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November 2021 Lobbyist Report

The biggest news coming out of Jefferson City in the last month is a major shakeup in Governor Mike Parson’s cabinet. On October 12, Governor Parson announced several changes to the heads of various state departments and the Office of Administration.

The Office of Administration Commissioner, Sarah Steelman, was abruptly asked to resign early on October 12. The commissioner post is one of the top-level positions in state government and oversees most aspects of day-to-day operations of the state including the budget and construction projects. Steelman had been in the position since early 2017 when she was appointed by then-Governor Eric Greitens. She is a former state Senator and state Treasurer and has been a political fixture in Jefferson City and across the state for many years. The Department of Revenue Director Ken Zellers will take Steelman’s place as the interim commissioner, while Revenue’s general counsel Joseph Plaggenberg will take over for Zellers as the Director of the Department of Revenue.

Jennifer Tidball, the acting director of the Department of Social Services, is also out.  Gov. Parson announced that his Deputy Chief of Staff Robert Knodell will take the helm of Social Services effective October 18. Tidball, who had stepped into the vacant position in 2019, will become the department’s chief operating officer. She had been mired in controversy as several lawmakers laid blame on her for the department’s handling of missing children in foster care and alleged abuses at unlicensed reform schools in the state.

The Department of Mental Health Director Mark Stringer announced his retirement, effective at the end of the year. Stringer had been in the post since 2015 and had served more than 34 years in the mental health field, with 24 years at DMH. He has received numerous awards for his innovation and leadership, serving on national boards, testifying before Congress, and advocating for those with mental illness and developmental disabilities. The department’s Deputy Director, Valerie Huhn, will temporarily take the helm at the end of October as Stringer takes leave until his official retirement date at the end of the year.

Also departing state government is Department of Economic Development Director Rob Dixon, whose last day was October 22. Dixon left for a position with Ameren as the Director of Community and Economic Development. He has been in his current position since 2017. Deputy Director Maggie Kost will become acting director upon Dixon’s departure.

In other news, the first phase of the new fuel tax in Missouri is now in effect, marked by a 2.5 cent increase per gallon at the pump. There will be subsequent increases each fiscal year until the total additional tax reaches 12.5 cents per gallon on July 1, 2025. The increase is a result of the passage of SB262 from the last legislative session. Once the tax is fully implemented, the measure is expected to raise an additional $375 million per year for state highways, as well as an additional $138 million per year for cities and counties to deal with transportation issues. Taxpayers will have an opportunity to recoup the extra taxes they have paid by filling out a form from the Department of Revenue, which will include the number of gallons purchased, details on the vehicle, and amount of extra taxes paid. Refund applications must be submitted between July 1 and September 30 each year. The Department of Revenue will have 45 days to process the form before having to pay interest to the taxpayer. The Missouri legislation mirrors a similar measure from South Carolina which was passed in 2017.

New applications for Missouri’s expanded Medicaid program are beginning to be processed through the Department of Social Services. Over 4,000 low-income applicants have been enrolled thus far. Over 17,000 new applications were initially received under the expanded program. Officials estimate approximately 275,000 Missourian’s are eligible. The expansion comes after the voter approved ballot measure was tied up in a legislative budget fight last session. That led to the courts issuing an order that the measure was indeed constitutional, and the state must allow the expansion to move forward. The measure provides health care coverage for single individuals who make less than $18,000 per year of a family of four who makes up to $36,750 per year.

Lawmakers are still busy in their home districts with fundraising events and preparing for the next legislative session. Prefiling of legislation will begin on December 1. We will continue to keep you updated on all political happenings in Jefferson City and around the state. Nikki Strong, Strong Consulting Group.


 

October 2021 Lobbyist Report

The top headline for the month of September was the annual veto session held in Jefferson City on September 15. Lawmakers returned to the Capitol as mandated by the constitution and attempted to override several vetoes issued by Governor Mike Parson on bills from the last regular session. Of the sixteen vetoes issued by the Governor, the General Assembly attempted several overrides. Although four override attempts passed easily in the House, that was not the case in the upper chamber and in the end, all the vetoes issues earlier this year by Governor Parson will stand.

