After more than four months of hard work, late nights and lengthy discussions, the Missouri House of Representatives concluded the 2016 legislative session with a long list of accomplishments. The House and Senate worked together to approve a fiscally responsible spending plan that makes a record investment in K-12 education, significantly boosts funding for Missouri’s colleges and universities, and provides new spending to help improve and repair the state’s transportation infrastructure.
The legislature moved to protect the integrity of the elections process by implementing a system of voter identification, and approved legislation to root out waste, fraud, and abuse in the state’s welfare programs. Lawmakers also adopted several economic development measures to reduce bureaucratic red tape for Missouri’s small businesses, and attract conventions to the Show-Me State. Additionally, the legislature passed bills addressing issues ranging from suicide prevention to CPR instruction to tax relief for active duty members of the military.
With the completion of the regular session, the many bills passed by the General Assembly now head to the governor for his consideration. Legislators will next return to the State Capitol in September for the annual Veto Session when they will have the opportunity to consider overriding any vetoes made by the governor.
Some of the legislative highlights for the year include:
Fiscal Year 2017 State Operating Budget
The Missouri House and Senate agreed on a fiscally responsible $27.26 billion that makes record investments in K-12 education and boosts higher education funding to protect Missouri families from having to pay more in tuition. The budget also leaves money on the bottom line so that the state can meet its obligations in the event revenues don’t meet projections. The Fiscal Year 2017 state operating budget includes a $70.3 million increase for the Foundation Formula, which funds K-12 public schools, as well as a $5 million increase for K-12 transportation. The budget also includes a $37.2 million increase in performance funding for Missouri colleges and universities, and funding boosts to the state’s various scholarship programs. The spending plan that takes effect in July also invests $20 million to revive the state cost-share program to fund transportation pro.jects; appropriates $2.5 million for the Dairy Revitalization Act; provides a $4.55 million increase for business startups through the Missouri Technology Corporation; and allocates $6.46 million for the Alternatives to Abortion program
Voter ID (HB 1631 and HJR 53)
The House and Senate reached final agreement on two measures designed to require a valid form of photo identification in order to vote. One is a proposed constitutional amendment that will go on the November ballot for voter approval. The other is a statutory change that is now on the governor’s desk for his consideration.
HJR 53 will allow voters to decide if the Missouri Constitution should be changed to allow a system of voter identification. If approved by voters, HB 1631 would then implement the system of voter identification. The bill would require voters to present a specified form of identification in order to vote in a public election. Valid forms of identification would include photo IDs issued by the state, the federal government or the military. The bill also would require the state to pay for individuals to obtain a valid ID if they do not have one, or to obtain documents necessary for an ID. Additionally, the final version of the HB 1631 contains a provision that would allow a voter without a valid photo ID to vote with a regular ballot by showing another form of identification.
Overriding the Governor’s Budget Restrictions
For the first time in state history, the Missouri General Assembly successfully moved to override budget withholdings made by the governor. Voters approved Amendment 10 to the state constitution in 2014, which gives the legislature the authority to ensure programs receive funds that were appropriated by the General Assembly but then restricted by the governor. The legislature’s authority works in a similar fashion to its ability to override a gubernatorial veto and requires a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate. The Missouri House and Senate worked together to override the governor’s withholds of $575,000 for the Missouri Scholars Academy and the Missouri Fine Arts Academy, and $350,000 for the Brain Injury Waiver Fund.
Big Government Get Off My Back Act (HB 1870)
The General Assembly approved legislation meant to cut the bureaucratic red tape that too often stifles the growth of small businesses in Missouri. The bill revives the Big Government Get Off My Back Act for tax years 2016 through 2021.
The act originally ran from 2009 to 2014 and was instrumental in prohibiting new rules and regulations on small businesses, as well as unnecessary fee increases. The act also gives a $10,000 tax deduction for any small business, with 50 employees or less, that hires additional employees and pays them at least the average county wage. A business can claim a $20,000 deduction if it also pays for at least half of its employees’ health insurance premiums.
In its final year in 2014, the act provided tax relief to 196 small businesses throughout Missouri. Supporters hope to provide assistance to even more businesses by reviving the program.
Meet in Missouri Act (HB 1698)
Legislators approved a bill this session to give cities a new tool to help attract more conventions to the state. The General Assembly approved the Meet in Missouri Act to provide grants that will help large conventions that take place in Missouri to recover some of their costs.
