State Operating Budget Signed into Law
With the governor’s signature, the appropriations bills that make up the Fiscal Year 2019 state operating budget officially became law and took effect when the new fiscal year began July 1. In total, the bills make up a $28.6 billion budget that makes a record investment in K-12 education, and stabilizes funding for Missouri’s institutions of higher learning.
Some of the highlights of the state spending plan include:
• Full funding for the school foundation formula for the second consecutive year for the first time in the state’s history. Lawmakers approved a $99 million funding increase for K-12 public schools, while also increasing funding for school transportation by more than $10 million.
• Reversal of a recommended cut of $68 million for higher education funding in conjunction with a deal that will prevent excessive tuition increases at the state’s universities and colleges.
• Funding increases for the state’s scholarship programs, which include a $2 million increase for Access Missouri, $3.5 million in additional funds for the A+ Scholarship Program; and an additional $1 million for Bright Flight.
• $1.8 million increase in funding for the state’s independent living centers, which help people with disabilities to increase their independence and their opportunity to participate in day-to-day life within their communities.
• $4 million in state support for Missouri’s Access to Recovery program and peer support, which helps individuals and families struggling with substance use disorders and provides the tools needed for long-term recovery.
• $8.5 million increase in funding for the First Steps Program that provides services to families with children, birth to three years of age, with disabilities or developmental delays.
• $4.75 million increase over the governor’s recommendation for tourism funding and grants ($14.75 million total).
While the governor signed the majority of the legislature’s budget priorities into law, he also used his line-item veto authority to strike several appropriations from the spending plan. In total he issued 21 line-item vetoes totaling more than $12 million. The vetoes impact funding for several of the state’s colleges and universities, including Missouri Southern, Harris-Stowe, Truman State, Northwest Missouri State, and Three Rivers Community College. Other vetoes impact funding for the Missouri Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Office of Child Advocate, and Volunteer Firefighter Workers’ Compensation Grants.
With the vetoed appropriations, lawmakers will have the option to consider veto overrides during the annual Veto Session in September. An override requires a two-thirds vote in each chamber of the legislature and would reauthorize the vetoed spending line.
Schoolchildren Health, Hunger and Hygiene Tax Credit Signed into Law (HB 1288)
A piece of legislation designed to reauthorize several benevolent tax credits includes a provision that is designed specifically to benefit schoolchildren. The bill, which was recently signed into law by the governor, offers an incentive for financial contributions to organizations that provide funding for unmet health, hunger and hygiene needs of children in school.
The sponsor’s inspiration for the legislation was the result of attending a presentation by one of the founders of the Care to Learn organization. Care to Learn focuses on meeting the health, hunger and hygiene needs of schoolchildren with 33 chapters throughout the state. Knowing that these issues can be significant barriers to learning and student success, the bill’s sponsor was committed to finding a way to help.
The legislation approved by the General Assembly allows taxpayers to receive a credit against their taxes in an amount equal to 50 percent of the amount of the eligible donation. The program will be administered like the state’s other benevolent tax credit programs, such as those benefiting maternity homes and pregnancy resource centers. Once a donation is received, the provider organization will submit an application on behalf of the taxpayer to the Missouri Department of Social Services for approval of a tax credit.
As the sponsor said, “Children who struggle with not having enough to eat, with cleanliness, or with illness are distracted by those issues and unable to concentrate on reading, math or science. Removing these barriers can help them learn and be successful in school.”
In addition to creating the Schoolchildren Health, Hunger and Hygiene Tax Credit, the legislation modifies the Champion for Children Tax Credit, extends the sunset and raises the cap on Maternity Homes and Pregnancy Resource Centers Tax Credits, extends and expands the Donated Food Tax Credit, and creates the Diaper Bank Tax Credit.
Strengthening Security at Nuclear Power Plants (HB 1797)
Another bill already signed into law will strengthen security measures at nuclear power plants in Missouri and define specifically what armed nuclear security guards can do to provide protection at these facilities. Supporters say the legislation will play a vital role in ensuring the safety and security of the state’s only nuclear power plant in Callaway County.
Known as the Nuclear Power Plant Security Guard Act, the bill specifies the level of physical force security guards can use while guarding a nuclear power plant; protects certain nuclear power plant employers from civil liability in carrying out their duties; and increases the penalties associated with trespassing at a nuclear power plant.
The bill’s sponsor said the legislation will “be helpful to those charged with protecting some of our most sensitive assets in the country, and it also resolves conflicts between Missouri state statues and federal law.”
Helping Missourians Locate Unclaimed Property
The Missouri State Treasurer’s Office is currently working to help more than 100,000 Missourians reclaim lost property. This is part of an annual effort to put millions of dollars in unclaimed property back into the hands of its rightful owners.
Currently, Missouri has $988 million in unclaimed property for Missouri in more than 4.8 million owner accounts. One in ten Missourians has unclaimed property, and the average return is $300. The unclaimed property is the result of financial institutions, businesses, government agencies, and other organizations turning over millions of dollars in cash and the contents of nearly 1,000 safe deposit boxes to the Treasurer’s office each year. These entities are required to turn over unclaimed property to the State Treasurer’s office after there has been no document transaction or contact with the owner for five years.
