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Governor takes final action on passed legislation

Governor takes final action on passed legislation

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Dale Wright (Wide)

Rep. Dale Wright

Dear Friends,

In the final week he was able to take action on bills approved by the General Assembly, Governor Mike Parson signed several key measures into law. The majority of the bills will now become law on Aug. 28. They address needs in the state such as stronger protections for children and newborns and increased support for law enforcement and veterans, and other important issues. Bills signed into law are:

SB 72 includes my HB 447 as an amendment, which designates The Gateway Arch as Missouri's official state monument. As a school project students at Roosevelt school researched and discovered Missouri did not have an official state monument. As a result retired Farmington school teacher Janis Chatman contacted me and asked if I would be willing to sponsor a bill to name the Gateway Arch the official state monument.

I said I would be willing to do it if students would be willing to come to Jefferson City to testify on the bill. Two students came to the Capitol and testified before the Tourism Committee. Their impressive testimonies garnered a 15 to 0 passing committee vote. The bill received a unanimous vote in the House Rules committee and an overwhelming vote on the House floor.

In the senate it received committee approval as well, but never made it to the senate floor. In order to get the bill passed and after receiving approval from Senator Karla Eslinger, I attached it as an amendment to her SB 72 where it received final passage. This was a great example of students not only learning about government but actually participating in their state’s government.

The bill also establishes Law Enforcement Appreciation Day as the first Friday in May and creates Pioneering Black Women's Day on March 26th.

SB 262 increases transportation funding for critical state and local infrastructure projects across the state of Missouri. The bill generates the funding by increasing the state’s fuel tax by 2.5 cents per gallon per year for five years, beginning in 2021.

Missouri has the seventh largest transportation system in the nation but only ranks 45th in available revenue per road mile. Over the last 25 years, the state has not significantly increased funding streams for state or local transportation projects, while the cost to maintain Missouri roadways has continued to increase significantly.

The bill increases transportation funding by more than $450 million once its provisions are fully implemented. An estimated $330 million per year would be available for the State Road Fund administered by the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), and nearly $125 million — approximately 30 percent of total revenue — would go directly to cities and counties for local transportation projects.

The bill also includes a provision that allows Missourians to avoid the increased fuel tax, which is estimated by some to amount to only $60.00 to $80.00 per family. Those who don’t want to increase their contributions to state and local roadway projects can submit the required documentation, including fuel receipts, to the Missouri Department of Revenue each year to receive a refund.

HB 349 allows parents and students to have access to schools in other districts. The legislation creates scholarship accounts (ESAs). Missourians can receive a tax credit for donating to educational assistance organizations, which will provide scholarships to eligible students for a variety of costs such as tuition, tutoring, and transportation. Estimates are that this can cost up to $75 million. Unfortunately, all Missouri tax payers and public school districts across the state will bear the cost of this new discriminating tax while the scholarships will only be available to students in cities with a population of 30,000 or more.

HB 557 creates stronger protections for children in unlicensed, faith-based reform schools. Some of these schools have no affiliation to a faith at all. The bill was prompted by news detailing the mental, physical, and sexual abuse suffered by children in some of these schools. The bill strives to protect children by requiring all such facilities to notify the Department of Social Services of their existence, and requiring background checks for employees and volunteers. Additionally, it requires the schools to comply with health and safety standards, gives parents full access to their children, and provides a method for children to be removed when abuse or neglect is suspected.

SBs 53 & 60 is a wide-ranging piece of legislation. The bills prohibit law enforcement officers from using a respiratory choke-hold unless such a hold is utilized in defense against a serious physical injury or death. The bills also implement the Police Use of Force Transparency Act of 2021, which requires each law enforcement agency to collect and report local data on use-of-force incidents involving peace officers to the National Use of Force Data Collection through the Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Other provisions in the bill make it a crime to point a laser pointer at police, make it a felony offense for a law enforcement officer to engage in sexual conduct with a detainee or prisoner, modifies the requirements to have a criminal record expunged, and allows prosecuting or circuit attorneys to file a motion to vacate or set aside a judgment at any time if he or she has information that the convicted person may be innocent or may have been erroneously convicted. The bill also includes “Raise the Age” provisions to ensure 17-year-old criminal suspects are handled by the juvenile justice system rather than be prosecuted as adults.