Specifically, the act will authorize grants that would cover up to half the operating expenses of a large convention or $1 million, whichever is less. To be eligible, a convention would have to draw at least half of its attendees from out of state. In addition, the anticipated sales tax revenue generated by the event would have to exceed the grant amount. The program will have $3 million each year to award in the form of grants. The bill also includes safeguards to ensure the convention meets its attendance goals. If it falls short, it would have to refund a portion of the grant money.
Welfare Reform (SB 607)
Legislation is now on its way to the governor’s desk to allow the state to more efficiently and proficiently verify applicants and recipients of welfare services. The bill will allow the Missouri Department of Social Services to hire an outside vendor to conduct the verification process for applicants for the state’s various welfare programs such as the supplemental nutrition assistance program, temporary assistance for needy families, child care assistance, and MO HealthNet. The bill is meant to help the department ensure accuracy in the welfare rolls, which is a process it has admittedly fallen behind in performing. The bill has the added benefit of possibly saving the state more than $20 million over the next three years by eliminating waste and fraud from the system.
The legislation also creates the Joint Committee on Public Assistance to study, monitor, and review the efficacy of Missouri’s public assistance programs. The committee will also determine the level and adequacy of resources needed for the state’s programs, and develop recommendations on the public assistance programs and on promoting independence from safety net programs.
Helping Missouri’s Farmers (HCR 58, SB 844 and SB 641)
During the 2016 session the members of the Missouri House and Senate gave final approval to several pieces of legislation meant to support Missouri’s livestock owners and agricultural producers.
As it has done several times over the years, the Missouri General Assembly took action to reject a proposed tax increase on Missouri’s agricultural land. The House and Senate gave bipartisan support to HCR 58, which rejected a recommendation made by the Missouri Tax Commission for a five percent tax increase on farm and ranch properties.
Legislators also approved SB 844 to clarify that an animal owner is liable for damages done by the animal to another’s property only if the owner has been negligent. Currently, if horses, cattle, or other livestock break through a fence and cause damages to another’s property, the owner is strictly liable. Even in cases when the fence is torn down or broken by someone else, the owner of the animals is still liable under current law. The change approved by the General Assembly will relieve the animal owner from liability for damages when the animals were released because of the actions or fault of another.
SB 641 will allow a 100 percent income tax deduction for the amount of any income received as payment from any program that compensates agricultural producers who have suffered a loss as a result of a disaster or emergency. In effect, it will ensure farmers aren’t taxed on any disaster relief assistance they receive. Supporters said the change is necessary to allow farmers to benefit fully from the financial assistance they receive after an emergency or disaster.
Expert Witness Legislation (SB 591)
Another bill on the governor’s desk is meant to improve the reliability of expert evidence that is presented to juries in Missouri state courts. The bill would implement an established standard for determining when expert-witness testimony is admissible as evidence at trial. The proposed standard, commonly referred to as the Daubert standard after a 1993 U.S. Supreme Court case, is used in federal courts and in more than two-thirds of the states. Under this standard, the trial judge acts as a gatekeeper to ensure that “expert” testimony is based on “sufficient facts or data” and is the product of “reliable principles and methods.” Currently in Missouri, judges admit expert testimony if it is based on facts that are “reasonably relied upon by experts in the field.”
School Funding Bill (SBs 586 & 651)
Immediately after the governor vetoed a school funding bill, the General Assembly acted to override his veto and put the bill into effect as law. The legislation will reinstitute a cap on the amount the state needs to provide each year to the foundation formula that funds public schools in Missouri. The change to Missouri law, which will take effect at the beginning of the new fiscal year in July, will limit the growth of the funding formula. Specifically, it will put a five percent cap in place to control the rate at which the formula increases. Under current law, the funding formula increases each year, and even as the legislature increases school funding, it continues to falls short of the amount called for by the formula. Supporters say putting the cap back in place will give the legislature a realistic and attainable goal to fully fund the formula in future years, which will have positive results for schools, students, and the state.
A+ School Expansion (SB 638)
The legislature gave final approval to legislation that will expand the state’s A+ Scholarship Program to be available to private school students in Missouri. Currently, the program provides scholarship funds to eligible graduates of A+ designated high schools who attend a participating public community college or vocational/technical school, or certain private two-year vocational/technical schools. The legislation approved by the General Assembly will make the scholarship program available to students in participating private schools.
