University of Missouri students with the Missouri News Network are thoroughly covering the legislative session. These 17 stories were reported from Feb. 27 to March 3. Stories at the top are the newest.
Senate passes postpartum Medicaid bill with “poison pill” amendment
By Camden Doherty
Missouri News Network
JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Senate passed its version of postpartum Medicaid expansion Thursday, but new language in the bill threatens its implementation.
SB 45&90, sponsored by Sen. Elaine Gannon, R-De Soto, would extend MO HealthNet coverage for women receiving Medicaid benefits through pregnancy and for a year after the pregnancy ends. Currently, coverage ends 60 days after a pregnancy ends.
The bill had seen widespread support from across the aisle, but additional wording added to the bill, labeled a ‘poison pill’ by Democrats, caused senators from both sides of the aisle to question the viability of the legislation.
“So this morning, four folks, two Democrats, two Republicans voted no on the bill because the language will not accomplish what you want to accomplish, which is to help keep new moms alive in their first year postpartum,” said Sen. Tracy McCreery, D-St. Louis County.
McCreery had previously helped sponsor the bill and talked positively about the bill on the Senate floor. Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, Sen. Curtis Trent, R-Springfield, and Sen. Barbara Washington, D-Kansas City, all voted against the bill with McCreery.
The language in question appears twice in the bill: “No woman who knowingly receives services that are in violation of state law shall be eligible for benefits under this subdivision.”
That wording, added as an amendment during committee consideration of the bill, prompted senators to warn that it would exclude women who get elective abortions from the postpartum coverage. The bill would allow coverage to women who have their pregnancy ended involuntarily or necessarily to save their lives.
McCreery and other Democratic leaders labeled the amendment as a “poison pill” because they believe even if the bill gets out of the legislature and is signed by the governor, it will not be accepted by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the federal agency required to implement the coverage.
“That language that was inserted is the example of government overreach … and this is exactly the kind of language that CMS will not approve, we cannot treat different health care recipients differently,” said McCreery.
Similar wording led CMS to reject a Texas state amendment.
All other Democrats, including Minority Leader Sen. John Rizzo, D-Independence, voted for the bill. However, they and McCreery, called on the House to remove the language regarding abortions.
“So I have great hope, that my colleagues in the Missouri House in both parties, can figure out a way to get this done,” McCreery said.
“I think what happened to Senate bills 45 and 90 is going to continue to happen in the state Senate as long as we let a select few torpedo legislation,” McCreery said.
On the Republican side, Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, spoke in support of the bill on the Senate floor. He called the bill good conservative policy and pointed out that he went from a hard no last year to a yes.
President Pro Tem Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, spoke in support of the bill at his Thursday press conference. He also offered insight into why he thought the controversial wording made it into the bill.
“I think the motivation for the language was to try to make sure that there wasn’t someone intentionally going to another state or doing something to effectively break our law and then receive these services,” Rowden said.
Rowden acknowledged that he does not find the language necessary and that he does not see a way to functionally enforce the language without government overreach.
“The weaponization of the government against specific individuals … pregnant moms, in this case, is something that gives me heartburn,” Rowden said.
Testimony heard for Missouri House version of “Don’t Say Gay” bill
By Melissa Jacques
Missouri News Network
JEFFERSON CITY — The House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee heard testimony for, but mostly against, House Bill 634, which is titled as “The Protection of Parental Rights Act.”
Rep. Ann Kelley, R-Lamar, introduced her bill, which she said is based on the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida prohibiting teachers and school staff from mentioning gender identity or sexual orientation.
“We must keep our personal beliefs out of our classrooms,” she said. A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove.
Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters, who is openly gay, asked Kelley about different topics that could possibly be prohibited by this bill, including the sexuality of Martha Washington, who was married to George Washington.
Christofanelli then asked, “Which sexual orientations do you want prohibited?”
After his continued questioning, the Committee Chair Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia, had to call the meeting to order and asked the audience to stop laughing after Kelley’s responses.
Rep. Ian Mackey, D-St. Louis, who previously was a preschool teacher, asked Kelley what could or could not be talked about in his classroom. Could he answer questions about his husband? Could he talk about different family structures?
Kelley responded with different versions of “I don’t know” and “I could not tell you at this time.”
There were only two witnesses who testified in support of HB 634, a high school student and a history teacher. Both expressed their interest in parental transparency and teaching only to Missouri standards on history teaching.
Several religious leaders, members of the LGBTQ community, teachers, and parents of gay children testified in opposition to HB 634. Several students came to testify as a group, organized by Rabbi Daniel Bogard, who works with the Central Reform Congregation.
The Rev. Mike Angel, from a University City Episcopalian church, protested this bill as government overreach.
He said, “My faith is not a reason to hate.” This comment was in reference to a remark by Kelley about the importance of her Christian faith and values, as well as their impact on why she proposed this bill.
Bogard testified that the Jewish religion supports a fluid concept of gender and sexuality. He said he opposed the bill because of the harm it would cause and because it would codify certain Christian beliefs into law.
LGBTQ students who testified expressed concerns about the continuation of gender- and sexuality-affirming clubs and the possibility of forced outings. A forced outing is when a person has their sexuality or gender identity shared without their consent.
The bill creates that possibility because it contains transparency rules which would force teachers or other school employees, such as counselors, to report this information to parents within 24 hours.
Stacy Cay, a Kansas City comedian, testified in opposition by sharing her personal history.
Cay said she was raised in a small Christian community in Arkansas, where she was home-schooled. She was raised as a boy and knew nothing about transgender or gay people. They weren’t discussed in her Christian home-school group. There were two other transgender girls that she was home-schooled with. Both are dead and buried under boy names; both died by suicide, she said. Their families did not accept them. Cay left her hometown after being disowned by her family. She now comes to testify at the Capitol against anti-trans legislation.
She has testified so often, she told the Missourian, “I’m starting to lose count.” Giving testimony involves driving from Kansas City and waiting, sometimes hours, before being allowed to speak. The committee hearing began at 8 a.m.; Cay testified around noon.
“I don’t know if Republicans will be affected, but hopefully my testimony will raise awareness among average Americans,” she said.
Senators seek to stop foreign ownership of Missouri land
By Samantha Dietel
Missouri News Network
JEFFERSON CITY — Four proposed Senate bills aim to restrict foreign ownership of Missouri land.
The Senate Select Committee on the Protection of Missouri Assets from Foreign Adversaries heard testimony about the four bills Wednesday.
Some of the proposed Senate bills would eliminate all foreign ownership of agricultural land.
