Representative Ed Lewis's Capitol Report

May 26, 2023

Missouri General Assembly Concludes Legislative Session

As the 2023 legislative session wrapped up Friday, May 12th afternoon, lawmakers from both chambers left Jefferson City with some things accomplished and some things left unfinished. A couple of big misses that I see from this session were our inability to put on the ballot an Initiative Petition reform amendment and the failure to pass significant education policy legislation.

We officially adjourned on Friday, May 12, which concluded the portion of the legislative session when bills can be passed. The governor will now have the opportunity to act on the various bills sent we sent to him. He has the option to sign bills into law or veto legislation he finds problematic. The legislature will return in September for an annual Veto Session in which members could potentially override any vetoes made by the governor. The Governor has the ability to call a special session and there are some rumors that he might call a session for IP reform legislation or tax credits for childcare, one of his priorities this session.

Some Bills of Interest Passed During the 2023 Session Include:

Providing Tax Relief to Seniors – SB 190 will provide substantive tax relief to Missouri’s older population. The legislation will eliminate the state income tax on social security benefits. It will allow all seniors regardless of their adjusted gross income or filing status to deduct 100% of their social security benefits.

The House handler of the bill said, “Missouri is one of only 11 states in the country that still taxes social security. With the rising cost of consumer goods, it’s more important now than ever to put money back in the pockets of Missouri’s seniors, particularly those on fixed incomes. It’s time for Missouri to join the other 39 states that have already eliminated the tax on social security.”

Helping Seniors Stay in Their Homes – SB 190 will help protect seniors from being taxed out of their homes. The bill effectively freezes the property tax on the home of Missourians who are 65 years of age or older. It will allow counties to adopt an ordinance that authorizes a property tax credit for eligible senior homeowners. The bill would in effect ensure seniors don’t pay more in property tax on their property than they did for the same property when they turned 65 years of age.

The bill’s handler noted that for most Missourians their home is their largest asset and the one tangible thing they have to show for a lifetime of work. He said, “Seniors who have played by the rules their entire lives, saved for retirement, paid their fair share of taxes, should never face the prospect of being taxed out of their home by the government. Senate Bill 190 ensures that they won’t.”

Saving Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act - SB 49, 236 & 164 is legislation supporters say will protect Missouri’s children from unnecessary and harmful sex change drugs and surgeries. The SAFE Act would prohibit health care providers from performing gender transition surgery on young people under the age of 18. Until August 28, 2027, it would also prohibit a health care provider from prescribing or administering cross-sex hormones or puberty-blocking drugs to a minor for a gender transition, unless the minor was receiving such treatment prior to August 28, 2023. A violation of the provisions would be considered unprofessional conduct and would result in the revocation of the health care provider's professional license.

One supporter of the bill said, “This is not against transgender people. This is just to make sure that children do not make decisions that could affect the rest of their lives, that they may not have all the information, that all of us may not have all of the information, and we want to make sure that they get that information.”

Promoting Fairness for Female Student Athletes – SB 39 is meant to promote fairness in competition and opportunity for female student athletes. The bill would prohibit a private school, public school district, public charter school, or public or private institution of postsecondary education from allowing any student to compete in an athletics competition designated for the opposite sex, as determined by the student's official birth certificate. The bill clarifies that biological sex is only correctly stated on birth certificates if it was entered at or near the time of birth or modified to correct scrivener's error. The bill also makes it clear a female student may be allowed to compete in an athletics competition designated for male students if there is no such athletics competition for female students offered.

The bill’s handler said the legislation is important because, “Biological males are bigger, they are stronger, and they are faster. The majority of women simply cannot compete. Years of competing against biological males will wipe out female sports as we know it. We must protect the gains women have made in the last 50 years.”

