Legislative Column for the Week Ending Feb. 20, 2015
Legislative Update

JEFFERSON CITY—This week in the Missouri Senate, legislators held extensive debate on Senate Bill 1, which seeks to reform the state’s school transfer law and how unaccredited districts are regulated. The legislation is comparable to last year’s Senate Bill 493. That bill was ultimately vetoed by the governor. Lawmakers are allowing for deliberate consideration of this year’s proposal so that a solution can finally be enacted into law.

Bills and Committees

Senate Bill 270, which adds a charter school teacher or administrator as an additional member on the board of trustees of both the Kansas City and St. Louis Public Retirement Systems, was heard in the General Laws and Pensions Committee earlier this week. The legislation requires a final vote for recommendation to the upper chamber for debate by the full Senate.

The snowstorm that hit Jefferson City and many areas throughout the state caused the committee hearing of Senate Bill 42, Sen. Nasheed’s deadly force bill, to be rescheduled to Tuesday, Feb. 24 next week in the Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee at 1 p.m. in the Senate Lounge at the State Capitol.

“It is unfortunate that the hearing was canceled.  With the weather being unpredictable, it can be difficult for witnesses to make it to the Capitol to testify,” Nasheed said. “I am eagerly awaiting next week’s rescheduled hearing. The deadly force law in Missouri must be updated,” Nasheed declared.

Three of Sen. Nasheed’s bills are scheduled for hearing in the Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee next week on Wednesday, Feb. 25 at 8:15 a.m. in Senate Committee Room 1 at the State Capitol:

  • Senate Bill 155, which creates the Neighborhood Watch Fund for the creation of neighborhood watch organizations throughout the state;
  • Senate Bill 156 will name a stretch of Highway 115 “Theodore McNeal Highway” in honor of his work in the Senate leading the passing of the Fair Employment Practices Act as well as his work on the Civil Rights Code as the first African American to be elected to the Missouri Senate;
  • Senate Bill 166 changes the quote on the license plates in honor and support of Martin Luther King Jr. from “I Have a Dream” to “Dare to Dream.” The original quote was not authorized by the King Center of Intellectual Property, which prevented any plates from being printed. These plates not only allow citizens to honor Dr. King Jr., but also generate revenue for the state of Missouri.

Another one of Sen. Nasheed’s bills are scheduled for hearing in the Senate Education Committee next week on Wednesday, Feb. 25 at 3:00 p.m. in the Senate Lounge at the State Capitol:

  • Senate Bill 161, which modifies requirements for school anti-bullying policies;

Additionally, the House of Representatives has referred Sen. Nasheed’s SCR 1 to establish January in Missouri as Sex Trafficking Awareness Month to the Trade and Tourism Committee, which will hold a hearing on the measure on Wednesday, Feb. 25 at 8 a.m.

Senator Nasheed had five of her bills referred to Senate committees this week:

  • Senate Bill 356 would require police officers in Missouri’s major cities to wear body cameras to record interactions with the public.

  • Senate Bill 357 would require each law enforcement agency in St. Louis County to be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

Appropriations Information

The budget presentation for the Governor’s office was remarkable for the tense exchange between the Chair and Chris Pieper, Chief of Staff to the Governor.  Ferguson, specifically the night of November 24th (grand jury announcement) was the topic.  Three questions went unanswered – 1) Who decided NOT to call the National Guard in to Ferguson?  2) Who did Brett Johnson answer to? (Brett Johnson was named during the Joint Comte on Gov’t Accountability hearing as the liaison relaying orders at the Unified Command Center). And 3) Who was in charge of the Unified Command?

Facts revealed during the hearing included: Chris Pieper was not Chief of Staff on Nov. 24, John Watson was.  Pieper had no knowledge of the Ferguson mayor, or several elected statewide officials, attempting to contact the governor’s office the evening of Nov 24 (a point made at the Joint Comte hearing).  He was also not aware of any communications that night or prior between the governor’s office and the White House or the Department of Justice.  He was similarly unaware of meetings between the governor’s office and the Highway Patrol or National Guard. 

The final piece of information was that the documents released to the press and the Chair were contained in a total of three binders.  The attached cover letter stated the remaining documents would be provided at a cost of $17,000.  Pieper theorized that it might be due to the National Guard’s email being on a federal server.
The Secretary of State’s budget, presented by Secretary of State Jason Kander, raised the issue of library funding.  Of an approximately $3 million program, the governor withheld approximately $2 million this year (FY15) and cut a similar amount from FY16’s request.  Over several line items, it was noted that the Governor has cut approx. $6 million from libraries.

The Judiciary budget was presented by Chief Judge Mary Russell.  The only major discussion was on drug courts.  Senator Parson felt more people should be going to prison and not one of these increasingly specialized courts.  The Chair joined in that criticism saying that increasing specialization would have “diminishing returns.” 10% recidivism rates for those in an alternative court were compared to 50%+ for regular.  Chief Judge Russell stated that the recidivism rate success could not be duplicated in regular court.

Cat Kelley from the Public Defender’s Office requested a dozen social workers to focus on addressing the root causes of criminal behavior and sentencing issues.  She noted a similar gain in the recidivism rate when using social workers in prior years.

The offices of the Attorney General, the Lieutenant Governor, and the General Assembly and the Department of Mental Health were also reviewed.

Other News

On the House of Representatives side of the Capitol, two bills that would support voter identification laws were heard in committee. House Bill 30, which establishes the voter ID requirements, and House Joint Resolution 1, a legislative change that is necessary for HB 30 to take effect. These two bills in conjunction will require those who wish to vote to provide one valid form of identification according to the guidelines of the legislation.

“Since 2006, a number of measures requiring citizens to provide a photo ID have been proposed in the General Assembly,” said Sen. Nasheed. “However, in that same year, this requirement was ruled unconstitutional by the Missouri Supreme Court. It seems to me that legislators keep fighting the same fight, despite the 2006 ruling. I believe it is time for those who continue pushing biased bills, designed to keep certain groups from practicing their constitutional right to vote, to review their legislation and the appalling effects photo ID laws can have on both lower-income and senior constituents.”

“This topic is not new, nor is my stance against it,” said Sen. Nasheed. “Sponsors and supporters of photo ID legislation say they are trying to prevent voter fraud, when no instances of voter fraud can be proven. There are approximately 240,000 Missourians registered to vote who do not possess a driver’s license. Most of those citizens are on fixed incomes and, as the state of Missouri does not provide photo identification for free, that group is pointedly affected.”

Senator Nasheed continued, “I would like to remind my colleagues that voter identification laws are already in place in the Show-Me State. Expanding those laws would invade state coffers for approximately $6 million per election. There are many other programs that could make much better use of those funds.”