The House gave final approval to a bill Thursday that would cut foreign ownership of agricultural land from up to 1% of the land to 0.5%, sending the legislation to the Senate.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce opposed three of the Senate bills, while the Missouri Farm Bureau supported three.
Sen. Rusty Black, R-Chilicothe, sponsors SJR 38, which would create a proposed constitutional amendment. If approved by voters, this amendment would prohibit foreign ownership of agricultural land in Missouri after Aug. 28.
Phillip Arnzen, director of legislative affairs at the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, testified in opposition.
Arnzen said he was concerned that this amendment would limit investment and harm relationships with trade partners across the globe. Arnzen said Canada and Mexico are two examples.
“We believe that by limiting their ability to purchase some land in Missouri that this could send a chilling message to them,” Arnzen said.
In response, Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonvile, who chairs the committee, said that most countries prohibit land ownership by foreign people or entities.
“When we talk about free markets and fair markets, it seems like it’s, we’re supposed to be an open door, yet every other country we deal with is extremely restrictive on that,” Brattin said.
Brattin and Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, both referenced China when making comments against foreign ownership of agricultural land.
Brattin said that when a foreign entity purchases agricultural land in Missouri, they currently are prohibited from using the land for agricultural purposes.
Arnzen said the land is often used for research purposes and other activities.
SJR 41, sponsored by Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, would create the Joint Committee on State Security.
This committee would “determine which persons and entities shall be prohibited from acquiring title to real property,” as well as “which social networking services shall be prohibited from being used on devices owned and operated by the State of Missouri,” according to the bill summary.
Rowden said the bill already outlines some countries that would be on a “blacklist” that would not be allowed to own Missouri land in any capacity.
Rowden said these countries would include:
• North Korea
Rowden said this list could be flexible and adjusted in the future based on the “changing global landscape.”
Emily LeRoy, senior policy advisor at the Missouri Farm Bureau, testified in support of the bill.
LeRoy said the Missouri Farm Bureau supports prohibiting foreign entities from owning agricultural land. She said she did not testify in support of Black’s bill because having that amendment in the constitution was “beyond the scope of our policy.”
She said that definitions and exceptions in Black’s proposed constitutional amendment would need to be clear.
“We support prohibition, we support reducing the cap,” LeRoy said. “That being said, the constitutional proposition was just a little too far for our comfort level right now.”
Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, sponsors SB 334, which would prohibit foreign businesses from acquiring real estate in Missouri beginning Aug. 28.
According to the bill summary, people who acquire land before Aug. 28 would be allowed to keep it but would not be allowed to sell to a foreign entity.
The bill would also require that if foreign businesses propose a transfer of agricultural land in Missouri, the Department of Agriculture would be responsible for determining whether the transaction would be allowed under the act.
Hoskins said one thing that makes his bill different from the other bills presented at the hearing is that it includes military bases. Foreign businesses would not be able to purchase or lease real estate within ten miles of certain military grounds or places of military manufacturing.
Hoskins said the language of his bill is still a “work-in-progress.”
Brattin said it is important to develop policies that protect military bases and intelligence in this way.
Sen. Tracy McCreery, D-Olivette, said she was concerned for farmers and the bill’s potential to impact other parts of trade.
“I’m just worried about unintended consequences, quite honestly,” McCreery said.
McCreery said that this bill would be “putting a lot on the Department of Agriculture.”
LeRoy testified in support of the bill and said that national security is essential.
Arnzen opposed the bill. He also said he did not oppose SJR 41 because it was more targeted.
Brattin sponsored a bill that would prevent any foreign business or entity from acquiring agricultural land in Missouri beginning Aug. 28.
Brattin said the bill would also prohibit foreign entities from getting into power generation, as well as other non-farming purposes.
“This is just a starting point, a framework of things that I personally saw as very sensitive areas that we need to address,” Brattin said.
LeRoy testified in support of the bill, while Arnzen opposed for the “same reasons” as his previous testimonies.
I-70 funding plan proposed by Sen. Eigel
Missouri News Network
JEFFERSON CITY — Sen. Bill Eigel wants to create the Interstate 70 Improvement Fund.
Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, presented SB 317 to the Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee Wednesday.
The bill proposes annual deposits into the fund: 2% of Missouri’s general revenue collections and, when there is a general revenue fund surplus in excess of $4 billion, up to $1.5 billion. Deposits would be made every year through August 2033.
Funds would be used only for I-70 improvements and maintenance.
Eigel said in an interview after the hearing, “I envision hopefully trying to put a billion or $2 billion into that fund, either through the surpluses that we have right now or through some combination of future revenues that would be dedicated to going into that fund. And ultimately, if you tie that together with some federal matching funds that we can access in the coming years, that should be enough to get an I-70 that’s either three lanes in either direction or if we want to be really proactive four lanes in either direction.”
Eigel explained that the creation of a dedicated I-70 fund would help the Missouri Department of Transportation make long-term plans for expanding the interstate corridor independent of the legislature’s annual budget process.
“Think of it as a place where we could set money aside without it coming up for reconsideration each year and being politicized each year by the legislature when they go into a new budget discussion.”
A number of lawmakers in both chambers have publicly voiced frustration with MoDOT during this year’s legislative session.
Eigel said the frustration stems from the legislature’s lack of oversight and control.
“We don’t really have a good way to influence what MoDOT is doing in the first place, even though we have constituents who are calling us each day saying, when are you going to take care of that bottleneck?”
Eigel’s plan is an approach to implementing Gov. Mike Parson’s $859 million funding proposal to expand I-70 lanes in the major population centers of St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia. Parson proposed tapping the current state budget surplus to provide the funds for the expansion effort.
Last year, Eigel announced plans to explore a bid for governor, though he has not formally declared his intention to run.
House committee inspects catalytic converter bills
By Emmet Jamieson
Missouri News Network
A House committee considered three bills Wednesday that seek to tamp down on catalytic converter thefts.
Rep. Don Mayhew, R-Crocker, is sponsoring House Bill 555, which would make it a felony to possess a catalytic converter with the intent to sell it.
Catalytic converters filter out harmful pollutants from vehicle emissions, and thieves target them because they are easy to remove and valuable to sell, as they contain the rare earth metals of palladium, platinum and rhodium.
Mayhew’s House Bill 532 would require someone selling a converter to prove they are a “bona fide auto repair shop” or have otherwise legally acquired it. It is currently illegal to knowingly buy a stolen converter, but the bill would also criminalize unknowingly purchasing one as a misdemeanor. Mayhew advanced a version of the same legislation last year.
House Bill 751, sponsored by Rep. Aaron Crossley, D-Independence, restates these provisions.
