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January 2021 Lobbyist Report

As 2020 draws to a close, we find that members of the General Assembly, the Governor’s staff, and special interest groups are all busy finalizing their respective agendas for the 2021 Legislative Session which begins on January 6.

COVID-19 concerns will still be at the forefront when legislators return to Jefferson City. We are certain that precautions will remain in place in and around the Capitol, with limited access to hearings and floor proceedings in order to keep legislators, staff, and visitors as safe as possible. Live streaming of Capitol events along with Zoom meetings and the like will probably be the new normal for the foreseeable future.  In addition, all groups are discouraged from holding big gatherings or lobby days at the Capitol this session.

As we are all aware, the pandemic has been devastating to many businesses around the state. That devastation equates to job losses and an anticipated loss in local and state tax revenues. With that in mind, the Governor and legislative leaders recently announced their consensus revenue estimates (CRE) for Fiscal Year 2022, which will begin July 1 of next year. The CRE is the starting point for preparing the state operating budget for the coming fiscal year. As announced in Governor Mike Parson’s recent press release, the key figure in preparing the budget is general revenue collections. Net general revenue collections for FY22 are projected to decrease by approximately $419 million. House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith remarked that we are in the “midst of the most trying economic times in a generation.”

Despite the projected shortfall, the state released some good news for the month of November. General revenue collections for the month came in at $811.1 million compared to $708.5 million for the same period last year. The revenue numbers combined with the first round of COVID-19 vaccinations arriving in the state have many hoping that a full recovery could be coming in the very near future.

At least two lawmakers will find themselves at odds with their colleagues when the new session begins. Representative-elect Rick Roeber (R-Lee’s Summit) had been accused of physical and sexual assault by his children, who are now adults, prior to the November election. Roeber has denied the allegations, and narrowly won his election, squeezing out a 1.7 percent margin of victory. Although he will be in Jefferson City for the opening of session, House leadership recently announced the Roeber would be barred from sitting with the Republican Caucus and the allegations would be investigated by the House Ethics Committee when the session commences.

Additionally, it appears that House leadership will pursue censure of Representative Wiley Price (D-St. Louis), after he was accused of an inappropriate relationship with a Capitol intern, followed by threatening and intimidating a staff member for reporting the relationship. The House Ethics Committee, comprised of five Democrats and five Republicans, unanimously found that Price committed perjury, obstructed their investigation of the matter, and compromised the ability of the House to provide a respectful, professional work environment. To date, Price has not resigned, denies the allegation and states he will be attending the opening of the next legislative session.

Pre-filing of legislation for the upcoming session continues at a rapid pace. Nearly 900 bills and resolutions have been filed by Senators and Representatives as of the writing of this report. As expected, bills have been pre-filed that impact the construction industry including but not limited to right-to-work, repeal of prevailing wage, changes to workers compensation, and transportation taxes just to name a few.

As stated above, the 2021 legislative session will begin on January 6.  Throughout the entire 2021 session, we will be in the Capitol advocating on your behalf.  Our weekly legislative reports will also begin once session starts.  You can expect weekly legislative updates to be emailed to you every Friday or Saturday during the 2021 legislative session.  Nikki Strong, Strong Consulting Group.

December 2020 Lobbyist Report

With the General Election behind us, lawmakers are now focusing on their legislative agendas for the upcoming 2021 session which is right around the corner and beings January 6, 2021. When the new session begins, the landscape will be much the same in the Capitol as Republicans were successful in holding their super majorities in both the House and Senate. In a year that Missouri Democrats were hoping to ride a blue wave to gain ground in the General Assembly, their efforts did not materialize.

Only one incumbent Republican House member was defeated, and the margin was razor thin. Newcomer Betsy Fogle of Springfield narrowly won over Representative Steve Helms by an initial count of 80 votes. The margin was within one half of one percent, triggering an automatic recount. At the end of the day, the final count was 8,548 to 8,472, a margin of 76 votes.   This means Republicans will continue to hold a 114-49 advantage over Democrats in the lower chamber for the next two years. The Senate will largely look the same as well, with Republicans holding a 24-10 supermajority as Democrats failed to capitalize on a couple of competitive races. Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden from Boone County will return as will Senator Andrew Koenig from St. Louis County. Both held off challenges from their Democratic opponents and will now begin their second terms.