Tempers flared and finger pointing occurred in a showdown between Republicans. At the center of the controversy was whether a Senator could make an override motion on a bill he or she did not sponsor or handle. Senator Mike Moon (R-Lawrence County) attempted to seek recognition to override a veto on one of the budget bills.  Lt. Governor Mike Kehoe, who presides over the Senate, would not recognize Moon for the motion. Senate rules do not address who can make a motion for an override, but Senate tradition held that only the sponsor can make the motion, which in this case was, Senator Dan Hegeman (R-Andrew County). Several hours of heated debate ensued, pitting members of the Conservative Caucus against more traditional Republicans. In the end, and in an effort to keep peace in the chamber, Hegeman made the override motion, but it failed to get the necessary two-thirds majority to pass. Many Capitol observers believe the infighting between Republicans will spill over into the next regular session which begins in January.

While lawmakers were gathered in Jefferson City for veto session, Republican House members took advantage of the opportunity to select their next speaker of the House. Representative Dean Plocher was unanimously chosen by his colleagues to lead the chamber beginning in January of 2023 after current Speaker, Rep. Rob Vescovo terms out. Plocher must still be approved by the full body, but the result is a foregone conclusion since the Republicans continue to hold a super majority. Plocher represents House District 89 in St. Louis County. The district encompasses Town and Country, Des Peres, Frontenac, and surrounding areas. He currently serves as majority floor leader and will continue in that role until 2023.

Aside from the controversy in the Senate during veto session, another battle continued to brew in the Capitol, but this time it was in the state museum. The museum, housed on the first floor of the Capitol building, is operated by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). On September 1, several Republican state representatives and at least one staff member inquired of the DNR, as to the reason for a gay rights banner and a LGBTQ exhibit in the state museum. The exhibit, “Making History: Kansas City and the Rise of Gay Rights,” had been scheduled to be in the Capitol from the end of August through December. It was removed shortly after the complaints were received and relocated to a museum in the Lohman Building, which sits next to the Capitol. The move angered Senator Greg Razer (D-Kansas City), who is the only openly gay member of the Senate and also garnered national attention. A spokesperson for DNR stated the display was removed because the Board of Public Buildings, who oversees displays in the Capitol museum, had not approved the exhibit. Senator Razer and other Democrats pointed out that other exhibits in the museum have also not been pre-approved, but they continue to be on display.

Last year the Governor called multiple special sessions in between the 2020 and 2021 legislative sessions.  Since the 2021 Legislative Session ended in mid-May, many legislators called on Governor Mike Parson to continue that trend and call special sessions on various topics during the interim.  The most recent request from several Republican legislators has been for a special session to deal with the vaccine mandate recently announced by President Biden.  Despite these requests, we do not expect the Governor will call a special session to address the vaccine mandate or any other topic.  Should the state desire to challenge the vaccine mandate, that will need to be done in the courts as legislative action cannot overturn federal mandate.  As far as the other topics the Governor has received requests for special session, those will likely be addressed during the regular 2022 legislative session that begins in January.

Next on the political agenda is the Senate Republican Caucus, to be held in Branson from November 9th through the 11th.  Until then, senators and representatives will be in their home districts as they prepare their legislative agenda for the next regular session which begins in January. Prefiling of legislation for the 2022 session will begin on December 1.


