We have hit the ground running for this second week of session. To start, I have filed my final bill that I will be sponsoring this session. My coroners’ bill, which would provide flexibility to county coroners’ salaries.
In a continuation of last session, I am once again chairman of the House Professional Registration and Licensing Committee this year. The committee had our first hearing this week. We heard two bills dealing with modifying provisions related to physical therapists and physical therapist assistants.
Lastly this week, my vaccine liability bill, HB 1641, was heard in the judiciary committee. As stated in the past, this bill would make employers liable for damages or injuries that may arise as a result of a required vaccination of an employee. We had a lot of testimony in favor of HB 1641 and I want to personally thank everyone who took the time to show their support of this bill, whether it was filling out a form online or in person: Laron Bryant, Melinda Clark-Sann, and Kris Shilt.
House Committee Approves Congressional Redistricting Map (HB 2117)
Legislation that will establish new boundaries for Missouri’s eight congressional districts is one step closer to consideration on the House floor. The House Special Committee on Redistricting gave its stamp of approval to HB 2117 Wednesday, January 12 during a public hearing in the State Capitol.
The committee chair and vice-chair said the map approved by the committee was created with input from legislators representing their constituents, public testimony from citizens across the state of Missouri, and 2020 census data.
“The map created in HB 2117 contains compact and contiguous districts as required by our constitution while also keeping communities of interest and like-mindedness together,” said the chair of the House Special Committee on Redistricting. “The Census data allowed us the opportunity to better understand Missouri’s population and we used that information in combination with the testimony shared in committee to create a map that accurately reflects our state and our congressional districts.”
The committee’s vice-chair said the bipartisan process used in committee allowed members from both parties to have input on the new district boundaries. The committee met again Wednesday afternoon to give time to an alternate map proposed by the minority leader of the House. While the committee did not approve the map, the vice-chair said she was pleased with House Leadership’s commitment to due process.
“Our goal has been to allow all state representatives, and Missourians from all parts of the state, to make their voices heard on this bill before we move forward,” said the vice-chair of the House Special Committee on Redistricting. “I’m confident we have a bill that fairly and accurately represents our districts, and that can receive strong support on the House floor. There is no stronger foundation than the Constitution we are sworn to uphold.”
HB 2117 must now receive approval from the House Rules committee before moving to the House floor for discussion. The bill will be discussed on the floor on Tuesday, January 18.
The current version of the map can be viewed at the following link: https://house.mo.gov/billtracking/bills221/maps/Map.4875H.02C.pdf
House Committee Considers Bills Designed to Ensure Appropriate Curriculum in Schools (HB 1995 and HB 1474)
The House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee held a public hearing this week to consider pieces of legislation designed to give parents more control over what their children learn, and to prevent inappropriate curriculum from being taught in school.
Lawmakers took testimony on HB 1995, which would establish the Parents’ Bill of Rights for Student Well-Being. The legislation would require school districts to adopt a policy to promote parental involvement including procedures for objection to instructional materials. The bill requires the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to develop specific forms that school districts must use for parents to opt out of instructional material, and for parents to be notified in advance whenever a teacher intends to teach a divisive or controversial topic.
“We need to send a very clear message that the state of Missouri, if we ever have to choose a side, we will always take the side of parents,” the bill’s sponsor told the committee.
The bill also establishes the Missouri Education Transparency and Accountability Portal to give access to every school district's curriculum, source materials, and professional development materials.
During the hearing, the committee also heard testimony on HB 1474. The bill also creates a Parents’ Bill of Rights, but has additional language to prohibit the instruction of critical race theory in public and charter schools.
Specifically, the bill prohibits school districts, charter schools, and their personnel from teaching, using, or providing such curriculum or from teaching, affirming, or promoting any of the claims, views, or opinions found in the 1619 Project, which is a collections of essays on race. The bill does not allow curriculum that identifies people or groups of people, entities, or institutions in the United States as inherently, immutably, or systemically sexist, racist, biased, privileged, or oppressed.
The sponsor of the bill said his legislation is the result of parents who are concerned their children aren’t being taught a full, accurate picture of the nation’s history.
He said, “What we need to do is encourage kids to go above and beyond what we are teaching them in school and to dig deeper into history, learning from the good, learning from the bad, so we don’t repeat the bad.”
He added, “This bill in no way is trying to stop kids from thinking. I think it’s trying to prevent educators, prevent institutions from flooding kids with a certain train of thought, teaching them this is the only way to think about these situations.”
The committee completed the public hearing on both bills but has yet to bring them to a vote.
Finding the Best Environment for Children in Need (HB 1563)
Members of the House Emerging Issues Committee heard testimony this week on legislation that would require the state to put more effort into placing children in state custody with family members before placing them with strangers.
The sponsor of the bill thinks the state can do more to find family members who would be a good fit for each child.
“We want to go 50 deep if we have to, to try to find somebody that is going to be a good match for that child, that is going to be able to provide that child with a safe and healthy place to live,” said the bill’s sponsor. “It really comes down to what is going to be best for the child or the children, and trying to keep children and families together rather than separating families.”
House Bill 1563 would require the Missouri Children’s Division to make “diligent searches” for biological parents when a child enters state custody. In the case of an emergency placement, the division would search for grandparents. If they can’t be found or aren’t fit, it would then look for other relatives for placement within 30 days.
Members of the House Committee on Emerging Issues asked the sponsor whether his proposal would simply place burdens on overworked, underpaid members of an understaffed agency. He agreed those are concerns for the division but noted the state has resources that are available but not being utilized to the fullest.
The Central Missouri Foster Care and Adoption Association told the committee their agency, serving 24 counties, helped find family members for 34 children in state care in the last two quarters of the last fiscal year. The chief program officer for the association said it could help even more children, but the Children’s Division hasn’t being asking.
“We don’t receive the referrals like we should, for being a contracted agency. They’re paying for our service but they’re not always using it,” she said.
She believes as employees with the Division leave and are replaced, those new hires simply don’t know that her agency and others like it are available, or how they can be used.
She said similar agencies cover other parts of the state and her agency and others like it are simply more capable and have more resources than the Children’s Division for doing the kinds of searches the bill would require, and with compelling results.
She told the committee, “With our program that we run and are contracted with, it’s called 30 Days to Family, we’re able to find at least 80 relatives if not more. Our average this last year has 115 relatives, and we do that within 30 days.”
The committee completed the public hearing on the bill but has yet to put it to a vote.
Please let me know If you have other concerns and suggestions. If you would like to schedule a specific time to meet locally, please call my office at 573-751-1487, or email my office at firstname.lastname@example.org.