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Legislators wrap up productive 2017 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 represents a compromise that increases requirements slightly (24 points), but also includes a provision that would completely restore the governor’s proposed cut if the Senior Services Protection Fund bill becomes law.

The bill would also restore funding for brain injury services provided by the Department of Health that have been withheld in previous budget cycles; restore a portion of a cut proposed by the governor to reimbursement rates for Medicaid providers; and provide additional funding for the state’s Area Agencies on Aging for use in the Meals on Wheels program that provides meal assistance to seniors.

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.

Protecting Police Officers (SB 34)

The Missouri General Assembly took action this session to deter crimes against law enforcement officials. House and Senate members approved legislation that will create enhanced penalties for individuals who assault officers of the law.

The legislation will increase by one degree the penalty for first and second degree involuntary manslaughter; first and second degree property damage; first and second degree stalking; and first-degree trespassing; when those crimes are committed against a law enforcement officer, or a family member of the officer. As an example, first degree involuntary manslaughter is a class C felony under current statute, but will increase to a class B felony if SB 34 becomes law.

Supporters of the bill said the enhanced penalties are necessary because crimes against law enforcement officers have increased in recent years. They said the enhanced penalties will be a deterrent for anyone who may consider engaging in a crime against law enforcement. They also said the bill will reinforce the legislature’s commitment to law enforcement.

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.

Supporters say the bill will ensure it is not illegal for an employer to hire someone in accordance with the state minimum wage. They say the legislation approved by the General Assembly will protect job creators from being turned into criminals. They also note that a mandated increase in payroll would force businesses to either raise prices or cut costs by reducing the size of their workforce. In addition, they say it’s important to have a consistent minimum wage across the state rather than an inconsistent patchwork of wages that vary from municipality to municipality.

The $10 minimum wage took effect in St. Louis in recent weeks. If Governor Greitens signs HB 1194 into law, the wage will revert back to the state standard on Aug. 28.

Organ Donor Program Fund (SB 248)

In the final moments of the 2017 legislative session, lawmakers moved to support organ donation in Missouri by giving approval to a bill that would continue the organ donor program fund tax checkoff on state income tax returns. The checkoff is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2017. The bill approved by the General Assembly would remove the sunset entirely and allow the checkoff to continue indefinitely. Supporters say the checkoff has been very successful, along with the driver’s license donations, Employee Charitable Campaign, and direct donations in funding the Organ and Tissue Donor Program.

Rep. Mike Henderson

Rep. Mike Henderson

This report was filed May 16, 2017

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