It seems hard to believe that we’re only a month away from the start of a new year, and a new legislative session. Pre-filing opens for the Missouri legislature today, a process where legislators from both chambers can begin filing their bills ahead of the 2024 session. Bills that are filed on December 1st are generally seen to be some of the highest priority bills for legislators, so our team will be watching carefully today and adding bills to our legislative trackers as they are filed. By the end of the day today, you’ll be able to see our trackers start to be populated with bills for the 2024 session. 

Per our normal traditions, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to hear from our staff and some of our legislative partners over the next two weeks about bills that we’ll be working on this session. I hope that you can join us at one of our Holiday Happy Hour events in Kansas City, St. Louis, and Springfield, or for our virtual legislative preview next Friday, December 8th. We’d love to see you to share more and answer your questions ahead of the new session. In the meantime, here’s a quick glimpse into the issues that we’ll be focused on next year. 

Food Security

We’ve spent the summer and fall preparing to ramp up our efforts on lobbying for the passage of the Restaurant Meals Program bill, first introduced by Senator Angela Mosley in 2022. We’ve been working with advocates for seniors, those with disabilities, and the homeless to make a strong case for how hot meals are critical to ensure that these vulnerable populations get the nutrition that they need to stay healthy, and we’re excited to bring more attention to this issue in the session ahead. We will also be doubling down on our efforts to eliminate the “reduced price” category of school meals and ensure that all children from families up to 185% of the FPL can have free breakfast and lunch at school to fuel their learning. Finally, we’ll be continuing our work on the transitional benefits plan passed by Senator Mary Elizabeth Coleman and Rep. Alex Riley earlier this year, ensuring that the funds are appropriated by the state for this program to be fully implemented. 

Criminal Justice Reform

Our primary focus within criminal justice reform legislation will remain on Clean Slate, a campaign to automate the expungement of criminal records in Missouri. We believe that this is the single most impactful bill that we can pass to allow individuals that have fully paid their debt to society to move past their old criminal records and successfully obtain employment and housing. We’ll also be working on a new piece of legislation in collaboration with our partners at FAMM to establish a DOC Oversight Board. The Department of Corrections spends millions of taxpayer dollars settling lawsuits brought by prison staff (and occasionally detainees or their families) because of abuses in the facilities, and we believe that an external oversight board is not only an important policy to prevent further violence and sexual assaults in these facilities, but also a smart fiscal policy for the state. Stay tuned for a more detailed Weekly Perspective later this month on this issue! Finally, we’ll be focused on passing a clean version of SB 189, the criminal justice bill that was vetoed by the Governor over the summer. There are legislators lined up to refile this legislation without the two small pieces that pushed the Governor to veto. We’ll be working to support the quick passage of this bill, especially: 

  • Banning the use of arrest warrants for any infractions, opting to utilize alternative methods to collect outstanding fines. This policy would positively impact thousands of poor Missourians jailed every year for their simple inability to pay government-levied fines.
  • Creating better pathways for Missourians wrongly convicted of crimes they didn’t commit to have those convictions overturned and their freedom restored, saving Missouri taxpayers money
  • Eliminating Missouri’s 18.75 to 1 sentencing disparity for cocaine base (crack) compared to powder cocaine, which has a well-documented history of being created to impose harsher punishments on Black drug users
  • Legalizing the manufacturing, possession, selling, delivering, or using any form of testing to determine the presence of fentanyl or closely related chemicals, greatly reducing the community’s exposure to fentanyl.

Affordable Housing

Our top priority in Affordable Housing this year is to pass legislation that would allow any county or municipality in the state to open a land bank if they so desire. As we’ve previously written, land banks are a critical community tool for turning nuisance properties into valuable community assets, as well as an important precursor for the creation of community land trusts, a key tool for creating a stock of permanently affordable housing. We’ll also be raising awareness about the need to increase the funding mechanism for the Missouri Housing Trust Fund, the primary funding source for affordable housing creation and maintenance, as well as putting Missouri back in compliance with the Federal Fair Housing Act. Finally, we’ll be working with a large coalition of partners to update the Circuit Breaker tax credit, giving relief to seniors who are trying to stay independently housed on a fixed income. 

In addition to these priorities, we also anticipate that we’ll be fighting a number of pieces of legislation frequently introduced by the legislature in recent years, including attacks on social safety net programs (such as SNAP, TANF, and Medicaid), attempts to reinstate a Civil War-era policy to put the St. Louis Police Department under state control, new mandatory minimum sentencing policies, removing local control of eviction moratoriums, and, of course, destroying our state’s initiative petition process. So, as you can see, we’ve got our work cut out for us!  We can’t do it alone, so consider joining one of our coalitions ahead of the upcoming session. We’ll see you under the dome soon!

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