Your Voices Mattered for Social Justice In COVID-19 Shortened Legislative Session

The 2020 Legislative Session came to an end on May 15th, amidst the special challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite having floor debate time reduced by about six weeks due to the public health emergency, 51 bills became “Truly Agreed and Finally Passed” (TAFP) during the abbreviated session.

We were disappointed to see many of these bills taken up for debate, given that the public was discouraged from coming to the Capitol Building during the final weeks of Session, leaving inadequate scrutiny and participation in the process. We said so in a joint statement issued on May 5 with a dozen additional diverse organizations.

Legislation passed included 13 budget bills, five supplemental budget bills, 16 House bills, 13 Senate bills, two Senate Concurrent Resolutions and one Senate Joint Resolution. Bill review began on these bills in late May, and Gov. Parson must decide whether to sign them by July 14th.

As has been true in so many Legislative Sessions, our advocacy network played great defense, along with our allies, stopping many dangerous pieces of legislation. Among these were:

  • HB 1785 & SB 611 – to impose harsh new work-hour-documentation rules on SNAP recipients who are parents with young children, unless in an exempted category
  • HB 1708 – an attempt to ban access to cash at an ATM for recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (the federal government refused to let KS do this)
  • HB 1315 – to speed up the eviction process by five days
  • SB 824 & the Senate version of HB 1450 – to create more adult certification hearings for juveniles charged with offenses
  • HJR 106 – to require work-hour-documentation for some on Medicaid
  • HJR 109 and HCS SB 552 – voter suppression via strict photo ID rules
  • HB 1721, HB 2051, HB 2210, SB 842, & SB 848 – anti-transgender bills

Unfortunately we ran out of time so were unable to get these positive proposals passed:

  • Reform of Missouri’s outdated, cruel and medically inaccurate HIV-specific criminal statutes. (HB 1691/16-0 vote in Judiciary)
  • A re-start and reform of MO’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program (SB 549)
  • A bill to create a parole process for older inmates who had been sentenced under a 50-year-minimum “life without parole” law (HB 2034)
  • Clean Slate Expungement to automatically seal arrest records where there was no conviction and certain convictions after appropriate periods of time (SB 952, SB 1068, & HB 2630)
  • Needle and syringe exchange program (HB 1486)
  • Eliminating a ban on employment at businesses that sell alcohol or lottery tickets for some with felonies (HB 1468)

We are thankful that the following passed and are asking the governor to sign them into law:

  • SS SCS HCS HB 1414 and CCS HCS SCS SB 653 – foster care reform, a priority for Kids Win Missouri (of which we are a member)
  • SB 569 – reforms to support sexual assault survivors, a priority of MO Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence
  • SB 2046 – contains “The Fresh Start Act”, which makes it easier for formerly incarcerated persons to obtain or retain professional licenses and registrations

Our most vigorous post-Session campaign has been to seek a veto of Senate Substitute for Senate Bill 600 – a “get tough on crime” package that would lead to longer incarceration, more plea deals, and less judicial discretion. As we explained in a special action alert on May 26:

U.S. Census data says that the poverty rate for African Americans is more than double that of European Americans in Missouri (25.7% versus 11 percent). We currently have inadequate trauma-informed infrastructure in place, and racial patterns of over-incarceration of Black Americans have already been thoroughly documented related to mass incarceration. As Michelle Alexander wrote in a recent opinion piece in the New York Times, One in 4 women have a loved one behind bars; the figure is nearly 1 in 2 for black women.”

We are certain that SS SB 600 would undoubtedly have a racially disparate impact on Black Missourians. That is unacceptable, so we prepared this special graphic for our advocates to use in the #VetoSB600 campaign.

Another piece of unfinished business is defeating the Dirty Missouri Amendment if courts certify it to be on the ballot on November 3. The General Assembly, on a largely party line vote, sent Senate Joint Resolution 38, to the Secretary of State’s office to be voted on as a constitutional amendment. The proposed amendment is gerrymandering on steroids, re-writing the non-partisan re-districting plan that received approval from 62 percent of voters in November 2018. A legal challenge has been filed related to erroneous details in the ballot language, and the outcome had not been determined as we went to press with this newsletter.

Given the economic instability or our state, the General Assembly may be called back into one or more extraordinary sessions this year. We also must build the movement in Missouri to obtain needed relief from the federal government. Empower Missouri is committed to continuing to build our significance as a voice for the needs of those living in poverty. We will keep you informed and build strategic alliances. Please stand with us and support us with your actions and with the financial resources we need to stay staffed and equipped to have victories for social justice.

By Jeanette Mott Oxford
Director of Policy and Organizing

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