 

August 2021 Lobbyist Report

In last month’s update we mentioned the controversy in the Capitol regarding the FRA tax, which is a critical funding source for hospitals, nursing homes, pharmacies, and ambulance services that care for Medicaid patients. The funding was set to expire unless legislators agreed to an extension, We are happy to report that during a special legislative session that concluded on June 30, the General Assembly sent their approval to the Governor for his signature. The passage of the measure ended a showdown between legislators that had lasted since the beginning of the regular legislative session in January.  The passage of the renewal of the FRA also averted the Governor from making major budget withholds or vetoes he had threatened prior to the start of the special session.  Upon the passage of the renewal, with just hours remaining in the fiscal year, Parson promptly signed the measure. Senators and Representatives agreed to a three-year extension of the tax, meaning that the controversial topic will be put to rest for the next couple years.

Also making news regarding Medicaid dollars is the continuing battle over Medicaid expansion in the state. As you will recall, Missouri voters approved expansion of the health care program in August 2020, which would cover an additional 270,000 people who are at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty level. However, the Republican controlled legislature opted not to enact the expansion, saying that voters did not approve a funding mechanism for the expansion. The measure quickly landed in Cole County Circuit Court, where judge Jon Beetem issued a ruling in favor of the state’s argument, that without a funding mechanism, the state is under no obligation to expand the program. The case then moved to the Missouri Supreme Court, where arguments were heard on July 13. As of the writing of this report, no decision has been handed down from the high court, but we expect that to happen soon.

Governor Mike Parson recently completed signing the remaining bills from the 2021 legislative session, signing the final round of bills on July 14. A full report of the Governor’s actions were sent in an emailed report to the membership in mid-July.  As a recap, Parson signed numerous bills throughout June and July at events in Jefferson City and around the state. All signed bills will become law on August 28 unless they contained an emergency clause or a specific date for enactment.  Of particular interest to ASA is SB262, which we have supported over several legislative sessions. The bill adds much-needed funding for road and bridge projects in the state, by allowing an additional tax of 12.5 cents per gallon on fuel purchases to be phased in over a five-year period. The Governor held several ceremonial signings of the bill across the state in mid-July.

Parson also issued several vetoes of bills recently passed, including SB226, which is a tax related measure which changed the threshold for sales tax filing periods, and allowed for certain property tax and income tax credits. He also vetoed HB661, a transportation related bill that dealt with a vehicle towing committee, a fee increase for obtaining certain records from the Highway Patrol and repealing vehicle emissions testing in certain areas. Legislators will have the opportunity to override any veto issued by the Governor at the constitutionally mandated veto session on September 15.

We anticipate the Capitol will be relatively quiet over the next month and leading up to the September 15 veto session.  We will continue to keep you updated on political news in Jefferson City and around the state as it happens. Nikki Strong, Strong Consulting Group

 


 

July 2021 Lobbyist Report

During most years, the month of June is usually quiet as far as legislative activity goes, however, this year is an exception. There has been no shortage of controversy in Jefferson City as the showdown over the FRA tax continues. As we noted in last month’s newsletter, the FRA tax is a vital piece of legislation that the General Assembly failed to renew before the end of session in May. Without it, hospitals, nursing homes, pharmacies and ambulance services will lose a critical funding stream that enables them to care for Medicaid patients leaving many facilities unable to continue operation.

As of the writing of this report, an agreement has not been reached between Governor Mike Parson and legislators on the renewal of the tax. Absent an agreement, Parson stated he will not call for a special session to renew the tax and will begin the process of budget cuts to make up the $1.4 billion funding shortfall caused by the non-renewal. At the center of the disagreement is a provision that pro-life Senators want inserted in the tax extension to prohibit tax dollars from going to abortion services and certain contraceptives. All are hopeful that an agreement will be reached before the deadline is reached and the slashing of the budget begins.

In other news, the Governor has recently signed several bills that were passed during the legislative session, including HB271. The legislation is a wide-ranging local government bill, which includes a provision dealing with the competitive bid process for county governments, allowing them to increase the no bid required threshold from $6,000 to $12,000 on purchases or expenditures.

Other legislation approved by the Governor includes SB63, which establishes a statewide prescription drug monitoring program, and is designed to help with the ongoing opioid drug overdose crisis. Missouri had been the only state without such a program.