Mayhew said thieves are stealing catalytic converters at “epidemic levels throughout the state.” He added that the profit thieves make from selling converters to fences is also feeding the state’s fentanyl problem.
“Getting a handle on it is imperative, not just for the damage that it causes to those folks who get a catalytic converter stolen, but also to help in the fight against illegal drugs,” Mayhew said.
Trent Ford, a lobbyist on behalf of the mid-America chapter of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, testified in support of HB 555, but in opposition to HB 532.
He said HB 555 would help law enforcement prove that a catalytic converter has been stolen, but he argued the second was unnecessary because scrap metal dealers “have every bit of record keeping” they could possibly have.
Shannon Cooper, a lobbyist on behalf of Advantage Metals Recycling, said additional record-keeping would overburden law enforcement, who are understaffed and overworked. He said any law against stealing or selling converters would not deter thieves “one iota.”
“When you pull into our facility, from the moment you arrive, we begin taking photos of you, your vehicle, the product you’re selling us,” Cooper said. “We take a photograph of your driver’s license, we take a photograph of you receiving your payment. So we have every bit of information necessary for our friends in the law enforcement world.”
Kevin Hillman, the prosecuting attorney of Pulaski County, said both bills would give him the tools he needs to prosecute converter thefts. He said the documents of proof, like the affidavit HB 532 requires, would make it easier for officers to identify whether converters are stolen or legitimate.
“It’s very difficult when we find somebody with just a couple of catalytic converters in the back of the car,” Hillman said. “They’re clearly up to something fishy. They have no real legitimate purpose, but we can’t trace where those came from, and we can’t trace where they’re going.”
Rep. David Tyson Smith, D-Columbia, said he was concerned that the bill leaves it up to officers and prosecutors whether someone has a “legitimate business purpose” for possessing a converter.
Hillman said he trusts officers and prosecutors to be able to tell the difference, especially because an illegally-cut converter is usually distinct from a converter that has been removed by a professional.
Randy Scherr, governmental consultant for the Missouri Auto Truck Recyclers Association, and Michael Gibbons, representing Enterprise-Rent-a-Car, both said catalytic converter thefts were negatively affecting business.
Scherr said every member of the association refuses to buy single catalytic converters for fear they are stolen. Gibbons said thieves have taken converters from many Enterprise cars, costing the company thousands every time.
“We’re getting a black eye out of this,” Scherr said. “(The association) support these bills because there is a problem. We’d like to do what we can to solve it.”
Effort returns to allow some SNAP participants to buy restaurant meals
By Brooke Muckerman
Missouri News Network
JEFFERSON CITY — The Senate took the first step Wednesday toward permitting some who qualify for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, to purchase meals at restaurants.
The Senate Progress and Development Committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 313, which would allow restaurants contracted by the Missouri Department of Social Services to accept electronic benefit transfer cards to purchase meals.
The Department of Social Services will establish a “Restaurant Meals Program” as a part of the SNAP program, according to bill sponsor Sen. Angela Mosley, D-Florissant, a member of the committee. Households that have certain elderly, disabled and homeless individuals will be able to qualify for the program.
The Restaurant Meals Program is a federal program that states can opt in to and intends to give people who cannot cook for themselves and do not have kitchens to have prepared food available. Currently, those on the SNAP program in Missouri can only purchase cold and unprepared food.
Christine Woody of Empower Missouri said that the bill would not expand the program and is “a program within the SNAP program.” Woody noted that some other states which participate do not have a statewide program but have it on a smaller scale. For example, Illinois only allows use of SNAP in restaurants in specific counties.
“This is not and expansion of the welfare program, (or) an expansion of the safety net programs, it really is there to help specific populations who could really use the assistance of being able to get a hot meal that they don’t have to prepare,” Woody said.
Restaurants will not be required to accept SNAP benefits and have to apply the program to participate. Certain stipulations are in place for restaurants that want to participate like having a point-of-sale device that is programmed to accept electronic benefit transfer cards and have a signed agreement to the Federal Food and Nutrition Service according to the federal website on the program.
Jay Hardenbrook, advocacy director for AARP Missouri, noted having only allowing SNAP benefits to be used to purchase cold and unprepared food is not of value for many people.
“If you don’t have a kitchen, you can’t prepare yourself a meal,” Hardenbrook said.
Identical legislation was introduced last year. Senate bill 798 passed the Senate on a close vote, but failed to pass in the House Committee on Fiscal Review on a four to three vote.
According to research documents for Senate Bill 313, over 186,023 Missouri households would be eligible for the Restaurant Meals Program.
Legislators consider bill banning local governments from regulating pet stores
By Charles Boehme
Missouri News Network
JEFFERSON CITY — Legislation that would ban local governments from passing any ordinance that hinders the operations of pet stores has been introduced by Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho.
A number of cities and states throughout the country recently have banned the sale of dogs in commercial pet shops in an attempt to curb puppy mills. The bills have also had the effect of putting pet stores that sell dogs into a difficult financial position.
Baker, testifying Wednesday to the House Government Efficiency and Downsizing Committee, specifically cited a now-closed Petland in Rockford, Illinois, as the danger that these bans pose. He went on to say that protecting these pet stores will prevent people from turning to the black market to find pets.
In support of the bill was Elizabeth Kunzelman, vice president of Petland’s legislative and public affairs department, and daughter of Petland founder Ed Kunzelman.
Kunzelman said that all Missouri Petland stores get their animals from U.S. Department of Agriculture licensed breeders and highlighted Petland’s charitable support to animal welfare programs. She also said that large activist organizations have targeted Petland.
“For them the goal is not about puppy mills, it’s about the total elimination of private animal ownership,” said Kunzelman.
Also in support of the bill were Samantha and Ryan Boyle, owners of a Petland in Joplin. The Boyle’s repeatedly stressed that they ethically source their puppies and that they have been targeted by activist organizations.
Petland has been at the center of the discussion around pet shop legislation. It currently stands as the only major pet store franchise that sells animals from breeders in its stores. Other major pet stores have shifted from selling breeder animals to hosting adoption events for local shelters.
Cody Atkinson, Missouri state director for the Humane Society of America, spoke against the bill, saying that Petland has a history of sourcing animals from puppy mills.
Petland has received criticism from the Humane Society of the United States for its sourcing methods. A 2009 report from the organization accused Petland of knowingly purchasing animals from puppy mills.
Atkinson also said that many USDA-approved breeders still operate puppy mills, citing the difficulty in shutting all but the most egregious breeders.
“Here we have public records showing Petland purchased animals from a facility in which 120 animal welfare act violations were found,” said Atkinson. This is in reference to an Ohio puppy mill in which over 500 dogs were kept in poor conditions and left to die without veterinary treatment. The breeder had USDA certification.
