Down to the Wire
It’s the final week of the 2021 legislative session and we’re coming down to the wire. There’s a mad rush to get legislation passed, either in a bill’s original form or as amendments added to other bills headed to the governor’s desk. As each chamber of the Legislature weighs in, any changes must be approved by the other chamber so bills bounce back and forth between the Senate and the House of Representatives. As I prepare this report, the final gavel is still several hours away, so this report will be incomplete, but there are some things we do know.
I’m pleased to report House Bill 85, the Second Amendment Protection Act, has been approved and is headed to the governor’s desk for his signature. This legislation declares that all federal laws, executive orders, regulations, court orders, etc. that infringe on the people’s right to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution are invalid in Missouri. With the new administration in Washington, D.C., vowing to enact gun control measures, the Missouri Legislature is answering with our own declaration of independence.
Another positive, in my opinion, is passage of House Bill 271. This omnibus package of legislation related to local governments includes a provision that limits the ability of local health authorities to shut down businesses, churches and other public spaces in response to concerns related to communicable diseases. Any such order would be limited in duration and subject to review by local elected bodies, such as a city or county council. The bill also bans requiring proof of vaccination for access to transportation services or public accommodations.
On what I consider to be a negative note, both chambers approved Senate Bill 262, a measure that will raise Missouri’s motor fuels tax by nearly 75% when fully implemented. I voted against raising the gas tax, but a majority of the General Assembly took a different view. Currently, Missouri levies a 17 cent per gallon tax on motor fuels. Beginning Oct. 1, 2021, motorists will begin paying an additional 2.5 cents on every gallon of gasoline or diesel fuel they purchase. The fuel tax will continue to go up 2.5 cents per gallon every year through 2025, eventually settling at 29.5 cents per gallon. The bill passed by the Legislature does include a rebate provision, so Missourians willing to go through the inconvenience of submitting receipts can have the additional tax refunded at the end of the year. With state revenues at record-breaking levels, I believe we should prioritize existing state resources to maintain our road, not raise taxes.
Another measure I have long resisted also crossed the finish line this week. Senate Bill 63 creates a statewide prescription drug monitoring program that will allow pharmacists and physicians access to a patient’s narcotic prescription history. I voted against this legislation, but even I have to admit there are some provisions of the bill that are an improvement over a third-party PDMP system operated by St. Louis County that’s in use in many parts of Missouri, including six of the eight counties of the 21st Senatorial District. Unlike the current patchwork PDMP, the new statewide program will include a specific prohibition against using PDMP data to deny firearms purchases, or as the basis for a warrant. It also requires a rolling purge of data after three years. Despite these assurances, I have serious concerns about any government database of your personal medical information.
Another measure approved during the final week of session was Senate Bill 53. This comprehensive package of legislation relating to police and sheriff’s departments, courts, jails, prisons and the juvenile justice system is primarily aimed at problems in urban areas but parts of the bill will affect those of us in rural areas as well. There’s a lot in the bill to like, but a few provisions gave me pause. A measure that increases base salaries for county sheriffs could strain the already tight budgets of many smaller counties.
When it’s all said and done, the General Assembly will have “truly agreed and finally passed” fewer than 50 bills. This is out of more than 675 measures introduced in the Senate and nearly 1,500 pieces of legislation filed in the House. The total number is deceiving, of course, as many bills that were introduced separately were included as amendments to other bills. When all the individual provisions are tallied, I’m confident we can look back at this session and see that we’ve actually accomplished quite a bit. It will take a few days to get a handle on all the legislation approved this session. I’ll be sure to provide more details in a future report.
FEDERAL UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS END
This week, the governor announced Missouri would withdraw from federal pandemic-related unemployment assistance programs. Effective June 12, Missourians eligible for unemployment benefits will no longer receive supplemental payments through the federal programs. The decision affects six separate federal benefits, including one that currently adds $300 to the checks unemployed Missourians receive. Many small businesses have reached out to me with their frustration about some Missourians being “paid” more in unemployment than they’d earn working an actual job.
In announcing the change, the governor cited Missouri’s improving unemployment rate and the difficulty filling open positions many employers have experienced. Although intended to provide temporary emergency relief to workers displaced by the pandemic, the programs have had the unintended consequence of discouraging workers from seeking employment. Employers with jobs to fill, as well as Missourians seeking employment can find a wide range of resources online at www.jobs.mo.gov.
Among the many folks who stopped by my office this week, I was especially pleased to welcome a group of kindergarten through 8th grade students from Hardeman R-10 school of Marshall. Thanks to the parents, teachers and PTO members who accompanied the children on their visit to the State Capitol.
As always, I appreciate hearing your comments, opinions and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-4302. You may also email me at email@example.com.