The last week of the 2020 legislative session is quickly approaching, and my colleagues and I have been working hard with our fellow legislators in the House to pass our legislative priorities before the end of session.
SAFE Kits Legislation Reaches House of Representatives
This week, I had the pleasure of presenting Senate Bill 569 to the House Children and Families Committee. Senate Bill 569 strengthens investigations and prosecution of rapists and sexual abusers by adding much-needed reforms to the handling, tracking and processing of sexual assault forensic evidence (SAFE) kits in Missouri.
The Missouri attorney general’s SAFE Kits Initiative Inventory Report found that more than 6,000 SAFE kits –nearly 90 percent of Missouri’s backlogged rape kits – remain untested. Even more concerning is some of the thousands of SAFE kits found to be untested are located in St. Louis County hospitals and municipal police departments. From my perspective, each one of these kits represents a person who deserves to have their kit tested and their case investigated.
In addition to the SAFE kit tracking system, Senate Bill 812 was added to SB 569. This language establishes the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights, which includes rights and protections for survivors of sexual assault during any medical examination and interactions with law enforcement, the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney. Senate Bill 951 was also added to SB 569. This language establishes the Justice for Survivors Act, which directs the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to establish a statewide telehealth network to provide forensic exams for victims of sexual assault.
I firmly believe this legislation will further help protect victims of sexual assault and give them the resources they need to bring justice to their case. I am hopeful that it will cross the legislative finish line before the end of the 2020 legislative session and make it to the governor’s desk.
Fresh Start Act of 2020
On Thursday, April 30, the Missouri Senate passed House Bill 2046, which included language from my Senate Bill 647, the Fresh Start Act of 2020. This legislation states that an individual cannot be disqualified from practicing in an occupation that requires a license solely or in part because of a previous conviction of a crime, unless the crime is directly related to the responsibilities and duties of the licensed occupation.
I believe it is difficult enough for individuals with convictions to re-enter society and find a job. This legislation is about second chances and giving these individuals access to a better life.
I am grateful my colleagues voted to add the Fresh Start Act to HB 2046. I believe it is important legislation that will positively change the lives of many Missourians across our state. I am hopeful HB 2046 will cross the legislative finish line before the end of the 2020 legislative session and make it to the governor’s desk for his consideration.
Passing Our State’s Budget
Since returning to the Capitol on March 27, the Legislature has focused its efforts on passing the Fiscal Year 2021 budget. This week, we passed a $35 billion budget that preserves full funding for K-12 schools, continues to provide health care to low-income and disabled Missourians and makes few changes to essential state programs and services. While I believe the COVID-19 virus has had a devastating impact on our state’s bottom line, I believe this budget represents our state’s priorities — K-12 education and services for our most vulnerable. Now more than ever, education and assisting those in need must be among our top priorities.
Missouri residents will owe no state income taxes on federal coronavirus stimulus payments now that legislation has been approved by the General Assembly. Senate Bill 676 exempts the $1,200 checks many Missourians received through the federal CARES Act from state income calculations. The checks were already free of federal taxes, but were subject to income taxes in Missouri. Senate Bill 676 also requires county assessors to conduct a physical inspection of real estate prior to increasing a property’s assessment more than 15 percent, and shifts the burden of establishing higher property values to assessors.
St. Louis to Ease COVID-19 Restrictions on May 18
On Friday, it was announced that St. Louis City and County would begin easing COVID-19 restrictions on May 18. According to the St. Louis county executive’s order, beginning May 18, residents should not organize or attend gatherings of more than 10 people in a single space – outdoors or indoors. People should still follow social distancing guidelines. Face coverings are recommended for individuals over the age of 2 and those who are medically able when in public closed spaces, outdoor spaces where social distancing cannot be followed and any form of public transit. Business operations are not being considered gatherings, so some businesses may be able to open and operate at limited capacity. However, entertainment venues, sports venues, gyms and bars that primarily serve alcohol will not be allowed to open. For more information about these new guidelines, please visit the county’s coronavirus website.
Small Business Support
The Small Business Administration (SBA) was able to resume accepting Paycheck Protection Program loan applications on Monday, April 27, and will resume processing Economic Injury Disaster Loans on a first-come, first-served basis. Previously, these loan programs were out of funds, but a new COVID-19 relief package provided additional funding for these programs. For more information about the SBA’s loan programs, please visit sba.gov.
St. Louis County Relief Program for Small Businesses
On Friday, May 1, the St. Louis county executive announced the creation of a small business relief program to benefit small businesses in St. Louis County. The relief program will use funds from the County’s $173 million grant it received under the federal CARES Act. This relief program will provide a one-time grant of $15,000 to qualifying businesses that were closed during the stay-at-home order. Eligible businesses must have 50 or fewer employees, their business’ main location must be located in St. Louis County and the business must have been closed during the county’s order. In addition, nonprofit organizations are also eligible to participate in the program. Businesses may apply for the grant through the St. Louis County’s website.
I understand this is a difficult time for many individuals across our state. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many Missourians to lose their jobs, and many of you may be filing for unemployment benefits for the first time. Through the Missouri Department of Labor’s website, you can file for unemployment, as well as determine if you qualify for benefits. The department’s website also includes a helpful frequently asked questions guide for questions you may have about unemployment benefits.
St. Louis County to Open Certain State Parks
On Tuesday, April 28, the St. Louis county executive announced that around 30 county parks will reopen for public use. Larger parks with trails were reopened, while smaller parks containing primarily playgrounds and basketball courts will remain closed. You can find a full list of the county parks that are reopening and parks that will remain closed here. To find information about state parks that are temporarily closed, please visit the Missouri State Parks’ website.
As always, it is an honor and privilege serving you in the Missouri General Assembly. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, concerns or ideas on how to improve our state. Thank you for reading my Capitol Report and I look forward to sharing more of our work with you soon.