Serving in the Missouri General Assembly since 2007
Legislative Column for the Week of March 28, 2016

Senator Curls' Biography
Senator Shalonn "Kiki" Curls, a Democrat, represents part of Jackson County (District 9) in the Missouri Senate. After serving in the Missouri House since 2007, she won a special election to the Missouri Senate in February 2011. Senator Curls won re-election to the Senate in 2012. <<more

Capitol Office
201 W. Capitol Ave.
Room 434
Jefferson City, MO 65101
(573) 751-3158

District Office
4609 Paseo Blvd.
Suite 102
Kansas City, MO 64110
(816) 923-6000

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Senate Begins Work on FY 2017 State Budget

Following the annual legislative spring recess, the Missouri Senate returned to the Capitol on Tuesday and immediately began its work on the state's $27 billion operating budget for Fiscal Year 2017, which begins on July 1. Passing the state budget is the General Assembly's only constitutionally required duty.

The budget process begins with the governor and the Office of Administration. Around the time of the annual State of the State address in mid-January, the governor's proposed budget is released. The Executive Budget then goes to the House, where it is divided into separate appropriations bills. After making their way through the committee process, the individual bills are debated on the House floor. Once passed, the budget bills are taken up by the Senate Appropriations Committee, of which I am a member. It is at this point that we consider the House's changes and prepare our own recommendations, and this is where we picked up the process on Tuesday.

This year's budget is based on a projected general revenue growth of 4.1 percent, or about $366 million. As in every year, education and health care spending have largely dominated the conversation. While a lot can still happen, the House’s version of the budget is calling for significant cuts to both Medicaid and higher education funding, including $7.6 million from the University of Missouri system, which includes the UMKC.

Senate floor debate on the budget is expected to begin within the next week or two. The Legislature has until May 6 to complete the budget.

Raising Awareness of Childhood Cancer

On Tuesday, I presented Senate Concurrent Resolution 42 to the Senate Rules, Joint Rules, Resolutions and Ethics Committee. This resolution designates Nov. 14, 2016, as Neuroblastoma Cancer Awareness Day.

Neuroblastoma is a type of cancer that forms in the sympathetic nervous system of infants and young children. It is responsible for 12 percent of all cancer deaths in children under 15 years of age and accounts for about 7 percent of all cancers in children. It is also the most common type of cancer among infants. Roughly 650 new cases of neuroblastoma are diagnosed each year in the United States. Sadly, a child dies every 16 hours from the disease.

Physicians frequently face major challenges in diagnosing neuroblastoma because the symptoms are very similar to more common and less serious childhood illnesses, which result in delayed diagnosis. For roughly two out of three children, the disease has already spread to other parts of the body by the time they are correctly diagnosed.

The National Cancer Institute spends less than 3 percent of its budget, and the American Cancer Society directs less than 2 percent of its research dollars towards pediatric cancer. Pediatric AIDS research receives four times more funding than childhood cancer even though childhood cancer is 20 times more prevalent.

The children suffering from neuroblastoma often undergo treatment involving chemotherapy and surgery, and they experience prolonged painful symptoms. The families of children with neuroblastoma suffer as well — they must deal not only with the possibility of losing their child, but also with roughly $40,000 a year in out-of-pocket medical expenses, even with insurance coverage. The children and families suffering from neuroblastoma deserve recognition and support in their battle against this painful and deadly disease, and that is why I once again have sponsored legislation raising awareness of childhood cancer.

On Wednesday, the Senate Agriculture, Food Production and Outdoor Resources Committee conducted a hearing on Senate Bill 1010, legislation I filed expanding Missouri’s “Farm-to-School Act” and program. Currently, the Farm-to-School program connects Missouri farmers and schools to provide students with locally grown agricultural products for school meals and snacks, and to strengthen local farming economies. Senate Bill 1010 simply changes the Farm-to-School Act to the “Farm-to-Table Act,” opening up the program to institutions such as correctional facilities, hospitals, nursing homes and military bases.

The act also requires the Department of Agriculture to develop program goals and requires participating institutions to purchase at least 7 percent of their food products locally by Dec. 31, 2019.

Legislation Calling for Meaningful Justice Reform Heard in Committee

This week I was happy to see several of the measures I filed this session take another step forward in the legislative process. On Wednesday I presented four bills to the Senate Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. Two of the bills are part of my ongoing efforts to affect meaningful reform in Missouri’s criminal justice system.

