Each year as Legislative Session begins, there is a lot of “crystal ball gazing” in our state capital. The rumors come fast and furious, and various pundits try to anticipate how things will turn out when the General Assembly adjourns in May, even before a single bill is heard before a committee. There’s a temptation to get caught up in the “soap opera” cliff-hangers. Hot topics this week included: Which senators may resign to take appointed positions? How serious is the impasse between the Governor and House and Senate leaders around “the consensus revenue estimate” that is essential to the budgeting process? And how will the Senate “Conservative Caucus” (which filibustered a lot in 2019) impact the number of bills that get through the process this year?
To our social justice advocacy network, we offer this simple reminder: Focus on our mission, not the mayhem. Our goal is to secure basic human needs and equal justice before the law for every person residing in Missouri. This legislative session will contain both opportunities and threats; of that, we are certain. Empower Missouri will be vigilant, keeping you updated on hearings, floor debates, amendment possibilities, and, eventually, which bills make it to the governor’s desk, where we might ask for his signature or veto.
We anticipate that criminal justice reform will remain an area in which we may see bipartisan cooperation toward needed reforms. Yes, there have been some signs of a “let’s get tough on crime” backlash to the progress that was made in 2019, but there are some very good reforms that have been filed by legislators in both chambers and from both sides of the aisle. Some of these came close to passing last year or are built on a previous success. For example:
- HB 1468 would eliminate bans on employment in businesses that sell alcohol or lottery tickets for persons with certain felonies on their records;
- HB 2034 opens up possibilities for “elder parole” (those over 50 seldom re-offend);
- SB 519 expands possibilities for expungement – sealing criminal records to reduce the collateral consequences that ex-offenders experience around employment, housing, etc.;
- SB 647, the “Fresh Start Act,” makes it more possible for formerly incarcerated persons to obtain or keep a professional license; and
- HB 1691 and HB 1692 would modernize Missouri’s cruel, outdated and medically inaccurate HIV-specific criminal codes. HIV is not a crime, and we should stop treating it as one!
Missouri continues to face a crisis in affordable housing availability. Our Affordable Housing Coalition will be circulating a sign-on letter soon regarding the need to reform and restart the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program. Unfortunately there will also be a need to play defense on bad ideas like fast-tracking the eviction process.
In the final months of 2019, our #MOSNAPChallenge created greater dialogue around food security in Missouri. We have seen much-needed legislation filed to simplify the process of applying for nutrition assistance, but we also will need to guard against SB 611 and other work-hour documentation bills. These would establish a red-tape-heavy requirement for parents on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to constantly prove how much they are working, even though it takes more than 40 minutes to get an answer at the SNAP call centers and the Family Support Division computer systems do not all communicate with each other yet. Clearly, innocent people would suffer and hunger would increase if these punishment-based plans are passed. There are no positive outcomes to hunger. Hunger debilitates; it does not motivate.
One of the best ways to stay current on what’s happening “Under the Dome and Across the State” is to join our #UDAS briefing webinars for advocates, which have been improved for the 2020 Session with video and recording capabilities. Sign up at for the first one on January 16 at this link.