The Capitol has not been entirely quiet as House members returned in mid-November for another special session called by Governor Mike Parson to address supplemental budget concerns as they relate to COVID-19. After House members approved the budget measure, Parson announced he would expand his call to include COVID-19 liability legislation, which is meant to provide liability protection for health care providers, manufacturers, businesses, schools, churches, and nonprofit organizations. The Senate was slated to take up the liability package and supplemental budget items the week of November 16th, but ironically, that has been postponed indefinitely because several staff members and senators have recently tested positive for coronavirus.

The ongoing saga of the pandemic has continued to take its toll on many small businesses, especially in the food service industry. With the numbers of cases continuing to grow, cities and counties throughout the state are once again closing or severely restricting activities at bars, restaurants, gyms, and other places of gathering, leading many to worry about job losses. Unemployment numbers for the week ending 11/14/20 were at 8,320, which is slightly up from the week before, but much lower than in the spring when numbers soared to over 104,000. Governor Parson has faced ongoing criticism from many in the health care field, but he has stood firm stating once again that he will not order a statewide mask mandate or a stay at home order. Parson reiterated in a recent press conference that, although he encourages mask wearing and social distancing, such orders should come from local government entities and not from his office.

The Governor also recently announced that he was extending the state of emergency related to the pandemic through March 31, 2021. His press release noted the extension would allow for continued flexibility in deploying critical resources around the state as well as the continued utilization of the Missouri National Guard.

Bill pre-filing for the 2021 legislative session began on December 1.  We will review and identify any bills filed that impact the construction industry.  In addition, we will continue to keep you updated on when the legislature resumes activities for the current special session and other political happenings in Jefferson City and around the state. Nikki Strong, Strong Consulting Group.

November 2020 Lobbyist Report

The halls of the Capitol have been quiet since the annual veto session and he special legislative session on crime wrapped up in mid-September. Legislators have been working and campaigning for the November 3 General Election day.

By the time this newsletter reaches you, the General Election will likely be over.  There were numerous competitive races around the state. Republicans will still hold super majorities in both the Missouri House and Senate, although all predictions and polling indicate that Democrats were favored to pick up several seats in the Missouri House and likely to pick up a seat or two in the Senate.  In addition, the race for Congressional District 2, currently held by Ann Wagner and being challenged by State Senator Jill Schupp, is a coin toss.  Other races that are close is the 15th Senatorial District (Kirkwood) currently held by Republican Andrew Koenig.  Democrat Deb Lavender is running a close race to unseat Koenig.  The race for Senate District 1 (South St. Louis) to replace term limited Scott Sifton is close but Democrat Doug Beck should hold his lead over David Lenihan.  Finally, the race most continue to watch very closely is Senate District 19 in central Missouri, where Democrat Judy Baker is running to try to oust incumbent Republican Caleb Rowden.  Sen. Rowden is the Majority Floor Leader of the Senate. Senate District 19 has always been a toss-up Democrat/Republican seat.  If Sen. Rowden is unable to hold on to his seat, the loss will be felt throughout the Senate as this will change the leadership structure in the Senate.

In addition to elected officials appearing on the ballot, voters will be deciding on several other issues. Amendment 1 would impose term limits on all statewide elected officials. Currently, only the Governor and Treasurer are term-limited as far as statewide officials go. State Senate and House members have fallen under term limit restrictions for many years.

Another ballot issue for voters to decide is Amendment 3. The measure would make several changes to the Clean Missouri initiative passed by voters in 2018. At the heart of the matter is the method used to redraw legislative district lines. This is done every ten years after census numbers are compiled. The Clean Missouri language specified the lines would be drawn by a demographer, who is selected by the Senate majority and minority leaders, from a list of six names submitted by the state Auditor. Amendment 3 seeks to put the redistricting process in the hands of bipartisan commissions that are appointed by the Governor. Additionally, the measure would place a complete ban on all lobbyist gifts and decrease the contribution cap on state Senate races.

The House and Senate will gather in Jefferson City the day after the election to caucus and formally elect leadership positions.  That will happen this year as the House will formally elect their new Speaker, Rob Vescovo.  In addition, they will elect a new Majority Floor Leader which is a tightly contested race between Rep. Dean Plocher, Curtis Trent and Jay Eggleston.  The Senate is not expected to see any real leadership changes unless Sen. Rowden is not re-elected to his Senate seat.  It is still not clear how leadership and the Majority Floor Leader role will be filled if that scenario comes to fruition, but we believe will be a contested and likely a bit contentious as the Conservative Caucus has not been quiet about their desire to take this leadership position.

