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We have made it half way through February, and are still going strong working here in Jefferson City. We were able to pass several pieces of legislation out of the House this week; I have included a brief overview below.

House Passes Important Reforms for State Unemployment System (HB 1409)

Members of the Missouri House gave final approval to a bill meant to protect the state’s unemployment system from insolvency in the event there is another economic downturn. Supporters say the bill is necessary because Missouri is the only state that has been forced to borrow money from the federal government to pay for unemployment benefits during each of the last five economic downturns. They also say businesses are negatively impacted because borrowing federal dollars causes employers to lose a portion of a federal tax credit they normally receive.

The legislation is designed to make sure the state has enough money in its unemployment trust fund so that businesses don’t have to pay a penalty. Specifically, it would increase the minimum amount of money in the fund by $120 million before employers’ contribution rates decrease. For example, Missouri businesses would see their contribution rates decrease by 7 percent if the fund has a balance greater than $720 million. Rates would drop by 12 percent if the fund sees a balance in excess of $870 million.

The bill would also tie unemployment benefits to the average unemployment rate so that more benefits are available when unemployment is high. If the state were in a position of high unemployment (9 percent or higher), benefits would be available for 20 weeks. In periods of low unemployment (lower than 6 percent), benefits would be available for 13 weeks. Supporters note that similar systems are already in place in states like Georgia and Florida. They call the change an important step toward ensuring Missouri can afford to help its citizens during times when they are without work. Supporters also note that the average period of unemployment in Missouri is 12.1 weeks so the 13-week benefit period would be sufficient in most cases.

The legislation now moves to the Senate for consideration. The House and Senate approved similar legislation in 2015 only to see then Governor Nixon veto the bill. The House approved a veto override during the regular session that year, and the Senate then completed the override during the annual Veto Session. The law was later struck down by the Supreme Court because of the fact the veto was not overridden in the same session.

House Approves Needle Exchange Bill (HB 1620)

The Missouri House approved legislation this week that would ease state law to allow organizations to give clean needles to users of illegal intravenous drugs. Supporters say the bill will help combat a potential outbreak of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C caused by the sharing of used needles, and will get more people into drug treatment.

Needle exchange or syringe access programs already exist in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas. The bill’s sponsor said these programs are operating in violation of state law regarding drug paraphernalia, but local jurisdictions allow them to operate because of the impact they have. The legislation approved by the House would relax state law to allow the programs to operate and to expand to other regions in the state.

The sponsor told her colleagues that individuals who use those programs to get needles are five times more likely to get into drug treatment because the programs put them in contact with medical professionals.

As the bill’s sponsor said, “They get educational material explaining the harm of what they’re doing. They get a person who’s greeting them where they’re at in life who’s explaining there are options for you. We have places for you to go that we can get you into to help get you past this addiction, and so that becomes a relationship.”

Proponents also say the bill will save the state money in costs to Medicaid of treating people who contract conditions like HIV and Hepatitis C by sharing needles.

The legislation now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Other Bills Moving to the Senate

HB 1413 would require the authorization for certain labor unions to use dues and fees to make political contributions and requires consent for withholding earnings from paychecks. Supporters say the bill would increase transparency within public sector unions by holding them to private union disclosure standards. They say it would also protect the political viewpoints of public sector union members who may disagree with union leadership, and may accordingly wish to not have their dues or membership pay for the union's political activities.

HB 1367 would allow licensees to obtain duplicate licenses from the board of cosmetology and barber examiners. Supporters say the bill would allow cosmetologists and barbers to get replacement licenses through the mail rather than having to come to Jefferson City in person.

HB 1420 would extend the sunset for the early learning quality assurance report pilot program from August 28, 2016 until August 28, 2019. Supporters say the program provides parents with information that helps them make good decisions about early childhood education for their children.

HB 1930 would include political subdivisions and special districts in the list of entities prohibited from regulating the exhibition of a properly displayed United States flag. Rules, regulations, and ordinances of all kinds are subject to the requirements of the bill. Supporters say that the bill will encourage the proper display of the flag at public buildings owned by the state or any political subdivision or agency of the state. The bill does not apply to purely private associations or restrictive covenants. Federal requirements for the use and display of the flag are not mandatory and there is no penalty for improper display.

HB 1267 would add approved virtual institutions to the Access Missouri Financial Assistance Program. Supporters say the bill would expand eligibility for financial assistance under the program to students seeking degrees from virtual institutions.

HB 1691 would modify the appeal procedure for decisions by the public service commission. Supporters say the bill would streamline the appeal process for commission orders and decisions, and avoid potential errors that are currently possible when the commission forwards mail to the court.

HB 1838 would authorize and empower the governor to convey all interest in specific property, described in the bill, located in Jefferson City, Missouri. Supporters say the bill would allow the conveyance of land that would be developed with money raised from private sources to create safe and appealing access to the river, especially to the thousands of kids who visit the Capitol every year.

HB 1653 would modify provisions of law relating to certain incentives offered by manufacturers and retailers of intoxicating liquor. Supporters say the change would allow consumers to see the cost of the products before going to the store. The consumers benefit by seeing which store is offering the best price. Supporters say that the current restrictions on advertisements are an infringement on free speech.

HB 1251 would change the laws regarding foreclosure proceeds. Supporters say the bill would fix an issue where tax sale proceeds are improperly distributed to the wrong party. Currently, the owner of a home could improperly receive the proceeds of a tax sale, instead of the proceeds going to the lien holder on the home.

HB 1879 would change the laws regarding financial transactions by public entities. Supporters say the bill would update and modernize the state’s public entity finance statutes, which will create efficiencies in banking and investment of public funds. This bill would also reduce administrative hassle and burden.

HB 1859 would allow law enforcement agencies to assist other law enforcement agencies. Supporters say there are officers and deputies in other counties who would like to help smaller counties, so a mutual aid agreement such as the one created by the bill is necessary. Currently, only adjoining counties may enter into mutual aid agreements, but sometimes counties need help from, or can offer help to, counties outside the adjoining areas.

HB 1389 would exclude autocycle operators from protective headgear requirements. Supporters say that autocycles generally have roll bars and seat belts or air bags so that they are as safe as many types of cars such as convertibles and that a helmet is unnecessary.

HB 1460 would authorize a tax deduction for any prize or award won by an Olympic medalist. Supporters say that athletes train for years to represent their country in the Olympic Games and the bill would exempt any Olympic medals and prize money won from state income tax.

HB 1685 would exempt short-term major medical policies from several health insurance mandates and allow such policies to have a term of less than one year. Supporters say bill would exempt short term policies from many health insurance mandates and increase the term limit from six months to a period of less than a year. The change could help families get more affordable health insurance coverage.

HB 1690 would modify provisions of the Missouri life and health insurance guarantee act. Supporters say the bill would modify the act to mirror the national model. It would give increased support for long term care insurance and strengthen and add protections for health maintenance organizations.

As always, it is a pleasure to serve you, and please contact my office if you need anything!

Missouri 115th District State Representative Elaine Gannon, R-De Soto, files a report every other week while the state legislature is in session.

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