JEFFERSON CITY — The 101st Missouri General Assembly is in full swing, with legislators fighting to turn their bills into laws before the session ends in May.
Boone County’s six legislators — two Democrats and four Republicans — are working on their bills, as well as trying to block legislation they disagree with.
Here is a look at what they hope to accomplish in Jefferson City this session:
Rep. Martha Stevens
With memorabilia of her idols Ruth Bader Ginsburg and former U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone behind her, Rep. Martha Stevens’ voice caught as she looked back on her time serving in the Missouri General Assembly.
After five years, this is the final legislative session for Stevens, D-Columbia.
“I never planned on running for office. This wasn’t in my grand plan,” she said. “It really has been an honor of a lifetime, and I know maybe that sounds cheesy, but I mean it so sincerely.”
Missouri term limits allow state representatives to serve four terms, or eight years. Stevens is one term short of that limit but has nonetheless decided to move on to something different — though she is not sure what that is yet.
“I do plan on continuing advocacy,” she said. “I don’t know what that looks like right now. I don’t have a job waiting for me or anything like that, but my heart is in advocacy.”
For her final legislative session, Stevens has proposed six bills that span a range of social and economic justice issues. She hopes to block attempts to undo Medicaid expansion and limit the initiative petition process, which allows voters to get issues on the ballot.
Stevens has introduced bills that would require free period products to be available for students in schools, allow absentee voting without providing an excuse, create curriculum allowing schools to teach about the historical contributions of LGBTQ people, and permit health care facilities to legally distribute clean needles to avoid health risks associated with injection drugs.
“The focus for me has always been around supporting bills that I think address issues around social and economic justice, supporting families that have low incomes, issues around poverty,” Stevens said. “And I think a lot of my bills reflect that.”
One of those bills is a piece of legislation Stevens has introduced every session since she was elected.
HB 1846 would place interest rate restrictions on payday loans, which by nature have high interest rates. The bill would cap interest rates and fees at 36% of the unpaid balance for loans of $500 or less.
“(Payday lenders) really trap families that, in desperate times, seek out to get a loan and are really exploited, and (it) traps them in cycles of debt,” Stevens said.
Rep. David Smith
Despite Democrats having a minority in the General Assembly, Rep. David Smith, D-Columbia, said they have leverage over Republicans, especially when it comes to the federal redistricting map.
For the map to go into effect before the Aug. 2 primary election, an emergency clause must be passed by two-thirds of both chambers. That bodes well for Democrats such as Smith because Republicans in the General Assembly do not have enough votes to pass the emergency clause without Democratic support.
“I think for the first time in a long time, we can actually stop (Republicans) from doing whatever they want to do,” he said. “And I think that’s good.”
As for his goals this session, Smith said his primary focus is to push back against election legislation such as HJR 88, introduced by Rep. Mike McGirl, R-Potosi, which would require signatures for petitions to be collected in each congressional district for both constitutional amendments and state laws. It also would require petitions to receive a majority vote in two-thirds of the state’s counties to pass.
“I want to push back against these bills that are designed to suppress the vote and take away power from the people — that’s important,” he said.
Currently, petitions for laws need to be signed by 5% of voters in six of the eight congressional districts; whereas constitutional amendments need signatures from 8% of voters from two-thirds of the districts. Only a majority vote is needed for constitutional amendments to pass.
This session, Smith has proposed five bills, all of which either relate to policing or criminal justice reform. The Drivers Protection Act, HB 2100, would prohibit police from stopping or detaining a driver solely for minor traffic violations, such as having a brake light out. If the traffic violation was not related to speeding, failure to register or reregister a car, an accident or points on a license, police would not be permitted to pull a driver over.
This is an attempt to cut down on violent confrontations between law enforcement and drivers, Smith said.
Smith also has a number of bills relating to the courts. As an attorney with over two decades of experience, he said these bills were inspired in part by problems he has seen in the system.
HB 2102 would limit prosecutors in refiling cases that were dismissed prior to a first hearing being held. Under current law, prosecutors can refile cases as many times as they want. Smith’s bill would allow only one refiling, and once refiled, there could be no arrest warrant or requirement for the defendant to post bond.
“The problem is a prosecutor can just refile right away. And that’s bad enough, but then you’ve got the person being arrested again. They have to post bond again,” Smith said. “It’s just not fair. I mean, it’s harassing people, and they can do that repeatedly as much as they want, and there’s no stopgap to stop it.”
Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch
Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch, R-Hallsville, is prioritizing education and election reform in this year’s legislative session.
She sponsors HB 1678, which would allow the secretary of state to audit voter rolls.
Reisch said she has seen dead people and people who have moved away on voter rolls throughout her career and believes that they need to be “cleaned up.”
She also supports requiring photo identification to vote and hopes to get that passed this year despite years of dispute.
In 2020, the Missouri Supreme Court struck down a photo ID voter law from 2016 that could have resulted in perjury charges for Missourians who voted without a photo ID.