Typically, things become very quiet after the election before session begins in January; however, the Governor has called another special session slated to begin on November 5.  This special session was called in order to give the Governor appropriation authority to spend additional federal funding made available to the state, including funding under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The supplemental budget will provide access to this funding, which is intended to appropriate additional resources to respond to COVID-19.  The supplemental budget contains funding for several items, including the School Nutrition Services Program, the Emergency Solutions Grant Program for homelessness prevention, job training grants, and child support payments, among others.  The proclamation can be viewed here.  Many observers are frustrated that the Governor has not called a special session to also deal with COVID-19 liability for businesses and healthcare entities.  The question remains whether the Governor will eventually amend the call to include this important issue.

In other news, the first sales of medical marijuana to qualified patients have taken place in Missouri, as patients formed long lines at the two locations of N’Bliss in Ellisville and Manchester on October 17. Although it has been nearly two years since voters approved medical marijuana sales in Missouri, observers say this has been one of the fastest implementations of its kind in the country. Most of the 192 licensed dispensaries in the state are expected to be open by the end of the year.

Finally, December 1 will mark the first day for filing legislation for the upcoming legislative session. We will be watching for pre-filed bills that could impact ASA and the construction industry and will continue to keep you updated on political happenings in Jefferson City and around the state.  Nikki Strong, Strong Consulting Group LLC

October 2020 Lobbyist Report

Legislators have been busy over the last month as they continued their work in the special legislative session on crime called by Governor Parson as well as the annual veto session which was held September 16.  In addition, legislators continue to campaign for election or re-election before the November General Election.  The new COVID-19 world has made in-person fundraising difficult at best.

The veto session is the constitutionally mandated opportunity for members of the General Assembly to override any vetoes issued by the Governor on bills from the regular session. It is also an opportunity for legislators to hold their final fundraising events before the General Election. No less than fifty members of the House and Senate held fundraisers in Jefferson City the night before and morning of the veto session.

Once legislators gathered at the Capitol, the only veto session activity was in the House, where Representative Mike Moon (R – Ash Grove) made a motion to override a veto of $140,000 that was  intended to repay business owners who had been successful in a fight with the Department of Revenue over interpretation of a tax issue. The motion passed in the House by a 138-6 margin, but the Senate refused to act on the override, thus allowing the veto to stand.  That was the only veto session activity.

The weeks long special legislative session finally came to an end during veto session.  It turned out to be much more active than the actual veto session. Senate members had returned to Jefferson City in early September to consider the crime related bills passed in August by the House. Those bills reflected what Parson had outlined in his call for the special session. Two of those bills – eliminating residency requirements for St. Louis Police officers and establishing a witness protection fund – passed easily. The remaining bills garnered much more debate. Those bills included endangering the welfare of a child due to weapons offenses, transfer of a firearm to a juvenile, and HB2 – a measure which allowed the admissibility of certain witness statements in court proceedings. Senator Bob Onder added language to the bill which would have allowed the Attorney General to have concurrent jurisdiction on certain homicide cases in the city of St. Louis. An hours-long filibuster that lasted into the early morning ensued because of the Onder amendment, and only ended with the rarely used “previous question” motion, which ends debate and forces a vote. The bill eventually passed with Onder’s amendment attached, thus sending it back to the House for their consideration of the changes.

It had been rumored that House leadership was opposed to the concurrent jurisdiction provision, and that  became evident as Speaker of the House Elijah Haahr gaveled members in for the special session, then immediately made a motion to adjourn, thus ending the special session and any chance for the remaining bills to pass. The move was seen partial defeat for Parson as only two of the crime related bills reached his desk.

The Governor has hinted that he will call legislators back to Jefferson City for another special session sometime in October to deal with the supplemental budget in order to fund the witness protection program. No date has been announced.

In the meantime, it’s back to the campaign trail for most legislators, as we are now in the home stretch leading up to the General Election. We will continue to keep you updated on political happenings in Jefferson City and around the state.

September 2020 Lobbyist Report

The past month has been exceptionally busy in Jefferson City in what continues to be an unusual year. Due to an ongoing rise in violent crime, especially in St. Louis and Kansas City, Governor Mike Parson made the call for a special legislative session to address several aspects of criminal law.

