As state legislators get ready for the next session that begins Jan. 4, some are preparing or prefiling bills they hope to see passed this year. Among those taking advantage of the December opportunity to get a head start on potential laws are State Rep. Linda Black, D-Bonne Terre, and State Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington.
As Speaker of the House, State Rep. Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, is less likely to file bills, given his leadership position. He did file one bill last year and cosponsored several others. However, a spokesman for his office said he does not plan to file bills this session.
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In the House
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Black is considering several bills, including a highway dedication to the late Leadwood Chief of Police Jerry Hicks.
“One bill in particular has come about by the recent untimely passing of Chief of Police Jerry Hicks,” Black said. “The community of Leadwood has come out in support of a memorial highway dedication for Chief Hicks.”
Hicks died Dec. 4 from injuries he suffered in a patrol car accident several days earlier. The section of highway would start just east of Ferlin Husky Highway on Missouri 8 and would run for one mile east.
“The bill is ready to go at this point,” Black said.
However, she does not plan to prefile any bills in the House.
“Prefiling has become more complicated because we have to be physically present to sign,” she explained. “Many of us are waiting to file the first three or four days so we can catch our cosponsors. Especially if you want to file a bipartisan bill or join rural and urban legislators, that can be difficult during the holiday season.”
As a result, prefiling is not considered as crucial, she added.
Black also plans to refile Sam Pratt’s Law. The law would authorize the Department of Health and Senior Services to investigate and prohibit an unlicensed child care provider from continuing to provide child care services if there are criminal charges pending that would similarly result in licensure sanctions for a licensed child care provider.
Sam’s family began pushing for the law after they learned of a loophole in the laws for unlicensed child care providers. The unlicensed provider accused of causing Sam’s death was allowed to baby-sit children during a pending investigation.
Sam died on Feb. 2, 2009, when he was 3 months old. An autopsy revealed that he died as a result of a “non-accidental head trauma.”
“Over the course of the last few years, that bill has evolved into a bill that I believe has a really good chance of passing,” Black said. “We have worked out issues with the opposition.”
Among the other bills she plans to file include one that would require consumer protection disclosure when purchasing property in a private development. Another would remove manufactured homes from the direction of the public service commission. Black also is considering a bill to reduce the size of the legislature to 120 members of the House and 40 in the Senate. Currently there are 163 districts in the House of Representatives and 34 districts in the Senate.
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Engler has prefiled several bills in the Senate.
Senate Bill 440 would increase the financial regulations governing malpractice insurance associations. The bill would require medical malpractice insurance associations to keep a cash surplus of $600,000 on hand. Engler said that is necessary to ensure associations have enough money to cover their obligations when are there are large or multiple claims.
“If medical malpractice insurance associations were faced with multiple, extraordinary claims, but didn’t have the cash surplus to cover them, we could be looking at a disastrous situation,” Engler said. “We must have laws regulating these associations, not only for their own benefit, but for doctors and patients as well.”
Currently, Missouri law does not require malpractice insurance associations to keep a minimum amount of cash surplus on hand for claims. A major claim against an underfunded malpractice insurance association could wipe out its reserves and cause the insurer to fail, Engler said. That could leave doctors personally liable for any claims against them, and could also drive up malpractice insurance premiums, potentially causing a mass exodus of doctors from the state and raising medical costs, he theorized.
The bill also would prevent doctors from buying into medical malpractice plans that underinsure them.
“Everyone who drives a car is required to have a minimum amount of car insurance to cover any claims that may arise,” Engler added. “In the same way, doctors should be subject to a malpractice insurance minimum. This will ensure both doctors and patients are protected.”
If passed, the bill would increase Missouri’s ability to regulate malpractice insurance companies and subject them to various auditing and financial reporting insurance laws.
Engler also filed a bill that would change election of circuit court judges and associate circuit court judges to nonpartisan races starting Jan. 1, 2013.
Senate Bill 525 also would bar judges from being publicly affiliated with any political party and from participating in political activities.
“The courts need to stay independent. The law, not politics, should guide the decisions of our judges,” Engler said. “Yet, when we have them elected as a Republican or a Democrat, the public assumes certain things about their stances. This bill would require trial judges in our state be elected on a nonpartisan basis, removing any indication of party affiliation.”
Currently, judges in St. Louis City, St. Louis County, Springfield and most of the Kansas City metro area, as well as Missouri’s Appeals Court and the Supreme Court, are selected using nonpartisan judicial commissions. All other Missouri counties, however, use partisan elections to select circuit court and associate circuit court judges, Engler said.
The bill would primarily affect judges elected in county elections. It also would make an exception for incumbent judges elected before 2013 and allow their future elections to be held on a partisan basis.
Senate Bill 441 would allow drivers to obtain Missouri Junior Golf Foundation special license plates by paying a $25 emblem-used contribution fee to the Missouri Junior Golf Foundation. After obtaining an emblem-use authorization statement from the Missouri Junior Golf Foundation, the motorist would pay a $15 fee to the Department of Revenue in addition to regular registration fees.
A motorist who was previously issued Missouri Junior Golf Foundation plates and who does not provide an emblem-use authorization statement when re-registrering would be issued new plates that do not bear emblem.
Engler also has prefiled Senate Bill 518, which lets the Department of Corrections establish a three-year pilot program in which judges in participating counties may send a criminal offender to the department of corrections for 120 days for mental health assessment and treatment. The motion would come from a prosecutor and the victim must be given notice and an opportunity to be heard before the judge ruled on the motion.
At the end of the 120 days, the department must send an assessment report to the sentencing court, which may release the offender on probation. The state probation and parole officer for the offender must work with the Department of Mental Health to enroll eligible offenders into Community Psychiatric Rehabilitation programs.
Offenders would not be eligible for the pilot program if they have been found guilty of or plead guilty to second-degree murder, forcible or first-degree statutory rape, forcible or first-degree statutory sodomy, first degree child molestation that is classified as a class A felony, or any other offense that does not allow probation or parole. Those found to be predatory sexual offenders are also ineligible.
The directors of the Departments of Corrections and Mental Health would have to report to the governor and the General Assembly by December 31, 2015 on whether the program should be statewide.
Paula Barr is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 172 or at email@example.com.