Monday, June 2, 2008

Missouri House Staff 2008 Passed Legislation Summaries

Missouri’s 2009 Budget
The Missouri General Assembly approved a $22.4 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2009. The spending plan includes an increase of $136.7 million in direct state aid to public elementary and secondary schools. Included in that is a $121.3 million increase for the state’s foundation formula that is used to allocate money among Missouri’s public schools. The budget also includes a $43 million increase for Missouri’s colleges and universities. In addition, the budget authorizes a $334.4 million increase for the state’s MO HealthNet program and an increase of $155.4 million for the Missouri Department of Transportation’s construction program.

Property Tax Relief
Senate Bill 711 provides property tax relief to Missourians suffering from excessive rate increases due to increases in assessed valuation of their property. The legislation mandates that all taxing jurisdictions must roll back their tax rate to counter reassessment increases regardless of whether they are operating at or below their tax rate ceiling. Currently, only taxing jurisdictions operating at their tax rate ceiling are required by Missouri's Constitution to roll back to protect taxpayers. This allows taxing jurisdictions operating below their ceiling to approve back door tax increases with no legal recourse. The change made by Senate Bill 711 will ensure taxing jurisdictions roll back their tax rates when reassessment increases just as the law intended.
The bill also closes a loophole that allows taxing districts to apply new voter approved levies to future and unknown assessments. An opinion issued by the office of the Attorney General in 2003 states that taxing jurisdictions can take a tax increase approved by the voters, for example in 2006, and then apply that new tax rate to the higher reassessed value in 2007. Senate Bill 711 prevents this from happening.
It also requires that taxpayers receive a projected tax liability along with their reassessment notices. Charter counties and the City of St. Louis will provide these in 2009 and all other counties will participate by 2011.
The bill also enhances the state Circuit Breaker program responsible for providing senior citizens property tax relief. The bill increases the maximum annual household income a senior citizen can have to qualify for the Circuit Breaker from $27,500 to $30,000. The spousal exemption will double from $2,000 to $4,000 for married couples. The maximum benefit from the Circuit Breaker will increase from $750 to $1,100.

Illegal Immigration Reform
House Bill 1549 includes several provisions designed to curb illegal immigrants from being employed in the state and to prevent those here illegally from receiving taxpayer services.
One provision of the bill cracks down on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. The legislation makes it clear that Missouri employers are barred from hiring illegal immigrants and creates penalties that could result in the loss of a permit or license if an employer knowingly hires someone living here illegally. Employers who misclassify workers as contractors instead of employees will be subject to penalties of $50 per day per misclassified worker and up to a maximum of $50,000 in fines. These provisions apply to businesses with at least five employees performing public works.
Under the bill, public employers, including state and local governments, are required to participate in a federal work authorization program such as the E-Verify federal database that checks immigration status. Participation in such a program is also required for businesses that have a government contract worth more than $5,000 or that receive state loans or tax breaks. Private businesses are not required to use the database, but can do so in order to provide a defense against allegations of knowingly hiring an illegal immigrant. Employers who don't participate in a work authorization program would have to start using one if they are found knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.
The legislation requires people to prove they are U.S. citizens or legally in the country when applying for food stamps, housing or other taxpayer services.
The bill also allows law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of anyone arrested or detained in Missouri and denies bail for jailed individuals who cannot prove legal residency. The Missouri State Highway Patrol will also receive training to enforce state and federal immigration laws.
Also included in the bill are provisions that prohibit: communities from adopting sanctuary policies that provide safe harbor to illegal immigrants; bar individuals from transporting or harboring unlawful immigrants; require written tests for commercial licenses to be administered in English only and, provide penalties for individuals who assist illegal immigrants in obtaining driver’s licenses in a fraudulent manner.

Economic Development Incentives
House Bill 2058 expands the annual limit on state tax credits available through the Missouri Quality Jobs Program to $60 million. The current cap is set at $40 million. The Quality Jobs Program provides tax credits to eligible companies for jobs that pay more than their counties' average while also providing health insurance.
The bill also increases the state's Enhanced Enterprise Zone cap from $14 million a year to $24 million. Enhanced Enterprise Zone credits go to companies in locations with high unemployment and low income.