Aislinn McCarthy-Sinclair, associate executive director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, said that the wording of the bill was too vague and would hinder local governments’ ability to regulate.
“It not only disallows a ban on the sale of puppies and kittens in pet stores, but it also prohibits any and all regulations that ‘effectively’ prohibit the operation of a pet shop regardless of public health, safety, welfare, and consumer protection concerns,” said McCarthy-Sinclair.
The bill would not affect the ability for local governments to legislate pet shops on the grounds of zoning, building codes or instructions.
‘We want a hand up, not a hand out’: Disabilities awareness advocates gather at Capitol
By Allie Feinberg And Brooke Muckerman
Missouri News Network
The steps of the state Capitol crowded with more people than usual Wednesday as Missourians flooded to Jefferson City to advocate for disability awareness.
Disability Awareness Day came in conjunction with ten bills between the House and Senate that would impact people with disabilities. Among the bills are some that pertain to fair employment and transportation.
Although the Capitol has hosted Disability Awareness Day for years, advocates Julie and Chris Worth said there’s a renewed energy in 2023.
“As people with disabilities, we are used to being controlled by systems. COVID added another layer to that,” Chris Worth said. “This is our way of saying, ‘we’re here, we’re home.’”
They added that with this new energy comes a new acknowledgment of the vivaciousness of their community.
“We have gifts and talents that move beyond the disability, but are also informed by the disability … We embrace our disability; it makes me who I am,” said Chris Worth.
HB 970, sponsored by state Rep. Melanie Stinnett, R-Springfield, expands coverage of the Ticket to Work Health Assurance Program, which provides medical assistance to employed people with disabilities who meet certain qualifications like asset limits and earned net and gross income calculations.
A similar bill was read last session but did not make it out of committee.
Jeff Johnson, a member of People First of Boone County, said people with disabilities don’t want pity, but rather resources to level the playing field.
“Certain people that work in the legislature see people with intellectual disabilities (as) wanting a handout … we want people to be equal,” he said. “When I say ‘a hand up,’ that means (government) gives us the tools to work our way up.”
Johnson was adamant about transportation being one of those tools.
HB 4, sponsored by state Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, allocates both state and federal funds to the Missouri Department of Transportation with goals of improving public transportation for people with disabilities and people who are elderly.
State Rep. Sherri Gallick, R-Belton brought a family to the House floor who she advocated for. She knocked on their door when she was campaigning, and learned of their struggle to get a member of their family into a residential care facility.
“They ran into roadblock after roadblock. I kept in touch with (them) every two or three weeks to try to learn about their journey,” she said. “I got to see the highs and lows that they went through.”
Attendants rallied in the rotunda where they chanted: “We are the people and this is our house.”
Jason Mize, also a member of People First of Boone County, said the group is impacting legislation that affects people with disabilities.
“We try to make a difference on changing bills around where we know what we’re doing,” he said.
HB 970 was passed out of committee Wednesday, and HB 4 was referred to the House Budget Committee in mid-February.
Students from the University of Missouri Sinclair Nursing School also traveled down to the Capitol for Missouri Nursing Advocacy Day. Students attended guest lectures hosted by Missouri Nurses Association and also had the opportunity to visit their local legislators and talk about bills they were passionate about.
Undergraduate Program Director and Nursing instructor Amber Vroman was present at the Capitol with senior students and a group of faculty colleagues. Vroman said that students have been learning about legislative advocacy and the nurse’s role in shaping health policy.
Tension resurfaces on Senate floor
By Alyse Pfeil
Missouri News Network
JEFFERSON CITY — Senate floor business started and immediately ground to a halt on Tuesday thanks to Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove.
The reason? It depends on who you ask.
Moon offered an amendment to the Senate journal, a delaying tactic that allowed him to speak on the floor.
“The way you’re acting says to me that you don’t respect me, you don’t respect the people that I represent back in the 29th (Senate District),” Moon said. “And what other alternative do I have than to stand up and try to make a point that we’re mistreating our own members?”
Moon made the comments after a series of events unfolded on the Senate floor Monday that blocked his effort to have a bill he sponsors, SB 49, offered for amendments. The SAFE act, as SB 49 is known, would restrict the rights of transgender youth to access gender-affirming medical care.
As Moon began to speak on the bill on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, used Senate procedures to stop Moon’s effort to move the bill forward and adjourn for the day.
Outside of the Senate floor Tuesday, O’Laughlin told the Missourian that she had warned Moon ahead of time about what she planned to do. “I told him, if you bring the bill up, I’m going to adjourn, which will place it on the informal calendar. And he said, I understand that.”
O’Laughlin said she and Moon also talked Monday about the nature of her Senate leadership position.
“And I told him … part of my responsibility is to be doing really continual negotiating with people about different bills and trying to get everyone what’s important to them, get it accomplished … And you have to trust me to be able to do that,” she said.
O’Laughlin also told the Missourian that she understands Moon’s perspective. “I’ve always encouraged him to do whatever he feels he has to do, and I’ll do what I have to do,” she said.
Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, responded to Moon directly on the Senate Floor Tuesday.
“You disrespected the floor leader yesterday, and I’m gonna make sure the world knows about it,” Rowden said.
Rowden added, “Senator, if you have 17 other people that are behind you on any given day, I don’t have any more power than you do. The senator from Shelby doesn’t have any more power than you do.”
He later told the Missourian: “What I was trying to clarify to anybody who is paying attention was that like anybody, if you have 18 votes in the Senate, you can do a lot of stuff whether or not you have a title behind your name relative to perceived power or not. So, you know, Senator Moon’s problem is that he doesn’t have a lot of people who want to go the same direction he wants to go.”
The exchange between Moon and Rowden is reminiscent of the gridlock that stemmed from the now-disbanded conservative caucus during last year’s session.
Moon ultimately ended his comments Tuesday and left the Senate chamber allowing the day’s proceedings to move forward.
Moon later declined an opportunity to speak with reporters in his office.
House advances bill that would limit foreign purchases of Missouri land
By Camden Doherty
Missouri News Network
JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House approved a bill Tuesday that would further cut the amount of Missouri agricultural land that can be foreign owned in half.
Under current laws, foreign ownership of agricultural land cannot exceed 1% of the state’s agricultural land. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill, would cut that limit to 0.5%.
The bill would also require sales of land to foreign people or businesses to be reported to the Missouri Attorney General and Secretary of State before the sale is finalized.
Most representatives saw these policies as positive but also as only the beginning of protecting Missouri land from potentially predatory foreign investment.
