Crunch time: What Missouri lawmakers are likely to accomplish in final 2 weeks

Apr 29, 2017
Originally published on April 29, 2017 3:15 pm

Updated 6 p.m. April 28 to correct that Missouri would be among the only states with an abortion notification law — The only thing Missouri lawmakers must do in the final two weeks of 2017 legislative session is pass the state budget for the coming fiscal year.

But there are a whole lot of things they could do — some of which Gov. Eric Greitens wants them to do — such as tightening abortion regulations, raising the standard for workplace discrimination and creating the last-in-the-country prescription drug monitoring program.

Of course, there are always surprises, especially in the closing days and hours, such as in 2011, when a late-session House-Senate turf war kept a bill from passing that would have returned to St. Louis control over the city police department. (That eventually did happen due to a voter referendum 2012.)

Here’s what you need to know about the action in Jefferson City leading up to the 6 p.m., May 12, deadline for bills to be on Greitens’ desk. The House and Senate reconvene at 4 p.m. Monday.

Already, a few of the first-year Republican governor’s top priorities have been accomplished. He’s signed the business-friendly bills that made Missouri a right-to-work state, which will weaken the power of labor unions, and tightened rules on who can be called as an expert witness in court trials.

His aim is to curb the number of lawsuits in the state and reduce the number of regulations for people wanting to start their own businesses. At the signing of the ride-hailing bill in St. Charles this week, he cited one particular example: hair braiding.

“Right now in the state of Missouri, we require hair braiders to go through hundreds of hours of training before they can actually braid hair” (as a business), he said. “It’s just a silly regulation that common sense says we need to deal with so people can start their own businesses.”

Greitens also wants lawmakers to create a Blue Alert system, which would send out a statewide alert whenever a law enforcement officer is killed or assaulted, and he strongly supports the creation of a prescription drug monitoring program, which Missouri doesn’t have.

“I lost a member of my family last year to a heroin addiction; this is an issue that is tearing apart thousands of families across the state of Missouri,” he said.                 

Abortion

Abortion restrictions that would mostly affect doctors and clinics are likely to face a battle and a possible filibuster in the Senate, but ultimately make it to Greitens.

This bill includes a provision that the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, says would make Missouri one of the only states to require a parent who has custody of a minor seeking an abortion to notify the non-custodial parent in writing. Currently, only the parent with custody needs to be notified if his or her daughter is having an abortion. 

The Guttmacher Institute's website indicates that Minnesota also requires notification only of both parents, while Kansas, Mississippi and North Dakota require that both parents give consent.

Other restrictions include making it a felony to donate fetal tissue for medical or scientific research — something the Planned Parenthood clinics in Missouri say doesn’t happen anyway — and requiring annual, unannounced inspections of clinics where abortion are performed.

These restrictions come after a federal judge blocked Missouri’s previous rules, which required doctors who perform abortions to have hospital-admitting privileges, and clinics to be on par with ambulatory surgical centers.

Education

A wide-ranging education bill is expected to make it through: one that would establish a tax credit program known as education savings accounts, or ESAs, which could be used by foster children, children with disabilities, and children of military personnel to enroll in private schools. It would also expand Missouri’s student transfer law, allowing students in unaccredited districts to attend a public school in another district, or go to a private nonreligious school, charter school or virtual school.

Backers of the measure say that the bill, known as a “school choice” measure, allows parents to make the best choices for their kids. But opponents believe it’s a way to put public money toward private schools instead of better-funding public schools.

Workplace discrimination

Changing the definition of workplace discrimination has been met multiple delays this session — including the public silencing of an NAACP leader — but the House is expected to put it to vote soon. Senate Bill 43 would require employees to prove race, sex, age or national origin was the main reason they got fired, instead of one of a few reasons why.

Several House Republicans have joined Democrats in opposing the measure, though not for the same reason. Democrats believe the bill makes it easier for employers to discriminate against minorities, LGBTQ people and women. The GOP defectors say language in the bill would allow hospital employees to be fired for not assisting in an abortion.

House Speaker Todd Richardson wouldn’t comment on whether the abortion part of it is the cause of the delay, but indicated they will get around to it.

“We’ve been moving at a deliberative pace with the Senate bills that are over here,” the Poplar Bluff Republican said. “We’ve got plenty of time left.”

Bill sponsor Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, said Greitens is expected to sign it. 

Trying to get a statewide prescription drug monitoring program has been long slog, and it remains to be seen if lawmakers can come to an agreement.

A group of senators who are concerned with privacy rights when it comes to the online database that would allow doctors to view a patient’s prescription history insists records be erased after six months, while House backers say that would make it harder to identify patients who are abusing drugs.

The two sides also disagree on language that limits the database to only showing purchases of opioids, which the same group of senators managed to add in.

“We have been trying for years to educate everyone and explain that (a PDMP) is a clinical tool,” said bill sponsor Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston.

Lobbyist gift ban

The proposed lobbyist gift ban, a priority of Greitens’ and some Republicans, isn’t likely to make it through this year. The House passed it in January, but it’s been dormant in the Senate ever since, due to lawmakers’ concerns that it’s too broadly written and could cause someone to break the law by accepting a piece of gum or slice of pizza.

Charter schools

A bill to expand charter schools beyond St. Louis and Kansas City is also in jeopardy. It was voted out of the House in March, but hasn’t gone anywhere since a Senate committee hearing three weeks ago. The bill is opposed by the education lobby, which contends that charter schools lack the accountability and oversight provided by local school boards.

Transgender rights

A bill that would have made K-12 transgender students in public schools use the restroom that corresponds to their sex a birth is dead. It received a public hearing in February, but both Richardson and Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard have said local school districts should be allowed to set their own policies.

Real ID

A looming deadline didn’t help lawmakers push through a bill to comply with federal Real ID standards. Without drivers licenses that comply by January, Missouri residents will not be able to use them to board airplanes.

“That’s the No. 1 question I get out and about in coffee shops right now, is ‘How do I get on an airplane on Jan. 1,’ ..." Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said. “We need to solve that problem.”

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport

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