My Priorities for the 2021 Legislative Session
The 2021 legislative session is well underway, and we are beginning to discuss legislation in committee hearings. At the beginning of each General Assembly, we elect new caucus leaders and receive our committee assignments for the next two years. I am thrilled to be a member of the following Senate Committees: Education, Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence and Small Business and Industry. I was chosen to be the vice-chair of the Health and Pensions Committee, and I am ready to begin the hard work required of this important committee. Additionally, I will once again chair the Ways and Means Committee. Through this committee, I look forward to continuing to be a good steward of your taxpayer dollars. Another important aspect of the beginning of session is filing bills, so in this capitol report, I want to discuss my legislative priorities for this session.
Protecting Small Businesses from Government Overreach
Throughout this pandemic, the St. Louis county executive has imposed targeted, and what I believe to be severe, restrictions on small businesses and restaurants in our community. For this reason, I filed Senate Bill 21, which limits the authority of local governments and municipalities during a declared state of emergency. This legislation states that any rules or regulations issued by a local government or state health department lasting longer than 14 days, within a two-year period, must be approved by the General Assembly. In addition, SB 21 requires any rule, regulation or ordinance issued by a county commission or a local health board, during a state of emergency, to be approved by the local governing body in order to take effect. The legislation also forces any city or county that imposes a shutdown ordinance to provide tax relief in the form of a property tax credit to any business affected by the action. As these restrictions continue to be in place, our small businesses and restaurants will continue to struggle. Some will be forced to close their doors if something does not change. I have urged my colleagues to support this legislation and help provide relief for so many struggling businesses in our district.
Ending the Use of Your Tax Dollars in Flood Plains
Our state has seen a number of historic floods in the past few decades that have destroyed communities and the livelihoods of thousands. Yet, at the same time, through the use of tax increment financing (TIF), your tax dollars have been going toward financing risky developments in flood plains. I believe the risks of building in a flood plain far outweigh the potential benefits, which is why I’ve filed Senate Bill 22 to protect communities’ public dollars from being used to fund projects in flood plains, and to encourage developers to avoid building in dangerous areas. I am hopeful this bill will prohibit the use of tax increment financing in flood plains and ensure that your tax dollars go toward entities that actually need them.
Expanding Educational Opportunities for Missouri Students
Missouri students deserve more, not less, when it comes to their education. This is why I have filed Senate Bill 23, which would create the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program. This program will provide parents with an opportunity to develop a customized education plan that best meets the unique needs of their child. An Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) would empower a parent to take control of their child’s education. These funds are deposited into an account that a parent or guardian controls, then the funds can be used to pay for tuition, tutoring, textbooks, educational therapies and curriculum. Through ESAs, I believe more families will have the ability to choose the best educational options for their child.
Reining in Abuses with Special Sales Tax Districts
Special taxing districts such as community improvement districts (CIDs) and transportation development districts (TDDs) are political subdivisions of the state that fund specific services and improvements, such as neighborhood security, fire protection and various kinds of infrastructure. However, over the years, I believe these districts have been riddled with problems from little-to-no transparency to fraud and abuse. CIDs and TDDs impose additional taxes on consumers in addition to state, county and city sales taxes. There are even places in St. Louis that have close to 12 percent sales tax due to these additional taxing districts. Often times, these districts are drawn around businesses, such as shopping malls, so no local residents have the ability to vote on the proposed tax increases. Senate Bill 99 requires that CIDs or TDDs be approved by the majority of the voters within the municipality that contains the taxing district, not just the voters within the taxing district. I am hopeful this bill will provide taxpayers increased representation in the creation of these districts, as well as greater accountability and transparency of special taxing districts.
Wayfair and Online Sales Tax
Senate Bill 153 states that online retailers must collect sales tax for the products they sell online. Even before the pandemic, small businesses were struggling because of the surge of online shopping. Now, more than ever, our brick and mortar stores are losing business at an alarming rate. I am concerned this trend will cause local stores to close, and eventually, force all of our shopping to be done online. Through this legislation, I hope to use the funds generated by the taxes collected to fund a tax cut for hardworking Missourians. This tax cut will only occur if the amount of net general revenue collected in the previous fiscal year exceeds any of the revenue collected in the three previous fiscal years by $150 million.
Domestic Violence Shelter and Maternity Home Tax Credit
Senate Bill 155 increases the amount of tax credits for contributions to domestic violence shelters and maternity homes from 50 percent to 70 percent and allows for additional funding to be provided to both domestic shelters and maternity homes throughout the state.
Concurrent Jurisdiction for the Attorney General
Senate Bill 197 grants the attorney general concurrent jurisdiction with the circuit attorney of St. Louis for the offenses of first and second degree murder and vehicle hijacking. I filed this legislation a few months ago when the Legislature convened for the first extra session. We have a major crime epidemic in our state, especially in St. Louis. I believe authorizing the attorney general to have concurrent jurisdiction over murder cases will help put violent criminals behind bars and finally bring justice to the families who have lost loved ones to these senseless acts of violence.