Expanding Access to Physical Therapy - HB 115 & 99 and SB 51 promote individual choice in health care decisions through the elimination of unnecessary and burdensome regulations to allow patients to have direct access to physical therapy. The legislation would allow physical therapists with a doctorate of physical therapy or five years of clinical experience to evaluate and initiate treatment on a patient without a prescription or referral from an approved health care provider. The bills also state physical therapists must refer to an approved health care provider patients with certain conditions, including those with conditions beyond the scope of practice of physical therapy, as well as any patient who does not demonstrate measurable or functional improvement within ten visits or 30 days, whichever occurs first.

The House sponsor of the provision said, “This legislation allows Missourians to have direct access to physical therapists. Currently, patients must visit a physician before they can make an appointment with a physical therapist. This costs the patient additional money and delays them from returning to their life before the injury.”

Helping People off of State Assistance - SB 106 and SB 45 & 90 authorize a transitional program meant to help people get off of state assistance gradually as their income increases. Supporters say the state’s assistance programs for low-income Missourians trap people in poverty because if they accept a raise that puts them above a program’s limits, they could lose more in state benefits than they gain from a raise.

One supporter of the measure said it will let people incrementally transition off of state assistance. He said, “Trying to create this transitional system that encouraged people to work, that encouraged people to take those raises and to start to work their way up the income ladder and to hopefully, once this goes into effect, actually reduce the number of people receiving benefits in the state.”

Extending Post-Partum Care Coverage – SB 106 and SB 45 & 90 would extend post-partum coverage under MO HealthNet or Show-Me Healthy Babies from 60 days to a year. MO HealthNet coverage for low-income women in the program will include full Medicaid benefits for the duration of the pregnancy and for one year following the end of the pregnancy.

The sponsor of the provision said, “In 2019, 75-percent of pregnancy-related deaths in Missouri were determined to be preventable; those deaths that were attributed to things like embolism, hemorrhage, infections, concerns with cardiovascular health, chronic health conditions, and there’s one common denominator that can save these women’s lives, and that’s healthcare access.”

Removing Financial Barriers to Adoption - SB 24 would expand Missouri’s adoption tax credit, which offers a nonrefundable tax credit for one-time adoption-related expenses such as attorney fees, up to $10,000 per child. That credit is capped at $6-million a year. SB 24 would remove that cap, makes the tax credit refundable, and would have the per-child limit adjust with inflation. Supporters say more than 2,200 Missouri children are awaiting adoption and the bill will help remove financial barriers to allow more families to afford the cost of adoption.

The House handler of the bill said, “We’re just saying, ‘Hey, we’re here to make sure that we invest in these kids and these families, help get them across the line, get them out of the system, get them building their futures together as a family.’”

Cracking Down on Distracted Driving - SB 398 creates the “Hands Free Law" to prohibit a number of uses of electronic communication devices while operating motor vehicles. Current Missouri law bans texting while driving for anyone under the age of 21. SB 398 would prohibit individuals over 21 from texting while driving. The bill would also prohibit drivers from holding an electronic communication device, making any communication on the device, using the device to search online, or using the device to watch a video or movie. The penalty for violating the ban would be a fine, but a driver could be charged with a felony if they kill someone while driving and improperly using a cell phone. Drivers would still be able to use their voice-activated or hands-free functions on their devices. The bill specifies that law enforcement cannot stop a driver solely for using their phone.

House and Senate Give Final Approval to the State Operating Budget (HBs 1-13)

The House and Senate have reached final agreement on a fiscally responsible state spending plan that provides record funding for K-12 education, makes major investments in the state’s infrastructure, provides strong support for law enforcement and public safety, and boosts funding for state programs that serve the state’s most vulnerable citizens. Ahead of the constitutional deadline, lawmakers gave bipartisan support to the various budget bills that make up the Fiscal Year 2024 state operating budget.

The budget as it left the House in March appropriated approximately $45.6 billion. The Senate then added several additional spending items to bring the total price tag of the plan to roughly $49.9 billion. The final version approved by the two chambers cuts the Senate total by more than $1 billion to bring the total funding allocated in the budget to nearly $48.8 billion.