Economic Incentives for Mega-Projects
House Bill 2393 allows the state to offer an incentive package for mega-projects. Currently, Bombardier Aerospace is considering building an aircraft manufacturing plant near the Kansas City International Airport. Within eight years, Bombardier would be required to invest $400 million in this jet assembly plant and would employ 2,100 people.
Under the bill, Missouri could offer up to $240 million in tax credits over eight years, beginning in 2013, based on the number of employees hired at the assembly plant. Bombardier Aerospace would repay the tax credits by giving Missouri a fixed amount of money for each plane it sells from the plant. The bill clarifies what the Missouri Department of Economic Development can offer in state assistance through existing programs such as the Enterprise Zones Program and Quality Jobs Act.

Mortgage Fraud
House Bill 2188 protects consumers and lets those who take advantage of homebuyers know that Missouri will not tolerate mortgage fraud. The legislation stems from the work of the Interim Committee on Consumer and Financial Protection that found the state was limited in its ability to prosecute individuals committing mortgage fraud. The bill places local prosecutors on the same footing as federal investigators who were the only ones able to prosecute offenders. Mortgage fraud often includes illegally inflating property appraisals, concealing a second mortgage from a primary lender, or concealing a borrower’s identity. These practices ultimately contribute to higher loan costs and more restrictive lending practices.

House Bill 2188 creates civil and criminal penalties for residential mortgage fraud. The legislation makes it a Class C felony to employ a device, scheme, or artifice to defraud; make an
untrue statement or omit information; receive any portion of the purchase, sale, or loan proceeds in connection with a real estate arrangement that has to do with fraud; and influence appraisals in certain circumstances. A Class C felon in Missouri can receive up to seven years in prison. The bill also contains specific provisions relating to real estate brokers, real estate salespersons, real estate appraisers, and residential mortgage brokers.

Campaign Finance Reform
Senate Bill 1038 eliminates contribution limits and allows unlimited donations to candidates for statewide offices and the legislature. Under current law, candidates for state representative are limited to contributions of $325 per person. Candidates for state senator can accept $675 and contributors can give statewide office candidates up to $1,350 per election cycle. The legislation also requires campaigns to report donations of more than $5,000 to the Missouri Ethics Commission within 48 hours of receipt.

Alternative Teacher Certification
Senate Bill 1066 creates an alternative route for career-changing professionals to become certified to teach in secondary schools. The program is designed to offer working professionals an opportunity to bring their real-world experience to the classroom and to help the state address a shortage of qualified teachers. Prospective teachers would be required to complete certification from the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE), a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C. that is funded through federal grants. In addition to coursework and certification exams, individuals seeking alternative certification would need to already hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, complete a background check, and verify the ability to work with children by completing 60 hours of classroom instruction under the supervision of a mentor teacher. The bill exempts early childhood, elementary and special education, where a teacher must still receive traditional certification.

Bond Registration Fee
Senate Bill 944 places a cap on the charges made by the State Auditor’s office when registering a bond. Municipalities and school districts employ the sale of voter-approved bonds to fund construction projects. Current law allows the state auditor to collect ten cents for every $100 of face value of bonds being registered. For example, if a school district registers $50 million in bonds, the district has to pay the auditor a fee of $50,000. Senate Bill 944 enacts a maximum fee of $1,000 for all bonds registered with the office.