HB85, also signed by Parson, is a bill designed to prevent the enforcement of certain federal gun laws in the state. The sponsors of the legislation say the measure is designed to prevent federal government overreach, while opponents question the constitutionality of the bill. The City of St. Louis and St. Louis County have filed suit in Cole County Circuit Court to place an injunction on the bill and block its implementation. A hearing date on the suit has not yet been set.

We are still awaiting action by the Governor on the majority of the bills passed during the recent session, including SB262, which is the bill to increase fuel taxes in the state. Parson has until June 30 to make decisions on budget items, and July 14 on policy related bills. The situation remains fluid as everyone waits for the outcome of the above-mentioned FRA tax. Should no agreement be reached, the Governor will likely veto any new budget expenditures and any bills that contain a fiscal note.


 

MAY 2021 Lobbyist Report

The 2021 legislative session came to an end on Friday, May 14 at 6:00 pm as mandated by the state constitution. The last few days of session were interesting, especially the final day, as the Senate adjourned four hours early. The abrupt shutdown was a result of what Democrats perceived as unkept promises by Republican leadership. This led to Democratic leadership holding the floor on the last day and making the unprecedented move to adjourn early.

The end result was failure to pass a key piece of legislation that would extend the sunset on a program that provides a significant amount of funding to the Medicaid program called the Federal Reimbursement Allowance or “FRA”.  The FRA provides Medicaid funding to hospitals, nursing homes, ambulance services and pharmacies thereby helping the state pay for these services and allowing them to spend state general revenue dollars in other areas of the budget.  Without the FRA, most of the health care providers that benefit from this funding mechanism would be unable to continue operations. It is anticipated that Governor Mike Parson will call a special session to address the issue before the current program expires in September.

Highlights of the session include the passage of SB262, which will increase the state fuel tax by an additional 12.5 cent per gallon, to be phased in over a five-year period. The bill would raise up to $514 million annually by 2027 for road and bridge repairs by MODOT and local governments. Included in the legislation is a provision that allows taxpayers to receive a rebate of the additional taxes paid if they provide receipts and certain documentation to the Department of Revenue. However, not everyone was pleased with the new revenue stream for roads and bridges. Jeremy Cady, President of the conservative, anti-tax group, Americans for Prosperity, has filed a petition with the Secretary of State to put the gas tax increase to a public vote.  The group must now begin the process of gathering the required signatures in order to place the vote on a statewide ballot.

Other legislation that has made it to the Governor’s desk includes HB69, which places new regulations on the selling and purchasing of scrap copper, precious metals, and catalytic converters. Additionally, the bill creates the new offense of stealing a catalytic converter and classifies the crime as a Class E felony.

COVID Liability finally made it across the finish line as the last bill to pass.  After a bumpy road to the finish line, SB51 is now waiting for the Governor’s signature. The bill offers protections from liability in certain civil actions related to the COVID-19 pandemic and passed on the last day of session. The measure was a priority for the Governor as well as House and Senate leadership.

Also passing this legislative session was the Wayfair tax, which allows for the collection of sales taxes from out-of-state online retailers. The proposal is part of SB153, which is a wide-ranging tax bill covering numerous topics including, Tax Increment Financing projects, Community Improvement District projects, and a reduction in the individual income tax rate.

Legislation dealing with utility locates unfortunately did not advance this year. SB573 and HB1164 both dealt with the establishment of the Underground Damage Prevention Review Board and also put into place certain penalties for improper and untimely locates. Both bills were met with opposition from many utilities, including AT&T, Missouri Association of Municipal Utilities, Spire, Metro St. Louis Sewer District, and Missouri One Call.

The General Assembly also failed to pass funding for Medicaid Expansion.  As you will recall, Medicaid Expansion was passed by a vote of the people in August 2020.  The position of the Republican super majority is that the initiative passed in August 2020 does not provide a funding stream to fund Medicaid expansion; therefore, the General Assembly was not obligated to appropriate the funds to expand Medicaid.  A suit was filed on May 20 and the courts will now decide whether or not the state will have to fund Medicaid Expansion.