The special session began on July 28 with nearly twenty witnesses testifying in support of SB1, a multiple topic bill that covered all aspects of the Governor’s agenda for the session. The bill includes removing police and public safety employee residency requirements for St. Louis; requiring courts to determine if a juvenile should be certified for trial as an adult for the unlawful use of a weapon and armed criminal action; allowing certain statements to be admissible in court that would otherwise not be allowed under current law; creation of the Pretrial Witness Protection Fund; and increasing the penalty for a person who knowingly sells or delivers any firearm to a child less than 18 years without the consent of the child’s parent or guardian.

After a twelve-hour debate, the measure passed the Senate by a 27-3 bipartisan vote. The bill would not have an easy path forward in the lower chamber, however, as the House Judiciary Committee failed to advance the bill over disagreements regarding the juvenile certification provision. The measure was subsequently scrapped.

The House now has plans hold hearings on six individual bills, each covering a single topic as outlined in the Governor’s original call for the special session. Also included is a bill which allows for the Attorney General to have dual jurisdiction over certain criminal cases in the city of St. Louis. This comes after the Governor amended his special session call, saying the murder rate in St. Louis is out of control. It seems unlikely the measure will advance as many legislators have already signaled their opposition.

In election news, several area races surprised political observers but none more than Cori Bush, who unseated long time U.S. Representative Lacy Clay in the 1st Congressional District. Clay has represented the district since 2001 and had succeeded his father in holding the seat. Bush is a nurse and Black Lives Matter activist. Other notable highlights in the St. Louis area include David Lenihan winning the 1st state Senate District Republican primary. He now faces Doug Beck in the General Election. Elaine Gannon won convincingly in the 3rd state Senate District Republican Primary; Steve Roberts was the winner in the Democratic primary for the state Senate District 5; Angela Walton Mosely was victorious in her Democratic primary in state Senate District 13, and incumbent Senator Bill Eigel easily beat his challengers in the 23rd state Senate District Republican primary.

Amendment 2 also passed by a 46%-53% margin on election night, meaning the Medicaid program in Missouri will now expand to cover individuals with an income level at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty level. Missouri joins 37 other states in expanding the program.

The special session on crime continues as of the writing of this report.  It is expected the Governor will issue calls for additional special sessions on various other issues including spending authorization if Congress gives their approval to another stimulus bill. Also, on tap is the constitutionally mandated veto session in mid-September, where lawmakers will have an opportunity to override any vetoes issued by the Governor on bills from the last legislative session.

We will continue to keep you updated on political news in Jefferson City and around the state. Nikki Strong, Strong Consulting Group


 

August 2020 Lobbyist Report

In a normal year, there would be little news coming out of Jefferson City in the middle of the summer months. As we all know, this has been anything but a normal year.

As the coronavirus fallout continues, Governor Parson announced his first round of budget withholds for the current fiscal year which began on July 1. In his June 30 announcement, the Governor placed restrictions on nearly $450 million, affecting most every department in state government. Parson said he hopes to restore many of the cuts if the economy rebounds during the coming months.

In addition to the coronavirus affect, a rise in violent crime, protests, and clashes with police have been at the forefront of topics at the Capitol as well as across the state and nation. St. Louis and Kansas City have made national headlines because of a steady increase in murders and shootings in recent months. This has led to the Governor to call for a special legislative session to begin on July 27, in an effort to combat the rising crime rate.  Parson outlined six items in his call, including police residency requirements, juvenile court certification, witness statement admissibility, establishment of a witness protection fund, strengthening the endangering the welfare of a child statute, and strengthening the unlawful transfer of weapons statute. While discussions are underway with legislative leaders, many of the Governor’s priorities appear to have a bumpy road ahead, at best.

The Governor and his staff have completed their review of bills that passed during the 2020 legislative session which concluded on May 15.  Pursuant to the constitution, Parson was required to take action on all appropriations bills prior to June 30. Additionally, he was required to either sign or veto all policy related bills by July 14.   In the end, the Governor signed 42 bills into law this year, including 19 appropriations bills.  While the Governor made several line-item vetoes in the appropriations bills, he only vetoed two policy bills. The two bills vetoed were HB1854, which covered 37 different provisions dealing with local governments, and SB718, which deals with several provisions regarding military service members.