Senate Bill 604 seeks to reduce recidivism rates by requiring the Department of Corrections to enhance its educational and job training program offerings for offenders. Through SB 604, we hope to increase the number of offenders who earn GEDs, provide job and life skills training, work with schools and employers to offer a variety of training programs that provide occupational certification or licensure, and ensure offenders transitioning from incarceration back into society have a copy of any certification or license they earned. Reducing recidivism rates is a win-win scenario for all parties: it increases public safety, provides offenders with a path toward true and lasting rehabilitation, and decreases the enormous cost of housing these offenders for years.

Senate Bill 674 requires the Board of Probation and Parole to review the case history and prison record of any offender who is incarcerated, serving a sentence of more than 15 years, has no prior felony convictions, has served at least 15 years and has exhausted all state and federal appeals. Following the review, the board must report, within a reasonable time, a recommendation to the governor on whether to deny or grant executive clemency.

I also presented two bills aimed at making it easier for concerned citizens to help keep their neighborhoods clean and safe, and for tenants to recover their money if their deposits were unfairly kept.

There are numerous abandoned buildings throughout the Kansas City area. These buildings not only become gathering places for criminal activities, but also devalue the surrounding neighborhood, both economically and culturally. Senate Bill 742 allows certain people to enter abandoned property to secure it, remove trash and graffiti, and maintain the grounds. It also provides immunity from civil and criminal liability. As legislators, we should be encouraging responsible stewardship in our communities. If there are individuals who are willing to step up and dedicate their time and energy to improving our neighborhoods, then we should do what we can to assist them in their efforts. That is exactly what SB 742 does.

Finally, Senate Bill 743 expands the amount of damages a tenant can recover from a landlord who has wrongfully held any portion of their security deposit and prohibits landlords from commingling their tenants’ security deposits with their own personal funds. The bill also provides that landlords must keep tenants’ security deposits in a bank, credit union or depository institution that is insured by an agency of the federal government; however, any interest earned belongs to the landlord.

Leaving Behind the Stigma of Past Crimes

How long are we going to make individuals who have paid their debt to society carry the stigma of their past crimes? It is a question Missouri lawmakers have been debating for years and are once again trying to answer.

Technology has made it extremely easy to check a person’s criminal background, and every mistake is out there for the public to see. This means that even though a person has served their time, they may continue to pay for their past crimes for years, decades and sometimes the rest of their life. From being denied housing to the enormous difficulty of finding a decent job, they continue to be punished at nearly every turn.

Under current Missouri law, individuals can petition to have certain criminal records expunged, but the list of eligible crimes is extremely limited and a person must wait 10-20 years before they are even able to request an expungement. Despite public support to overhaul this process, the Legislature has been unable to agree on a better system.

For the second year in a row, I have filed legislation to help the men and women who have paid their debts to society take back their lives and livelihoods. Senate Bill 603, which was heard in committee on Tuesday, Jan. 26, expands the crimes eligible for expungement to any infraction, municipal offense, misdemeanor or felony. Exceptions include any violent crimes or offenses requiring registration on the sex offender registry. The bill also allows a person to petition for expungement 10 years after completing their sentence and probation for a felony, and 5 years after completing their sentence and probation for a misdemeanor, infraction or municipal offense.

The legislation in no way guarantees these individuals will be granted expungement. It does, however, modernize the expungement process to deal with new technologies, and allows those who have served their time to more easily move on from their past crimes. It is my sincere hope that Missouri lawmakers do not let these important reforms fall by the wayside for yet another year.

Missouri Senate Continues with Municipal Court Reform Efforts

Last session the Missouri Legislature came together to pass meaningful municipal court reform legislation in the form of Senate Bill 5. The measure aimed to put an end to the abusive traffic ticketing practices that were occurring in some of our municipalities by reducing the amount of revenue municipalities could keep. The provisions of SB 5 have since gone into effect and our judicial system is the better for it.

As part of an effort to expand on last year’s municipal court reforms, legislation has been filed this session that further restricts a municipality’s ability to use fines to generate revenue. In addition to reducing the maximum allowable fine for minor traffic violations and municipal code violations from $300 to $200, Senate Bill 572 seeks to place municipal ordinance violations under the same caps as those passed in SB 5, which specifically apply to traffic violations. The bill also requires municipalities to remit any collected funds that exceed the cap allowance to the Department of Revenue for the county school fund. The Senate voted Thursday, Jan. 28 to pass SB 572. It now goes to the House for further debate.

Another piece of reform legislation under consideration in the Senate is Senate Bill 765, banning traffic ticket quotas. Currently, requiring or encouraging a political subdivision employee to issue a certain number of traffic citations is only illegal in St. Louis County. If signed into law, SB 765 would make traffic ticket quotas illegal in any political subdivision in the state.

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