Education Opportunities for Veterans and Military Children
House Bill 1678 provides Missouri soldiers returning from duty and their families with additional educational and career advancement opportunities.
One provision of the bill creates the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children to encourage states to work together to improve educational opportunities for the sons and daughters of military personnel. The compact seeks to remove barriers placed on children in military families caused by frequent moves and deployment of their parents. The compact makes several recommendations, including allowing for timely enrollment, promoting flexibility and cooperation, and facilitating the eligibility for extracurricular activities.
Another provision of the bill, known as the “Missouri Returning Heroes’ Education Act,” requires all higher education institutions in Missouri that receive state funding to limit the tuition charged to combat veterans to $50 per credit hour. To qualify, a veteran must have been a Missouri resident when first entering the military; must have honorably served in armed combat after September 11, 2001; and must maintain at least a 2.5 grade point average on a 4.0 scale. Eligibility for the reduced tuition will expire 10 years from the date of the veteran's discharge.
The bill also creates a tuition grant for survivors of veterans who are disabled or killed in combat. Specifically, the legislation allows the spouse and children of a soldier who is killed in action after September 11, 2001, or who becomes 80% disabled because of an injury sustained in combat action after that date, to receive an educational grant for tuition at a public or private college or university in Missouri. In addition to the full cost of tuition, the grant includes $2,000 per semester for room and board and the actual cost of books up to $500 per semester.
Other provisions of the bill add the chairman of the Missouri Veterans Commission to the Missouri Military Preparedness and Enhancement Commission. They also clarify that the commission's duties include developing policies and methods to improve the prosperity and employment opportunities of retired military members and the families of former military members. The bill renames the Guard at Home Program, the Hero at Home Program. It extends the program to cover the first year after discharge from deployment, to cover reservists, and to cover situations in which an individual cannot return to his or her previous employment. The bill further requires the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to facilitate agreements between school districts and military installations in order to assist children transitioning to Missouri schools.

Flags at Half-Staff for Fallen Missourians
Senate Bill 806 provides the state with a way to honor Missourians who have made the ultimate sacrifice for this nation. Since September 11, 2001, ninety-three of the state’s military men and women have lost their lives. Senate Bill 806 requires U.S. and Missouri state flags to be flown at half-staff for one full day whenever a Missouri resident is killed in the line of duty during military service. The Missouri Veterans' Commission will be responsible for determining if any residents have been killed in the line of duty and will notify the governor of any such death. The governor will determine the day on which the resident will be honored and will then notify the Office of Administration.

Missouri Commission on Autism Spectrum Disorders
Senate Bill 768 is part of Missouri’s efforts to enhance autism health and education services and empower families to improve the quality of life for Missourians of all ages living with autism. The legislation creates the Missouri Commission on Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) to make recommendations about all levels of ASD and to develop a comprehensive, coordinated system of healthcare, education and services for people living with ASD. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism affects one in 150 children — more than AIDS, juvenile diabetes and pediatric cancer combined. The Missouri Commission on Autism Spectrum Disorders will provide another much-needed resource for families who deserve the best resources available for diagnosis, treatment and support services.

Tax Reciprocity
Senate Bill 748 averts a tax dispute with the State of Kansas involving workers who work in one state but live in the other. Under current law, a non-resident income taxpayer must add any amount of property taxes paid to another state back into adjusted gross income. This act requires non-resident taxpayers to add-back property taxes paid to adjusted gross income only if the property is located in another state that does not allow a similar subtraction from income for property taxes paid to this state. The legislation creates equalization across state lines and re-establishes a fair and equitable tax structure with all surrounding states.

Drug Monitoring Program
Senate Bill 724 is intended to strengthen the monitoring procedures for over-the-counter drugs used to make methamphetamine. Under current law, pharmacies are required to maintain a paper log and document any transactions where the customer purchases products that contain pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient used in the production of methamphetamine. Senate Bill 724 requires pharmacies to upgrade to an electronic, rather than a written log, which records when a pseudoephedrine product is purchased and who purchased it. The act also specifies that the photo ID provided by the buyer of pseudoephedrine products be government issued and shown prior to the purchase.

Prescriptive Authority for Nurse Practitioners
Under Senate Bill 724, Missouri joins 47 other states that allow Schedule III, IV, and V prescription drugs to be prescribed by advanced practice nurses. Currently, nurse practitioners (APRNs) who have a written agreement with a physician can prescribe any medication that is not addictive. However, many common medications fall into the category of “controlled substances,” and under Missouri law can only be prescribed by physicians. This would move Missouri more in line with the practice of other states and also help increase health care access for many rural Missourians who may live a great distance from a physician. The bill requires nurses to have a collaborative agreement with a doctor and limits them to only write prescriptions for a five-day period.