The bills also have provisions to create the Critical Incident Stress Management Program within the Department of Public Safety. The program will provide services for peace officers to assist in coping with stress and potential psychological trauma resulting from a response to a critical incident or emotionally difficult event. The bills also create the 988 Public Safety Fund for the purpose of providing services for peace officers to assist in coping with stress and potential psychological trauma resulting from a response to such events.

HB 432 is an all-encompassing bill that seeks to protect newborns from potential abuse by creating the Birth Match Program. The bill requires data sharing between state departments that would better allow the state to offer prevention and crisis management support to families who may need it. The program will create a timely way for Social Services to help newborns who are likely in abusive situations before they are harmed. The bill orders data sharing between the Children's Division of the Department of Social Services and the State Registrar's Office to compare birth reports with reports of parents who have been convicted of certain crimes or have a termination of parental rights in order to ensure the safety of the child and provide services, if needed.

The bill contains a provision that creates the Victims’ Economic Security and Safety Act to provide assistance to survivors of domestic or sexual violence. The provision requires employers with 20 or more employees to provide reasonable workplace safety accommodations and allow unpaid leave to survivors of domestic or sexual violence. Reasons for unpaid leave include attending hearings, accessing the courts, addressing physical or mental health issues and finding new living quarters.

It also modifies the state’s existing Safe Place for Newborns Act, which allows a parent to permanently give up a newborn up to 45 days old without prosecution, as long as it is done safely and in accordance with the law. The legislation would allow a parent to relinquish a newborn to a device known as a newborn safety incubator. This would allow for a parent to anonymously relinquish a child to an incubator that is climate controlled with an alarm that notifies 911 when a baby is present and is designed to protect babies from being hurt or killed from unsafe abandonment.

Finally, the legislation contains a provision that will prevent the misuse of disciplinary practices known as seclusion and restraint and provides stronger definitions for the practices and regulates how they can be implemented and utilized. Seclusion and restraint are disciplinary practices used by some schools when dealing with kids who pose a threat to themselves or others.

The practice is meant to be used as a last resort and involves restraining the child or removing him or her to a separate space. The bill also requires any incident requiring restraint or seclusion to be monitored by school personnel with written observation. Additionally, it ensures parents and guardians are promptly notified when schools have used the measures on their child, and it mandates annual trainings for the school personnel who use them.

HB 369 creates the Prescribed Burning Act, which is meant to promote the safe, responsible use of controlled burns by licensed prescribed burn professionals throughout the state. The bill specifies that landowners will not be liable for damage, injury, or loss caused by a prescribed burn, or the resulting smoke of a prescribed burn, unless the landowner is proven to be negligent. Missouri is one of only five states that does not have statutes relating to prescribed burning.

Another provision of the bill is meant to help Missouri prevent the immense damage caused each year by feral hogs. The bill raises the penalty for anyone who recklessly or knowingly releases feral swine to live in the wild. Under the bill, the offense would increase from a class A misdemeanor to a class A felony.

SB 120 The bill follows recommendations from the U.S. Department of Defense, and pending voter approval, will create the Missouri Department of the National Guard. The new department would administer the militia and programs of the state relating to military forces, except for the Missouri Veterans Commission. It also designates November as Military Family Month to recognize the daily sacrifices of military families. The bill also grants an interview for any Missouri National Guard members applying for state jobs, and adds veteran questions to state forms to help connect them to services and enacts several other provisions.

SB 26 modifies several provisions related to public safety, including providing taxpayers with the ability to obtain injunctive relief if a local government decreases its police department’s budget by a prescribed amount and creating additional protections for law enforcement officers. Additionally, the bill modifies provisions related to jail time credit for criminals prior to conviction and allows a defendant's behavior during that same period to be considered in sentencing proceedings.

HB 297 expands the available uses of 529 Education Savings Plans and requires the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to create a state plan for Career and Technical Education, and allows college student-athletes to earn compensation for their name, image, or likeness.

My best to all of you!

Dale Wright

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