Last week the Missouri Legislature concluded its regular session. However, Governor Greitens decided this week to call for a special session related to the “steel mill” bill in southeast Missouri. Therefore, next week I will return to the Capitol on your behalf to address this important jobs bill for the state and will keep you posted on the progress of the special session. As usual, for the remainder of the year I will not be sending out weekly capitol reports until we return to session in January 2018. As I prepare for the next legislative year, please contact my office with any ideas or suggestions to reduce waste or improve government efficiency. Thanks for the opportunity to serve you in Jeff City. I look forward to seeing everyone back in the district.
As always, if you have any questions or concerns please do not hesitate to contact my office.
John D. Wiemann
Governor calls for Special Session with the Goal of Bringing Jobs to Missouri
State lawmakers will return to Jefferson City next week for a special legislative session. Governor Eric Greitens is calling legislators back to address an economic development issue that could mean hundreds of jobs for Southeast Missouri.During the regular session, the House approved legislation that could allow one company to proceed with plans to reopen the Noranda aluminum smelter at Marston; and another company to build a new steel mill at New Madrid, both in Southeast Missouri. However, despite overwhelming, bipartisan approval in the House, the measure failed to secure passage in the Senate before time ran out on the session.
The House and Senate will now work to find a version of the bill that can clear both chambers. House Speaker Todd Richardson released a statement Wednesday afternoon saying, “My colleagues and I in the House of Representatives are ready and willing to work to bring these good-paying, family-supporting jobs to Missouri. We will work quickly and efficiently during the extraordinary session to send this important piece of legislation to the governor, while also keeping taxpayer cost to a minimum.”
Because special sessions can be costly, the House plans to be as efficient as possible with its work schedule. The House plans to hold technical sessions, which do not require the full membership to be present, for two days next week, and to have just one full day of session. The schedule will help minimize the cost to taxpayers.
More highlights from the Regular Session
Legislature Approves Senior Services Protection Fund (HCB 3)With just seconds to spare in the 2017 legislative session, House members approved a bill that will create the Senior Services Protection Fund to preserve several services for the elderly and disabled. The move represents a last-ditch effort by the House to preserve nursing home and in-home care services for some of Missouri’s most vulnerable citizens.
In the days leading up to the conclusion of the session, House and Senate members had worked to find a solution that would keep the vital services intact. The House had passed a version of the bill that would end the renter’s portion of the senior citizens property tax credit in order to generate funds that would be used to protect the existing level of service. The Senate countered by passing a version of the bill that would raise the funds by “sweeping” the unexpended monies from several state funds associated with regulatory boards and commissions.
The House initially rejected the Senate’s plan and sought a conference where lead negotiators could work on a compromise. The House Budget Chairman was concerned that the Senate solution involved one-time dollars and would not represent a long-term funding source. He also raised concerns about the constitutionality of the Senate’s language. However, with the Senate being unwilling to negotiate and the need to preserve the services vital, the House opted to take the Senate plan as time ran out.
This piece of legislation is necessary because the budget approved by the General Assembly this year relies on the Senior Services Protection Fund to restore a cut proposed by the governor to in-home care and nursing home services. The governor had recommended increasing the eligibility requirements (21 points to 27 points) for these services, which would have resulted in approximately 20,000 seniors and disabled Missourians no longer qualifying for the state-funded care. The House then moved to fully restore them to their original levels so that no one would be cut off from care. The final version of the budget will maintain the current eligibility requirements (21 points) as long as the Senior Services Protection Fund legislation is signed into law by the governor.
Helping to Prevent Overdose Deaths (SB 501)
The General Assembly gave final approval this session to legislation meant to prevent overdose deaths.The bill will give immunity from charges for minor possession of drugs or paraphernalia or being under the influence to a person who calls for emergency medical attention for someone who is overdosing on drugs or alcohol, and will give immunity to the person in need of medical attention.
The legislation has been referred to as “Bailey and Cody’s law” in memoriam of two overdose victims whose parents believe that having such a law in place could have saved their children’s lives. Supporters say the bill will help reduce the number of drug and alcohol related overdoses by eliminating the fear some would have of being prosecuted if they call for help for themselves or others.
Similar legislation has been enacted in other states and local areas and has proven to save lives, particularly when working in conjunction with bills that allow first responders or friends and loved ones to have and administer naloxone – a drug that counteracts overdoses to opioids, including heroin. Missouri in 2014 and 2016 enacted such laws.
Improving Transparency in the State Legal Expense Fund (SB 128)
The General Assembly gave final approval this session to legislation that will increase transparency when lawsuits against state agencies are settled. The legislation was prompted by the revelation that millions of tax dollars were paid out over several years in settling harassment and discrimination cases against the Department of Corrections.The cases against Corrections came to light late last year when an article on Pitch.com detailed several of them, and outlined how employees who complained about being harassed or discriminated against were victims of retaliation by fellow staff members. House members said after the article came out that they were unaware of the settlements because those have been paid out of a line in the budget that has no spending limit on it. That meant departments never had to come to the legislature and justify how much their settlement agreements were costing the state.
The legislation will require the attorney general to report every month to the legislature and others about how the state’s legal expense fund – the fund from which money for settlements is taken – has been used. Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley announced in March he would begin monthly reporting on the activity of the legal expense fund. Legislators praised his decision but said the bill passed this year is still needed to ensure future attorneys general will follow suit.
Ensuring Consistency with the State’s Minimum Wage (HB 1194)
In response to a Missouri Supreme Court decision that invalidated part of Missouri’s minimum wage law, lawmakers moved to implement a fix that will provide a consistent wage in municipalities throughout the state. The House and Senate approved legislation this session that will reaffirm that the state’s minimum wage is applied throughout Missouri, and keep the decision to raise wages in the hands of the employer and employee.While the state currently has a minimum wage that increases based on the Consumer Price Index, and is currently higher than the federal minimum wage, some municipalities have considered their own increases. St. Louis passed an ordinance to raise its minimum wage to $10 an hour this year and $11 an hour by 2018. The legislation approved by the House will preempt and nullify the minimum wage enacted by St. Louis, and provide that other municipalities cannot enact a minimum wage that exceeds the one established by state law.