Career and Technical Education (SBs 620 & 582)
Another bill that crossed the legislative finish line in 2016 is meant to better prepare young people for success after high school. The legislation requires the state Board of Education to establish minimum graduation requirements for a Career and Technical Education certificate that a student can earn in addition to their high school diploma.
Under the legislation, the State Board of Education and the Career and Technical Education Advisory Council will establish minimum requirements for a CTE certificate. Each local school district will determine the curriculum, programs of study, and course offerings based on the needs and interests of students in the district, and the state education department will develop a process for recognition of a school district’s CTE certificate program. Students entering high school in the 2017-2018 academic year and thereafter will be eligible for a CTE certificate.
Civics Education (HB 1646 and SB 638)
Legislation to promote American history and civics education in Missouri classrooms is now on its way to the governor’s desk to be signed into law. The bill will create the Missouri Civics Education Initiative to require students in public, charter, and private high schools to receive a passing grade on a standardized civics test in order to graduate. Exams will consist of the same 100 questions used on the civics portion of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services’ U.S. Naturalization test that is taken by immigrants looking to gain American citizenship. If signed into law, all students entering ninth grade after July 1, 2017, would be required to receive a passing grade on the civics test. Supporters say ensuring a thorough knowledge of the country’s history and system of government is a key first step in creating an engaged and active citizenry that will vote and take active roles in the political process.
School Anti-Bullying Policies (HB 1583)
In order to better protect students from bullying, the Missouri House and Senate approved legislation to strengthen the requirements for anti-bullying policies put in place by Missouri school districts. The bill will require that schools investigate a report of bullying within two school days, and conclude the investigation within 10 school days. The bill also requires school districts to adopt a procedure for reporting acts of bullying, and a process for discussing the anti-bullying policy with children and training school employees. Additionally, the bill defines cyber-bullying and states that any school district can subject a student to discipline for cyber-bullying.
Youth Suicide Prevention (HB 1583)
House and Senate members approved legislation during the 2016 session that will allow licensed educators to annually complete up to two hours of training in youth suicide awareness and prevention as part of the professional development hours required for certification. The bill requires the state education department to develop guidelines for the training. The legislation also requires that each school district adopt a policy to address strategies that can help identify students who are at possible risk of suicide.
create a memorandum of understanding that will contain detailed policies and protocols regarding sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.
Active Duty Military Member Tax Relief (SB 814)
The General Assembly approved legislation this session to ease the state income tax burden on active duty members of the military. SB 814 will allow active duty Missouri residents who are stationed within the state to deduct any military income from their gross state taxable totals. Under current law, in-state service men and women have to file military incomes on their state tax returns. Members overwhelmingly supported the change to better repay members of the military for their service, and to make Missouri a more military-friendly state overall.
Interchangeable Biological Medications (SB 875)
The Missouri House and Senate gave final approval to legislation to proactively update Missouri’s pharmaceutical laws to provide citizens with better access to effective medications. The goal of the bill is to give Missourians more affordable access to interchangeable biological products, which are similar in nature to the generic versions of traditional medications. The products are used in the treatment of chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and various forms of cancer. Missouri law currently allows for the safe substitution of generic medications, but the law does not allow for the substitution of biological drug products. The legislation approved by the General Assembly will simply update Missouri’s law to allow for the safe substitution of interchangeable biosimilar medications. It’s a move that 20 states have already made to improve access to these affordable medications that have been proven to be safe by rigorous FDA testing.
Step Therapy (HB 2029)
Missourians with chronic illnesses would have better access to the medications they need under legislation approved by the Missouri General Assembly this session. The legislation is designed to prevent redundant “step therapy” so that patients who switch health insurance benefits are not forced to try medications that have already proven to be ineffective before being allowed to use medication that works. With step therapy, a patient will first use the most cost-effective and safest medication and, if it is not effective, will then move to a more costly therapy. Step therapy has been an effective process, but becomes an issue when a patient tries several medications to find one that is effective, but then has to start the process all over again when changing insurance providers. The legislation approved by the legislature simply ensures that a patient will not have to go through the process of trying multiple medications again simply because of an insurance change. In effect, it makes it so the medicine prescribed by the patient’s doctor is the medicine the patient is allowed to take.