“This bill is the tip of the iceberg,” Haffner said, “We have more work to do.”
The bill also includes a list of countries that would be completely banned from having companies and individuals own Missouri farmland. The proposed list includes China, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela. As written in the bill, the governor would edit and approve the list every two years.
Many Democratic members of the house questioned whether banning certain countries was appropriate or even legal for the state of Missouri.
“When we pick and choose like the underlying bill does,” Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis said, “That’s where we cross the line into doing foreign policy as a state. That’s what we’re not allowed to do.”
Rep. Doug Clemens, D-St. Ann, echoed the opinions of his colleagues, saying he hoped the Senate would pull the banned list from the bill.
Democrats also questioned how the bill would impact foreign residents who wish to buy agricultural land in Missouri.
An amendment proposed by Rep. Emily Weber, D-Kansas City, would have put additional language in the bill protecting lawful residents’ ability to buy property. This would have included green card holders, dual citizens, work visa holders and other non-citizen residents of Missouri.
Weber referenced that similar legislation in Texas that she said has stopped some legal residents from buying houses.
Haffner dismissed Weber’s concerns, saying that several different federal statutes already protect those specific rights and there was no need to put clarifying wording in the bill.
The House stopped the debate on Weber’s proposed amendment using the previous question and voted it down. The bill was approved soon after. It requires one more vote from the House before moving to the Senate.
Senate Education Committee grapples with school choice, funding bills
By Emmet Jamieson
Missouri News Network
The Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee considered a number of bills Tuesday dealing with school choice and school funding.
Republican senators in support of three bills dealing with school choice said they would give parents more choice over their children’s education because parents know best what is right for their children.
The committee also heard proposed legislation that would increase state funding for public education.
Related to school choice:
Senate Bill 255 creates a fund parents can use to finance sending their children to a private school.
Senate Bill 304 would allow charter schools to operate in charter counties and municipalities of at least 30,000 people.
Senate Bill 360 would remove a current cap on the cumulative tax credit amount granted by the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program.
Dava-Leigh Brush of the Missouri Equity Education Partnership testified against the charter school and savings fund bills, arguing they would harm public schools by taking away money and students to benefit private and charter schools.
“We are not the dictators of our children,” Brush said. “We are their parents. We have a responsibility to them and obligation to them to help them grow as people. Education is not about the parents, it is about the kids.”
Jeremy Cady, state director of Americans for Prosperity, disputed that the bills would harm public schools, saying they would support families, as parents are the best stewards of their children’s education.
“The theme of the day is that parents should be directing the education of their children, and I think (the tax credit bill) continues that,” Cady said.
Sen. Elaine Gannon, R-De Soto, is a board member for her local school district and taught there previously. She said the charter school bill would be yet another bill slamming public schools. Gannon also questioned the accountability of charter schools.
Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, argued that charter schools have more accountability than public schools because parents can draw their children out of charter schools and send them elsewhere if the school doesn’t meet their needs.
Committee Chair Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, added that they are more accountable because charter schools tend to shut down when they perform poorly, yet “failing” public schools stay open.
Cathy Jo Loy, an education advocate for the Missouri Charter Public School Commission, said giving families more choice would improve outcomes.
“Charter schools are one of the primary ways to offer free tuition-based quality schools, and the opportunity to offer them to more communities will lead to diverse education and commitment to truly educating proficient scholars,” Loy said.
Tammy Henderson, who works for the North Kansas City School District, one of the largest in the state, said she opposed the charter school bill because offering too much choice decimates public schools. She said that Kansas City has 15 high schools, and they struggle to field sports teams or offer specialized educational opportunities because each high school is below capacity.
Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, said the legislature allowed charter schools in Kansas City because the public schools were unaccredited and failing to meet students’ needs.
“That’s why we leave it in areas that are struggling,” Henderson said. “Don’t apply it to all of us.”
Brattin, sponsor of the private school funding bill, said a big reason he wants to subsidize school choice is because his daughter has dyslexia and he wants parents of children with special educational needs to be able to afford to educate their child.
Kimberly Masters, the mother of two children with dyslexia, said a bill like Brattin’s would save her family about $800 a month that they spend on a private tutor.
“This will greatly help our family as well as many other families that just want to do the right thing to help their children succeed,” Masters said.
Otto Fajen, legislative director for the Missouri National Education Association, said it is the legislature’s duty to appropriately fund public education and said the legislature should focus on adequately supporting public schools’ financial needs before focusing on something “peripheral” like education savings funds.
Funding formula changes
The committee also heard testimony in support of a bill that would increase the state’s funding commitment to public schools.
Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, said her bill, Senate Bill 17 would modify certain provisions of the state funding formula for public school districts.
The bill would change how the state calculates a variable called the “state adequacy target.” The target is the sum of the current operating expenditures for the middle 90% of schools ranked by average daily attendance. The legislature restricts increases to no more than 5% each year. The bill would double that limit to 10%.
Arthur said the 5% cap resulted in about a $500 million cut to the amount of money necessary to fully fund the funding formula, resulting in stagnant funding levels. She said a 10% cap would elevate the state adequacy target to about the level it was before the legislature imposed the 5% cap.
The bill also changes how the state calculates “weighted average daily attendance.” The product of this variable and the state adequacy target forms the core of the funding formula calculation.
Part of determining weighted average daily attendance includes the number of students on federal free and reduced lunch. Various free lunch programs, including ones created as a result of the pandemic, mean that fewer families sign up for the federal program.
Arthur’s bill would use U.S. Census Bureau’s poverty count for a school district.
Stacey Preis, Missouri Policy Consultant for education advocate ALIGNED, agreed that the Census Bureau poverty count more accurately captures the number of students living in poverty.
Arthur said her bill would confront many issues public education is facing, including teacher shortages, four-day school weeks and a higher burden on local taxpayers to fund schools that creates inequity in school funding.
“I would argue that that stagnant funding has helped to create a real crisis in public education … I think if we don’t address the challenge, I’m worried that the damage will be irreversible,” Arthur said.
No one testified in opposition to Arthur’s bill.
Unanimous vote moves bill extending postpartum Medicaid benefits to House floor
By Olivia Sklenka
Missouri News Network
JEFFERSON CITY — The expansion of Medicaid benefits for postpartum women was unanimously approved by a House committee Tuesday afternoon.
Current law limits Medicaid benefits for postpartum women to 60 days after pregnancy ends.
House Bill 354, sponsored by Rep. Bishop Davidson, R-Republic, would extend the timeline of full Medicaid benefits to one year following the end of pregnancy.