Reisch is also concerned about Columbia Public Schools and said the district has “so many problems.”
She is unhappy with the school board and believes the district is not concerned about children’s mental, physical or educational health.
Reisch also sponsors HB 2527, which would award tax credits for donations to certain mental health organizations. She said that she is typically not a fan of tax credits but believes in helping programs for addiction and recovery.
“We need to get Missourians to be productive members of society and help them to overcome addictions,” Reisch said.
Rep. Sara Walsh
Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland, is focused on two bills that would repeal the increase in gas taxes and create the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.
Instead of increasing the gas tax, Walsh wants to take money from the more than $2 billion in general revenue surplus and billions of dollars coming in from the federal government. This would fund transportation and projects that use money from the gas tax.
Walsh is also pushing for the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which would require medical professionals to provide adequate lifesaving treatment to any fetus born alive during an attempted abortion.
Besides her two bills, Walsh said that she wants to continue listening to her constituents and being their voice.
Rep. Chuck Basye
Of the 18 bills sponsored by Rep. Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport, 13 deal with parents, schools or education.
That is no coincidence, as education and school boards have long been one of Basye’s key issues and this is his last session due to term limits.
His bills include a mechanism for the recall of school board members — an effort he pushed for in the 2020 and 2021 sessions — as well as an initiative to allow citizens to put topics on the agenda for school board meetings. He also seeks to establish a “parents’ bill of rights,” expand the scope of the state accountability portal to include school boards and put cameras in special education classrooms and transportation vehicles.
Basye said his focus on education “factors in a lot of things.”
“I’m hearing a lot of parents, especially in the larger school district areas, that are very, very frustrated,” he said. “They feel that their voices aren’t being heard. They’re being ignored, disrespected. And they virtually have no options whatsoever, other than to come to the legislature for a fix.”
Basye cited critical race theory as an issue on which parents were unhappy. Critical race theory refers to a broad set of social justice-related theories and teaching objectives.
Basye said there are “buzz words” that link an ideology to critical race theory, even if called something different. One example he used was “social-emotional learning.”
“We need to treat all people with respect and dignity,” Basye said. “But when they’re telling a child, solely based on the skin color of a child, that they’re either a victim, or they’re an oppressor, or they have privilege, or they’re unprivileged, that is inappropriate.”
Another bill sponsored by the Rocheport representative would require that schools make available to parents sexual and gender identity education materials. Parents could then choose for their children not to participate in such programs.
Basye is also pushing for the expansion of teachings on the Holocaust and aspects of the civil rights era in Missouri schools.
“We’d like to have an option in public schools, to let children know the principles of Dr. Martin Luther King and peaceful protesting,” Basye said, emphasizing a contrast between those “principles” and “what you’re seeing right now.”
An identical bill to the Holocaust history bill has since been taken up by Rep. Adam Schwadron, a Republican from St. Charles who is Jewish. Basye said he welcomes Schwadron carrying it.
“That is one example of history that should be taught,” Basye said. “It was a terrible occurrence in our history, in the world’s history, of what happened during the Holocaust, and kids absolutely need to learn now and know what happened.”
Two other bills proposed by Basye deal with concealed carrying of firearms. One bill would allow certain convicted felons who have received a suspended sentence to be approved for a concealed carry permit. Basye said he has heard from a Vietnam veteran who is able to legally buy a weapon but is unable to receive a concealed carry permit due to a conviction from his past.
The other bill would allow those with concealed carry permits to carry weapons on the campuses of public universities and colleges. Basye specifically referenced cases involving MU.
Asked whether he was concerned that these bills could hurt public safety or lead to gun violence, Basye said, “What I’m saying is not everybody should be carrying a weapon on a college campus. A concealed carry permit holder, by our statutes, is required to have training.”
One of Basye’s more unique bills is one that would allow for drivers to turn left at certain red lights. He said this idea came from one man who has to use the Stadium Boulevard exit of westbound I-70 every day on his commute home.
“He sits at that stoplight, and he can very safely turn left, and he’s not able to do so,” Basye said.
Basye said he has proposed the left turn bill for what he thinks is five years in a row. “This is my last shot at that bill.”
Sen. Caleb Rowden
As the Senate majority leader, Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, plays a role in nearly every Senate bill, and certainly in every bill that is successful. The majority leader controls which bills are taken up for debate on the Senate floor.
That said, he does also have two of his own bills this session.
Senate Bill 648 would bring changes to the law surrounding the state’s virtual school program. Among other things, these changes would allow students to opt out of physical instruction without gaining approval from their district or charter school.
In a hearing on the bill last week, Rowden said the changes were necessary due to increased demand for online classes from the pandemic, as well as the ongoing demand from children who are better served by online classes.
Rowden’s other bill, SB 1082, would establish a “Charter Public School Commission Revolving fund.” This fund would be used by the Charter Public School Commission for the sponsorship of charter schools.
Rowden could not be reached for an interview on his legislation.