One of the primary reasons for the veto of HB1854 was language that would have modified the establishment of TDD’s and CID’s. Numerous local government officials expressed concerns that the provision would have likely ended new projects in these areas. Legislators will have the opportunity to override any vetoes during the annual veto session in September. There has been no word if any overrides will be attempted.

Rounding out the news is the upcoming Primary Election to be held on Tuesday, August 4.  There are many close primary races being watched around the state.  However, there are several in the St. Louis area.

Currently, one of the most closely watched races is the Democratic primary in Senate District 5 in St. Louis, where current Representative Steven Roberts is facing Alderwoman Megan Green and Michelle Sherod are battling it out to replace Sen. Jamilah Nasheed who is termed out.

Also worth watching, is the Republican primary in Senate District 3, covering Jefferson, Washington, St. Francois, Ste. Genevieve, Iron, and Reynolds Counties. The race pits current State Representative Elaine Gannon against political newcomers Kent Scism and Josh Barret.  This seat was previously held by termed out Sen. Gary Romine who resigned early to take an appointment.

Regardless of the results in the August Primary and the subsequent General Election in November, Republicans are expected to maintain a large majority in the State House and Senate. The outcome of some races, however, could alter the personality of the Senate going forward.

We will continue to keep you updated on election results, special session news, and other political happenings in Jefferson City and around the state. Nikki Strong, Strong Consulting Group.


 

 

July 2020 Lobbyist Report

Even though the halls of the Capitol are empty, there is still plenty of activity in Jefferson City. Staff members in the Governor’s office have been busy reviewing all legislation that passed during session in order to determine which bills warrant a signature from the Governor. As we reported last month, budget related bills must be signed or vetoed by June 30 and a decision on policy related legislation must be made by July 14. As of the writing of this newsletter, Governor Parson had signed two supplemental budget bills and only three policy related bills. The policy bills include professional licensing reciprocity, health care provider federal reimbursement allowances, and an elections bill that allows for mail-in ballots because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Cash flow is still a major concern as state and local governments along with most businesses continue to see their budgets suffer because of COVID-19. To that end, Governor Parson announced a third round of state budget withholds for the current fiscal year on June 1. The announcement came with just a month left in the fiscal year and will hit K-12 education the hardest. The new cuts amounted to $209 million, with $131 million of that amount coming from education. The Sheltered Workshops program will see a $2 million cut, while Higher Education and Workforce Development will lose $41 million. Additionally, the Department of Corrections will take a $10 million hit, $2 million will come from the Medicaid program in the form of administrative cuts, and $6 million will come from home and community based in-home services.

In a bit of good news, unemployment numbers continue to slowly improve across the state as there were 18,679 claims for the week ending June 13. The lowest number of claims this calendar year was at the end of February, when there were 2,702 claims for the week ending February 29. At the height of the COVID-19 crisis the number stood at 101,722 for the week ending March 28.

The state of Missouri has now entered the second phase of reopening since the coronavirus shutdown, with Governor Parson saying the state is “fully open for business”. Parson made the announcement on June 11, but he also extended the state of emergency through December 30. The announcement of Phase 2 means there will be no statewide health order. Any health rules or regulations are now strictly up to local leaders. The Governor stated there is now an ample supply of testing and personal protective equipment, but he also urged people to continue with hand washing, wearing masks when appropriate, and to practice social distancing.

Special session continues to be a topic of discussion in Jefferson City. Several legislative priorities that did not cross the finish line are likely to be included in the Governor’s call. At the top of this list is the Wayfair tax which could help bring much needed revenue to the state as well as cities and counties. The implementation of the tax is seen as necessary as more and more shoppers turned to internet purchases during the coronavirus pandemic.

Governor Parson has hinted at the possibility of multiple special sessions, not only because of the coronavirus fallout but the recent wave of protests and social unrest have leaders looking at a special session dealing with public safety. Some legislators are calling for massive police reform measures due to the death of George Floyd in Minnesota while in police custody. No decisions have been made yet on the timing or on any of the topics for special session.

We will continue to keep you informed on all the political happenings in Jefferson City and across the state. Nikki Strong, Strong Consulting Group


 

June 2020 Lobbyist Report

The legislative session came to an end at 6:00 pm on May 15 and the halls of the Capitol are quiet again. In what was an historic session, the state Capitol sat empty for over a month due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The shortened session left little time for priority bills to work their way through the legislative process. Well over 2,000 bills and resolutions were filed by Senators and Representatives this year, but only 31 policy related bills were truly agreed and finally passed.

