Legislative Progress Continues
The Senate has sent the governor the first “truly agreed and finally passed” bill of the 2021 session. House Bill 16, a supplemental budget measure, makes more than $320 million of federal rental assistance money available to Missourians impacted by COVID-19. Rental households with incomes at or below 80 percent of the area median may qualify for assistance with housing or utility costs. Assistance is also available for property owners whose tenants are in arrears. It’s important to note that this federal housing assistance program was passed by Congress and already exists. Our action this week merely allows Missourians to benefit. Information about either program can be found at the Missouri Housing Development Commission’s website, www.mohousingresources.com.
Several bills relating to public health boards were combined and taken up for perfection by the Senate this week. The Senate is considering limits to the authority of local health boards to force the closure of restaurants and other businesses in response to public health emergencies, such as COVID-19. My Senate Bill 20 was one of the measures rolled into Senate Bill 12. Central to these discussions is the principle that elected officials, not bureaucrats, should have the final say on actions impacting local communities. Language contained in my legislation would require public notice of any proposed health orders, and allow 30 days for citizen comment. My language also grants local elected bodies, such as a county commission, the authority to reject or modify public health orders, rules and regulations. I believe we must protect both people’s lives and people’s livelihoods.
In committee actions this week, Senate Bill 152 was voted out of the Insurance and Banking Committee with a “Do Pass” recommendation. The bill allows Missouri residents to use money set aside in 529 plans for tuition and other expenses at any qualified educational institution, including private schools at the elementary and secondary level. Money deposited in Missouri Education Program accounts would be exempt from state income taxes.
The Education Committee heard testimony on my Senate Bill 151. This legislation requires school districts to develop education programs for gifted students when at least 3 percent of the students enrolled in the district qualify as gifted. Missouri law defines gifted students as those who “exhibit precocious development of mental capacity and learning potential.” These are the best and the brightest of their generation, and these exceptional children deserve educational programs that challenge them and cultivate their enormous potential.
Also this week, I presented Senate Bill 283 to the General Laws Committee. This bill allows restaurants to sell alcoholic drinks for carry-out in sealed containers. This legislation would codify an executive order put in place to help restaurants survive COVID-19 shutdowns. The ability to sell beverages as part of delivery and curbside pickup orders has helped small businesses weather the economic shutdowns of the past year. My legislation would allow the practice to continue once we move past the COVID-19 state of emergency.
I also presented Senate Bill 97 to the Ways and Means Committee. This is my version of a “Wayfair Bill.” In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled states can collect sales tax from online purchases, even when the seller (such as internet merchant Wayfair) does not have a physical presence in their state. Currently, 45 states collect sales taxes on Internet sales. Missouri only requires the tax to be paid when the vendor has a “nexus” in the state. That’s why the largest sellers, with distribution facilities in Missouri, collect Missouri sales tax, but many smaller vendors don’t. Our failure to enact an online sales tax puts local brick-and-mortar businesses at a competitive disadvantage. A local clothing store, gun shop or auto parts dealer is already 8-10% behind when trying to match an internet-based seller’s price once sales tax is added to the bottom line. My legislation would close this gap, helping to ensure the survival of our Main Street businesses by charging a reduced sales tax rate for all purchases, no matter where the product is purchased.
Finally, as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I had the opportunity to question state agency directors as they presented budget requests for Fiscal Year 2022. It will take several more weeks for the committee to work through all of the departments of Missouri government, but we addressed nearly one-third of the total state budget in just one hearing this week. The Department of Social Services, which administers the state’s Medicaid program, accounts for more than $12 billion of Missouri’s annual $34 billion operating budget. We also heard testimony from the departments of Agriculture, Transportation and Revenue, as well as the State Tax Commission and the State Lottery.
It was a busy week for visitors at my Capitol office, and I had the pleasure of welcoming a number of groups from the district. State FFA officers were in the building and Rachel Holt, a state vice president from Dawn, Missouri, stopped in. The daughter of David and Lugenis Corbin, Rachel has excelled in FFA speaking and leadership activities. It was my honor to present her a Senate resolution in recognition of her accomplishments.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.