The Governor must decide by July 14 whether to sign or veto bills that have reached his desk. He must also make a decision on any budget actions he will take by June 30 as the state fiscal year begins July 1.  Legislators may attempt to override any vetoes at the annual veto session on September 15.

 

 

March 2021 Lobbyist Report

The Legislative Session rolled along with some sense of normalcy the month of February.  COVID delays in January made many questions how productive the 2021 legislative session would be and would it slow significantly and entail numerous starts and stops. Aside from weather delays from the historic winter storm that impacted the entire state in Mid-February, the legislative session rolled along at a pre-pandemic pace in February.

Both Chambers moved forward with a slate of daily hearings making it difficult to navigate the 20+ hearings a day.  Floor debate has also moved along productively with the House passing several pieces of legislation while the Senate focused on long debate and overnight sessions moving some of its more controversial pieces of legislation.

The Senate worked through the night in early February to reach an agreement on COVID-19 liability legislation.  SB51, sponsored by Senator Tony Luetkemeyer, offers liability protections for businesses that manufacture medical supplies and other products and equipment directly related to the Covid-19 pandemic. It also covers medical professionals and religious organizations. The original debate to perfect the bill lasted nearly fifteen-hours.  However, the final vote on the bill was delayed several weeks as the Senate attempted to gather enough votes to meet the 2/3 vote needed to pass an Emergency Clause.  The Emergency Clause is necessary so the bill can become law once the Governor signs it rather than the constitutional effective date of August 28.  After a 3-week absence of Sen. O’Laughlin due to illness, the bill was brought to a final vote.  The bill received a passing vote; however, the Senate could not garner enough votes to get the Emergency Clause passed.  Without the Emergency Clause it is unclear what the fate of the bill will be.  The bill is a priority for the Governor, as well as legislative leaders, who see it as a key part of the COVID-19 related economic recovery.

Both the House and Senate have debated numerous bills that would limit the authority of local city and county health officials.  At issue is the closure of schools, churches, and businesses during the ongoing pandemic. There are several bills filed that in some form would prohibit the issuance of public health orders that limit the number of people on private residential property and would also prohibit the closure of or placement of restrictions on restaurants, schools, and other regarding working and assembling, as opposed to the government issuing restrictive health orders. Much of the criticism was aimed at St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, who has been responsible for some of the most stringent lockdown orders in the state.  This issue will continue to be debated as the legislative session progresses.

There is bi-partisan support in both the House and Senate to forgive unemployment overpayments that occurred during the pandemic.  The House Special Committee on Government Oversight considered seven bills on this topic.  In addition, bills have been filed in the Senate.  The Department of Labor and Industrial Relations was under fire during House Budget and Senat Appropriations committee meetings in both the House and Senate.  At issue is more than $150 million that went to over 46,000 unemployed Missourians during the pandemic. The Department of Labor and Industrial Relations says the money was sent in error and the recipients must now plan to pay it back. The error happened in other states as well, but many of them have decided to offer waivers. Missouri is not one of them. The state is offering a zero-interest payment plan and says if the money is not paid back people could see their future paychecks garnished. The move has angered lawmakers who say those who received the money are not at fault and cannot afford the repayment option amid the pandemic.

Bills dealing with Right-to-work and paycheck protection have been filed and debated in a Senate Committee.  The bills are filed each year.  The bills have been heard in Committee but as of newsletter press time had not yet been voted out of Committee.  The hearing on the bills were much shorter than past years and fewer people came to testify.  While these bills will likely make it to the Senate Calendar, we do not expect either to make it across the finish line to for either Chamber to spend much time debating them.  Since Right-to-work was defeated by such a large margin by Missouri voters a couple years ago, the Republican leadership will likely focus on getting other priorities across the finish line.

