The 2020 legislative session came to a close on May 15. In a normal year, the Legislature considers well over 2,000 separate pieces of legislation, and typically passes somewhere between 60 to 100 bills. This year, our scheduled 18-week session was significantly reduced due to the coronavirus. When we finally returned to the Capitol on April 27, we had just three weeks to pass a budget and whatever legislation we could agree to. I’m proud to say the Legislature rose to the occasion, completing our work on the budget and passing 31 non-budget measures, including several omnibus bills with multiple provisions.
Bolstered by an influx of federal coronavirus relief money, the Legislature approved a $35 billion budget that fully funds K-12 classrooms and maintains vital social services for Missouri’s most vulnerable citizens. Lawmakers spent the final week of session focused on other priorities. Although we passed fewer bills than in previous sessions, we actually addressed many legislative priorities by grouping related proposals together. Here are a few of the highlights from the 2020 session:
House Bill 2046 and House Bill 1511 both extend professional license reciprocity to military spouses. Now, the husband or wife of a military member stationed in Missouri may transfer professional accreditation earned in other states, allowing them to join our workforce quickly. Two other bills passed in 2020 relate to veterans and military personnel. Senate Bill 656 and Senate Bill 718 contain overlapping provisions that streamline the issuance of teaching certificates to military spouses, provide legal services for veterans, increase support for residents of Missouri’s veterans homes, expand Mo HealthNet eligibility to disabled dependents of military personnel and create a number of designations and special license plates relating to veterans.
House Bill 1682 contains a variety of provisions relating to health care. One provision allows Missourians to set money aside for long-term disability care, with contributions free from state taxes. Other provisions of HB 1682 provide coverage for COVID-19 testing, prohibit vapor products in schools, modify limits on the sale of drugs containing pseudoephedrine, allow physician assistants to serve on ambulances traveling across the state and modify laws relating to health care providers. Both HB 1682 and House Bill 1896 outlaw edible marijuana products in shapes or flavors intended to appeal to children. Several bills I sponsored this year were included as amendments to HB 1682. These include measures that provide epi-pens to rural fire departments, expand liability protections for those housing automated external defibrillators on their property, modify statutes relating to escrow accounts held for residents at long-term care facilities and allow for the redistribution of the funds remaining in the Ripley County Hospital Trust Fund.
Senate Bill 569 establishes a “Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights,” ensuring that victims will be treated with respect and have access to the resources they need following an attack. The bill also expands access to forensic evidence collection (“rape kits”) via the telehealth network. Evidence collection kits will be tracked electronically, bringing an end to lost or misplaced rape kits.
House Bill 1963 contains nearly three dozen separate provisions relating to transportation. Motorcyclists over the age of 26 can ride without a helmet if they can show proof of medical insurance. The bill also makes several changes to driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations. I believe businesses will have greater protection from frivolous lawsuits because of Senate Bill 591. Once enacted, the new law will raise the bar for punitive damages judgements and enact limits on accusations of unlawful merchandising. Missourians who worry about going to the polls during the coronavirus crisis will be able to request a mail-in ballot once the governor signs Senate Bill 631. The $1,200 coronavirus stimulus checks many Missourians received this year will not be subject to state income tax thanks to a provision of Senate Bill 676. That legislation also establishes new timelines for property assessment notices, ensuring taxpayers will always have adequate time to appeal an increase. Senate Bill 600 increases penalties for armed criminal action and other violent offenses and raises the stakes for felons caught with a firearm. It also prohibits probation for second-degree murder and creates a new criminal charge for carjacking.
One measure passed by the Legislature will not be enacted unless the voters agree. Senate Joint Resolution 38 revisits the “Clean Missouri” ballot initiative from 2018. If voters approve, all lobbyist gifts will be banned, campaign contribution limits will be lowered and legislative districts will again be created by bipartisan commissions rather than by an unelected demographer.
Unfortunately, I believe a number of important issues were left unresolved because of the shortened legislative session. Once again, efforts to pass a statewide prescription drug monitoring program stalled in the final days. We also weren’t able to agree on legislation to collect sales tax on internet purchases or do anything to address the illegal gaming machines popping up in truck stops and gas stations. Those topics will surely come up in future legislative sessions, though I won’t be involved. Due to term limits, my days in the Senate are numbered. I continue to serve as your senator for the remainder of the year, but I won’t be introducing any more legislation. I will continue to update you on this year’s legislative session and the activities of state government in the weeks and months ahead.
Out of an abundance of caution, Senate offices remain closed. Although we will not be available for visitors, you may contact us by email or phone. Please don’t hesitate to contact my Capitol office at (573) 751-1882.