Record Funding for K-12 Schools

Included in the budget is more than $9.8 billion in funding for K-12 public schools in Missouri. That

total includes $3.6 billion to provide full funding for the school foundation formula, which determines funding levels for public schools across the state. The funding for public education also includes an additional $233 million to provide a total of $347 million to fully fund school transportation for the second time in as many years. The House and Senate also agreed to provide an additional $29 million to raise the minimum public school teacher salary to $38,000 annually. Additionally, the two chambers agreed to allocate $50 million in funding for Close the Gap grants that will help Missouri families address the learning loss that occurred as a result of the pandemic.

Items of note in the budget:

$3.6 billion to provide full funding for the school foundation formula for K-12 public schools

$233 million increase to provide a total of $347 million to fully fund school transportation for the second time in as many years

$29 million to raise the minimum public school teacher salary to $38,000

$69.3 million in total funding for the Career Ladder Program to boost pay for experienced teachers doing extra work

$56 million to expand pre-kindergarten options

$50 million in school safety grants

$1.3 million for a Statewide Curriculum Transparency Portal to allow parental and public access to all school district curriculum and library materials

$50 million for Close the Gap grants

Increased Support for Higher Education

Lawmakers also expressed their ongoing support for higher education with their funding decisions in the budget. The finalized version of the spending plan allocates more than $1.4 billion for higher education and workforce development. Included in that figure is a 7% funding increase for the state’s public colleges and universities. The FY 2024 budget also includes full funding for the state’s scholarship programs such as Bright Flight, Access Missouri, and the A+ Scholarship Program. Legislators also approved $38.3 million for MoExcels workforce development projects on college campuses.

Nearly $1.8 billion in funding for higher education and workforce development

7% funding increase for the state’s public colleges and universities.

$38.3 million for MoExcels workforce development projects on college campuses

Full funding for state scholarship programs such as Bright Flight, Access Missouri, and A+

Funding Increases for I-70 Expansion and Infrastructure Improvements

The House and Senate also addressed one of the major spending items requested by Governor Mike Parson, who had originally called for the legislature to spend $859 million to expand Interstate 70 to six lanes in several areas between Kansas City and St. Louis. The final version of the budget expands that proposal to provide sufficient funding to widen Interstate-70 to at least three lanes in both directions from Blue Springs near Kansas City to Wentzville near St. Louis. The budget plan checks in with $2.8 billion in funding for the project, which includes $1.4 billion in general revenue and $1.4 billion from bonds.

The House Budget Committee Chairman said, “This represents the single greatest investment into our transportation network in the state’s history.”

Lawmakers also included $25 million for environmental studies for Interstate 44 and U.S. Route 63, and $50 million for safety improvements at railroad crossings.

Strong Support for Law Enforcement and Public Safety

Another point of emphasis in the spending plan is support for law enforcement and public safety. The budget provides a 20% pay increase for the Missouri State Highway Patrol and Capitol Police. It also includes $50 million for school safety grants for Missouri schools to make physical security investments on their campuses, develop safety plans, establish school resource officer programs, and increase active threat trainings. Additionally, the budget provides $2 million to the Missouri National Guard to assist with recruitment.

The bills that make up the budget now head to the governor’s desk for his consideration. Gov. Parson has the option to sign the bills into law or to use his authority to issue line item vetoes to reject certain spending items in the budget.

Other Supplemental Appropriation bills passed:

HB 15 is a supplemental appropriations bill that authorizes more than $2 billion spending for the Fiscal Year 2023 state operating budget.

HB 17 re-appropriates nearly $431 million in funding for state parks around Missouri.

HB 18 appropriates nearly $778 million for maintenance and repair of state property.

HB 19 allocates approximately $606.3 million for capital improvement projects.

HB 20 appropriates nearly $3.3 billion in funding from the American Recovery Plan Act.