Telecommunications Deregulation
House Bill 1779 lifts price regulations statewide for a phone company whenever it faces competition for at least 55 percent of its subscribers. The goal of the legislation is to entice phone companies to spend the capital necessary to expand high-speed Internet access in rural areas.
Under current law, phone companies can escape price regulation when the Missouri Public Service Commission determines they face adequate competition in a particular geographic area.
The bill allows telecoms in noncompetitive areas to increase their monthly rates by as much as $2 for residential customers.

Ethan’s Law
House Bill 1341 establishes Ethan's Law, which requires the owner of a for-profit, privately owned swimming pool or facility to maintain liability insurance. The bill applies to swimming pools that have a capacity of fewer than 500 patrons and charge an admission fee. It requires them to maintain at least $1 million per occurrence in the event of injury or death of a patron. This legislation is in response to the tragic death of Ethan Cory, who drowned at a private water park in an unincorporated area near Joplin. The swimming pool held no liability insurance and the lifeguards were not certified. The legislation is meant to prevent future tragedies.

Omnibus Agriculture Bill
Senate Bill 931 allows the State of Missouri to support a voluntary animal identification program. The act prohibits the Missouri Department of Agriculture from mandating premises registration under the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Animal Identification System (NAIS) program unless the Department is specifically authorized by statute to do so.
In addition to the animal identification provisions, the legislation contains language dealing with the cleanup of hazardous waste. The bill requires that owners of hazardous materials pay only for cleanup costs that are ''necessary.'' Organizations that assist in the cleanup – such as a volunteer fire department, county or town - have 60 days to bill the owner. The invoice must include an explanation for why the listed costs are reasonable, necessary, not duplicative and don't involve costs that are part of the organization’s normal duties.
The legislation also allows gas stations to get a tax credit to help pay for new storage tanks and other equipment needed to sell biodiesel, higher ethanol concentrations and other alternative fuels. That program is capped at $3 million in 2009, $2 million in 2010 and $1 million in 2011.
In addition, the bill exempts fencing materials from state and local sales taxes as well as farm tractors, machinery, equipment and the parts needed for them.
The legislation also makes changes to the state’s veterinary student loan program by requiring participants in the program be here legally and capping the loans at $20,000 per academic year. Currently, the veterinary loan program allows up to $80,000 in loans to be forgiven in installments if the student works as a large animal veterinarian and serves in a part of the state experiencing a shortage.

Cyber Stalking
Senate Bill 818 makes cyber harassment illegal in Missouri. The legislation comes in response to the suicide of a St. Charles County teen who was teased and harassed over the Internet. The bill updates state laws against harassment to include harassment from computers, text messages and other electronic devices. Current law requires harassment communication to be written or over the telephone.
Under the bill, repeat offenders and anyone who is at least 21 years of age can be charged with a felony and face up to four years in prison if they harass a minor. Other instances of harassment remain a Class A misdemeanor, which carries penalties of up to a year in jail and fines up to $1,000.
The bill also requires school officials to tell police about harassment and stalking on school grounds and expands state laws against stalking to cover ''credible threats'' not only against the victim, but also family and household members and animals.

Cyber Crimes Investigation Fund
Senate Bill 932 creates the Cyber Crimes Investigation Fund to provide $3 million per year for the existing Internet Cyber Crime Grant (ICCG) program that targets Internet predators and pornographers who attempt to lure and sexually exploit children.
The Department of Public Safety will administer the funding, which is set to begin in 2010. The measure allows funds used for investigating Internet sex crimes against children to also include an allocation for training prosecuting and circuit attorneys.

Identity Theft
House Bill 1384 & 2157 creates new protections to combat the growing number of identity theft victims.
The measure allows victims, at the first sign of identity theft, to freeze their credit by either calling or going online to protect against further fraudulent claims. A credit freeze on a victim's credit file prevents anyone from trying to receive credit, loans or other services in their name without permission from the consumer.
The bill also allows a victim of identity theft to file and receive a copy of a police report with the local law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over his or her residence. Many credit card companies require a police report before taking action to repair the damage done by an identity thief.

