Legislative Column for the Week of April 13, 2015

Legislature Tackles a Range of Issues Heading into the Last Month of Session

Legislative News

With less than a month left in the 2015 session, the Missouri General Assembly is diligently working its way through legislation, intent on getting all of its priorities to the governor’s desk by the time the final gavel falls on Friday, May 15. On Tuesday (4-14), Senate Bill 24 moved within one step of being sent to the governor for his signature or veto. Also known as the “Strengthening Missouri Families Act,” SB 24 seeks to reform Missouri’s welfare system by modifying certain provisions of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

If signed into law, the measure would establish sanctions for individuals who fail to meet the work activity requirement; reduce the lifetime limit for TANF benefits to 45 months; set aside 2 percent of TANF funds for alternatives to abortion programs and 2 percent for healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood promotion; and direct any savings resulting from changes to the SNAP and TANF programs to child-care assistance for single parents, education and transportation assistance, and job training for individuals receiving benefits under these programs, among other provisions.

In other legislative news, the Senate turned its attention this week to Senate Bill 540, legislation addressing the state’s looming transportation funding shortfall. A combination of factors has led to the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) facing a Fiscal Year 2017 budget of just $325 million, a sparse sum when you consider MoDOT’s budget for 2009 was $1.3 billion.

Despite having the 7th largest highway system in the country, comprised of 34,000 roads and 10,400 bridges, Missouri ranks 46th in the amount of revenue we spend per mile. In fact, Missouri’s current fuel tax of 17.3 cents per gallon hasn’t been increased since 1996, nearly 20 years ago. Under SB 540, the state tax on gasoline and diesel fuel would increase by two cents, effective January 2016.

Although the increase isn’t enough to provide a long-term solution, it would generate enough revenue for the state to match all of the federal money available for 2017, as well as maintain our roads and bridges at their current condition. In 1996, Missouri voters provided the Legislature with the authority to raise taxes by a small amount each year without a vote of the people, as long as the total increase falls below an inflation-adjusted cap, which is currently around $94 million.

Perfected on Wednesday, Senate Bill 321 creates the offense of unlawful contact with a victim of a sexual offense. Current law allows for a person, including a child, who has been subject to domestic violence by a family or household member, or any person who has been the victim of stalking, to be granted an order of protection by the courts. If passed, SB 321 would allow the courts to grant protective orders to victims of sexual assault as well.

Shown above, Mr. Lane Roberts and Sen. Ron Richard during the Senate Gubernatorial Appointments Committee on April 15.


Also on Wednesday, the Senate third read and passed
House Bill 150, legislation modifying unemployment benefits in Missouri. Currently, the maximum benefit amount an insured worker may receive during a benefit year cannot exceed 20 times their weekly benefit amount or 33 1/3 percent of their wage credits, whichever is lesser. If passed, HB 150 would repeal the current provision, instead tying the number of weeks a person can receive unemployment benefits to the state’s unemployment rate. The measure is designed to bring much-needed relief to Missouri’s small business owners, who pay for the state’s unemployment fund.

Today (4-16), Senate Bill 328 was approved by the Senate and sent to the House for consideration. The measure would require school districts to adopt a policy on youth suicide awareness and prevention, and provides for any licensed educator to complete up to two hours of training or professional development in youth suicide awareness and prevention.

Finally, the Senate Committee on Gubernatorial Appointments, of which I am the Vice-Chair, held a hearing on Wednesday, April 15, to consider a number of individuals who have been nominated to fill a state department, commission or board position.

I was incredibly honored to sponsor former Joplin Police Chief Lane J. Roberts, who was nominated as director of the Department of Public Safety. Mr. Roberts is a 42-year veteran of law enforcement, serving as the Joplin Police Chief from April 2007 until his retirement last year. Mr. Robert’s appointment was confirmed by the Senate.