We knew going into the legislative session that it would be a wild year. Unfortunately, wild years where very little gets done has become the normal legislative process in Missouri. It wasn’t designed to be this way. However, partisan infighting, electoral maps designed to favor one party, distrust in government and an overall breakdown in professionalism has left us with a dysfunctional Missouri legislature. The 2022 session may best be remembered for Senator Mike Moon wearing a pair of overalls on the Senate floor amid a tense discussion on redistricting. While the inequities inherent in dress codes may be a topic for another day, that incident pretty well encapsulates the tension and absurdity advocates felt all session. There was also an unprecedented press conference in the Capital led by a bipartisan coalition of female Senators urging for decorum and professionalism from their colleagues (most notably the ‘conservative caucus, who routinely added controversial amendments onto uncontroversial legislation).
Empower Missouri and our partners working to end poverty had some wins and some hard losses. Legislative leaders identified several priorities going into this year: election reform, making the initiative petition process more difficult, banning Critical Race Theory, ‘protecting’ women’s sports, and defeating medicaid expansion (again). Empower Missouri took strong stances on several of these issues, and thanks to the hard work of advocates and organizations across the state, most of these priorities did not pass through the full legislative body. Lawmakers were not able to make the initiative petition process more difficult, thanks to an artful 11th hour filibuster led by Senators Brian Williams and Jill Schupp. The trans sports legislation and the “CRT” bans also were not successful. Medicaid expansion is fully funded for 2022, and several bills seeking to curtail the program in the future failed. Unfortunately, legislators were successful in passing an election “reform” passage. Our partners at the MO Voter Protection Coalition are seeking pathways to stop its passage on the governor’s desk or challenge some of its provisions in court.
Empower Missouri had several successes in blocking harmful legislation in both chambers of the legislature that would have intensified poverty across the state. We blocked a bill designed to strip Temporary Assistance for Needy Families receiving households the ability to access their benefits in cash. We also blocked bills which attempted to enforce harsh work hour tracking requirements with steep penalties, and another that would have withdrawn nutrition support from parents who are behind in their child support. Adequate nutrition is a human need, and there should be no litmus test determining if someone is worthy.
Unfortunately, we were unable to block one bill with major ramifications for people living in poverty– the anti-homelessness bill originally filed as HB 2614 and SB 1106. The Affordable Housing coalition made hundreds of contacts with lawmakers across the state working to stop language designed to criminalize homelessness and redirect Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) funds to service provision only. Unfortunately those contacts were not enough and language amended onto another bill passed last week. We are primarily concerned about two provisions of this legislation. First, it specifies that state and federal funds designed for PSH are directed to provide for services only; we are working with HUD to see how that will impact our federal housing grants. The second is classifying sleeping outside as a class C misdemeanor. In fact, the language requires that those folks are ticketed or arrested (after one warning). We are exploring legal avenues to protect our homeless neighbors.
There were very few pieces of legislation that we were working to pass, rather than block, this session. The first was the SNAP Restaurant Meals Programs. Food security advocates were able to get this bill, sponsored by Senator Angela Mosley, all the way through the Senate with bi-partisan support. Our team worked night and day to get the bill through the House in less than two weeks, but it failed in Fiscal Review after passing through two other House committees. Allowing people who are homeless, disabled, or elderly to use their SNAP benefits for hot meals is a smart policy that will make a big impact in the lives of these community members. We will work on it again next year.
The second was more successful. The Correctional Center Nursery Program, which will allow women who give birth while incarcerated to keep their infants with them in a special new unit in the Vandalia Correctional Facility for the first 18 months of their lives, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. This legislation was championed by Rep. Bruce DeGroot and Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, and the advocacy effort was led by our wonderful partners at Missouri Appleseed, who we are thrilled to recognize with an Advocacy Award next month.
While there were over 100 pieces of criminal justice-related legislation filed this session, very few of them ended up crossing the finish line. A handful of positive pieces of legislation were combined into SB 775, which passed in the final week of session. This bill created the Statewide Council on Sex Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Children and created new procedures for protecting potential victims of sex trafficking. It prohibits victims of sexual crimes from being asked about their prior sexual conduct during court proceedings. It also included an extensive new Sexual Assault Survivor’s Bill of Rights, championed by Senators Holly Rehder and Jill Schupp.
The Criminal Justice Coalition and other advocates were able to block several harmful pieces of legislation, including the creation of the new offense of mail theft (a nuisance crime that is typically only perpetuated by people living in poverty), the creation of a violent offender registry (that would have included individuals ruled not guilty by reason of mental illness), and the elimination of the possibility of parole for a subset of individuals who were convicted as minors and are serving long sentences.
There was, however, one major loss for the Criminal Justice Coalition this session. A pair of bills requiring the Kansas City Police Department, who operates under state control, to increase their minimum budget allotment from 20% to 25% of their general revenue passed through the legislature. This involves a constitutional amendment, so the issue will go before voters this fall. While we expect that it will pass due to the phrasing of the ballot language, Empower Missouri and a number of our partners will use the opportunity to educate communities about the issue of police funding and why it is important for cities and counties to maintain local control of their budgets.
There honestly isn’t a neat and tidy way to sum up this session. We won some, and we lost some. But we are endlessly grateful for the advocates and legislators who put the needs of the most vulnerable Missourians ahead of political ambition, corporate greed, and other factors that often derail our anti-poverty priorities. In the weeks ahead, our coalitions will begin preparing for the 2023 legislative session– and we hope that you’ll join us. There is much work to be done!
May’s Friday Forum on May 20th will feature Empower Missouri’s staff discussing all of this and more from this session. Register today to join us from 12-1PM.