Representative Ed Lewis's Capitol Report

April 22, 2024

Missouri Legislature Passes Historic Education Bill

One of the most important bills of the 2024 Missouri Legislative Session was passed today. In a significant victory for education across the state, the Missouri General Assembly has passed SB 727 a comprehensive education bill aimed at enhancing elementary and secondary education across the state. The legislative packages contained in the bill represents a significant step forward in bolstering educational opportunities for Missouri's students.

SB 727 aims to improve Missouri's education system through various measures. SB 727 is an education omnibus bill for education reform, but also contains all of my HB 1447, a comprehensive teacher recruitment and retention bill. This bill establishes a minimum teacher salary of $40,000 for a beginning certified teacher in Missouri and a minimum teacher salary of $46,000 for a teacher with a Masters +10 years of experience. The bill also creates the Baseline Teacher Salary Grant fund to help districts pay for these minimum salaries. SB727 also contains the Teacher Recruitment and Retention State Scholarship I developed last year to help college students going into teaching earn their teaching certificate with scholarships up to 100% of tuition and fees in a Missouri 4-year College or University.

Other features included from my omnibus bill were provisions to allow for differentiated pay for teachers, modifications to the career ladder program and changes to the working after retirement program for teachers.

Also included in the bill were large financial investments in public education including a modification to the Foundation Formula to change how attendance affects the formula transitioning from a strict attendance-based model to one that allocates 50% of funding based on attendance and 50% on enrollment. This provision will increase revenue sent to districts in the next 3 years by over $200 million dollars. The act increases the Small Schools Grant appropriation from $15 million to $30 Million. Taken all together in the next 5 years this bill will increase money allocated to schools for raising salaries for teachers and operational expenses by as much as $470 million dollars.

Education reform changes included in SB 727 include changes to the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program, updates to minimum school term requirements, and initiatives to promote literacy among elementary students via the Elementary Literacy Fund.

The legislation also expanded options for students in the state by permitting charter schools in Boone County. Recognizing parental frustrations, we are incentivizing schools to shift to a five-day week and enhancing options for homeschooling families. We are expanding the Missouri empowerment scholarship program and prioritizing scholarships for low-income students and those with learning disabilities. Additionally, we are removing geographic restrictions to ensure equitable access.

This is the most substantive investment in education that this state has ever seen. By expanding opportunities for students from diverse backgrounds and addressing critical needs such as literacy and teacher recruitment, we are laying the foundation for a brighter future for our state. By prioritizing initiatives that support student success and teacher excellence, we are investing in the prosperity of our communities and the well-being of our children. Together, we are shaping a brighter future for Missouri's students and ensuring that every child has the opportunity to thrive.

With passage in both chambers of the Missouri Legislature, SB 727 is poised to make a lasting impact on the educational landscape of the state. The bill is now headed to the governor’s desk, where they await his signature into law.

Emergency Funding to Support Border Security Initiative Passes Through Both Chambers

Both chambers of the Missouri Legislature have passed HB 2016, making it the first bill of this session to do so. This bill is all about providing extra money in case of emergencies, specifically to send Missouri National Guard members to help out at the U.S. southern border.

This all started when Governor Parson issued Executive Order 24-03 on February 20, 2024. This order activated 200 Missouri National Guard members and 22 Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers to assist Texas Governor Greg Abbott's Operation Lone Star along the Southern Border. The plan is to rotate shifts for the Guard members and send troopers equipped with regular police gear, all of whom volunteered for this duty.

To support these efforts, both the House and Senate voted to approve HB 2016, which requests an extra $2.3 million to help with border security and to refill the Governor's emergency response fund. This bill got support from both Democrats and Republicans. Here's where the money goes:

$2,000,000 for the National Guard's work under the Governor's orders

$115,074 for personnel costs

$91,683 for expenses and equipment

The bill is now on its way to the Governor's desk for him to sign.

Missouri House Passes HB 2576 to Combat Opioid Trafficking

The Missouri House of Representatives passed HB 2576, a measure targeting drug trafficking, particularly involving potent opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil. The bill updates how offenses involving these substances are classified to better reflect their dangers.

Currently, the severity of the offense depends on the amount of fentanyl involved, with specific thresholds for felony classifications. HB 2576 proposes revised quantities for first and second-degree trafficking offenses:

First-degree trafficking would be a class B felony for amounts between three and 14 milligrams of fentanyl, escalating to a class A felony for quantities exceeding 14 milligrams.

Second-degree trafficking would shift to a class C felony for amounts between three and 14 milligrams, becoming a class B felony for quantities exceeding 14 milligrams.

This measure aims to reduce the illicit distribution of opioids and safeguard communities from the harmful effects of opioid abuse and overdose.

HB 2576 marks a significant advancement in addressing the opioid crisis affecting our communities, particularly with the alarming rise in fatalities, especially among young people. By toughening penalties for trafficking in dangerous opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil, Missouri is demonstrating its commitment to protecting citizens and holding accountable those profiting from addiction.

By strengthening laws against opioid trafficking, we're taking meaningful steps to save lives and create safer communities, addressing the growing threat of fentanyl entering our communities. The bill now heads to the Missouri Senate for consideration, with bipartisan support indicating optimism for its success in combating the opioid crisis.

Missouri House Passes Bill to Safeguard Our Elections

The Missouri House of Representatives this week gave approved a resolution that will strengthen the state's electoral process and preserve the integrity of our elections. HJR 104 would amend our state constitution to include key voting procedures and requirements in an effort to ensure 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.

By embedding vital voting procedures in our state Constitution, we are protecting and improving public trust of our elections, preventing alternative voting systems like ranked choice voting, and recommitting our dedication to fair elections. This measure now awaits action in the Missouri Senate.

Marie Watkins Oliver Inducted into Hall of Famous Missourians

The Missouri House of Representatives recently honored Marie Watkins Oliver by inducting her into the Hall of Famous Missourians. Known as the "Betsy Ross of Missouri," Oliver played a crucial role in creating the Missouri State Flag in 1908. Leading a committee formed by the Daughters of the American Revolution, she designed a flag that symbolized Missouri's federal ties and local autonomy, incorporating red, white, and blue with meaningful symbolism. Despite challenges, including the loss of her original flag in a fire, Oliver's resilience prevailed, and her flag was officially adopted in 1913.

Speaker Dean Plocher presented Oliver's bust for induction, recognizing her significant contribution to Missouri's history and identity.

"In honoring Marie Watkins Oliver's induction into the Hall of Famous Missourians, we celebrate not just a woman of historical significance, but a visionary who stitched together the very fabric of our state's identity,” he said. “Like the stars on our flag, her contributions shine brightly, reminding us of the resilience and creativity that define Missouri. It's a privilege to recognize her pivotal role in shaping our history and heritage."