Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with additional details.
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri General Assembly recently concluded its annual veto session as well as an additional extraordinary session.
Ultimately, the legislature as a whole chose not to override any of the governor’s vetoes, although the House of Representatives did vote to overturn a few line item vetoes in the state’s 2019 operating budget. The Senate confirmed several gubernatorial appointees, and the legislature passed bills dealing with STEM education and drug treatment courts.
The STEM education bill approved by the legislature, House Bill 3, will allow high school students to take a computer science course, as a substitute for one mathematics, science or practical arts course, to fulfill part of their graduation requirements. It also allows for funding to train computer science instructors and creates a STEM Career Awareness Program for middle school students.
Supporters of the bill hope it will fill a growing demand for workers in computer science and related fields.
“Here in Missouri, 10,000 computer science jobs go unfilled every year because of a lack of graduates in those fields,” Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, said.
Others voiced concerns that allowing students to swap math for computer science will leave graduates unprepared for the rigors of college-level math. Supporters of the bill argued computer science and math are overlapping disciplines, and so substituting one for the other will not harm a student’s education, especially when the substitution is only for one course.
“Three credits in math,” Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, said, referencing current high school graduation requirements. “One of those credits can be substituted for a vocational training course. Another one of those credits can be substituted by taking an agricultural course. And now that third credit in math can be substituted by taking computer science.”
House Bill 3 contains a provision requiring a student to be “on track” to complete math and science courses that require and end-of-course evaluation under the Missouri school improvement plan, so it’s not clear high school students would be able to forego math entirely and still graduate.
The General Assembly also approved House Bill 2, expanding the state’s drug court system, which helps offenders suffering from addiction become productive members of society. Studies have shown these types of programs lower recidivism rates, leading some lawmakers to support them on the basis of fiscal responsibility.
Under House Bill 2, Missouri’s alternative courts, such as drug and family courts, will be consolidated under one banner: that of “treatment” courts.
“Because treatment courts work,” Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, said. “As we heard in committee, a 49 percent reduction in recidivism rate if you’re looking at it, as defined, as it is, as the individual not coming back and being arrested for a felony offense.”
State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, proposed an amendment to the bill establishing separate courts for mental-health-related offenses. Some supporters of the bill as written argued mental health courts were unnecessary, as mental health already falls under the larger umbrella of “treatment” and is often a concurrent factor in many drug and substance abuse cases.
Nasheed’s amendment was voted down before the Senate gave its final approval to the bill.
During the week’s veto session, the Senate officially welcomed a new member: Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City. Arthur, who won a special election for the seat vacated by former Sen. Ryan Silvey in June, was sworn into office by Missouri Supreme Court Judge Mary Russell.