunities

The Missouri House passed HB 1569, a comprehensive education and workforce development bill aimed at bolstering opportunities in STEM education and career-technical certificate programs. Key provisions include the introduction of STEM grants of up to $2000, reimbursement for tuition and fees through the Career-Tech Certificate Program, increased financial aid under the Access Missouri Financial Assistance Program, granting course credit for International Baccalaureate Examinations, and expanding eligibility for the Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant. This legislation reflects Missouri's commitment to investing in its future by prioritizing STEM education and providing pathways to success in high-demand industries, fostering innovation, economic growth, and upward mobility for all Missourians.

Protecting Belief-Based Student Associations

HB 1518 seeks to safeguard the rights of religious student groups in public universities. The legislation clarifies terms like "adverse action" and "belief-based student association," preventing discrimination against such groups and ensuring their fair treatment. HB 1518 prohibits public universities from withholding benefits from belief-based student associations available to other groups or discriminating against them based on their requirements for leaders to adhere to sincerely held beliefs. Belief-based student associations are empowered to pursue recourse if they believe a public institution has violated the bill's provisions. This move upholds First Amendment rights, protecting belief-based groups of all ideologies on college campuses and fostering an inclusive environment where all student groups can thrive.

Expanding Regulation of Solid Waste Disposal Sites

HB 1751 aims to block the construction of a landfill near a subdivision in the Kansas City area. This initiative is the second attempt in two years to thwart the proposed facility, citing environmental concerns and potential impacts on property values. The bill seeks to impose stricter regulations on waste disposal facility development near the Kansas City border, requiring municipal approval from neighboring jurisdictions within a one-mile radius of landfill sites situated in neighboring cities before state environmental permits can be issued. Legislators representing the area expressed concerns over potential pollution of the surrounding watershed and adverse effects on property values, emphasizing that the proposed landfill is unnecessary given the existing eight landfills in the Kansas City area.

Upholding Landlords' Rights in Rental Assistance Programs

The Missouri House passed HB 2385 with a vote of 103-33, aiming to protect landlords' rights in rental assistance programs. The bill prevents counties or cities from mandating landlords to accept rental payments from tenants using federal housing assistance programs. It allows landlords to refuse renting to individuals whose rent includes funds from such programs, enabling them to make informed decisions about their properties without local government interference. Supporters emphasized landlords' financial risks and autonomy in managing their properties. The bill's passage reflects a commitment to safeguarding landlords' rights and promoting a thriving rental market in Missouri.

Building Permit Reform Act to Empower Homeowners

The Building Permit Reform Act aims to simplify the permitting process for homeowners undertaking construction or renovation projects. The bill prohibits political subdivisions from requiring licenses or certifications for homeowners doing their own work, sets timeframes for permit inspections, limits permit renewal fees, and establishes penalties for unpermitted work. It balances regulatory compliance with property owner rights, allowing homeowners to enhance their properties without excessive interference. The legislation aims to provide prompt safety inspections and transparent feedback, empowering individuals to address property issues independently.

Honors Our Veterans

Missouri is reaffirming its commitment to honoring veterans by establishing a program to recognize their service. Through HB 1496, veterans of specific military operations are entitled to receive medallions, medals, and certificates of appreciation. This bipartisan initiative reflects a collective effort to express gratitude and commemorate the sacrifices made by veterans who served honorably during pivotal periods in the nation's history. By extending honors to veterans regardless of age at enlistment or service location, Missouri emphasizes its unwavering commitment to acknowledging and honoring the contributions of its veterans for generations to come.

The Legislature recently completed the first half of the legislative session. The session ends Friday, May 17th.