Reflecting on the 2020 Legislative Session
Friday, May 15, marked the final day of the 2020 legislative session, and it was certainly a session that I will never forget. In my opinion, the COVID-19 virus affected our state in ways no one could have predicted, and the General Assembly was certainly not immune to these effects. While the legislative session came to a halt for several weeks during March and April as state and local leaders addressed the COVID-19 pandemic, I am still proud of our legislative accomplishments — despite a shortened session. Personally, I was able to see eight of my legislative priorities make it across the finish line in the form of amendments to other pieces of legislation. It is never easy to take an idea, draft it into a bill and successfully guide it through the legislative process. As I reflect on the past five months, I am grateful for the help and support I received from my colleagues on these important issues, and I am hopeful that these changes to state law will have a meaningful impact on our community.
Passing a Budget that Reflects Our Priorities
Members of the General Assembly have only one constitutional obligation over the course of each legislative session. The Missouri Constitution specifically requires lawmakers to pass a balanced budget for the upcoming fiscal year during their time in the Capital City. Our state’s constitution doesn’t require us to pass a certain amount of bills or hold a specific number of committee hearings; it only asks lawmakers to pass a balanced budget. Often times, our spending habits reflect our values, and I believe the same can be said about the state’s budget. Despite the effects of the COVID-19 virus on our state’s economy, I believe the budget passed by the General Assembly represents our state’s priorities.
Once again, the state’s spending plan for the 2021 fiscal year fully funds the state’s K-12 education foundation formula. Outside of paying our state’s debts, I believe the education of our children is our state’s No. 1 priority. By once again fully funding the state’s foundation formula, I believe we are making a statement that Missouri values education and the important role it plays in preparing our children to help move our state forward.
In addition, I was proud to have language inserted in the Department of Transportation’s budget forbidding the use of taxpayer funds to create or operate a toll road on interstate highways in Missouri. From my perspective, Interstate 70 plays a crucial role in our community. It connects our community with the entire state, and it serves as a major transportation source for farmers, manufacturers and businesses. I do not believe it is fair or right to force Missourians to pay a fee to use a road that their taxes already support and maintain. I am thankful my colleagues approved this language in order to keep taxpayer resources from supporting toll roads on our state’s interstate highways.
As I said earlier, I believe our state’s budget represents the priorities of our state. The budget passed by the General Assembly fully funds K-12 classrooms, continues to provide health care to those that need it and funds essential state programs and services that are vital to many Missourians. Despite the financial challenges facing our state, I am proud of the work accomplished by my colleagues in passing the state’s operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
Establishing Statewide Training Standards for Coroners
Once again, the General Assembly has passed my coroner bill, Senate Bill 554, which was amended to House Bill 2046. The legislation establishes coroner training standards throughout the state. The same language was approved by lawmakers last year, but was vetoed by the governor due to an amendment that was unrelated to my proposal. This legislation creates the Coroner Standards and Training Commission, which would be charged with establishing statewide training standards for county coroners throughout the Show-Me State. Missouri is one of 11 states that doesn’t require county coroners to be physicians, law enforcement officers or receive any formal training. Unfortunately, I believe the lack of consistent training among our state’s county coroners has, at times, left families without the closure they need following the loss of a loved one. This legislation would ensure county coroners receive the training necessary to perform their job, and hold them to a high standard. I’m hopeful that the governor will sign this bill into law, and that the families that have been devastated by inadequate coroner reports will receive some form of closure.
Providing Protections for Child Assessment Centers
Protecting our state’s children has been a part of my mission since I began my work in the Legislature. Part of ensuring that children are getting the adequate help and care they need involves making sure that the organizations that assist these children are equipped to carry out their role. Currently, Missouri law does not explicitly protect non-governmental employees, including Child Advocacy Center (CAC) employees acting in good faith, from legal liability during their investigation into cases of child abuse and neglect. Government employees receive protections afforded by the federal “qualified immunity” doctrine, which is designed to shield government workers from liability, as long as their actions are within the scope of their duties and do not violate state or federal laws or an individual’s constitutional rights. In child abuse and neglect investigations, this federal doctrine protects most members of the multidisciplinary team involved with these investigations, but does not include CAC staff. In my opinion, these individuals play an important role in working to provide justice and healing to victims of child abuse and neglect, and I firmly believe they should be covered by protections currently in law. In order to resolve this, I filed Senate Bill 924, which would add protections to state law for CAC employees who act in good faith and protect them from legal liability during investigations into child abuse and neglect.
Despite the shortened session, I was able to successfully amend SB 924 onto House Bill 1414, which received approval from the General Assembly and now awaits the governor’s consideration. I believe the language included in SB 924 is vital in protecting those who seek justice for children who have experienced inconceivable abuse and neglect. It was an honor to carry this legislation, and I look forward to seeing it signed into law.
Eliminating Red Tape for Our Child Care Facilities
In addition to SB 924, I was also able to successfully amend Senate Bill 925 onto HB 1414. This legislation cuts red tape and streamlines the licensing and renewal process for child care facilities. From my perspective, the license renewal process can be burdensome for child care facilities and time consuming for the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS). This legislation allows child care providers to apply for a non-expiring license. Currently, providers are inspected at least twice a year, and a licensed provider can still be disciplined in the event of ongoing or serious non-compliance. With these safeguards in place, I believe this legislation cuts down on the hoops we ask our child care providers to jump through in order to operate their business. The legislation also allows DHSS and the Department of Social Services to share information related to background checks on child care employees and reduce redundancy.
As I said earlier, the 2020 legislative session will certainly be a session that I never forget. Despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 virus, I am proud of the work accomplished by my colleagues over the past five months. While there were other pieces of legislation that I certainly would have liked to have seen reach the finish line, I believe our accomplishments this session will help make our state a better place to live, work and raise a family. As our community continues to navigate the ongoing pandemic, please don’t hesitate to reach out to my office if you have any questions or concerns about state resources available for those suffering during these uncertain times. Together, we will get through this!
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.