On the Floor
It’s still slow-goings in the Missouri Senate, as filibustering continues to take up time on the Senate floor. Despite the filibustering, however, we were able to move forward and perfect two bills this week. Senate Bill 672 extends the sunset on the Fast-Track Workforce Incentive Grant Program until August 2029, among other provisions regarding workforce development. The Senate also perfected Senate Joint Resolution 33. This is a proposed constitutional amendment, which, if approved by the voters, prohibits the General Assembly from setting a state income tax rate exceeding 5.9%. Both SB 672 and SJR 33 require another round of approval before they can be sent to the Missouri House of Representatives for further consideration.
Bills and Committees
Sen. May’s Legislation:
On Feb. 15, I presented Senate Bill 684 to the Senate’s Education Committee. This legislation allows school districts to offer elective social studies courses on the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament.
Next week, I hope to present the following two resolutions to the Senate’s Rules, Joint Rules, Resolutions and Ethics Committee:
- Senate Concurrent Resolution 26, which urges the U.S. Congress to enact the proposed Economic Democracy Act.
- Senate Concurrent Resolution 27, which recognizes a need for mental health awareness training for high school pupils in public schools and charter schools.
The Senate’s Appropriations Committee continued reviewing the governor’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1, 2022. This week, we heard from the state judicial branch, the public defender’s office, the Department of Corrections, the state Attorney General’s office, the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Economic Development.
The committee also discussed and approved House Bill 3014, a nearly $4.6 billion supplemental budget bill. The Senate’s version of the bill provides funding for a $15-an-hour state worker base wage, distributes billions of dollars in federal pandemic relief funds to local public school districts, provides a 5.5% pay raise to all state workers and fully funds Missouri’s Medicaid program for the rest of the current fiscal year.
On Feb. 16, the Senate’s Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee heard three bills:
- Senate Bill 640, which states that sexual assault survivors retain certain rights regardless of whether a criminal investigation or prosecution results or regardless if the survivor has previously waived any of these rights.
- Senate Bill 751, which prevents any person found guilty of possession of child pornography from visiting certain areas primarily used by children, such as public parks with playgrounds and public swimming pools.
- Senate Bill 775, which makes a witness’s prior sexual conduct inadmissible at any trial, hearing or court proceeding and not a subject for inquiry during a deposition or during discovery, except in certain instances.
On Feb. 16, the Senate’s Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and the Environment Committee discussed four bills, largely centered on the issue of COVID-19 vaccines:
- Senate Bill 636, which prevents private or public employers from requiring an employee or prospective employee to receive a COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of commencing or continuing employment.
- Senate Bill 651, which prevents private or public employers from requiring an employee or prospective employee to receive a COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of commencing or continuing employment. The legislation also gives employees cause for legal action if this provision is violated.
- Senate Bill 693, which prevents any public or private entity receiving public funds or any other public accommodation from requiring documentation of a COVID-19 vaccination to access transportation systems, facilities, services or public accommodations.
- Senate Bill 702, which makes it an unlawful employment practice for any employer to refuse an employee a reasonable accommodation from any requirement related to COVID-19 because of the employee’s sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs.
Filing to Start Without State Senate, Congressional Districts Yet Finalized
Candidate filing for the August primary elections is set to open Feb. 22, even though new congressional and state Senate districts that reflect population shifts under the 2020 U.S. Census haven’t yet been finalized. The filing period will run through March 29.
Lawmakers had hoped to have passed a bill redrawing Missouri’s eight congressional districts by now, but the process has stalled in the Missouri Senate. If the stalemate persists, federal law authorizes any Missouri resident to file a petition in federal court requesting a three-judge panel be appointed to draw Missouri’s new congressional districts instead of the Legislature. Such a petition could be filed at any time. Federal panels drew Missouri’s congressional districts in both 1971 and 1981 after the Legislature failed to do so.
The process of drawing Missouri’s 34 state Senate districts also continues to be worked on by the Appellate Redistricting Commission, which was appointed by the Missouri Supreme Court after a different commission couldn’t agree on new districts by a constitutional deadline. The appellate commission hasn’t publicly indicated when it expects to complete its work. Meanwhile, new districts for the 163-member Missouri House of Representatives were finalized in January by a bipartisan commission and are ready for the start of candidate filing.
House Advances Proposal to Alter Medicaid Expansion
On Feb. 15, the Missouri House of Representatives granted first-round approval to a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at preventing the state from funding voter-approved Medicaid expansion. House Joint Resolution 117 would empower the Legislature to block services to the expanded population by withholding funding. A second vote is necessary to advance it to the Senate. If the proposal clears both chambers of the Legislature, it would go on the Nov. 8 statewide ballot for voter ratification.
Missouri House moves to Raise Ballot Initiatives Thresholds
On Feb. 16, the Missouri House gave initial approval to a proposed constitutional amendment raising the requirements for an initiative petition to go into effect.
Currently in Missouri, a ballot measure must earn a simple majority of votes cast to in order to pass. House Joint Resolution 70, however, would require initiative petitions be approved by a majority of all registered voters, even those who didn’t participate in the election. Opponents to HJR 70 say this high threshold would make it effectively impossible for initiative petitions to go into effect, except in elections with unusually high turnout.
A second vote is required to send HJR 70 to the Senate. If the measure is approved by both the House and Senate, it would go on Nov. 8 statewide ballot.
Supreme Court Upholds Ban on Public Funds for Campaigning
On Feb. 15, the Missouri Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of a 34-year-old state law that prohibits spending taxpayer money to campaign for ballot measures or candidates. In doing so, the high court reversed a circuit judge’s finding that the law violates the free speech rights of government officials.
The law in question was first enacted in 1988. While prohibiting public funds from being used for campaigning, the law specifically allows public officials to make public comments or issue press releases regarding ballot measures. Several local governments in St. Louis County sued over the law in 2019. Although a Cole County circuit judge ruled in favor of the local governments, the Supreme Court said the law doesn’t restrict the free speech rights of government officials but instead prohibits the use of public funds to subsidize officials’ speech.