Legislative Update - Jan. 29, 2021
During the third full week of session (1/25 – 1/29/2021), the COVID-19 pandemic continued to affect the legislative schedule in both chambers. Absences driven by positive tests or isolation or quarantine caused hearings and floor debate to be cancelled or delayed.
The House Crime Prevention Committee met Monday, January 25th. The Committee heard HB 784, sponsored by Rep. Lane Roberts (R – Joplin). The bill amends Chapter 21 RSMo to authorize the House Speaker and the Senate President Pro Tempore to appoint “House marshals” or “Senate marshals,” who would provide additional physical security, serve papers/process, and otherwise assist members. No one spoke in favor of or in opposition to the bill.
One of the newer committees formed this year was a Special Committee on Litigation Reform, to which bills dealing with matters of tort reform will be addressed.
House Special Committee on Litigation Reform
Chair Rep. Bruce DeGroot (R – Ellisville)
Vice-Chair Rep. John Black (R – Marshfield)
Ranking Minority Member Rep. Mark Ellebracht (D – Liberty)
Rep. Marlon Anderson (D – St. Louis)
Rep. Phil Christofanelli (R – St. Peters)
Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman (R – Arnold)
Rep. Bill Hardwick (R – Waynesville)
Rep. Alex Riley (R – Springfield)
Rep. Wes Rogers (D – Kansas City)
Rep. Curtis Trent (R – Springfield)
HB 345 – Rep. Bruce DeGroot (R – Ellisville)
On Tuesday, January 26, 2021, Rep. DeGroot presented HB 345 to the House Special Committee on Litigation Reform. The bill amends sections 435.415 and 537.065, RSMo, primarily providing that arbitration awards are not to be enforceable against liability insurers, unless the insurer has agreed in writing and specifying what happens when a judgment is sought on a claim against a tort-feasor. Rep. DeGroot described the bill as follows:
Closing the arbitration loop holes.
Defining the rights of the intervening insurance companies.
Requiring 065 agreements to be in writing.
Testifying in favor were Russ Waters, a defense counsel in the insurance industry; Michael Henderson (Missouri Insurance Coalition); Associated Industries of Missouri; Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Missouri Civil Justice Reform Coalition; and the Missouri Organization of Defense Lawyers. The essence of their testimony was that insurers should have the right to intervene in court rather than sit on the sidelines, watch what goes on and live with what the court decides. All sides, including insurers have the right to free and fair access to the courts and the right to jury trials.
Testifying in opposition was the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys. MATA maintained that insurers are indemnifiers (not parties), and plaintiffs and defendants are the real parties in interest. Insurance companies would not do anything until the dispute is resolved.
The House Judiciary Committee met on Wednesday, January 27th and heard the following bills:
HB 144 – Rep. Bruce DeGroot (R – Ellisville)
HB 144 would allow a person to apply for a marriage license electronically. Rep. DeGroot noted that the bill had bipartisan support in past sessions. It would bring the Recorders of Deed’s office up to date with technology and would require a two-step verification process. At least one resident must be a resident of the recorder’s jurisdiction.
On behalf of the St. Louis City Recorder of Deeds, Steve Webb testifying in favor of the bill. He stated that adoption of the bill would benefit the people the office serves. It would help modernize the system and would cut down significantly on traffic. There were no witnesses testifying in opposition.
HB 548 – Rep. Barry Hovis (R – Cape Girardeau)
HB 548 establishes provisions relating to the admissibility of certain witness statements, with reference to Federal Rule of Evidence 804. According to the sponsor, the goal of the legislation is to help achieve justice. A similar bill passed through the committee previously, in bipartisan fashion.
Testifying in favor of the bill was Morley Swingle, former Cape Girardeau County prosecutor who handled primarily homicide cases in the last decade. According to his testimony, there should be an exception to the rule against hearsay when the defendant causes or contributes to the failure of a witness to appear. The Missouri Office of Prosecution Services testified for informational purposes only, stating that the bill’s language comports with federal and state case law. No one testified in opposition.
