Representative Ed Lewis's Capitol Report

April 15, 2024

Legislation to Prevent State Taxpayer Money to Fund Abortion Providers Moves on

This week, the Missouri Senate returned a House bill, HB 2634, which seeks to make it illegal for public funds, including Medicaid reimbursements, to support abortion facilities or their affiliates. It grants taxpayers and the Attorney General the right to take legal action to enforce these provisions. House Bill 2634 would seek to simply codify that in statute and say that we are not going to allow abortion providers or their affiliates to be reimbursed through our state's Medicaid program.

The bill also amends an existing statute, requiring MO HealthNet participants to obtain services only from qualified providers and empowering the Department of Social Services to revoke contracts with providers found unqualified due to specific offenses, such as intentional discrimination or support for eugenics. Additionally, the bill prohibits reimbursement to abortion facilities under the "Uninsured Women's Health Program".

The legislation, which was sent to the Missouri Senate in March, was passed out of that chamber this week after more than 11 hours of filibustering with changes, requiring the House to approve those changes in order to truly agree and pass the legislation, sending it to the Governor’s desk.

Bills Approved by the House

With just weeks until the end of the 2024 legislative session, Missouri lawmakers are working diligently on a wide variety of legislative proposals to address issues and concerns for Missourians. The House approved the 2024 state operating budget in the previous week, which is now being worked on by the Senate. Meanwhile, the House has continued moving legislation in an effort to vet the proposals in hopes of advancing it through the process in the days to come. The House officially passed one bill out of the chamber in a shortened week, due to the eclipse, but the body has given initial approval to more than a dozen others, including several legislative packages combining numerous pieces of legislation while continuing to advance measures out of committee.

Safeguarding the Voting Process

The Missouri House of Representatives this week gave initial approval to a resolution aimed at strengthening the state's electoral process and ensuring the integrity of our elections. HJR 104 would amend the Constitution to enshrine key voting procedures and requirements, passed with a majority vote, underscoring the legislature's dedication to ensuring fair and transparent elections for all Missourians. Here's a breakdown of the key points:

Only citizens of the United States would be entitled to vote in public elections.

All elections must be conducted using paper ballots or any mechanical method prescribed by law. This aims to ensure transparency and prevent tampering.

Each voter is entitled to only one vote for each issue or open seat being voted on in an election. This prevents multiple votes by a single individual.

The candidate who receives the highest number of votes in a primary election for a party becomes the sole candidate for that party in the general election, unless removed or replaced by law. The candidate who receives the highest number of votes in the general election is declared the winner.

Voting machines must be tested and certified as secure according to federal standards before each election in which they will be used. This is crucial for maintaining the integrity of the voting process.

This legislation aims to protect our democracy by embedding vital voting procedures in our state Constitution, affirming the importance of election integrity. It enhances public trust, prevents alternative voting systems like ranked choice voting, and underscores Missouri's dedication to fair elections. With just one more vote required, its passage by the Missouri House will mark a significant move towards ensuring transparent and secure elections for all citizens.

Combatting Opioid Trafficking

The Missouri House of Representatives has also perfected HB 2576, a pivotal legislative move in the battle against drug trafficking, particularly concerning potent opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil. This legislation aims to confront the escalating crisis associated with these substances by updating the classification of drug trafficking offenses related to fentanyl and carfentanil. Currently, the severity of these offenses is determined by the quantity of fentanyl involved, but the bill proposes revised thresholds for classifying felonies, aiming to better align with the risks posed by these highly potent opioids.

HB 2576 proposes significant changes to the classification of first and second-degree trafficking offenses involving fentanyl. It introduces stricter penalties, with first-degree trafficking escalating to a class A felony for amounts exceeding 14 milligrams and second-degree trafficking becoming a class B felony for quantities over 14 milligrams. By implementing these revisions, the legislation seeks to stem the illicit distribution of opioids and shield communities across Missouri from the dire consequences of opioid abuse and overdose.

This legislation marks a crucial stride in addressing the opioid crisis gripping Missouri, acknowledging it as a pressing epidemic that demands immediate action. With a surge in fatalities, particularly among the younger population, associated with potent opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil, strengthening penalties for trafficking in these substances sends a resounding message of commitment to safeguarding citizens and holding accountable those who profit from addiction's devastation. By reinforcing laws against opioid trafficking, we aim to save lives and foster safer communities. HB 2576 now awaits one final vote in the House before heading to the Missouri Senate, where it is poised to further advance the state's efforts in combating drug trafficking and protecting our residents from the ravages of opioid addiction.

Supporting Small Businesses Affected by Shutdown Orders

The Missouri House of Representatives has passed HB 2874, the "Protecting Missouri's Small Businesses Act," aimed at providing critical support to small businesses across the state facing economic losses due to shutdown orders imposed during emergencies.