Overdose Medication (HB 1568)
The legislature approved legislation meant to provide lifesaving support for heroin and opiate overdose victims. The bill will allow pharmacists to sell Naloxone, which is an antidote for heroin overdoses, without a prescription. The General Assembly approved legislation in 2014 that put Naloxone in the hands of qualified first responders. The bill passed this year will place the lifesaving medication in the hands of family or friends who can save the life of a loved one who overdoses on opiates.
Medicaid Asset Caps (HB 1565)
The House and Senate approved legislation this session that will implement more reasonable asset limits for elderly and disabled Missourians who hope to qualify for Medicaid. Current law allows an individual to have only $1,000 in assets to qualify for Medicaid assistance. A married couple has an asset limit of $2,000. The bill approved by the General Assembly will steadily increase these limits to $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a couple by 2021. After that, the limits will continue to be modified to reflect cost-of-living adjustments. Supporters say the current limits, which have not been changed in 40 years, prevent some of Missouri’s most vulnerable citizens from having enough in savings to adequately provide for themselves, or pay for things like emergency car or home repairs.
Adoptee Rights Act (HB 1599)
The Missouri General Assembly gave final approval to legislation that will strengthen the rights of adoptees in Missouri. The Missouri Adoptee Rights Act is meant provide an easier process for an adopted individual to obtain a copy of his or her original birth certificate.
Under current law, files and records that provide identifying information about an adoptee’s biological parents are closed except by order of the court or by mutual decision of the birth parents and the adoptee. The Missouri Adoptee Rights Act will allow an adoptee who is at least 18 years of age and born in Missouri to file a written application to the state registrar to obtain the original certificate of birth. The bill also gives the birth parents the right to file statements indicating they do not want to be contacted by the adoptee. If both parents indicate they would prefer not to be contacted, a copy of the original birth certificate will not be released. If just one parent wishes to not be contacted, his or her identifying information will be redacted from the copy of the birth certificate before it is released.
Fighting Human Traffickers (HB 1562)
This legislative session the General Assembly gave approval to legislation designed to help stop the multi-billion dollar criminal industry of human trafficking. The legislation will expand the crime of sexual trafficking of a child to include the advertisement of a child participating in a commercial sexual act. Similar to the federal SAVE Act that is now law, the legislation will give law enforcement another tool to investigate and prosecute those who knowingly advertise the victims of sex trafficking.
Missouri has been proactive in its approach to stop traffickers. It was in 2004 that Missouri became one of the first states in the nation to put sex trafficking laws in place. The bill approved by the General Assembly this year is an important part of the comprehensive approach the legislature wants to take to fight human trafficking in Missouri.
Expungement (SB 588)
The legislature took action this session to provide a second chance to people with criminal records for minor offenses. Current law requires an individual to wait 20 years after completing their sentence for a felony offense before they can petition a judge to have their record expunged. Those who commit misdemeanor offenses have to wait 10 years before their records can be sealed. With the legislation now set to become law, the wait time for expungement will be lowered to seven years for felony offenders and three years for individuals guilty of misdemeanor crimes. The expungement process would not be available to individuals guilty of serious crimes such as violent sex offenses or kidnapping. Supporters of the proposal say it will give individuals who are reformed an opportunity to obtain a job. They also note that prosecutors and law enforcement will still be able to access the sealed records of those who have utilized the expungement process.
Rescuing the Forgotten (HB 1649)
The Missouri House and Senate approved legislation this session to expand Missouri’s Good Samaritan law to allow conscientious citizens to break into a hot vehicle in order to rescue a forgotten child. Known as the “Rescue the Forgotten” bill, the legislation is similar to law already in place in other states such as Tennessee. In effect, the bill will protect individuals for damages caused while trying to rescue a child in danger.
Daily Fantasy Sports (HB 1941)
Daily fantasy sports games like FanDuel and DraftKings will now be regulated in Missouri under legislation approved by the General Assembly. The measure exempts fantasy sports from the state’s gambling law, but provides the Missouri Gaming Commission with licensing authority and oversight of daily fantasy sports operators. The bill requires fantasy sports sites to pay an annual licensing fee, and pay an annual operation fee of 11.5 percent of net revenues. The bill also sets a minimum age requirement of 18 to participate in daily fantasy sports, and put several consumer protection measures in place.