JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The last few days of the regular session are a fury of activity as folks make the final push on issues with dozens of bills getting final approval — and this year was no different. In the fast-paced environment, it is easy to miss a provision added to a bill or a measure crossing the finish line.
“As legislators, we can improve the delivery of government and assistance to our constituents through how departments operate. These aren’t the headline-grabbing topics, but they are the nuts and bolts of making government better,” Sen. Lincoln Hough told The Missouri Times.
Here’s a look at some legislation that crossed the finish line before the session’s end:
Offender Mo HealthNet benefits
MO HealthNet benefits for offenders entering a correctional facility or jail will now have those benefits suspended instead of terminated. Upon release, the suspension will be lifted and the person will continue to be eligible for benefits until otherwise ineligible.
Before the provisions passed as part of a larger bill, Missouri was in the minority of states that terminated benefits for offenders.
Proponents argued the change could help keep inmates from returning to jail, overdosing, or having a mental illness relapse. Liza Weiss, executive director of Missouri Appleseed, said the policy of direct termination — including for those held in jail who haven’t yet been convicted of a crime — “doesn’t serve anybody well.” She said her organization is “really excited about” the change and will monitor the rollout closely.
Medicaid reimbursement rates
Intermediate care facilities or skilled nursing facilities will now be able to have their Medicaid per diem reimbursement rate readjusted if they invest at least $2,000 per bed in improvements.
The provision is aimed at encouraging nursing home facilities to invest in improvements.
In Missouri, Medicaid reimbursements rates range from $141 to $175 per patient per day. Once a rate is set there is no mechanism in state law for adjustment, which, according to a proponent, has resulted in the average reimbursement rate being $20 per day per person unfunded compared to actual costs. Thus, facilities are “disincentivized” from updating and further investing in the facility itself.
“When nursing homes in our state want higher reimbursement rates from our state coffers, they owe it to those in their care to re-invest their private capital to upgrade the quality of their facilities first. The people of our state expect high quality nursing care and rightfully demand our elderly, disabled, and infirm to live a life of safety, wellbeing, respect and dignity,” Rep. Jack Bondon told The Missouri Times. “This bill was the result of [Sen. Mike Cunningham’s] many years of research to find solutions that are certain to improve our state’s nursing care in a fiscally responsible way.”
Drone no-fly zone
Pending the governor’s signature — and the provision going into effect — it will be a crime to fly a drone near a prison or mental hospital. Drones, or “unmanned aircrafts,” could be used to deliver weapons or drugs to inmates, those concerned said.
“In an effort to update laws as technology advances, it only made sense to ban flying drones over correctional facilities. The [Department of Corrections] reported 16 incidents of drones flying over and possibly dropping contraband inside correctional facilities. Glad to get this bill passed to protect the safety of our hardworking correctional officers,” Sen. Denny Hoskins told The Missouri Times.
Million Dollar Boondoggle Act of 2019
Under the provision, the Office of Administration will be required to construct a public report — to be published online — on specific projects that are either at least one year behind schedule or at least $1 million over budget to the General Assembly. State agencies and divisions would be required to submit relevant information to the Office of Administration.
“Government transparency is the most important thing we can do as a legislature,” Rep. Dan Houx, a Republican, previously told The Missouri Times.
“This bipartisan bill simply creates an automatic alert system for the General Assembly to address a problem before it becomes a bottomless money pit for taxpayer dollars,” Houx said. “Identifying projects that are significantly over budget or behind schedule allows the General Assembly and state agencies to better manage taxpayer dollars and prevent possible future boondoggles.”
Wrongful conviction restitution rates
Any Missourian found guilty but later determined to be innocent solely as a result of DNA profiling analysis will now be paid restitution of $100, increased from $50, per day for each day of post-conviction incarceration.
“This is a civil rights victory. This is about setting what was wrong…right. Giving those who were wrongfully convicted a chance to rejoin society with some hope. Even though it’s not everything, it’s a start and we are just beginning. Criminal justice reform is not just be about those who are going in, or already there; it’s also be about those who were there and weren’t suppose to be there in the first place,” Rep. LaKeySha Bosley said. “This is an issue that was taken up by Rep. Clem Smith before I got here, and I am just glad we got it done after many years of fighting. Sen. Jamilah Nasheed got it done in the senate and I took care of it in the house.”
Veteran’s Survivor Grant
The Veteran’s Survivor Grant was originally set to sunset on August 28, 2020. But under a truly agreed and finally passed bill, the grant, which provides financial aid for higher education to qualifying military members, is exempt the sunset provision.
Products labeled “Missouri Bourbon” or “Missouri Bourbon Whiskey” will now be required to be made using corn grown in Missouri; mashed, fermented, distilled, aged, and bottled in Missouri; and aged in oak barrels manufactured in Missouri.
PSC appeal process
Those seeking to appeal a decision issued by the Public Service Commission will no longer file the appeal with the commission, for the commission to forward to the appellate court. Now, the applicant will file the appeal directly with the appellate court and pay all necessary filing fees and a notice of the appeal is served on the commission.
DHSS director requirements
The qualification requirements for the director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services were altered.
The requirement for the director to “be a graduate of an institution of higher education approved by recognized accrediting agencies, and shall have had the administrative experience necessary to enable him to successfully perform the duties of his office” was removed.
Instead, the director must now be “a medical doctor or a doctor of osteopathy degree” or “a Ph.D. in a health-related field, which may include nursing, public health, health policy, environmental health, community health, or health education or a master’s degree in public health or an equivalent academic degree from an institution of higher education approved by recognized accrediting agencies.”
Kaitlyn Schallhorn contributed to this report