Small businesses in our state have faced immense challenges due to these shutdown measures, enduring substantial financial strain as a result. With HB 2874, we acknowledge their sacrifices and strive to offer meaningful assistance to facilitate their recovery efforts. Recognizing the vital role small businesses play in Missouri's economy, this bill underscores our dedication to standing by them during times of adversity and ensuring they have the necessary support to thrive.

HB 2874 includes several important provisions aimed at alleviating the burdens faced by small businesses. It mandates that local authorities consider the economic impact of shutdown orders, waives business license fees for the duration of closures or up to six months, provides property tax relief corresponding to the length of shutdowns, and requires tax beneficiaries to extend relief to affected tenants leasing properties.

This legislative victory represents a significant milestone in our collective efforts to support Missouri's small business community and foster broader economic recovery across our state.

Protecting the State's Water Resources

The Missouri House of Representatives has given initial approval to a legislative measure that seeks to protect one of the state’s most vital resources: water. HB 2153 seeks to regulate the exportation of water from the state by limiting or eliminating the shipping of water out of the state, ensuring its availability for residents and businesses within Missouri.

Under the proposed legislation, it would be unlawful for any entity to withdraw water for exportation out of the state without obtaining a water export permit issued by the Department of Natural Resources. The bill outlines a comprehensive process for permit issuance, including rigorous review by the Department and approval by the Clean Water Commission.

Water is the state's most valuable resource, second only to land. While acknowledging potential exceptions, our priority is to retain water within Missouri to meet the needs of our communities. The passage of HB 2153 is a significant step towards safeguarding our state's water resources, especially in light of increasing water scarcity in neighboring states.

As Missouri remains a water-rich state, the passage of HB 2153 signifies a commitment to striking a balance between utilization and conservation of water resources, taking into account both local needs and broader regional concerns.

Combatting School Bullying

In addressing the pressing issue of school bullying, I'm proud to share that the Missouri House of Representatives has given the initial green light to HB 1715, also known as the "Missouri Childhood Hero Act". This legislative move marks a major stride toward safeguarding the safety and welfare of students statewide.

HB 1715 brings forth comprehensive measures and explicit policies aimed at combatting bullying in schools. It encompasses various aspects such as categorizing violent acts as bullying, revising disciplinary policies to ensure fairness for victims, strengthening reporting obligations, providing training for school personnel, and granting legal protections for those who intervene and educational institutions. Additionally, an amendment has been incorporated to extend assistance to both the bully and the victim, along with clarifying immunity provisions.

This legislation is paramount in prioritizing the security and dignity of our students. By instituting transparent policies and support frameworks, we empower educational institutions to effectively tackle and prevent bullying, thereby fostering a safer and more inclusive learning environment for all students.

HB 1715 exemplifies our commitment to safeguarding our students and cultivating a culture of respect and compassion within our schools. Through collaborative efforts, we can make meaningful progress in eradicating bullying and ensuring every child feels secure and supported. The approval of HB 1715 marks a significant triumph in the ongoing battle against school bullying in Missouri. Backed by strong bipartisan support and a dedication to prioritizing student well-being, this legislation lays the groundwork for proactive and impactful measures to cultivate safer educational environments. With just one more vote before sending this to the Missouri Senate, we remain hopeful for its continued success in further deliberations.

Ensuring Reliable Energy Transition

The Missouri House of Representatives has given the first round of approval to HB 1753, a crucial piece of legislation aimed at ensuring the smooth transition of the state's energy sector while safeguarding reliable electricity supply.

HB 1753 mandates that before the closure of existing electric generating power plants, electric corporations in Missouri must certify that they have secured and placed on the electric grid an equal or greater amount of replacement reliable electric generation.

Additionally, the bill requires the full operationalization of adequate transmission infrastructure necessary to interconnect the new generation to the state's electric grid.

This legislation serves as a vital consumer protection bill and is crucial for ensuring that Missouri's energy transition is not only environmentally sustainable but also maintains the reliability of our power grid. By requiring adequate replacement generation and transmission infrastructure, we are securing a brighter energy future for all Missourians.

As we move towards renewable energy sources, it's essential to ensure that we do not compromise the stability of our power grid. This legislation strikes the right balance by prioritizing reliability while promoting cleaner energy alternatives.

Missouri Allocates $5 Million in First Responder Equipment Grants

Missouri's Department of Public Safety has allocated $5 million in grants to enhance equipment for first responders in class three counties. The funds will support law enforcement, fire service, and EMS providers, facilitating upgrades such as patrol vehicles, body cameras, firefighter gear, ambulances, and emergency communication devices.

Emphasizing the importance of aiding first responders in tackling emergencies, Sandy Karsten, Director of the Missouri Department of Public Safety, highlighted the significance of modern tools for effective communication and operation.

The grants, distributed among 35 fire service agencies, 18 EMS providers, and 17 law enforcement agencies, cater to specific equipment needs in each category. This funding initiative is part of Missouri's utilization of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, governed by Missouri House Bill 20.

Recipients are obliged to provide a 50% local match, potentially retroactive to March 2020, which can be covered using local ARPA grant funds.