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House approves Million Dollar Boondoggle Act

The House has approved legislation that would allow school districts to open up lines of communication with one another as a way to stop employees with a history of abusing students from moving from one district to another.

The bill would allow for school districts to contact an employee’s former employers from a list supplied by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. A school would be required to disclose the actual violation of the school’s regulations as it pertains to sexual misconduct with a student.

The legislation has the support of various child advocacy groups, who told lawmakers that right now, schools cannot share such information about former employees. This often allows individuals with a history of abuse to find jobs in other districts and to abuse more children.

One lawmaker who supports the bill said, “This will free up HR directors and assistant superintendents to speak the truth. It will allow people not to be hired in other districts when they were fired from a different district. I think what we’re doing is not only saving children but affording school districts an opportunity not to be sued at the rate they are being sued at this point.”

One provision added on the House Floor would require criminal background checks of anyone who volunteers with a school district, if that person will have regular or one-on-one contact with students or access to student records.

Another piece added by the full House extends the definition of those who can be found guilty of abuse to include any person who developed a relationship with a child through school, even if the abuse did not occur on school grounds or during school hours.

The sponsor of the provision said it would close a “loophole” child advocates had identified.

The sponsor said, “If the offense would happen on school grounds that’s easy enough to take care of, but when the offense happens off those school grounds, there’s been four cases in the last two years that [investigators have] had a lack of a preponderance of evidence.”

The bill adds two-and-a-half hours to the training required of new school board members, which would be focused on identifying signs of sexual abuse and potentially abusive relationships between adults and children. It would also require an hour of refresher training, annually.

Finally, the bill requires schools to offer students trauma-informed, developmentally appropriate sexual abuse training for grades six and above. Parents who don’t want their children to receive that training could choose to opt-out of it.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

The House has voted to ensure that Missouri inmates who are at least 65 years old get a chance at parole. The legislation would apply to a small number of inmates who have served at least 30 years of a sentence, who have no prior violent felony convictions, are not convicted sex offenders, and are serving a sentence of life without parole with a 50-year minimum.

The sponsor of the bill noted that the 50-year minimum was replaced with a 30-year minimum in the 1980s.

He said, “We are trying to give these folks, who have become elderly in prison and are a burden on the Missouri department of justice health system the same opportunity for parole that they would’ve had if they had committed their crimes a few years after they were convicted.”

Another supporter said the legislation reflects how the state’s law has changed to eliminate overly harsh prison terms. She said, “This is an opportunity to correct some of the miscarriage of justice that we’ve had in the past.”

Those who opposed the bill said the victims of the crimes committed by the inmates the bill would affect deserve justice by having the original sentences carried out.

One opponent said, “When someone is sentenced under a statute that says, ‘Life without parole means a 50-year minimum,’ that’s the promise that we made to the family at the time. The promise doesn’t change just because our philosophy changes.”

In response the sponsor said, “The [legislature] has already made the change in the sentencing law. Therefore this is not breaking a contract with the jury, but rather allowing equivalent sentencing across the board.”

Under the bill, an inmate receiving a parole hearing must be found by the parole board to have met certain criteria to be eligible for parole. He or she must have a record of good conduct while in prison; must have demonstrated rehabilitation; must have an institutional risk factor score of no more than one and a mental health score of no more than three; and must have a workable parole plan that includes the support of family and community. An offender who is not granted parole would be reconsidered every two years.

The bill now moves to the Senate.

The Missouri House of Representative has approved legislation to protect taxpayer dollars from expensive projects that run over budget or behind schedule. Known as the Million Dollar Boondoggle Act, the bill is meant to increase transparency for taxpayers so they are aware of what the state is doing with their tax dollars.

House Bill 1088 requires the Office of Administration to submit a report on specified projects that are one year behind schedule or $1 million or more over original cost estimates to the General Assembly. The report will also be posted to the Office of Administration website.

The bill would require the Office of Administration to report on capital improvement, building, renovation, or construction projects or any information technology project of any type that is funded by an executive agency using only funds appropriated by the general assembly.

The sponsor of the bill said, “It’s a bipartisan bill that simply creates an automatic alert system to the General Assembly to address these problems before they become a bottomless money pit of taxpayer dollars. With this we can identify projects that are significantly over budget or behind schedule to hopefully stop future boondoggles.”

The legislation now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Legislation Sent to the Senate this Week

HB 456 creates a STEM diploma endorsement for high school students who demonstrate mastery in the STEM disciplines. Supporters say the bill will help encourage students to consider STEM fields of study, and that bringing focus to STEM is important as it brings job skills to areas of need. They also support students that may not be college bound to have the opportunity to get endorsements like the bill would provide.

HRB 1 repeals various obsolete statutes that have been endorsed by the Joint Committee on Legislative Research. The bill is prepared by the Joint Committee on Legislative Research after hearings and consultations from any government agency or entity subject to the bill’s scope. The bill is limited to the repeal of obsolete, expired, sunset, and terminated sections of law.