Minority Whip Rep. Ashley Aune, D-Kansas City, thanked the committee for focusing on an issue she feels will benefit women and mothers across the state.
“I just want to genuinely thank the committee and the chair for hearing these bills and for giving these bills attention and for making sure we get these (bills) out of committee cleanly,” Aune said.
“I genuinely feel that women and mothers across the state are going to benefit greatly from this,” she said.
The House Emerging Issues Committee amended Davidson’s bill to include three similar House bills: HB 254, HB 957, and HB 965.
With no other amendments or comments, the committee unanimously adopted its substitute for the original HB 354, reflecting the bipartisan support for the measure. The bill has an emergency clause, which if approved by the legislature, would allow the benefits to take effect as soon as the governor signs the bill.
Gov. Mike Parson’s administration recommends extending the Medicaid coverage to one year postpartum. The change is seen as benefiting an estimated 4,600 women in Missouri, according to previous testimony.
The American Rescue Plan has a provision allowing states to extend the existing postpartum Medicaid benefit to one year at no cost to the state. Twenty-eight other states have adopted the expanded benefits.
Before adjourning, the committee briefly discussed and passed HB 700. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Hardwick, R-Waynesville, increases protection against those who refuse medical treatments and procedures, including the COVID-19 vaccine.
HB 700 would extend to public schools and other public entities, including public officials, prohibitions against requiring vaccinations or other medical treatment as a condition of employment.
The committee voted to include provisions of HB 445 which specifically excludes COVID-19 immunizations from the childhood immunizations required for children attending daycare, preschool, and public, private, parochial or parish schools.
The debate over the requirement of COVID-19 immunizations stretches across the House and into the Senate. HB 445 is virtually identical to Senate Bill 99, sponsored by Sen. Bill Eigel, R-St. Charles.
The committee voted 9-4 with one member voting “present” to move the substituted bill to the House floor.
Both bills await a date for a House floor hearing.
House bill would create conviction review unit
By Samantha Dietel
Missouri News Network
JEFFERSON CITY — The House Judiciary Committee discussed a bill on Monday that would create a conviction review unit in Missouri.
The unit described in the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, D-St. Louis, would investigate defendants’ claims of innocence.
Bosley said this unit could help rural prosecutors whose counties do not already have such units established.
Darrell Moore, the executive director of the Missouri Office of Prosecution Services and the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, testified in support of the bill. Moore said that only three Missouri counties — Jackson, St. Louis County and St. Louis City — have this type of unit in place.
Moore said the unit would investigate whether a defendant is innocent, make a determination and then send the report to the prosecutor.
Michelle Smith, founder of the Missouri Justice Coalition, said 56 people in Missouri have been exonerated since 1999, when the University of Michigan’s National Registry of Exonerations started tracking this data.
Smith said those 56 people from Missouri have lost a collective 645.7 years because of being imprisoned improperly.
“We have an epidemic of innocence in this country and in this state,” Smith said.
The committee also discussed a bill that would adjust requirements of the sexual offender registry.
Rep. Justin Hicks, R-Lake St. Louis, who sponsors the bill, said that multiple offenses currently listed under tiers I and II would be moved to tier III.
These offenses are primarily those committed against minors or a person who is incapacitated.
A tier III offense requires that the offender remain on the registry for the rest of their life.
Hicks said this would protect adults who have mental disabilities that may limit their cognitive ability to take care of themselves.
Hicks said the bill would also be codifying language already established by the Missouri Supreme Court in a Jan. 31 ruling.
He also said these changes would ensure that the Missouri registry would comply with guidelines established by the federal government, which is important to continue to receive federal funding.
Rep. David Tyson Smith, D-Columbia, said the tier adjustments may require some more review. He said he is concerned that some prosecutors may use this as leverage to force people into pleas.
“The requirement to register for lifetime is a very, very severe and significant penalty,” Smith said.
Critics fear open enrollment bills would widen education gaps
By Emmet Jamieson
Missouri News Network
The Missouri General Assembly is considering two bills that would create a voluntary open enrollment policy in the state, and some are concerned the policy may widen existing gaps in education.
Senate Bill 5 and House Bill 253 would create the Public School Open Enrollment Act. It would allow public school students to transfer from their home district to any other public school district that has opted into the program.
Students may leave a district that has not opted in for another district that has, although both open enrollment bills allow districts to cap how many students can leave for the first couple of years after the policy’s adoption.
Both bills have passed out of their committees. Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, is the chairman of the committee that considered the Senate version of the bill as well as the bill’s sponsor. His bill is on the informal calendar for perfection, lining it up for floor debate. The House bill is on the formal calendar for perfection.
Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia, said he is advancing open enrollment legislation because it would give students and parents more choice. He said parents who live in one town and work in another town may prefer to send their children to the school where they work, and parents whose values clash with their local districts may want to send their children to a district that suits them better.
“You know, I don’t want to blow up the public education system,” Pollitt said. “I think public education is very important to the state of Missouri and to the United States, and I would like to give parents a choice within that system if they’re unhappy with their district.”
Nearly all states have some form of open enrollment, including Missouri in very specific cases, but just over half have a policy similar to what is being proposed in Missouri that does not depend on proximity, school performance or agreements between two districts. Some of these states require all districts to opt into the program.
Koenig said he would have no problem making open enrollment mandatory in the future but would prefer to pass the legislation as voluntary and see how it plays out first. He said the fact that many other states’ public schools operate with open enrollment shows that it will work in Missouri, too.
“You have as many as 43 states that have some version of open enrollment, so this notion that open enrollment is somehow going to destroy public education is nonsense because the vast majority of states have it,” Koenig said.
Concerns of rural schools
Kyle Kruse, superintendent of the St. Clair R-XIII School District, testified against Pollitt’s bill at a hearing in late January. Kruse said he expects his district, which is in rural Franklin County, to lose about 100 students and $400,000 of state and federal funding if the state adopts open enrollment because his district has less money and fewer resources than surrounding districts.
Losing students would be difficult for the district because students from across grade levels would leave, Kruse said. This would force the district to make tough choices about which staff positions to cut and which classrooms to consolidate.
Pollitt said if schools are concerned about losing students to open enrollment, they need to address why students and parents want to leave. He said the pressure of losing students will help districts improve.
“We compete on the athletic fields every day in every public school in the state,” Pollitt said. “Why wouldn’t we want to compete in the academic field?”
Koenig said districts that lose students to open enrollment would need to “get creative” and listen to parents’ and students’ concerns. He said it was possible open enrollment could not only inspire districts to perform better, but individual students as well, as they would have freedom to choose a school with courses that interest them.
