Second Regular Session Comes to a Close
The Second Regular Session of the 98th General Assembly officially adjourned last week at 6 p.m. on Friday, May 13. The final days of Session went by in a blur, as my fellow senators and I worked hard to move meaningful legislation forward to the governor’s desk for approval. I’m happy to report that the Senate was able to come together to advance some really wonderful bills that will make Missouri a brighter, more productive and safer state to call home.
The Missouri Civics Education Initiative
One of the main developments to come out of the previous weeks was the passage of one of my bills, Senate Bill 638, which establishes the Missouri Civics Education Initiative. This bill will improve the quality of high school education throughout the state by creating a standardized civics test all students must take before graduating. The test, which covers a variety of subjects over American civics, will be very similar to the test given to immigrants seeking citizenship. Any student entering the 9th grade after July 1, 2017 will be required to earn a passing grade on the test before graduation. They will also be allowed to take the test as many times as needed until a passing grade is achieved.
This Initiative is a positive addition to the Missouri education system, as it will improve our students’ basic knowledge of American civics, and hold them to the same standard to which our country holds its prospective citizens. In addition to the standardized test, SB 638 also enables school districts to develop individualized policies that allow their students to participate in the Constitution Project of the Missouri Supreme Court. The program, which began in 2013, is an interactive competition that enables high school students to gain hands-on experience in the fields of journalism, crime investigation and trial advocacy. Our students – and all American citizens for that matter – should have an understanding of how the state and federal legislative and judicial systems function. My Missouri Civics Education Initiative will ensure that current and future generations of up-and-coming Show-Me State residents will have that working knowledge, as well as a greater respect for American civics in general.
Protecting the Election Process From Fraud
In a hard-fought battle toward improving the honesty and integrity of the state election system, the General Assembly advanced House Bill 1631, which would require a person to submit a valid form of personal photo identification before being able to cast a ballot. Valid IDs include non-expired Missouri driver’s/non-driver’s licenses and military licenses. However, if the voter does not have a valid form of ID, he or she will still be able to vote provisionally. That person can also obtain a valid ID paid for by the state.
The goal of HB 1631 is to stop the threat of in-person voter fraud at the polls. Under this bill, fraudsters would not be able to misrepresent themselves and harm the integrity of the election process, which has happened in numerous cases across the country. This bill would not disenfranchise voters either, as many of its opponents have claimed. There are multiple options for those without photo IDs to utilize in order to have their votes cast and their voices heard.
The bill will not go into effect unless Missouri voters approve House Joint Resolution 53 once it is placed on a ballot as a constitutional amendment.
Protecting Yourself From Physical Danger
In a massive victory for Second Amendment rights, the General Assembly truly agreed and finally passed Senate Bill 656, which enacts comprehensive reforms to the state’s sheriff’s departments, self-defense laws, firearm rights and concealed carry permitting standards. In my opinion, the most important development to come out of this bill is the provision modifying Missourian’s “Duty to Retreat” obligations. Now citizens will be allowed to legally use deadly force in public areas to protect themselves from physical threats.
As a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association and an avid supporter of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, I personally believe that all U.S. residents have the right to protect themselves and their families from harm. SB 656 will allow Missourians to do just that. Previous state law only allowed the use of firearms for protection in private places like homes, cars or personal businesses. Under this new bill, that right will extend to public places such as parking garages and city alleyways. I’m proud of the General Assembly’s ability to come forward and allow Missourians to better protect themselves and their loved ones from harm.
House Bill 1568 was another important piece of legislation advanced this Session. This bill allows any licensed pharmacists to sell and dispense the prescription opioid antagonist naloxone under a doctor’s orders to help drug addicts with their recovery. The bill also creates immunity from criminal prosecution, disciplinary actions from a professional licensing board and civil liability for any individual who administers naloxone to a person they believe is suffering from an opioid addiction.
More importantly, HB 1568 will allow individuals to store and dispense naloxone without fear of criminal repercussions, if they do so without collecting compensation for their actions and are acting under a health care professional’s orders. This bill will allow an addict’s loved-ones to take care of them in times of severe need, when immediate treatment is necessary. By having naloxone on-hand and ready to be administered by parents, guardians and roommates, HB 1568 will help Missouri citizens prevent lives being claimed by deadly drug addiction. Serious problems often require quick actions – this bill will help save lives.
Addressing the Problem of Dyslexia
In order to combat a serious problem for many Missouri students around the state, the General Assembly worked together to develop a plan to target and treat dyslexia within the state school system. House Bill 2379 requires public schools to screen their students for the disorder and also establishes a statewide task force on dyslexia with the goal of better identifying, preventing and addressing the problems it can cause.
Dyslexia is a neurological disorder, affecting males and females equally, that is characterized by difficulties with reading, spelling and decoding abilities. This disorder can also be difficult to recognize in the open, and many students may unknowingly suffer from its effects, which hold them back from achieving academic success. This bill will create a task force of 17 members including individuals from the Legislature, the commissioner of education, educators and experts specialized in the disorder, to help combat this problem that affects around 70-80 percent of individuals with poor reading skills. House Bill 2379 will help us ensure that every student has the support they need to succeed in school.
Considering Waste Water Improvement
In an effort to protect the integrity of Missouri waterways, House Bill 1713 will require the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to inform municipalities and communities currently served by wastewater treatment systems about options to upgrade the existing infrastructure to meet discharge requirements.
Many areas in Missouri enter dangerous situations when violent weather arrives and floods already overloaded waste water systems. Cities and towns across the state are in need of improvements to old and failing collection systems that often flood during high rains and cause health and environmental damage. This bill will increase transparency between the public and the DNR when reviewing options for potential infrastructure improvements. Communities should have a say in the planning and development phases when public tax dollars are being used to fund public projects. This legislation will ensure all options are weighed by the people the decision will truly affect.
Small Business Withholdings
House Bill 1582 modifies withholding tax returns for small business by changing the aggregate amount withheld for quarterly returns from less than $20 to less than $100. This legislation will help ease the paperwork burden for small business owners who have the laborious job of filing tax withholdings multiple times a year. This bill increases the window of allowance for businesses to be allowed to file withholdings once a year, rather than four times a year, and will cut down a significant amount of stressful paperwork for Missouri entrepreneurs.
This was a productive legislative Session, and my fellow senators and I worked very hard to improve the lives of Missourians through the passage of quality legislation. We will continue to work during the interim on priority issues facing the state’s future.
It is an honor to be your State Senator and my door is always open to your concerns, questions or comments. Please feel free to contact me at (573) 751-2757 or visit my web page at www.senate.mo.gov/riddle.