When history looks back at the 2021 Missouri legislative session, it will be viewed as a “very, very successful session.”
That assessment is courtesy of Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan.
Schatz has a point. The Republican-led General Assembly put up some impressive wins in terms of the legislation it approved this past session, which ended Friday. You could rightly call some of the wins historic.
There were some clunkers, too, and as is usually the case, missed opportunities.
But when Schatz says the magnitude of the bills passed will be felt by Missourians for a long time, he’s not serving up the usual political hyperbole.
Although we don’t agree with every policy prescription approved by the Missouri General Assembly this session, the Legislature deserves credit for finally taking action on some bills that have languished for years. Even the haters have to tip their caps to lawmakers for getting these bills across the finish line. Some were even passed in a true bipartisan fashion. Wow!
In fact, one veteran Capitol correspondent said there was more cross-party collaboration this session than he has seen in years on a few issues.
Here is our take on some of the good, the bad and the ugly from this past session.
Bipartisanship shined on a pair of omnibus policing bills that contain a number of reforms, including limits on when police can use chokeholds and requiring more reporting of police use-of-force actions. It also criminalizes officers having sex with detainees. Another provision allows prosecutors to obtain a hearing in front of a judge when they discover that they have convicted an innocent person.
Legislators also passed a “police bill of rights,” giving officers procedural protections during internal misconduct investigations and penalizing cities for police budget cuts. The bill also prohibits probation or parole for people who commit dangerous felonies against police, firefighters or emergency service providers.
Another welcome bill allows victims of domestic abuse to obtain lifetime orders of protection against their abusers. Under current law, a court can issue an order of protection for up to one year. The new law allows courts to issue protection orders for any length of time the judge feels is appropriate.
After years of being the only state in the nation without one, lawmakers finally passed a measure authorizing a prescription drug monitoring program, or PDMP. The statewide database could be a useful tool in tracking and reducing opioid use, which remains a serious public health issue. How serious? Currently, for every 100 people in Missouri, there are 80 prescriptions for opioid painkillers.
Speaking of eliminating embarrassing designations, Missouri will no longer be the only state in the nation that doesn’t require online sales tax collection from out-of-state businesses. After years of pleas from our state’s small businesses, lawmakers finally passed a so-called Wayfair tax that will level the playing field between brick-and-mortar businesses that already charged the tax and online, out-of-state operations.
Lawmakers also passed a coronavirus liability protection measure that will shield businesses, health care providers and churches from liability lawsuits over COVID-19 exposure, as well as a bill that will allow Missouri utility companies, like Ameren, to speed their transitions to renewable energy.
And after years of stubborn refusal, the General Assembly finally agreed to provide additional funding for the state’s public defender system, which provides legal aid to low-income people charged with crimes. Thank you.
For the first time in 30 years, according to the Missouri Independent, the General Assembly failed to renew a routine tax on hospitals, nursing homes and pharmacies that last year accounted for about $2 billion of Missouri’s $10.8 billion Medicaid program.
Passing the Federal Reimbursement Allowance (FRA) — a tax on medical providers — should have been a layup. Think of the FRA as the mechanism by which the federal government sends Missouri taxpayers’ money back to Missouri hospitals so they can operate.
But a fight over birth control and abortion derailed the FRA bill, causing a feast of dysfunction and ugly recriminations — many aimed at Schatz — that effectively wiped out the final day of the session.
The last-day implosion all but guarantees Gov. Parson will have to call lawmakers back to Jefferson City for a costly special session before the taxes expire in September. It’s not a good look for the Missouri Senate to quit early on the last and most important day of the session, but that’s exactly what happened. It was an inglorious end to a session that otherwise produced some solid results.
This one is obvious. The Legislature’s refusal to provide the necessary funding for Medicaid after Missouri voters approved expanding the program last year is the equivalent of giving the middle finger to the people you serve. It’s unseemly, undemocratic and downright ugly.
A GOP-led budget committee voted against a $128 million spending bill that was included in Gov. Parson’s budget, which would have funded the state’s portion of the Medicaid expansion.
Voters approved a Medicaid expansion bill, Amendment 2, by a margin of 53 percent, or about 80,000 votes, last August. The measure changed Missouri’s Constitution to require coverage for residents between the ages of 19 and 64 with an income level at or below 133 percent of the federal poverty level.
It expanded coverage to approximately 275,000 Missourians with annual incomes up to $17,744 for an individual and $35,670 for a family of four.
Here’s how this breaks down. The voters changed the Constitution. The Legislature took an oath to defend it. Then they said “screw the people and the Constitution” by not appropriating the necessary funding. Some lawmakers said it with gusto.
“Even though my constituents voted for this lie, I’m going to protect them,” Republican state Rep. Justin Hill said. “I am proud to stand against the will of the people.”
More and more voters are convinced politicians are selling them out. When you hear comments like those from Hill, you understand why. It’s no wonder so many Americans are disgusted and disillusioned by politics.
The Legislature’s actions on Medicaid were appalling, but it won’t be the last word on this subject. The issue is headed to the courts, where a judge will have a say in whether the will of the people means anything anymore.