Sen. Karla May’s “May Report” for the week of February 14, 2022
On the ground
The Missouri Senate is still sluggish as Senate filibustering continues to take time. However, despite the filibustering, we were able to perfect two bills this week. Senate Act 672 extends the expiration of the Fast-Track Workforce Incentive Grant Program through August 2029, among other staff development provisions. The Senate also perfected it Joint Resolution of the Senate 33. This is a proposed constitutional amendment that, if passed by voters, would prohibit the General Assembly from setting a state income tax rate higher than 5.9%. Both SB 672 and SJR 33 require another round of approvals before they can be sent to the Missouri House of Representatives for further consideration.
Bills and Committees
Legislation by Sen. May:
On February 15th I presented Senate Act 684 to the Senate Education Committee. This law allows school districts to offer elective social science courses on the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament.
Next week I hope to present the following two resolutions to the Senate Rules of Procedure, Joint Rules of Procedure, Resolutions and Ethics Committee:
The Senate Budget Committee continued to consider the governor’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year beginning July 1, 2022. This week we heard from the state judiciary, the Office of Public Defender, the Correctional Services and Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Economic Development.
The committee also discussed and agreed House bill 3014, an additional budget bill of nearly $4.6 billion. The Senate’s version of the bill will fund a base wage for state employees at $15 an hour, allocate billions of dollars in federal funds for pandemic relief to local public school districts, provide a 5.5% pay rise for all State officials will provide and fully fund Missouri’s Medicaid program for the remainder of the current fiscal year.
On February 16, the Senate Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Justice Committee heard three bills:
- Senate Act 640which states that survivors of sexual assault retain certain rights regardless of whether a criminal investigation or prosecution occurs or whether the survivor has previously waived any of those rights.
- Senate Act 751which prevents persons found guilty of possession of child pornography from visiting certain areas used primarily by children, such as public parks with playgrounds and public swimming pools.
- Senate Act 775which invalidates a witness’s prior sexual conduct at a judicial proceeding, hearing or judicial proceeding and, except in certain cases, is not the subject of investigation during testimony or during discovery.
On February 16, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and the Environment discussed four bills focused primarily on the issue of COVID-19 vaccines:
- Senate Act 636which prevents private or public employers from requiring an employee or prospective employee to have COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of taking up or maintaining employment.
- Senate Act 651, which prevents private or public employers from requiring an employee or prospective employee to have COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of taking up or maintaining employment. In the event of violations of this provision, the legislature also gives cause for complaint.
- Senate Act 693preventing public or private entities receiving public funds or other public accommodations from requiring documentation of a COVID-19 vaccination in order to gain access to transportation systems, facilities, services or public accommodations.
- Senate Act 702making it an unlawful employment practice for any employer to deny a worker reasonable accommodation of COVID-19 related requirements based on the worker’s genuine religious, ethical or moral beliefs.
Filing to begin with no state Senate, congressional districts yet to complete
Candidate filing for the August primary is scheduled to open on February 22, though new congressional and Senate districts reflecting population shifts as part of the 2020 U.S. Census are ongoing. The submission deadline is March 29th.
Lawmakers had hoped by now to have passed legislation redefining Missouri’s eight congressional districts, but the process has stalled in the Missouri Senate. If the standoff continues, federal law authorizes any Missouri resident to petition the federal court to appoint a three-judge panel to designate Missouri’s new congressional districts in lieu of the legislature. Such a request can be made at any time. Federal bodies drew Missouri’s congressional districts in both 1971 and 1981 after the legislature failed to do so.
The process of drawing Missouri’s 34 Senate districts continues to be handled by the District Redistribution Appeals Commission, appointed by the Missouri Supreme Court after another commission failed to agree on new districts by a constitutional deadline. The Appeals Committee has not publicly indicated when it expects to complete its work. Meanwhile, in January, new districts for the 163-seat Missouri House of Representatives were finalized by a bipartisan commission and are ready for candidate bidding to begin.
House advances proposal to amend Medicaid expansion
On February 15, the Missouri House of Representatives approved in the first round a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at preventing the state from funding voter-approved Medicaid expansion. Joint Resolution 117 of the House of Representatives would empower lawmakers to block services to the extended population by withholding funding. A second vote is required for forwarding to the Senate. If the proposal clears both houses of the legislature, it would go to the statewide vote for ratification by voters on Nov. 8.
Missouri House moves to raise ballot initiative thresholds
On February 16, the Missouri House of Representatives gave its first pass to a proposed constitutional amendment that would increase the requirements for an unsolicited bid to become effective.
Currently in Missouri, a voting measure must receive a simple majority of the votes cast to pass. Joint Resolution 70 of the House of Representatives, but would require unsolicited applications to be accepted from a majority of all registered voters, including those who did not vote. Opponents of the HJR 70 say this high threshold would make it virtually impossible for unsolicited applications to take effect except in elections with unusually high turnout.
A second vote is required to send HJR 70 to the Senate. If approved by both the House and Senate, the measure would go to the statewide vote on Nov. 8.
Supreme Court upholds ban on public funding for campaigns
On February 15, the Missouri Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of a 34-year-old state statute prohibiting the spending of taxpayers’ money on election campaigns or candidates. The Supreme Court thus overturned a district judge’s finding that the law violated the right to free speech of government officials.
The law in question was first enacted in 1988. While the law prohibits the use of public funds for campaigning, it specifically allows officials to make public comments or issue press releases about voting activities. Several local governments in St. Louis County sued over the law in 2019. Although a Cole County District Judge ruled in favor of local governments, the Supreme Court said the law does not restrict government officials’ freedom of speech, but instead prohibits the use of public funds to subsidize public officials’ speeches.