Representative Ed Lewis's Capitol Report

January 27, 2024

Bill Advances to Block Randolph County Sludge Basin and Regulate Company

In last week’s Capitol Report I wrote about HB 1596 (Rep. Dirk Deaton, Sponsor) and HB 2134 (Rep. Ed Lewis, Sponsor). These bills were combined as a House Committee Substitute in a hearing this week and have been voted out of committee and should move to the full house next week or the early part of the following week.

Rep. Ed Lewis says, “We have been working to make sure that the bills do the things our constituents want but also have a chance of getting through both the House and the Senate without opposition from Ag groups like Missouri Farm Bureau and Missouri Corn Growers and others.”

Following are the major provisions of the House Committee Substitute HCSB 2134. It will eliminate the loophole being exploited by Denali in which the company pretends that it is a fertilizer company and that the product it is storing in the basin is a fertilizer.

Second, we define the basins that they want to operate as open co-mingled wastewater treatment facilities and force them to have a setback from any residence structure of 4000 ft or about eight tenths of a mile. This is the largest setback in statute exceeding the largest CAFO operations of 7000 animal units or larger. It also mandates that any facility seeking an “operating permit for a co-mingled offsite industrial wastewater or wastewater residuals storage basin or open storage vessel shall meet current design requirements for wastewater treatment facilities and demonstrate the capacity to manage its design flow”. It also dictates that the basin will have to be tested at least monthly with testing for heavy metals and biological pathogens as spelled out in the combined bill. This requirement will force the company to meet regulations. The company will find it difficult if not impossible to meet these requirements at its current location.

Thirdly, the land application from the basin, if it is eventually operational, will be regulated by DNR and testing. Land application rates and setbacks must be established by DNR and enforced for application to occur. I know some would want us to go further, but I think these three things will stop the practices this company employs. This bill, if it were to become law, will force them, if they want to conduct business in the state of Missouri, to do so in a well-regulated and safe way.

Missouri House Continues Pushing Forward to Advance Legislation Quickly

Despite the ice and snow that landed across the state, members of the House returned to Jefferson City following the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to get to work on Tuesday with a flurry of activities. Two dozen House committees met in the third week of January, as more than two hundred bills have now been referred to committee.

Here’s a breakdown on some of the bills passed out of committee this week:

Open Enrollment

One of the first bills set to potentially see action on the House floor will be legislation dealing with the issue of school choice and open enrollment. The Missouri House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education this week passed HB 1989, which would allow K-12 public schools to choose whether to let students from neighboring school districts enroll in their district. The Public School Open Enrollment Act, as it is called, aims to enhance educational quality, increase parental involvement, provide access to programs and classes, and align curriculum options with personal beliefs. The bill also establishes the Parent Public School Choice Fund with an $80 million appropriation to support transportation and special needs education for qualifying students. The bill passed with a vote of 11-6 and now awaits referral, but could be sent to the House floor for perfection within the next week.

Veterans’ Suicide

The Missouri House Veterans Committee this week passed HB 1495, which aims to address the issue of veteran suicide. The bill seeks to involve the Missouri Veterans Commission in collaboration with the Missouri Department of Mental Health to develop recommendations and implement measures, programs, treatment options, and aid to prevent veteran suicide, subject to available funding. The bill sponsor emphasized the urgency of addressing the alarming trend of veteran suicides, and in response, the committee voted the bill out with a received "Do Pass by Consent" vote of 8-0.

Childcare Tax Credit Package

The Missouri House Committee on Workforce and Infrastructure Development has approved a tax credit package, House Bill 1488, to address the state's childcare crisis and boost economic development. The proposed package includes three components: Child Care Contribution Tax Credit Act, Employer Provided Child Care Assistance Tax Credit Act, and Child Care Providers Tax Credit Act. These aim to provide tax credits to childcare providers, donors to daycare centers, and businesses supporting employee childcare costs. The bill responds to the workforce crisis, with only one childcare slot available for every three children under five in Missouri. The estimated cost of the tax credits is $70 million, justified by potential economic growth. The proposal is set to be valid for six years for impact assessment. The committee passed the bill out with a unanimous vote of 10-0 on Wednesday, January 17.

House Committee Hears Transgender-related Bills

The House Committee on Emerging Issues this week held a marathon hearing on legislation relating to transgender matters, ranging across a wide variety of topics and reflecting diverse perspectives on transgender-related policies, including medical treatments, workplace accommodations, restroom access, and student privacy. With seven bills on the docket, the House committee heard testimony for nearly nine hours, before finally wrapping up after 10 p.m.

HB 1520 aims to amend the "Missouri Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act" by removing exceptions for individuals under 18 from certain prescribed treatments. The bill also seeks to eliminate the sunset provision on the prohibition of these treatments, extending the ban beyond the initially specified four years. Additionally, HB 1520 would revoke the exception for minors who were undergoing hormone therapy and puberty blockers before the law passed in the 2023 legislative session as SB 49, took effect in August of that year.

HB 1519 aims to prevent any health care institution or professional from being compelled to perform or participate in medical procedures related to sex reassignment surgery or gender identity transitioning if such actions contradict their moral, ethical, or religious beliefs. The purpose of this legislation is to broaden the existing protections in Missouri concerning conscience rights. “As health care becomes increasingly politicized, medical professionals are being forced to choose between their deeply held beliefs and their livelihoods,” the sponsor stated. The bill sponsor told the committee that the overall goal is to ensure that medical professionals have the freedom to abstain from involvement in specific medical procedures or treatments that go against their religious or moral convictions.

HB 1674 introduces the "Employee Restroom and Locker Room Access Act." Effective from January 1, 2025, this act prohibits employers from requiring employees to share facilities with members of the opposite sex. It allows for the provision of unisex and gender-neutral facilities and establishes the Commission on Human Rights for enforcement.

HB 2355 and HB 2357 focus on ensuring the physical privacy of students in public schools. The legislation mandates the designation of school facilities based on students' biological sex but allows accommodations for those asserting a different gender with parental consent. These bills aim to balance the recognition of diverse gender identities with the need for practical considerations in educational settings.

HB 2308 proposes amendments to the Missouri Human Rights Act, introducing new definitions related to "sex" and regulating bathroom and changing facility use in public schools based on biological sex. A companion bill, HB 2309, establishes the "Defining SEX Act” and provides statutory definitions for terms like "boy," "girl," "man," "woman," and emphasizes the distinction between "gender" and other related terms.

Public Hearing on HJR 72

House Joint Resolution 72 which I sponsored had its public testimony before the Elections Committee Tuesday morning. This HJR would adjust the passage threshold for Initiative Petitions, which seek to change the Missouri Constitution, from just a simple majority, adding a concurrent majority ratification as well. In other words, the simple majority in the statewide count would also have to pass in a majority of the Congressional Districts. I believe this amendment will expand the voice of Missourians across the state.

In the last election, Amendment 3, which legalized recreational marijuana, added around 40 pages of language to the Missouri Constitution and essentially gave a constitutional monopoly with little or no ability for state oversight. This constitutional protection was given to a previously illegal industry. This amendment passed in only 15 of the 114 counties, with 99 turning it down. The advertising campaign for the recreational marijuana amendment was full of false narratives and paid for predominantly by the medical marijuana industry of Missouri and out of state marijuana industry money, not the people of Missouri.

The voices of those mainly rural voters of those 99 counties were not heard and were overwhelmed by the few heavily populated counties. HJR 72, if passed by the vote of the people as an amendment on the August ballot, would protect our constitution from amendments which are only supported by those in the major population centers and will allow for rural voices to be heard.