Green Sales Tax Holiday
Senate Bill 1181 gives consumers a tax break on energy efficient appliances. The legislation creates the Show-Me Green Sales Tax Holiday to remove the state sales tax on the first $1,500 of the price for energy certified appliances such as washers, dryers, water heaters, ovens and refrigerators. The holiday will run from April 19 through April 25 beginning in 2009.
The legislation also requires 10 percent of the money in the state's maintenance fund for state buildings to go toward energy-efficient projects.

Operating a Boat While Under the Influence of Alcohol
House Bill 1715 lowers the legal blood alcohol level to .08% for operating a boat on lakes and major rivers, the same as used for Missouri motorists. The bill applies to all Missouri lakes and the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. The bill also clarifies that prior conviction in municipal courts count in determining whether someone is a repeat drunken driver or boater. The clarification comes in response to a Supreme Court ruling saying otherwise.
Another provision of the bill requires boats to travel at no-wake speeds within 100 feet of the Water Patrol and other emergency vessels with red or blue lights.

Ignition Interlock
Senate Bill 930 & 947 gives repeat drunken drivers a strong incentive to use ignition interlock devices on their vehicles. A law passed in 2001 requires courts to order ignition interlock devices for people convicted of two or more drunken driving offenses. The devices prevent a vehicle from starting unless the driver blows into a special gauge without registering alcohol. The legislation passed this year gives the Missouri Department of Revenue a means of encouraging the devices by denying license reinstatement to repeat drunken drivers without proof they have equipped their vehicles with ignition interlock devices.

Gun Rights
House Bill 2034 shields firearm range owners from civil and criminal liability for noise emission.
The bill also removes residency requirements for concealed carry permits. Under current law, residents must live in Missouri for six months before they can receive a permit. The new legislation waives the six month requirement for those who already possess a valid permit from another state.
In addition, the bill closes the records of those who filed a permit-to-acquire with their county sheriff. It is no longer a requirement to file with the county sheriff and records that are still on file will now only be available through a court order relating to criminal investigations.
Other provisions of the bill prohibit denying the sale of a firearm to a non-licensee, who is otherwise eligible to possess a firearm, based solely on the non-licensee having purchased a firearm that was later the subject of a trace request; make it a Class C felony for any felon to posses any firearm; and clarify what weapons are considered “explosive weapons.”

Scrap Metal

Senate Bill 1034 makes it easier for law enforcement officers to track scrap metal dealers that have bought and sold stolen copper and aluminum.
The legislation requires scrap metal dealers to obtain a copy of photo identification from individuals who are not regular business customers but are selling them more than $50 worth of metals such as copper and aluminum. Dealers must save records for two years in case law enforcement officers want to inspect them. Dealers who violate the provision can be charged with misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine, up from the current fine of $25 to $500.
Also under the legislation, scrap metal dealers must pay with a check or some other traceable method for certain purchases of more than $500.
The bill makes it a felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison, to steal wire, electrical transformers or any pipe used for conducting electricity or transporting natural gas or other fuels.
It also prohibits scrap dealers from buying manhole covers, bleachers, guard rails, signs, traffic lights or cemetery materials without written permission from the utility, governmental entity or cemetery. They also are prohibited from buying metal beer kegs unless from the brewer or its authorized representative.

Uniform Anatomical Gift Act
Senate Bill 1139 establishes a state organ and tissue donor registry. Any individual who agrees to have his or her name on the registry gives full legal consent to the donation of any of his or her organs or tissues upon death. Missourians are under no obligation to add their names to the registry and may withdraw their consent to donate at any time.

State Dessert
Senate Bill 991 designates the ice cream cone as Missouri’s official state dessert. A group of school children was instrumental in securing passage for the legislation that now provides Missouri with its 23rd official state symbol. In the process, the children learned how an idea becomes a law, how to communicate with their legislators, and how a citizen, even a child, can change his or her state.
The edible ice cream cone made its American debut at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. Some of the first companies to make ice cream cones were located in Sullivan, Missouri. The ice cream cone remains an important part of the state’s economy to this day as 35 ice cream manufacturers are located in Missouri. Additionally, the University of Missouri-Columbia has an ice cream research and development facility. The legislation makes Missouri one of only a few states with an official dessert.