Thursday, May 28, 2009

Military and Veterans’ Issues Top 2009 Session Priorities

As the nation celebrated Memorial Day this week and honored the military service men and women who lost their lives while serving their country, lawmakers were able to count military issues as one success of the 2009 legislative session.

Two military-related bills (HB 427 and HB 82), both handled in the Senate by Sen. David Pearce (R-Warrensburg), were passed by the General Assembly and sent to the governor’s desk this session.

To read more about these bills, check out this week's general column.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Last Week of Session Overview

To read more about some of the legislation that passed during the last week of session, take a look at the Missouri Senate General Column. You can find the three-part series that covers the final days of the legislative session on the Senate Newsroom website, or by clicking below.

part one (5/14)
part two (5/15)
part three (5/18)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Education Bill Awaits Governor's Signature

After encountering some difficulty in the House, Senate Bill 291, sponsored by Senate Leader Charlie Shields (R-St. Joseph), was passed Thursday afternoon. The comprehensive education bill started as a single provision that allows school districts to offer virtual courses and receive state funding. The passed version builds upon that provision in several ways, including:
  • Providing that all revenue collected from the repeal of the casino loss limits be deposited into the Classroom Trust Fund and then dispersed to schools, ensuring that the money voters intended for public schools to receive is properly distributed.
  • Establishing the P-20 Council as a private, not-for-profit entity on behalf of the state with the purpose of creating a more efficient and effective education system to better prepare students for entering the workforce.
  • Creating the Missouri Senior Cadets Program, which will provide opportunities for 12th graders in public schools to mentor kindergarten through eighth grade students.
  • Establishing the School Flex Program to allow eligible students to pursue a timely graduation from high school.
  • Creating the Persistence to Graduation Fund and establishing a procedure for school districts to apply for grants to implement drop-out prevention strategies.
  • Requiring each public school to develop standards for teaching by June 30, 2010.
  • Developing "The Parents' Bill of Rights" to inform parents of children with an individualized education program of their educational rights under law.
  • Requiring school districts to ensure that students in elementary schools participate in moderate physical activity for the entire school year (beginning 2010-2011) for an average of 150 minutes per week, or 30 minutes per day.
  • Allowing school boards to establish a four-day school week instead of a five-day school week by a majority vote of board members.
The bill also contains language from a bill originally sponsored by Sen. Rita Heard Days (D-St. Louis), which allows school districts to maintain permanent records in a digital or electronic format.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Comprehensive Crime Bill Revived

Though debated on the Senate floor intermittently throughout the session, it was unclear whether a large crime bill would have the legs to pass by the end-of-session deadline. With the Senate voting today to pass the House’s version (HB 62) and the House voting today to pass the Senate’s version (SB 262), omnibus crime legislation may still have time to make it to the governor’s desk before session ends at 6 p.m. on Friday, May 15.

Sen. Matt Bartle (R-Lee’s Summit) sponsored SB 262 and handled HB 62 in the Senate. Both chambers made changes to the other’s legislation, so the bills will now make a trip to conference committee for negotiations.

The bill passed by the Senate today, HB 62, includes a whole slew of provisions that:

  • Prohibit the use of a false or misleading diploma in connection with admission to a college or university, or in connection with any business, employment opportunity, trade or public office.
  • Allow university police officers to respond to emergencies or natural disasters outside of the boundaries of university property and provide services if requested by the law enforcement agency with jurisdiction.
  • Require the Department of Health and Senior Services to implement an education and awareness program regarding the financial exploitation of the elderly.
  • Require that, upon the victim's request, a photograph be taken of an incarcerated individual prior to his or her release and a copy be provided to the victim.
  • Give a person an absolute defense against civil liability or criminal prosecution for killing or injuring a dog, if the person's actions were based on the reasonable belief that he or she, or another person, was in imminent danger of being harmed by the dog.
  • Deny driving privileges to any person convicted twice within a five-year period of committing an intoxication-related traffic offense and prohibit issuing a license to that person for five years from the date of the second conviction.
  • Prohibit certain alcohol-related activities on the state’s minor rivers.
  • Prohibit certain sexual offenders from serving as an athletic coach, manager or trainer for any sports team on which a child younger than 17 is a member.
  • Prohibit the use or possession of an alcoholic beverage vaporizer.