HB 527 – Rep. Mike Haffner (R – Pleasant Hill)
HB 527 would amend section 523.262, RSMo, by adding that no entity has the power of eminent domain for the purposes of constructing above-ground merchant lines. A merchant line is defined as a high-voltage direct current electric transmission line that does not provide for the erection of electric substations at intervals of less than fifty miles. This restriction would not apply to any rural electric cooperatives or any electrical corporation operating under a cooperative business plan.
According to Rep. Haffner, this complex bill deals with the protection of individual rights, including property rights. In the Grain Belt case, the PSC approved a certificated of need and convenience, giving the right of eminent domain to a private company.
Testifying in favor were Wiley Hibbard (Ralls County Presiding Commissioner); Tina Reichart (a Brunswick, Missouri, landowner); Marilyn O’Bannon (a Monroe County landowner); Mike Deering (on behalf of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association and the Missouri Pork Producers); Robert Wilcox (Randolph County); Robin Hinke (a Salisbury, Missouri, landowner); Jon Lake (Ralls County Commissioner); David Carpenter (Clark, Monroe County); Junior Meering (Ralls County Commissioner); Evan Emerick (Chariton County Commissioner); Ron Staggs (former Monroe County Commissioner); Ralph Sandobal (Buchanan County); and Charlie Rosencranz (Ralls County). Those testifying in favor were concerned about eminent domain power being given to a private company and property rights are being taken without just compensation.
Testifying in opposition were Nicole Luckey (Invenergy); John Twitty (MUPA); and Peggy Whilley (Grainbelt Express LLC). All of them stated that HB 527 will be unlawful – a taking of Grainbelt’s rights retroactively, in violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause, and would increase energy costs for the members of MUPA. Donna Ingles, who has a farm with a transmission line is going through, testified that, if we were not in favor of progress, we would be living by kerosene lamps and using the out-house. Mike Bechtel testified on behalf of Hubble Power Systems, also known as AB Chance, which manufactures products for electric transmission and has a long history in Missouri (114 years) of manufacturing and distribution capabilities. Ray McCarty (AIM) testified that Grainbelt should be treated in the same manner as every other energy provider. According to their testimony, letting progress in providing energy move forward would result in a cheaper rate for electric service and promote the installation of additional broadband in rural areas.
The Senate Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee met on Monday, January 25th. The first order of business for the committee was executive session, to complete committee action on SB 51 and SB 52.
SCS SBs 51 & 42 – Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer (R – Parkville)
Because SB 42 and SB 51 were substantially similar they were rolled together into one bill, (Senate Committee Substitute for Senate Bills Nos. 51 and 42). Senator Luetkemeyer noted the following substantive changes in the Senate Committee Substitute for SB 51.
Adds from SB 42: a rebuttable presumption of an assumption of risk by a claimant in an exposure claim when a premise owner posts and maintains signs, which contain a specified warning notice in a clearly visible location at the entrance of the premise;
Clarifies that a civil action can be brought against vaccine manufacturers;
Clarifies that nothing in the act requires individuals to be vaccinated;
Changes the standard to sustain a claim in a products liability action from proving gross negligence or willful misconduct, to recklessness or willful misconduct, that directly caused the injury, as is usual in MO;
Removes all references to county health department regulations including any safe harbor;
Removes references to the state emergency order so that, regardless if it expires, the COVID liability immunity continue past the emergency order;
Includes a MO-specific definition of health care provider;
Removes fraud in the production of PPE from COVID liability immunity stating the act does not apply to deception, fraud, false pretense, false promise, misrepresentation, unfair practice, or concealment, suppression, or omission of any material fact in connection to the covered product;
All other changes are streamlining.
The committee voted the SCS “Do Pass” by a vote of 4 to 2.
SB 52 – Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer (R – Parkville)
SB 52 was next taken up in executive session. Senator Luetkemeyer noted that there had been changes from the introduced bill. The committee voted SB 52 “Do Pass” by a vote of 4 to 2.
