JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – More than 1,100 bills were pre-filed in December as the Missouri General Assembly lined out their priorities for the 2022 Legislative Session. As lawmakers flock to the Capitol on Wednesday to kick off, here’s a look at some of the legislation expected to get the most attention.
Senate Bill 768, sponsored by Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin
Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, a well-known education advocate, pre-filed SB 768 to create provisions regarding accountability requirements for public schools and to establish a School Accountability Board.
If passed, SB 768 would require the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to publish an annual list of Missouri schools that are performing within the bottom 5% for three years within a five year period. DESE will be required to designate any such school as a “persistently failing school,” and the school district must close the school and transfer attending students to a higher performing school in the district.
“An accountability bill would not be necessary if DESE fulfilled their oversight function,” O’Laughlin, a Republican representing Northeast Missouri, told The Heartlander. “We need new leadership at DESE, and until we have that the legislature will need to find ways to hold our schools accountable. We have many good districts, but we also have many that are not heading in the right direction.”
House Bill 1594, sponsored by Rep. Sara Walsh
State Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland, pre-filed HB 1594 in an effort to repeal the highly controversial increase in motor fuel tax passed by the legislature last year. Various Republican legislators argued the bill violated Missouri’s Hancock Amendment, which prevents the General Assembly from raising taxes above a certain threshold without voter approval.
However, a provision was added to allow taxpayers a refund for the increased gas tax if they file a claim and keep track of receipts. This allowed the bill to meet the Hancock Amendment’s constitutional requirement, though it was quickly deemed a flimsy solution. The tax increase, heavily anchored by Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, was expected to fail if it was put on the ballot for Missourians to vote on.
“I was opposed to the fuel tax increase because it silenced the voice of the people on an issue where they should have been heard,” Walsh said. “The legislature moved forward with a plan that increases the tax burden on Missourians who can’t afford it, and I think it’s clear this increase never would have passed if the people had been allowed to vote.”
House Bill 1718, sponsored by Rep. Alex Riley
State Rep. Alex Riley, a Republican representing Springfield and parts of Southwest Missouri, pre-filed HB 1718 with the hope of creating the “Missouri Religious Freedom Protection Act”. If passed, the bill would prevent any public official from issuing an order to limit or prohibit a religious group or place of worship from holding religious services or meetings.
The bill is in response to several attempts to shut down churches, synagogues and other religious services as a preventative measure for COVID-19 infections. Proponents of HB 1718 and similar measures have argued it is imperative to prohibit the government from shutting down religious institutions and that it sets a dangerous precedent to allow government orders to do so.
“Government imposed lockdowns, shutdowns and restrictions related to COVID have become all too common in certain parts of our country,” Riley told The Heartlander. “This bill helps combat those egregious abuses of power by ensuring no place of worship in Missouri will be forced to close due to an overreaching government. During times of crisis, the faith of our people has always been a source of strength and something we can draw from to overcome our challenges.”
House Bill 1474, sponsored by Rep. Nick Schroer
State Rep. Nick Schroer sponsored HB 1474 in an effort to establish a Parents’ Bill of Rights to give parents a better view of their child’s school and what they are being taught. The Parents’ Bill of Rights includes but is not limited to: the right to know the exact curriculum being taught to their child, the right to visit the school to check on their child during school hours and the right to have “sufficient accountability and transparency” regarding school boards.
Attempts to teach Critical Race Theory in Missouri schools were met with fierce backlash from legislators across the state this year, and Schroer hopes to shut down future attempts with a widespread prohibition on teaching the theory.
HB 1474 would prohibit all Missouri schools that receive federal or state funding from teaching Critical Race Theory, The 1619 Project or using any curriculum that promotes, teaches or provides content regarding CRT or The 1619 Project.
“Parents should be in the driver’s seat regarding the education of their children,” said Schroer, a candidate for state senate.
Senate Bill 643, sponsored by Sen. Denny Hoskins
SB 643, sponsored by Sen. Denny Hoskins, would modify the definition of a “gambling game” to allow sports wagering in Missouri. If passed, the act would authorize sports betting to be conducted on an excursion gambling boat, through a limited mobile gaming system or over the internet for citizens physically located in Missouri. Efforts to legalize sports gambling have picked up steam in past years, most recently gaining the support of four different professional sports teams from Missouri.
Licensed facilities wishing to get authorized to conduct sports wagering within their facility or through an interactive sports wagering platform can apply to the Missouri Gaming Commission and must pay an application fee of $50,000.
Senate Bill 678, sponsored by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer
State Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Kansas City, pre-filed SB 678 to increase the required funding for the Kansas City Police Department. Under current law, the city of Kansas City is required to provide one-fifth of its general revenue per fiscal year to fund the Kansas City Board of Police. If passed, SB 678 would increase the funding requirement to one-fourth of the city’s general revenue.
Luetkemeyer has been a fierce supporter of law enforcement and was one of the most vocal opponents to the Kansas City Council’s recent efforts to defund the KCPD. After the City Council voted to cut over $42 million from KCPD’s budget, a Jackson County judge deemed the move illegal because the council didn’t get permission from the Board of Police Commissioners.
“If we think cutting funding to the police department is somehow going to make our streets safer, that’s totally crazy,” Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer said.