Once lawmakers returned to Jefferson City after the coronavirus shutdown, they had only three weeks to pass the budget and other priorities. Budget writers had to rethink their proposed spending plan for FY2021 because of the ongoing financial impact of COVID-19. They trimmed $700 million from their original proposal and warned that spending restrictions and withholds could be necessary as revenue numbers unfold throughout the year. The total of the spending plan for next year amounts to $35,291,459,657. General Revenue accounts for $10,011,743,473 of that amount, while $14,757,315,949 comes from Federal funds, and $10,522,400,235 comes from other funding sources.

Legislation that passed this year is now being reviewed by the Governor and his staff. Budget related bills must be signed or vetoed by June 30. He must take action on other legislation by July 14. Any bill signed into law will become effective on August 28 unless the measure contained a specific effective date or an emergency clause. Any bills vetoed by the Governor will be considered for an override by the legislature at the annual veto session in September.

Bills of interest to ASA that passed this session include HB2046 which deals with professional licensing in Missouri. The bill creates the “Expanded Workforce Access Act of 2020”, where licensing authorities are required to grant a license to any applicant that has completed the 8th grade, completed a federally approved apprenticeship program, and passed any necessary examination. The bill also establishes a procedure for professional licensing reciprocity for certain professionals licensed in other states.

SB591 also crossed the finish line. This legislation deals with civil actions and states that states that an unlawful merchandising practice shall not include any advertisement, merchandise, or transaction in which the merchandise consists of a new residence in a transaction in which the buyer is offered and accepts an express warranty in the sale contract by the builder or by a third party warranty paid for by the builder and the sale contract includes a disclaimer. The act defines “residence” as a single-family house, duplex, triplex, quadruplex, or unit in a multiunit residential structure in which the title to each individual unit is transferred to an owner under a condominium or cooperative system and includes common areas and common elements.

Now that the legislative session has ended, lawmakers will hit the campaign trail in full force. All 163 seats in the House of Representatives are up for election as are 17 of the 34 state Senate seats. The Primary Election will be held on August 4, with the winners squaring off in the General Election on November 3.

In the meantime, House and Senate leadership will be in discussions with the Governor regarding a possible special session(s). It is likely that the Governor will call lawmakers back to Jefferson City to address several policy issues such as the Wayfair tax and other economic development issues in addition to addressing the ongoing budget shortfall.

 

 

 

May 2020 Lobbyist Report

Just like the rest of the state and country, all the news coming out of Jefferson City in the past month has been COVID-19 related. The Capitol has been shut down except for the Governor’s daily coronavirus updates and the General Assembly’s brief return to approve the supplemental budget.

The approval of the supplemental budget was necessary to cover shortfalls in the current fiscal year as well as give spending authority to the Governor for expenditures related to the COVID-19 relief package. Most of the nearly $6.3 billion of coronavirus expense package comes from federal dollars, with the remainder made up of primarily state general revenue funds. The funding covers many areas, including assistance to cities and counties, personal protective equipment for first responders and healthcare workers, emergency food assistance, and mobilization of the National Guard.

The fallout from the pandemic has reached far and wide. Governor Mike Parson recently announced an additional $47 million in budget withholds for the current fiscal year. This is in addition to nearly $180 million in budget restrictions announced on April 1. Businesses are suffering, unemployment claims continue to roll in, and state, city and county governments are seeing budget shortfalls which may last for months or years to come.

There is, however, an end in sight to some of the COVID-19 related shut-down. The General Assembly has made tentative plans to return to Jefferson City on April 27 to complete the final three weeks of the legislative session. The only thing certain on the agenda will be to pass the FY2021 budget. It is unclear what other legislative priorities could be debated. Possibilities include an internet sales tax plan and a prescription drug monitoring database. Other bills could be brought to the House and Senate floor, but many details need to be worked out as debate time will be very limited due to the constitutionally mandated end of session date of May 15. There will likely be many restrictions in place as far as visitors entering the
Capitol, as legislators try to balance their legislative duties with public health concerns.

