It’s the third week of May, which means that you’re hearing crickets from hundreds of lobbyists and advocates across the state who are taking a much deserved break after working many late nights over the last three weeks as the Missouri legislature hurtled towards its inevitable close at 6PM last Friday night. Due to widening fissures between the House & the Senate, the Republicans & the Democrats, and the Republicans & the Conservative Caucus, much of this year’s action was crammed into the final five days of session. Here’s a look at what we’re celebrating and mourning this week: 

The Victories

  • Arguably, Empower’s biggest victories came through the passage of SB 53. Over the last few weeks, SB 53 became an omnibus criminal justice bill, the vehicle through which many of our criminal justice priorities were passed. These wins include: 
    • Clarifying the implementation of the Raise the Age legislation passed in 2018 and ensures funding for the provision through updates to the “Juvenile Justice Preservation Fund.” (The necessary funds for implementation were also secured through the budget process.)
    • Creates additional provisions to ensure a juvenile has additional protections in place regarding their right to counsel.
    • Provides that a law enforcement officer who engages in sexual conduct with a detainee or prisoner who is in the custody of such officer shall be guilty of a class E felony.
    • Prohibits a LEO of knowingly using a respiratory choke-hold unless such use is in defense of the officer or another from serious physical injury or death.
    • Establishes the “Police Use of Force” Transparency Act, requiring law enforcement agencies to collect and report local data on use-of-force incidents involving peace officers to the National Use of Force Data Collection Portal (administered by the FBI) and to the MO Department of Public Safety.
    • Repeals the provision that a person who was arrested must have no prior convictions in order to be eligible for the expungement of the record of an arrest
    • Reduces the time a petition for expungement can be filed from seven years to three years, if the offense is a felony, and from three years to one year, if the offense is a misdemeanor, from the date the petitioner completed any disposition of sentence imposed.
    • Many more positive provisions, which you read about in our SB 53 summary.
  • SB 53 also was the vehicle through which Empower’s HIV Justice Coalition ultimately passed significant reform of Missouri’s outdated and medically inaccurate HIV criminal statutes. This was a massive effort from Empower and the HIV Justice Coalition over the last five years. Read the rundown of the reforms. 
  • In another win for public health, legislation championed by Rep. Phil Christofanelli and Senator Greg Razer (and supported by the HIV Justice Coalition) passed, making Missouri the third state in the country to allow pharmacists to dispense PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) over-the-counter. Taken within 72 hours after a possible exposure to HIV, PEP reduces the likelihood of contracting HIV by more than 80%. 
  • Representative Cheri Toalson-Reisch’s bill removing restrictions for individuals with previous felony convictions from working in establishments that sell lottery tickets and/or alcohol passed, opening up thousands of new job opportunities for this vulnerable population.
  • Championed by our partners at the Missouri Budget Project, the legislature passed SB 153, which includes the new Working Families Tax Credit. Advocates around the state have been working for more than two decades to pass an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which will bring targeted tax relief to low- and middle-income families. This is truly a victory in the fight against poverty in Missouri!
  • The legislature passed HB 432, a bill that included several of the priorities of our Food Security Coalition. This includes the creation of the WIC Farmers’ Market Program, the extension of the Missouri Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, and the creation of a Missouri Food Security Task Force. Read more here.
  • Finally, we’d like to offer a huge congratulations to Senator Holly Rehder for pushing Missouri to become the 50th state to implement a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.  Rehder has championed this legislation for many years, and we know that it is going to be a critical tool in fighting the opioid epidemic in our state, which in turn should reduce the number of opioid-related arrests and incarcerations.  

The Victories Via Omission

  • As we do every year, Empower Missouri led the fight against imposing harsh work hours tracking requirements on SNAP recipients in both the House & the Senate.  Thanks to the hard work of our Food Security Coalition members, neither the House or Senate bill received a floor hearing. 
  • Empower’s Smart Sentencing Coalition joined with racial justice advocates from around the state in opposing SB 26. While the bill ultimately passed, the most harmful provisions were removed.  Thanks to your hard work and advocacy, protestors blocking traffic will not be subjected to new felony penalties. 
  • Empower partnered with MO Jobs with Justice, Show Me Integrity and other advocacy organizations to protect Missouri’s ballot initiative process. Thanks to the work of a strong coalition, we were able to sideline these dangerous attempts to weaken our constitutional right to propose legislation directly to voters. 

The Challenges

  • As you likely saw in statewide headlines, the Missouri legislature neglected their duty to fund Medicaid expansion, which was passed by Missouri voters last August. The expansion provision is supposed to provide coverage to an additional 275,000 Missourians who make less than 138% of the federal poverty line (~$18K for a single person or ~$36,500 for a family of four). The federal government is covering 90% of all costs for the expansion population in perpetuity– Missouri is only being asked to cover 10% of the cost. The legislature declined to include funding for the expansion population in their budget, which means that there will now be a lengthy and expensive court case to litigate the issue at taxpayer expense.   
  • The Missouri legislature also refused to pass a clean version of the FRA, or Federal Reimbursement Allowance. The FRA is a tax on hospitals, nursing homes, and pharmacies that is then reimbursed by the federal government, accounting for $2.3 billion (or about 20%) of Missouri’s Medicaid program. The state must pass a clean FRA by September 30th or lose that federal funding, throwing Missouri’s entire budget into disarray.  This means that the governor will be forced to call an expensive special session so that the legislature can fulfill its obligation. 
  • Finally, while we had many victories in the criminal justice arena this session, there were a few critical failures:
    • SB 26 contains a provision aimed at prohibiting Missouri cities, counties, or municipalities from “defunding the police.” The new law says that “Any taxpayer of a political subdivision may initiate an action for injunctive relief, which the court shall grant, if the governing body of such political subdivision decreases the budget for its law enforcement agency…by an amount exceeding more than twelve percent relative to the proposed budgets of other departments of the political subdivision over a five-year aggregate amount.”
    • SB 53 contains provisions that lifts the residency requirements for police officers in Kansas City.  Empower Missouri firmly believes that it is critical to police-community relationships for police to reside in the communities that they serve. 
    • In the final hours of the legislative session, lawmakers passed the “Second Amendment Protection Act,” otherwise known as SAPA.  This bill prevents law enforcement officers (LEO) in Missouri from enforcing federal gun laws in Missouri.  While Empower does not typically get involved in gun-related issues as it is largely outside of the scope of our work, we’re alarmed by this new law for two reasons.  First, the penalty for a LEO who enforces federal gun laws in Missouri is to become permanently ineligible to serve as an LEO anywhere in MO.  When you compare this to the newly minted charge of a class E felony for LEOs engaging in sexual conduct with a detainee, it feels that law enforcement priorities in Missouri are severely misplaced.  Second, lawmakers voted down a common-sense amendment offered by Senator Lauren Arthur to allow LEOs to continue to enforce the federal law that prohibits individuals convicted of domestic violence offenses to own guns.  We fear that this provision being lifted in Missouri will lead to more crime, more violence, more death, and more incarceration.  We strongly oppose this legislation and will seek pathways to mitigate the harm that this bill would cause if signed by the governor. 

Whew. It’s been a crazy five months, y’all. Be sure to follow us on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram for updates on bill signings and any vetoes by the governor, and also be sure to join us on Friday, June 4th at 12PM for our legislative wrap-up, which will include next steps and opportunities to get involved with our coalitions ahead of next session. 

Until then,

Mallory Rusch
Executive Director