HB 278 allows the Division of Employment Security to serve, by certified mail, written notice to an employer that has failed to file certain reports required by law. Supporters say that allowing the use of certified mail without requiring a return receipt will provide a significant cost savings with no loss of effectiveness.

HB 604 establishes the “School Turnaround Act.” Supporters say schools and children are our most precious resource and if the current structure is failing, we need more options beyond school takeovers and lack of local control. This bill will provide high accountability with high local buy in.

HB 703 allows taxpayers to donate a portion of their income tax refund to the Kansas City Regional Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation. Supporters say the bill provides taxpayers an option to voluntarily support the effort taking place in Kansas City for a Law Enforcement memorial garden. It would allow individuals to deduct from their refund or add to their amount owed.

HB 124 allows the circuit court in St. Louis City to collect a fee not to exceed twenty dollars, rather than fifteen, to go toward the law library. Supporters say the bill will help maintain the law library and increase the retention rate of good employees by increasing their pay.

HB 462 creates certified teacher externships. Supporters say the purpose of the bill is to enhance discussion with students regarding employment opportunities after graduation. It addresses a skills gap issue by bringing practical experience into the classroom. In addition, externships are an important piece of workforce development.

HB 973 requires the nonpartisan state demographer to establish a “Redistricting Public Comment Portal,” to accept comments, maps, or other communications from the general public or interested parties. Supporters say the bill is a good government proposal that requires the nonpartisan demographer to disclose communications about redistricting to the general public in a readily available format.

HB 959 repeals an existing provision of the Motor Vehicle Franchise Practices Act regarding coercion of franchisees to alter their facilities, and enacts new prohibitions against coercion. Supporters say the bill is a product of reasonable compromise between franchisors and franchisees. It will allow franchisees to spend more profits on technology, salaries, and product lines instead of infrastructure repair and construction projects.

HB 355 modifies provisions for appealing orders and decisions of the public service commission. Supporters say the bill would make the process of appealing a decision issued by the Public Service Commission more efficient.

HCR 16 urges Congress to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Ghost Army of World War II. Supporters say the resolution would help honor and recognize members of the “Ghost Army” who actively assisted in deception operations during World War II, and these operations saved the lives of countless individuals and helped expedite the end of the war through the unit’s efforts.

HB 762 establishes the Missouri Municipality Government Expenditure Database. The database must include extensive information about a given municipality’s expenditures and the vendors to whom payments were made. Supporters say the bill will provide public access to local government expenditure data. The Office of Administration will provide a template so political subdivisions can easily send information.

HB 1029 modifies the state treasurer’s authority to invest in linked deposits. Supporters say the bill is a correction and extension to a program that is currently working well. The program is working better than they thought it would, so the bill will expand the program to allow the investment into more small businesses.

HB 628 prohibits a dentist from writing a prescription for long-acting or extended-release opioids for the treatment of acute dental pain, unless, in the professional judgment of the dentist, the use of said opioid is necessary to treat the patient’s acute pain. Supporters say the legislation is important in attempting to prevent opioid abuse and protect patients, as research shows that in preventing opioid dependency, it is important to limit the duration and dosage of an opioid prescription. However, the legislation still allows the dentist to exceed the parameters if they feel it is in the best interest of the patient.

HB 982 authorizes the Missouri State Capitol Commission to employ Missouri Capitol Police Officers for public safety at the seat of state government. Supporters say this reorganization is needed to provide optimal safety for the capitol and create better “community policing” for the building and surrounding area.

HB 824 modifies the requirements relating to the production of industrial hemp. Supporters say the federal government has completely legalized the growth and sale of industrial hemp. The acreage limitations were part of the pilot program and are no longer needed. Expanding the program and allowing more farmers to take advantage of the new crop would allow for more economic opportunity throughout the state.

HBs 812 & 832 designates the “Trooper John N Greim Memorial Highway” on a portion of U.S. Highway 50 in Johnson County and the “Trooper Fred L Walker Memorial Highway” on a portion of State Highway A in Clinton County. Supporters say the memorial highways honor troopers killed in the line of duty in the 1940’s. Both individuals were noted for their civic virtue and the excellent example they set for their communities. Mr. Greim was a pilot and died in a plane accident while pursuing a car across state lines into Arkansas. Mr. Walker was a noted high school athlete and a teacher.

HB 626 requires any person, company, or corporation engaged in the business of renting or leasing motor vehicles, trailers, boats, or outboard motors, which are to be used exclusively for rental or lease purposes, and not for resale, to apply to the Director of the Department of Revenue for authority to operate as a leasing or rental company and pay an annual fee of $250 for such authority. Supporters say the bill will create efficiencies for licensing in massive rental car operations and will likely result in a positive overall fiscal note because most vehicles will be passenger cars, which produce a small fiscal gain, rather than trucks, which produce a small fiscal loss.

HB 715 removes the sunset provision for the Wartime Veteran’s Survivor Grant Program. Supporters say the bill would remove sunset provisions to the Veteran’s Survivors Grant Program, but would still leave the program subject to appropriations. Supporters also say that this program does not cost that much money and the program should be extended.

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