Governor Parson has also announced plans to work with local leaders in an effort to re-open businesses across the state. The Governor’s stay at home order expires on May 3, and he has stated that most service businesses will be allowed to open once again with certain guidelines. Parson spoke about giving beauticians and barbershops, restaurants and box stores “an opportunity to open.” He announced the “Show Me Strong” recovery plan and said the phased-in reopening of businesses would be decided by Missouri-specific public health data.

In non-legislative news, Attorney General Eric Schmitt is pointing a finger at China for their role in the COVID-19 pandemic. Schmitt is suing China, several Chinese government entities, the Chinese Communist Party, and two Chinese laboratories in U.S. District Court. Missouri becomes the first state to sue China, in what Schmitt says is a “campaign of deceit” in how the communist county has handled the virus. In a press release, Schmitt stated “the Chinese government lied to the world about the danger and contagious nature of COVID-19, silenced whistle blowers, and did little to stop the spread of the disease. They must be held accountable for their actions.” Some legal scholars say China is protected by sovereign immunity and Missouri will have a difficult time moving the lawsuit forward.

We will continue to provide legislative and political updates as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold. Thank you and stay safe and healthy! Nikki Strong, Strong Consulting Group.

 

April 2020 Lobbyist Report

The month of March has been unprecedented not only around the globe, but also in Missouri and within the halls of the Capitol. As everyone is now very aware, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected virtually all aspects of everyday life. In Jefferson City, we have seen the legislative session come to a halt and the Capitol itself has been closed to all but essential employees. Multiple members of the House of Representatives and staff members are now in self-quarantine after the news that Representative Joe Runions (D-Jackson County), had been hospitalized in Kansas City and tested positive for the virus. Runions tested positive for coronavirus on March 20, and thus far is the only lawmaker to have fallen ill to the virus. His last day in the Capitol was March 12, and those who came into contact with him have been urged to take all necessary precautions. At last word, Runions was no longer on a ventilator, but remains hospitalized. In a statement released to media outlets, Runions said, “Although I remain hospitalized, I am getting better, but it will be a long recovery. The most important thing to me right now is for the doctors, nurses and hospitals in our state to get all of the support and supplies they need as they work to treat this illness. My doctors are deeply concerned that they could run out of vital supplies, especially the equipment they need to keep themselves safe while caring for patients. They also say expanded testing is needed to more quickly identify and treat those who have contracted COVID-19.”

Governor Mike Parson has been briefing reporters daily on the progression of the disease within the state, including the number of tests being done, and the distribution of supplies and equipment to health care workers and first responders. Thus far, Parson has enacted a “social distancing order”, which requires Department of Health and Senior Services Director Dr. Randall Williams to require social distancing statewide. The order prohibits gatherings of more than 10 persons and requires distancing of at least six feet between people. It was set to take effect Monday, March 23 and last until April 6.

Before the onset of the coronavirus, the legislature had been making slow, but steady progress on several bills of interest to ASA. HB1804, which streamlines the permitting process within the Department of Natural Resources has cleared the House and awaits consideration in the Senate. SB906 changes the structure of vehicle registration fees and would add nearly $47 million to the state road fund is set to be voted on in the Senate Transportation Committee. HB2550 and SB991, which are ASA’s priority bills dealing with the right to stop work for lack of payment are awaiting committee hearings. Other bills of interest including roofing contractor licensure, modifications to the amount paid by employers to unemployment compensation, and the right for an employer to refuse to accommodate medical marijuana in the workplace have also all made progress. However, the status of all legislation is now in question with the closure of the Capitol.

Although the legislative process has come to a halt, lawmakers must still formulate a plan on how they will pass a budget for fiscal year 2021. The General Assembly is mandated by the state constitution to pass a spending plan and the executive branch may not expend funds without authority from the legislature. As of the writing of this report, the budget has cleared the committee process in the House, but still faces debate on both the House and Senate floor before heading to the Governor. It is not clear if, when, or how leadership in the House and Senate plan to accommodate debate and voting on the state budget. It is also not clear what the General Assembly or the Governor intend to do with all other legislative agenda items. With no announced plan for the General Assembly to reconvene after their scheduled spring break, the possibility certainly exists for nothing but the budget to pass this year. However, as we have seen since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation changes daily.

We will continue to keep you informed on the status of the legislative session and politics in general in Jefferson City and around the state.  We appreciate the opportunity to represent you.
Nikki Strong, Strong Consulting Group.


 

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