Missouri Legislative Session Ends, May 18, 2020

SLAA News ,

The 2020 legislative session in Missouri had ground to a halt after some significant hiccups along the way. COVID-19 created a significant break in session during late March through most of April.  The General Assembly, to the surprise of many, returned on April 24, and for the most part proceeded to normal session activities.            

The loss of time created many large, omnibus bills that contained multiple other bills.  Some passed largely intact, some died, and others were pared down before passage. The Fiscal Year 2021 budget was completed, but most observers contemplate the possibility of a future special session to address possible revenue shortfalls and their impact on the budget. 

Summaries of Truly Agreed and Finally Passed Bills

With the passage of many bills containing multiple subject matters, the summary of Truly Agreed and Finally Passed bills below is a good starting point for reviewing what legislation passed.  The absence of a subject in the summary would generally indicate to a reader that the subject did not pass.  The only real way to guarantee that a bill did not pass, however, is to review the actual bill text.  Here is the link to the summary document:

Click here to review

Fiscal Year 2020 Revenues

Through May 14, 2020, general revenue collections were -6.71% for Fiscal Year 2020 year to date, and -19.75% for the month of May through May 14.The negative 6.71% fiscal year to date equals $563.2 million. 

It is surprising to see this level of refunds paid, but the use of the $750 million in COVID-19 federal funds apparently eased cash flow.  Thus far in May 2020, refunds paid are at $106.6 million paid through May 14, 2020. But fiscal year to date refunds are still $167.2 million below a year ago, as April 2020 refunds paid were lower than anticipated.              

With regard to refunds, the State of Missouri is in a "no win" situation. Taxpayers who may have lost their jobs but who are owed a tax year 2019 refund will want to get that money as soon as possible.  Yet the economic downturn has cut the revenue with which to pay those refunds.  The payment of refunds during the downturn could create further budget problems.               

If you use the revenue and refund levels from FY 2019 as the baseline for comparison for this analysis, readers should remember that the FY 2020 revenue projection from the Governor's budget assumed growth of +2.4 % or about $230 million in growth, which is not taken into account in this analysis. 

Cleaner Missouri

The issue of how legislative districts are redrawn every decade will go before the voters again in November 2020.  The issue was submitted by initiative petition in 2018, and that petition called for an appointed State Demographer to draw the new legislative district lines. This referendum, if passed, would return the process to where it was before with political committees drawing the lines.  The referendum would also completely ban lobbyists’ expenditures.           

The legislation was Senate Joint Resolution 38, sponsored by Senator Dan Hegeman and handled in the House by Representative Dean Plocher. 

Grain Belt Express 

The issue of collecting state/local sales and use taxes on internet sales came to the Senate floor through a substitute for House Bill 1700, handled by Senator Lincoln Hough.  Senator Hough offered a substitute that included an individual income tax rate cut of .11% tied to passage of the Wayfair provisions.           

The substitute also included a provision that tied the local taxes to either a complete elimination, or a partial phaseout of the local cable franchise fee.  The debate was complex, but ultimately a compromise was offered and accepted by the Senate to phase down the franchise free to 2.5% by 2028. However, when the Senate returned Thursday evening, they had a new controversy to deal with and this legislation was never brought back before the body. Look for this discussion to continue in a potential Special Session. 

Prescription Drug Monitoring Program 

Thursday evening of the last week of session brought controversy as the Senate had to reconsider Senate Bill 782 after it was truly agreed and finally passed.  The reconsideration of this transportation bill is somewhat a case study on the dangers of omnibus bills.          

The issue under reconsideration was created by an amendment that arguably would have hindered the so-called Grain Belt Express, a transmission line for solar power across parts of northern Missouri. Many of the farmers and elected officials in these areas are opposed to eminent domain for the project, but eminent domain is allowed, according to court decisions.          

The amendment, with the apparent support of House Speaker Elijah Haahr, would have increased the cost of eminent domain, by allowing county commissions and other government entities to designate “historic farms”, which under an existing statute would set the price for eminent domain at 150% of the fair market value.  

When the Senate passed the bill, they were unaware of the Grain Belt language in the House version, and thus the only path was the unusual reconsideration motion.  At the time, leading to reconsideration, there were contentious comments made by many Senators about the subterfuge utilized by the House, but ultimately the contentious issues did not appreciably disrupt the remainder of the session. 

Most of the provisions contained in SB 782 were attached to HB 1963, which was passed with about ten minutes remaining in the legislative session. 

Public Safety Provisions

The major legislation regarding crime and public safety was contained in Senate Bill 600, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Tony Luetkemeyer.  The major issue in the bill included defining street gangs and clarifying that gang activity could be a felony, making carjacking a felony, and increasing the penalties for multiple armed criminal actions.           

The bill also lists crimes for which probation is not an allowable disposition, and another part increases the felony level for illegal possession of a firearm, amongst other provisions. 

Tort Reform

The activity on tort reform centered on Senate Bill 591.  This legislation would restrict punitive damages to plaintiffs that provide “clear and convincing evidence” that the defendant was “intentionally harmed” without just cause, and the act was “with deliberate and flagrant disregard for the safety of others.  The bill also revises procedures for filing for punitive damages.           

This bill also contained provisions related to unlawful merchandising practices. 

Prescription Drug Monitoring Program

For Representative Holly Rehder, it was Groundhog Day all over again on the issue of a statewide Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP).  This issue has been further complicated because more than 80% of the state is monitored by a local government stacking system originally passed by St. Louis County. 

Rehder has pushed the issue her entire tenure in the Missouri House, and once again the legislature was unable to come to an agreement to get the issue across the finish line.          

Rehder is term-limited and she is running for the Senate seat that is being vacated by incumbent Senator Wayne Wallingford.  Rehder will square off in a highly contested Republican primary against State Representative Kathy Swan. 

Education Reform 

While the legislative session spent a good amount of time on the issues of education reform and expansion/clarification of the role of charter schools, there were no bills that ultimately passed that significantly impacted these issues. 

Sports Wagering and Video Gaming Machines

There was much discussion this session on sports wagering and video lottery terminal legislation, but ultimately nothing passed this session.  Look for the momentum of these conversations to be carried over to the next session. 

Accessing House and Senate Bill Copies Electronically 

To view House and Senate bill versions online, follow the link http://www.house.mo.gov/billcentral.aspx, and type in “HB” or “SB” followed by the appropriate bill number (such as HB1008) to access a summary, history, etc., of each individual bill.