Senator Ryan McKenna (D-Crystal City) also successfully added an amendment to the bill that would ban text messaging on Missouri roads except in certain circumstances.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Omnibus Transportation Bill Sent to Governor

Today the General Assembly gave final approval to a comprehensive transportation bill that addresses fee offices, drunken driving and vehicle inspections, sending the legislation to the governor’s desk.

One of the most notable parts of House Bill 683 statutorily requires that the awarding of fee office contracts be done through a competitive bidding process. Until recently, the contracts were awarded on a subjective basis.

Another part of the bill establishes a drunken driving risk reduction awareness program. Called David’s Law, this program allows for the placement of MoDOT memorial signs at the scene of alcohol-related accidents.

The bill also exempts vehicles from the state motor vehicle safety inspection for the five-year period following their model year of manufacture. Currently, new vehicles are only exempt for two years.

Other parts of the HB 683 include requiring that shippers of radioactive waste in or through Missouri be subject to fees; creating an interstate interchange designation program to honor fallen Missouri heroes who have been killed in action in Afghanistan or Iraq on or after September 11, 2001; and allowing motor vehicle dealers, acting as agents of the state, to title and register vehicles and collect and submit sales tax.

Because HB 683 passed with an emergency clause, the bill takes effect immediately upon receiving the governor’s signature.

Monday, May 11, 2009

General Assembly Approves $23.1 Billion Operating Budget

With a little less than 24 hours to spare, the General Assembly last Thursday voted to pass a $23.1 billion operating budget for fiscal year 2010. House Bills 2–13 now join HB 1, which was passed earlier in the session, at the governor’s desk. Together, these 13 bills comprise the state’s budget for FY 2010, which runs July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2010.

The $23.1 billion budget includes a $63 million increase for the school foundation formula, which funds the state’s public K–12 schools. Higher education also received a $50 million funding increase. If passed by the General Assembly this week, a health care plan to insure approximately 35,000 low-income Missourians is set to receive $147 million under the FY 2010 budget. The approved budget also provides for a nearly $1 billion budget reserve for coming years.

Also sent to the governor were four supplemental spending bills, including House Bill 21 ($2.6 billion) and House Bill 22 ($600 million, including more than $381 million in federal stimulus money). For more information on the approved budget, click here.

The budget was constitutionally required to pass by Friday, May 8, at 6 p.m.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Pre-need Funeral Bill Heads to Governor

After earning approval from both the House and Senate, today the first bill to be introduced this session, SB 1, sponsored by Sen. Delbert Scott (R-Lowry City), was sent to the governor's desk.

The bill establishes licensing requirements for pre-need funeral contract sellers, providers and seller agents and establishes requirements for all pre-need contracts. Pre-need funeral contracts allow individuals to pay for funeral and burial expenses prior to death.

Senators also voted 24-10 today for HB 21, a $2.6 billion supplemental stimulus spending bill for fiscal year 2010. The bill, which contains spending that was heavily regulated by the federal government, has moved back to the House for approval. All budget bills must be passed by 6 p.m. on May 8.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Senate Committee Hears Taser Bill

One senator would like to form a task force to study the use of tasers by law enforcement in Missouri, and today the Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and the Environment Committee held a public hearing on a bill that would do just that.

Senate Bill 328, sponsored by Sen. Joan Bray (D-St. Louis), would create a 10-member task force to study the use of conducted energy devices (CEDs, or tasers), their safety and how they physically affect people.

The task force would consist of two medical experts, two scientific experts, two legal experts, two law enforcement experts and two private citizens who have been shot or who have a family member who has been shot by a taser. All members would be appointed by the governor, under advisement by the Senate.

Members would issue recommendations to the governor, attorney general and Legislature by January 2011 so policy could be formed. Also, until the task force report is completed and its recommendations are passed and signed into law, the use of tasers would be suspended in the state, except by certain law enforcement agencies.

With the end of session rapidly approaching, SB 328 must be passed out of committee and then approved by both the Senate and House to become law before May 15.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Senate Approves Income Tax Exemption for Military Retirement Benefits

The Senate today passed HB 82, a bill that creates a complete income tax exemption for military retirement benefits. The exemption will phase in gradually, beginning in 2010 with 15 percent of this type of income being tax exempt, increasing 15 percent each following year until 2016 when the exemption reaches 100 percent.

Part of the bill also removes the age requirement (62 years or older) on the income tax exemption of public retirement benefits that is currently being phased in as part of 2007's HB 444.

HB 82, which was handled in the Senate by Sen. David Pearce (R-Warrensburg), must return to the House for approval before it can be sent to the governor.