Education reform has been discussed for many years in the state.  After school shutdowns during COVID, it appears that various education reforms have a good shot at getting across the finish line this year.  The Senate debated SB52 until the early morning hours in late February.  The following day the House took up and perfected a bill that would implement and Education Savings Account.  The heart of the issue to the push to expand charter schools across the state.  The issue is a priority of both the Speaker of the House, Rep. Rob Vescovo and the Senate Majority Floor Leader, Sen. Caleb Rowden.

We will continue to keep you informed of legislative happenings in Jefferson City and around the state through weekly legislative email updates.  If you are not receiving these weekly updates, please contact Susan Winkelmann. Nikki Strong, Strong Consulting Group.


 

February 2021 Lobbyist Report

The 2021 session gaveled in on January 6th. The first two weeks of session were mostly ceremonial in nature.  The House and Senate members took their oaths of office, named committee members, establish the operating rules of each chamber and allowed for newly elected Senators and Representatives to adjust to the lawmaking process.

Governor Mike Parson and other statewide elected officials were sworn into their respective offices on January 11 during the Bicentennial Inauguration ceremony. The event was held on the south lawn of the Capitol and featured a flyover of the B-2 Stealth bomber as Parson took his oath of office. Other special events typically associated with inauguration were put on hold due to the continued Coronavirus concerns. Missing from the day was the usual parade through downtown Jefferson City along with the Inaugural Ball and Grand March held in the rotunda of the Capitol. Organizers are hopeful those events and more can be held later in the year when Missouri celebrates 200 years of statehood.

Although session has just begun, the Capitol has already seen a wave of controversy as Representative Wiley Price was recently censured by his colleagues in the House of Representatives. Price, a Democrat from St. Louis, had been accused of various indiscretions, including having sex with an intern, perjury, and threats of retaliation against a staff member. Members of the House Ethics Committee issued a report outlining the accusations against Price, which resulted in a debate lasting nearly four hours on a resolution to censure him. In the end, the measure passed by a 140-3 margin. Price has since been removed from all committees, is no longer allowed to caucus with the Democrats, will no longer be allowed to have interns working in his office, and he must repay over $22,000 to cover the cost of the Ethics Committee investigation.

Coronavirus concerns continue in and around the Capitol as several House members and staff have either tested positive or are in quarantine. This led to session being cancelled in the House for the week of January 18.  However, as of the writing of this report, the Senate was able to continue with business as usual.  After the COVID outbreak in the House of Representatives, it was announced that a rapid testing clinic would be opened in the Capitol for legislators, staff and others who regularly work in the Capitol such as lobbyists and journalists.  They hope to have the clinic open the first of February.

Committee work has begun in both chambers as well.  However, the committee process is much different this year as both chambers have limited space available due to social distancing in hearing rooms.  This has forced many to wait in the hallway listening to the hearing on their phones until it is their turn to testify or someone leaves the hearing room freeing up space.

Despite the shut down in the House, legislators in both chambers continue to file legislation at a near-record pace. To date, members have filed nearly 1,400 bills and resolutions. Once again, there are several measures seeking to address an increase in the state motor fuel tax, in order to provide increased funding for highway construction and maintenance.  Right-to-work along with other legislation impacting the construction industry have been filed again this year.

Governor Mike Parson gave his State of the State address on January 27, where he announced his legislative priorities for the current session and outline his budget plans for the next fiscal year. The Governor continued his theme of infrastructure development and job growth.  Although the Governor released his budget recommendations, the budget will be watched closely throughout the process with anticipation of additional stimulus money from the federal government and the continued impact COVID has had on state revenues.  It is expected the budget will be significantly impacted for several years to come.

We will continue to keep you informed of legislative happenings in Jefferson City and around the state through weekly email updates.  If you are not receiving these weekly updates, please contact Susan Winklemann,  Nikki Strong, Stong Consulting Group, LLC


 

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

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