The state treasurer has printed the names of more than 100,000 Missourians who have unclaimed property in more than 100 publications across the state. Individuals interested in finding out if they have unclaimed property can also visit www.showmemoney.com and search the treasurer’s online database. Alternatively, they can write the treasurer’s office at P.O. Box 1004, Jefferson City, MO 65102 to inquire about any unclaimed property.
This year the legislature approved a bill (SB 644) to better protect unclaimed property account owners. The bill makes it a crime for their finder to enter into an agreement to help claim unclaimed property for compensation without first registering with the Missouri State Treasurer’s Office. The bill also gives the State Treasurer’s Office greater flexibility to enforce provisions relating to their finder registration in order to better protect unclaimed property account owners. The bill is meant to provide additional protections for Missouri taxpayers and unclaimed property owners against fraud and abuse.
Protecting Victims of Sexual Offenses (SB 819)
Missouri will no longer have a statute of limitations on the prosecution of sex crimes against children under a bill that has already been signed into law.
The legislation contains a number of provisions including one that removes Missouri’s statute of limitations in criminal cases involving such crimes. Missouri’s statutes had blocked prosecution of these crimes once 30 years had passed after the alleged victim turned 18.
As the sponsor said, “It was brought to my attention that often these [crimes] are suppressed by the victims, and particularly in the case of young men or boys. They don’t want to talk about it; they can actually repress those memories and not [be] able to remember that these things occurred until much later in life. To have that statute of limitations appeared to me to be denying some victims their opportunities to ultimately have the perpetrator brought to justice.”
Supporters say cases of abuse against a child might go unreported for years. They hope the passage of the new law and coverage of it will also encourage some people to come forward who might not have otherwise. They note that more than 30 other states have no statute of limitation for child sexual abuse prosecutions.
The sponsor of the bill added, “It is a victory for these victims of child sex crimes and if it helps, in any way, their recovery, it certainly is a worthwhile effort, and for that I’m grateful that we were able to get it done.”
The bill also includes language that will allow prosecutors to pursue cases within 30 years of the identification of the source of DNA found at a crime scene, even if the statute of limitations on that crime might otherwise have run out. It will only apply to cases for which that identification is made after the bill takes effect, on August 28.
Taking Additional Steps to Protect Children (SB 819)
The legislation that removes the statute of limitations on the prosecution of sex crimes against children also contains several other provisions meant to better protect young people from harm. The wide-ranging bill takes a multi-faceted approach to ensure the health and well-being of children throughout Missouri.
One provision of the bill would ensure the state acts quickly to protect children when a parent pleads guilty or is convicted of crimes such as child pornography or child molestation. Previously, Missouri law left the decision on how to act in the situation to the state’s discretion and did not require an automatic referral to the court system. The bill approved this session requires a juvenile officer or an official with the state’s Children’s Division to file a petition to terminate parental rights if the parent pleads guilty or is convicted of these heinous crimes. With this, the state will be able to act quickly and decisively to protect young people from potentially dangerous situations.
Another of the bill’s provisions would facilitate better communication and sharing of information with child abuse and neglect investigations. The bill would make it easier for the state’s Children’s Division and other state agencies to share information, and would better allow for the sharing of information between states. The change is in part a response to a tragic situation where a Kansas boy was killed by his father and stepmother, who had moved back and forth between Kansas and Missouri. Supporters of the bill say the tragedy could have been prevented if states had been able to share information regarding the child’s abuse.
Some of the other provisions in the bill require the Children’s Division to retain all information regarding a child abuse investigation for 10 years, even if there is insufficient evidence of abuse or neglect; require reports where the Division is unable to locate a child alleged to have been abused or neglected to be maintained for 18 years from the date of the report; and create the “Trauma-Informed Care for Children and Families Task Force” that will promote the healthy development of children and families by promoting comprehensive trauma-informed support systems and interagency cooperation.
Strengthening the MO ABLE Program for Missourians with Disabilities (SB 882)
The Missouri General Assembly passed legislation this year that will allow families greater flexibility when saving for their children’s future. The bill, which has already been signed into law by the governor, would allow families to transfer funds without a tax penalty from a MOST 529 college savings account to a Missouri Achieving a Better Life Experience (MO ABLE) savings account in the event a student develops a disability prior to the age of 26.
The goal with the change is to give families more options to deal with an unexpected diagnosis that changes their life plan. With the change, families can make smart financial decisions for their child’s future without the government penalizing them. By being able to transfer the college savings to a MO ABLE account, they will be able to improve the child’s quality of life and put the child on a better path toward self-sufficiency.
MO ABLE is a program that empowers Missourians living with disabilities to save and invest through tax-free savings accounts without losing eligibility for federal programs like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The tax-advantaged accounts can be used to help maintain health, independence, and quality of life.
The legislation passed this year will make Missouri law consistent with federal tax treatment and allows a family to use the money saved in a more beneficial way since college is not always an option for a child with disabilities.
I want to make sure that you know that my door is always open to you if you have any questions, concerns or comments. You are always welcome to visit, call or email me. My office telephone number is 573-751-1456 or you can email me at Rebecca.Roeber@house.mo.gov. My office address is MO House of Representatives 201 West Capitol Avenue Room 201 CA. To sign up for my capitol report please email me.