Missouri Senate begins 2019 legislative session

Last week, lawmakers officially convened the 100th Missouri General Assembly


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Lawmakers returned to the State Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 9, to begin the 2019 legislative session, marking the official start of the 100th Missouri General Assembly.

In the Missouri Senate, nine new senators took the oath of office following the results of the November election. Eight senators returned for a second term after winning re-election.

The Senate also selected a new president pro tem, Sen. Dave Schatz, a Republican from Sullivan.

After the first day of session, lawmakers from both the House and Senate participated in the traditional Grand March and Legislative Ball in the Capitol rotunda.

In the coming weeks, legislative committees will begin meeting to evaluate some of the hundreds of bills and resolutions filed by lawmakers so far.

The president pro tem said one of his goals this session is to evaluate alternative sources for transportation funding following voters’ rejection of a fuel tax increase in November.

“I think that we see deferred maintenance is going to continue to cost more at the end of the day,” Schatz said. “But I think it’s going to be challenging. But there could be some new revenue streams that we could look at and have those conversations that may be able to help us fill that gap that we feel is there.”

The Senate’s minority floor leader, Sen. Gina Walsh, a Democrat from Bellefontaine Neighbors, expressed optimism about this year’s legislative session.

“I believe this session is going to be calmer and more focused, not just because of some issues that were put to rest on the second floor, but because we have put other issues to rest, and the people have spoken on right to work, Clean Missouri, the minimum wage,” Walsh said. “And I think that, as a body, we should respect the will of the people moving forward.”

The 2019 legislative session will conclude on Friday, May 17.

Missouri legislature concludes veto and extraordinary sessions

The General Assembly approved bills relating to STEM education and state treatment courts

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.

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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.


Previewing the Missouri legislature’s veto and extraordinary sessions

Lawmakers are set to consider a new STEM education program and reforms to drug treatment courts

Language for this article originally appeared in a legislative column for Missouri Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, drafted by Zachary Reger.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A few weeks ago, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson called for an extraordinary session of the Missouri General Assembly to deal with two ongoing legislative issues: STEM education and drug treatment courts.

On Monday, the legislature convened for the extraordinary session, which is currently set to conclude on Friday. On Wednesday, in the midst of the extraordinary session, the legislature will also conduct its annual veto session, when lawmakers consider whether to override any of the governor’s legislative vetoes.

While lawmakers are gathered in Jefferson City, several legislative committees will also meet to address various concerns.

Article IV, Section 9, of the Missouri Constitution grants the governor the power to call the General Assembly into an extraordinary session, so named because it occurs outside of the regular legislative session that runs from January to May of each year. Traditionally, the governor has only exercised this power when there is a pressing need for the legislature to address a certain matter before the start of a new regular session.

One goal of this extraordinary session is to consider a career awareness program for students interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, often abbreviated as “STEM.” The legislature will also weigh an expansion of Missouri’s drug treatment courts, which seek to rehabilitate offenders suffering from drug addiction.

The extraordinary session is an effort by the governor to avoid a straight override of two of his vetoes. Parson vetoed Senate Bill 894, which deals with STEM education, after it appeared certain provisions were narrowly tailored to apply to a single company — illegal under Missouri law. He vetoed House Bill 2562, which reforms the state’s drug treatment courts, under the justification that the bill unconstitutionally deals with multiple subjects.

The extraordinary session gives the General Assembly an opportunity to address the governor’s concerns on these bills by passing replacement legislation, as opposed to simply overriding the vetoes with a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and House of Representatives.


Missouri receives grace period extension for Real ID compliance

State-issued IDs may be used for federal purposes until Jan. 22, 2018

Language for this article is taken from a press release from Missouri Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, drafted by Zachary Reger.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The United States Department of Homeland Security has extended the grace period for Missouri to make the switch to federally-compliant forms of personal identification. State-issued IDs, such as a Missouri driver license, may now be used for federal purposes until Jan. 22, 2019.

In 2005, Congress passed the Real ID Act, enacting new federal standards for state-issued identification cards following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The act was aimed at strengthening national security at airports, military bases and various other federal facilities, but some critics raised privacy concerns over its document retention requirement.

Since then, many states have begun the process of switching to more secure forms of identification. Last year, the Missouri General Assembly approved House Bill 151, later signed into law, making future state licenses automatically compliant with Real ID unless an applicant specifically requests a noncompliant license.

According to the Department of Revenue, Missouri has applied for a full extension, through Oct. 10, 2019, for issuing federally-compliant licenses — a request which may still be granted at a later date. The department says it will not be able to issue compliant identification until March 2019.