The committee then convened in regular session to hold public hearings on the following bills:
SB 53 – Senator Tony Luetkemeyer (R – Parkville)
SB 53 amends chapter 84, RSMo, providing that the Board of Police Commissioners in Kansas City cannot require any currently employed or prospective law enforcement officer or other employee to reside within Kansas City as a condition of employment. Current residency requirements in effect on or before August 28, 2021, are neither to apply nor be enforced.
The Board of Police Commissioners may impose a residency rule, but it can be no more restrictive than requiring such personnel to reside within a one-hour response time.
Testifying in favor were the Kansas City Police Department Fraternal Order of Police, the Missouri FOP, and the St. Louis County Police Association. Their representatives testified that changing conditions coming with marriage and children may create different circumstances than those under which the person first joined the police force.
Testifying in opposition were the City of Kansas City and the Kansas City Council, MO State Conference of NAACP, and the Mid MO Fellowship of Reconciliation. Their representatives testified that the best policing is community policing.
The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners testified for informational purposes. The Board has reviewed and discussed residency requirements a great deal over the years. However, the Board wanted to maintain the authority currently granted under state statute.
SB 60 – Senator Brain Williams (D – St. Louis County)
Senator Williams stated that he had introduced the bill to address the important the issues of public safety and police reform. He highlighted the provisions he identified as the most important:
It prohibits no knock warrants. As introduced, the bill amends Sections 105.240, 542.271, 542.276, 542.296, and 544.200, RSMo, to modify the provisions to provide that any knock warrant may only be used if there is a reasonable suspicion the suspect of a violent felony offense will escape or cause bodily harm to others.
It prohibits choke-holds. Section 590.651 prohibits all law enforcement agencies from using choke-holds. The use of such is to be defined as deadly force and reported to the Attorney General for publication.
It defines sexual misconduct of police officers. Section 566.145 is modified to provides that a person commits the offense of sexual conduct in the course of public duty if the public servant engages in sexual conduct with a detainee, offender or prisoner while on duty and acting with a coercive purpose. The public employee is guilty of a Class E felony.
It enables a law enforcement agency to conduct background checks on officers transferring from other jurisdictions. Section 590.520 requires a law enforcement officer, certified in another state, to submit a preliminary application for certification before beginning employment with a similar agency in MO. The preliminary application is to be denied if an officer has pled guilty to or been convicted of a felony, has had a certification revoked in another state, has been discharged for serious misconduct, or has been laid off after a disciplinary investigation involving serious misconduct.
Testifying in favor were the NAACP; Kansas City Police Department Fraternal Order of Police; Missouri Police Chiefs Association; Missouri FOP; Missouri Sheriffs United; Missouri State Troopers Association; Mid- Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation; and AT&T. Their representatives testified that the bill was a good first step for reforms, adding transparency for citizens and helping to take bad cops off the street. There was no testimony in opposition.
SB 66 – Senator Rick Brattin (R – Cass County)
SB 66 would modify statutory provisions relating to public safety and unlawful assemblies. The sponsor highlighted the following provisions of the bill:
Law enforcement officers must be able to carry out their duties: Section 67.030 would provide that a governing body of a political subdivision is to be ineligible to receive funds from the state if the body decreases the budget for its law enforcement agency by more than 12% in relation to other budget items in the proposed budget.
Public employees will receive no benefits if they participate in an unlawful protest. Section 285.800 would provide that an employee of a political subdivision or the state of Missouri is to be ineligible for employment benefits if s/he has been convicted of participating in an unlawful assembly.
Section 537.570 would provide that a person operating a motor vehicle is not to be liable for injuries to another person who blocks traffic if the driver was exercising due care and was not grossly negligent.
A city council would not be protected by immunity if a victim was injured and the city did nothing to stop the rioting. The victim could seek a remedy. Section 537.600 would provide the immunity of public entities from tort liability is waived if the public entity is grossly negligent in protecting persons or property from an unlawful assembly.