Kruse said competition is only competition when it is on a level playing field. He said that because much of a school’s funding comes from local property taxes and bond issues, schools in lower-income areas are simply unable to compete with wealthy districts in providing new opportunities and flashy facilities.
“There are good schools who are geographically located in areas that are away from industry, and they’ll suffer,” Kruse said. “There are schools who are great academically, but they don’t compete at the highest level of sports, and they will lose students because of that. So (Pollitt’s) assertion that good schools have nothing to worry about is absolutely incorrect.”
Jeff Blackford, superintendent of the Nodaway-Holt R-VII School District in rural northwest Missouri, said competition for students “drives away from the actual reason why we’re here.”
In January, the school board in Blackford’s district and other school boards in Nodaway County adopted a resolution written by the Missouri Association of Rural Education opposing open enrollment.
Blackford said he expected many districts would lose their highest-achieving students to open enrollment, leading to lower test scores, which would make that district even less competitive in attracting students.
School districts in Missouri receive a mix of federal, state and local funding, and federal and state funding will follow transfer students to their new district while local funding from property taxes and other sources will stay in the students’ home district. However, both bills stipulate that receiving districts are not required to add teachers, classrooms or staff to accommodate new transfers.
Rep. Adrian Plank, D-Columbia, said local schools are the “driving economic force” in small towns in his district such as Harrisburg and Sturgeon.
Terry Lorenz, superintendent of Slater Public Schools in Saline County, said in Slater and in other rural towns, the school district is the heart of the community, and losing the school district to consolidation would erase the town’s identity.
“The school is the focal point,” Lorenz said. “I mean, the building is used on a nightly basis by groups and teams and clubs all around this area. They come to depend and rely on the school as being a central focus point that they can always depend on and rely on, and when you lose that identity, you’re jeopardizing that loss of community support.”
Lorenz said his district could actually gain students from open enrollment, but given the state is experiencing a teacher shortage, bringing in many new students would not necessarily be a good thing. He said that either way, open enrollment would take the focus of education away from educating students and toward trying to woo students to come to the district.
Open enrollment in Iowa and Minnesota
Iowa has had open enrollment for about 30 years. Margaret Buckton, professional advocate for Rural School Advocates of Iowa, said the areas in Iowa that have seen the most inter-district movement have been “matched pairs,” which refers to a rural school district just outside a more urban district.
However, Buckton said the prevailing trend is that students flock from the urban district to the rural district. She said some rural schools would call open enrollment “the savior of their budget” because it has allowed them to afford programs they could not have otherwise.
Buckton said many students prefer rural districts because they have smaller class sizes and sports programs, which gives a student a better chance of standing out on a team.
She also said that two large towns that have been on the losing end of a matched pair, Marshalltown and Ottumwa, have one thing in common: They are both becoming more diverse, though Buckton said there is no hard evidence that this is why people are leaving these towns’ school districts.
Minnesota has also had open enrollment for 30 years. The suburban Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District has traditionally lost more students to open enrollment than it gains, causing it to frequently cut teacher positions and AP classes. The district is majority-minority, and District Communications Director Aaron Tinklenberg said most of the students that transfer out of his district are white.
Tinklenberg said the district has started to make headway against this trend after implementing a new program, One91 Pathways, that allows students to explore careers and earn certain certifications when they graduate.
However, Tinklenberg said that implementing the program was expensive and that not all school districts would be able to afford it. He said the district was able to pay for the program with partnerships and grants from local businesses, as well as raising property taxes.
Both versions of the Public School Open Enrollment Act originally contained language exempting schools subject to a desegregation order. However, Koenig said his bill will no longer contain this provision after conservative activists rallied against its inclusion.
Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, said she feared that if open enrollment were available, white parents whose children attend diverse school districts would transfer their children to whiter districts.
“Basically, all students benefit from having a much more diverse school district, whether it’s race, or socio-economic, or religious diversity,” Arthur said. “Diversity is a strength.”
Buckton said she believes in open enrollment “with guardrails.” She said giving parents and students a choice is a good idea, but any plan should have safeguards in place to protect districts that have many minority or low-income students or that struggle financially.
Tinklenberg said it is good for parents and students to have choices, but he pointed out that one’s economic situation strongly influences how much choice one actually has. Pollitt and Koenig’s bills both create a Parent Public School Choice Fund that would reimburse transportation costs for families who qualify for free or discounted lunch, an attempt at making open enrollment more accessible to low-income families.
However, Tinklenberg said parents of low-income families typically have a lot less flexibility in their jobs and would not have the same ability to take their children to a far-away school. Tinklenberg said funding all schools more equally would also help open enrollment become a more equal choice.
“It doesn’t create as much choice as people think that it does, and it doesn’t create choice for everybody,” Tinklenberg said. “So the real important thing is fund all of the schools equitably so that they can all be good schools rather than suggesting that some schools are good, and if you can get there, you can send your kid there.”
Tax incentives for concerts and filming in Missouri approved by Senate
By Emma J. Murphy
Missouri News Network
JEFFERSON CITY — A bill that would incentivize TV series, movies and live entertainment tours to come to Missouri won 20-12 approval Monday by the Senate.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, would offer tax credits to qualified motion media production projects filming in Missouri as part of the “Show MO Act.” The bill caps the tax credits at $16 million per year.
Up to 20% of expenses would be credited for projects that filmed at least 50% in Missouri, with at least 15% in a rural/”blighted” area; that hire Missouri residents in at least three departments of the production; and that market Missouri in a positive light.
The other half of the bill, the “Entertainment Industry Jobs Act,” allows qualifying taxpayers to claim a tax credit for rehearsal and tour expenses in Missouri. The act has a maximum credit amount of $8 million to $10 million annually.
Taxpayers could be credited for 30% of expenses, up to $3 million depending on the amount of expenses in Missouri.
At a Jan. 30 public hearing on the bill, witnesses in support of the legislation referenced the opportunities that have passed by Missouri. Steph Shannon, director of the Kansas City Film Office and KC Film Commissioner, said Missouri has lost $800 million since 2017 because of the lack of incentives for filming and producing in Missouri.
Shannon referenced shows such as Netflix’s “Ozark” and NBC’s “Superstore,” which are set in Missouri but were not actually filmed in the state. Other missed opportunities were “KC King” and “Yellowstone,” which were initially based in Missouri but were altered to be set elsewhere because of the cost of filming in the state, Shannon said.
Supporters of the bill included the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, Missouri Film Association, Missouri Citizens for the Arts, Hallmark and various production and arts groups.