Missouri Capitol construction continues

The $40 million project will conclude by January 2021

This article was originally posted to the Missouri Senate website.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Construction work continues on the State Capitol building as the Missouri General Assembly stands adjourned during the summer months.

The $40 million project, which began in March, will modernize the stonework of the building’s façades, dome and drum before the governor’s inauguration in January 2021. The Capitol’s south lawn serves as a staging zone for the construction, with scaffolding covering the building at multiple locations.

During construction, eastbound traffic on Capitol Drive has been diverted onto West Main Street, while westbound traffic has condensed from two lanes to one.

As of June 28, work is well underway on the Senate wing of the Capitol’s exterior. From there, workers will move counterclockwise toward the east façade, gradually making their way around the building.

On the south portico, the area of the building beneath the central columns, workers are busy removing damaged stonework in preparation for the arrival of new replacement stone, selected by the Missouri State Capitol Commission to match the color and consistency of the original material. Construction crews have caulked and ground the portico’s joints to ready it for the fresh stonework.

On the east terrace, crews are working to waterproof the stone. The terrace’s treads and balustrades — that is, the step bases and stair railings, respectively — have been entirely removed. The pointing and pinning of the base-level stone is almost finished, and workers have poured new concrete around the first-floor entrance.

Construction on Monument Plaza, directly north of the Capitol, has also advanced. The Liberty Bell pavilion slab is undergoing repairs, and a new curb is being installed to better blend with the area’s aesthetic. To address flooding, a new drain box has been positioned near the Veterans Memorial.

Work on the Capitol and surrounding grounds will continue in the coming years. Updated construction pictures, photographed at regular intervals, are available on the Missouri Senate website, allowing interested citizens to keep track of the project’s progress.

Missouri legislature approves prevailing wage reform

House Bill 1729 awaits the governor’s consideration

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — During the final week of the 2018 legislative session, the Missouri General Assembly approved a bill limiting the circumstances under which the state’s prevailing wage statutes apply.

Prevailing wage laws guarantee a minimum hourly rate for workers on public construction projects. The specific rate varies by county and the type of work performed.

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The measure, House Bill 1729, eliminates the prevailing wage for any project costing $75,000 or less, but not for occupations in localities with at least 1,000 reportable work hours.

The final language represents a compromise between opposing sides. Several assembly members wanted to go further, with some even advocating a full repeal of the state’s prevailing wage.

The bill’s supporters say prevailing wage doesn’t make sense for small-scale projects in poorer communities. When a district wants to build a new school, for example, making them pay above market-value for construction work is inefficient and costly to taxpayers, they argue. At worst, it could even price the community out of building a new school in the first place, especially during lean budget years.

“Now more than ever is the time to reform how we pay for public construction,” said state Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, “so that the municipalities and schools and cities will be able to have the resources they need to do needed construction projects.”

Those who stand by the existing prevailing wage law, however, believe it protects Missouri workers from out-of-state contractors. With only the relatively low floor of the state and federal minimum wages, which are far below most prevailing wages, large companies could easily out-bid smaller, local contractors.

What’s more, they argue, prevailing wage is never an exorbitant cost, as rates are calculated based on a specific area’s needs. In poorer communities, the prevailing wage won’t be nearly as high as in a wealthy suburb.

“Missouri contractors first. That’s how I’ve always been, and that’s how it should be,” said state Sen. Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, the minority floor leader. “They’re citizens of the state. They pay taxes. The money they generate through the work they do stays in the state. And that’s how I want it to continue.”

House Bill 1729 awaits consideration from Republican Gov. Mike Parson, who is expected to sign it into law. Should he instead veto the legislation, lawmakers will have an opportunity to override the decision during an extraordinary session in September. A two-thirds vote in both the Senate and House of Representatives is required to reverse a governor’s veto.

Public-sector union reform heads to Missouri governor’s desk

House Bill 1413 limits the power of some collective-bargaining units

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri General Assembly last week approved legislation tightening restrictions on public-sector labor unions.

Under the proposal, House Bill 1413, government employees must annually authorize paycheck withholdings for union dues. Additionally, public-sector unions would need prior authorization before using a member’s dues to fund political activity.

Proponents of the measure say it will hold public-sector unions more accountable to their members.

“This is a common-sense labor reform bill to make unions — government unions, specifically — more accountable,” said Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis. “I think it’s a big victory for the state of Missouri.”

The bill’s opponents, however, say it will hinder the ability of unions to bargain in employees’ favor.

“I just wonder, at what point do we get to where we’ll say ‘enough is enough,'” said Sen. Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis, who serves as secretary-treasurer for the Missouri AFL-CIO. “All of the power doesn’t need to be on one side of the bargaining table.”

House Bill 1413 awaits consideration from Republican Gov. Eric Greitens, who is expected to sign it into law.