The bill would enact stronger criteria regarding bail eligibility in the instance of crimes against emergency service providers. Sections 544.671 565.050, 565.052, and 565.054 would be amended to include where the victim is a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or emergency medical provider assaulted during the performance of his or her official duties or as a direct result of such official duties that anyone convicted of second or third degree assault, unlawful traffic interference, rioting, conspiring with others to cause a riot, or institutional vandalism will be ineligible for bail or continuation of bail.
Additionally, sections 565.050, 565.052, and 565.054 would provide that anyone found guilty of first, second, or third degree assault is ineligible for probation or parole if the victim was a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or emergency medical provider who was assaulted during the performance of his or her official duties or as a direct result of such official duties.
Stand-your-ground provisions would be broadly construed. Section 563.031 would provide that a person may use deadly force against another person when that other person is participating in an unlawful assembly and unlawfully enters or attempts to enter private property that is owned or leased by an individual.
Section 565.091 would provide that a person commits the offense of harassment in the second degree if s/he engages in any act with the purpose to cause emotional distress to another person, including if such person causes emotional distress to another person while participating in an unlawful assembly.
The bill would make obstructing traffic a felony offense. Section 574.045 would the offense of unlawful traffic interference if a person has the intention to impede vehicular traffic and walks, stands, sits, kneels, lays, or places an object in a manner that blocks passage by a vehicle on any public street, highway, or interstate highway. This offense would be a Class E felony. Furthermore, this offense would a Class D felony if a person blocks a public street, highway, or interstate highway as part of an unlawful assembly.
The KCPD FOP testified in favor of the bill. Testifying in opposition were Thomas Truth (pastor, veteran, and civil rights activist); the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP; and the Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation. They testified that the bill appeared to be a legislative action to suppress voices and punish peaceful protestation and non-violent civil disobedience, crossing the line to restricting free speech. They also believed the bill would encourage vigilantism.
EXECUTIVE BRANCH ACTIONS
On Wednesday, January 27, Governor Parson delivered his 2021 State of the State Address in the Senate Chamber, without a joint session of the General Assembly. The governor outlined the following priorities.
Workforce and Education
Consolidating several programs and divisions across three state agencies into a new Office of Childhood to strengthen Missouri’s early childhood system, emphasizing the importance of Missouri’s children to the state’s future workforce.
Investing in K-12 education, including a fully funded Foundation Formula and expanding the WorkKeys curriculum (Career Ready 101) to all 57 existing career centers in Missouri.
Increasing the A+ scholarship program by more than $13 million and continuing funding for the Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant program.
Making major investments in infrastructure, including $6.3 million for shovel-ready projects at Missouri’s established ports and $25 million to fulfill the transportation cost-share program.
Seeking $5 million to continue expanding and improving broadband services across the state.
Seeking approval for infrastructure projects at 22 state parks and a one-time expenditure of $100 million to clear the backlog of maintenance projects for state assets, facilities, and buildings.
Challenging the Missouri Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Commission to take a leading role in advancing officer training and improving public relations, such as its recently approved annual training in de-escalation techniques and implicit bias.
Providing $1.5 million for the Pretrial Witness Protection Services Fund passed by the General Assembly during the special session on violent crime to enable law enforcement agencies to provide for the security of witnesses, potential witnesses, and their immediate families in criminal proceedings instituted or investigations pending against a person alleged to have engaged in a violation of state law; or to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of witnesses and victims, and their families and victims, whenever testimony from, or a willingness to testify by a witness or victim would place the life of the person, or a member of his or her family or household, in jeopardy.
Committing to support more coordination among local, state, and federal law enforcement through initiatives like Operation Legend.
Providing over $4 million to support telehealth for individuals with developmental disabilities.
Providing more than $20 million to establish 50 new community mental health and substance use disorder advocates and six new crisis stabilization centers across the state.
Establishing greater efficiency, streamlining operations, and saving taxpayer money with a focus on foster care and adoption by consolidating rulemaking authority into one department.
Giving a pay increase to state employees to help retain and attract quality public servants.