“We are simply looking for a level playing field,” Trey Kerr, CEO of Gateway Studios and Production, said. Kerr said performers make their money off touring and selling merchandise now, so the industry has become tour-based which means more opportunities for performances in Missouri.
John Bardgett, a lobbyist for Gateway Studios, called this legislation “no risk” because the state doesn’t offer tax credits unless Missouri services are used and paid for.
The bill passed through the Fiscal Oversight Committee earlier Monday.
Sen. Angela Mosley, D-Florissant, referenced the incentives already in place in states such as Georgia that have drawn film and television production because of the cheaper costs.
The bill, SB 94, goes to the House for its consideration.
House committee unanimously passes drone regulations
By Evy Lewis
Missouri News Network
JEFFERSON CITY — Several combined pieces of legislation that would limit both private and law enforcement use of drones won the approval of the House Special Committee on Homeland Security on Monday.
Formerly three drone-related bills, House Bills 178, 179, and 401, the committee combined the proposed measures into one piece of legislation.
The bill would prohibit law enforcement agencies from using drones to gather information without first obtaining a warrant, except in emergency situations such as fires or hostage crises.
The proposed legislation would also prohibit any person or entity from operating a drone over private property below 400 feet, although several exceptions are included for the army, universities conducting research, professional surveillance projects and others.
During a January public hearing on the original bills, the change was supported by farm owners wanting to limit the ability of drones to fly over their property, as well as by lobbyists for the agriculture industry.
Gene and Tamara Chastain, farm owners, submitted written testimony claiming the use of drones by hunters to herd deer off their land has frightened and scattered their livestock.
Opponents expressed concerns about the state government overreaching its authority by broadly regulating drone use by private citizens.
The bill would not limit the activities of any aircraft flown over 400 feet above ground.
Existing law prohibits the use of drones above open-air facilities such as sports fields or outdoor theaters without permission, but the proposed legislation would raise the penalty for a violation from an infraction to a class A misdemeanor.
Besides open-air facilities, state law only bans unmanned aircraft from being flown above prisons and mental health facilities.
Bills restricting transgender rights circulate across the country
By Jamie Holcomb
Missouri News Network
JEFFERSON CITY — A top priority for Republican legislators this session has been bills that would restrict the rights of transgender youths to access gender-affirming care or participate in sports that match their gender identity.
The ideas are not unique to Missouri.
Bills on gender-affirming care — dubbed the SAFE Act — have been pushed in 15 state legislatures, and most have been based on model legislation provided by the Women’s Declaration International USA. The organization confirmed that it had sent its model bill to Missouri legislators, though the chief of staff for the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, said the bill was written at the Capitol.
The definitions in both the model bill and SB 49 use mostly the exact same language, such as the definition for biological sex:
“The biological indication of male and female, including sex chromosomes, naturally occurring sex hormones, gonads, and nonambiguous internal and external genitalia present at birth, without regard to an individual’s psychological, chosen, or subjective experience of gender,” is the definition used in WDI’s model legislation.
“The biological indication of male or female in the context of reproductive potential or capacity, such as sex chromosomes, naturally occurring sex hormones, gonads, and nonambiguous internal and external genitalia present at birth, without regard to an individual’s psychological, chosen, or subjective experience of gender,” reads SB 49.
This effort is recognized by Cait Smith, advocacy campaign manager at the Trevor Project, which advocates for LGBTQ+ mental youths, as “a nationwide effort by a pretty small group of individuals or groups.”
The Save Adolescents From Experimentation Act prevents children under the age of 18 from accessing treatments such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or gender reassignment surgery. It has passed in Arkansas and Arizona and has been introduced in Missouri, Ohio, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Louisiana.
Other states, including Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, South Carolina and Tennessee, have all introduced similar bills after being sent model legislation by WDI USA. However, they are not called the SAFE Act and have different language.
Montana and Utah have both introduced a version of this bill, but not based on model legislation from WDI USA, and South Dakota signed one into law.
Missouri state Sen. Bill Eigel, R-St. Charles, explained his motivation for this legislation during a press conference Feb. 15.
“We want to protect kids, and these transgender surgeries, these hormone therapies are being pushed by doctors. I think that practice is evil, because I think it’s harming and mutilating a lot of the children in this state, in the state of Missouri,” Eigel said.
Many of the other co-sponsors reiterated the same points, expressing their desire to “protect children” because of their perspective as parents.
The SAFE Act was first introduced in Ohio in 2021 and has since been debated in several states during the last few legislative sessions. The majority of states have failed to pass any version of the bill.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has come out in support of access to gender-affirming care many times as states have pushed to restrict access. The AAP is concerned especially about bills that would potentially punish physicians for providing care.
They also argue that the foundation of these bills is “based on myths and misinformation about transgender children and adolescents and a misunderstanding about medical and surgical aspects of gender-affirmative care.”
According to a 2019 Center for Disease Control and Prevention study, of the 2% of high school students who are transgender, 35% percent have attempted suicide.
The Trevor Project, has released its 2022 LGBTQ Mental Health survey, which shows that transgender and gender non-conforming youth are at a higher risk for anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts than cisgender youth. Cisgender is a term for those whose gender identity corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth.
Over 90% of transgender and gender non-conforming respondents to the Trevor Project’s survey were worried that they would be denied access to gender-affirming care as a result of recent legislation. A similar percentage of transgender youth reported worsened mental health due to legislation that would target their rights.
Transgender participation in sports
Women’s sports have also become a hot-button issue among conservative politicians, and similar legislation has been introduced across many states to prevent transgender women from competing on sports teams.
Twelve states have introduced similar or identical legislation in the past year concerning women’s sports. Many of these bills have the same language, but it’s unclear whether a single organization has produced model legislation concerning this issue.
Public opinion polling from Pew and Gallup shows that the majority of Americans support this legislation, especially concerning sports teams. They favor policies that would require transgender athletes to compete on teams that match their assigned sex at birth.
The argument in favor of this legislation is that biological men have a natural advantage over biological women, thus transgender women would automatically beat out cisgender women. However, this has not been proven true in the instances when transgender women were allowed to compete on women’s teams.
This is likely because both the NCAA and the Olympics require transgender athletes to complete HRT for a certain amount of time before competing. HRT causes changes in muscle mass and strength, along with a number of other changes.
The Missouri High School Activities Association also requires athletes to complete puberty blockers or HRT for a year before competing.
Even successful athletes, such as transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, do not dominate in the sports they compete in and don’t break records as cisgender women do. According to the UK Independent, her swimming times are “on par with cisgender women’s.”
According to the Trevor Project, this legislation, aiming to restrict the rights of transgender people, is largely based on a fear of the unknown and a lack of education about these issues.