State lawmakers began pre-filing legislation last week in preparation for the General Assembly's annual session in January, signaling their priorities in the form of hundreds of bills.
Two lawmakers from the Springfield area, both entering their first terms in the House and Senate, filed several bills focused on criminal justice issues. Other local representatives filed legislation on issues ranging from mental health services to personal injury lawsuits and in vitro fertilization.
Republican Rep.-elect Melanie Stinnett filed House Bill 248, which would allow people convicted of a felony to vote while on probation or parole. Under current state law they are not allowed to vote until discharged. Stinnett told the News-Leader it came up multiple times while she spoke with constituents on the campaign trail.
"I was happy to be able to file something that will help people re-engage civically, giving them a voice again," she said in a message to the News-Leader.
Sen.-elect Curtis Trent, a Republican who will represent much of Greene County in the higher chamber after two terms in the House, has filed more than a dozen bills — several of which pertain to prisons and post-conviction programs.
Trent's Senate Bill 153 requires people convicted of some nonviolent felonies to participate in and complete state education programs before being granted parole or early release, as well as pass a drug test. It also bans those convicted of sexually violent crimes from being eligible for probation or parole.
Currently, those convicted of drug-related and other nonviolent misdemeanors in Missouri are not subject to minimum prison terms and are immediately eligible for parole or early release.
Senate Bill 276, also filed by Trent, would repeal Missouri's post-conviction drug treatment program. Established in 1994, the program requires first-time offenders of state drug laws who are put on probation to participate in "education, treatment and rehabilitation programs."
His Senate Bill 74 would create a diversion program for first-time offenders who are charged with driving while intoxicated. The program would be under the authority of a judge and would require the defendant to install a breath-testing device in their car for at least a year.
Trent has previously focused on criminal justice legislation while in the House ― he was one of the advocates for legislation to create nurseries in state prisons, allowing newborns to remain with their mothers who are incarcerated. A version of the bill became law earlier this year.
'Clean Slate' bill seeks to automate complex expungement process
Trent is also co-sponsoring legislation that would seek to automate the expungement process for some nonviolent offenses in Missouri, eliminating the current petition process in place that advocates argue is expensive, time-consuming and confusing.
"Once people pay their debt to society, they should have an opportunity to start over," Trent said in a virtual press conference Tuesday. "They should have a clean slate, and that's what this legislation is intended to do."
Crista Hogan, executive of the Springfield Metropolitan Bar Association, said upwards of "tens of thousands" of people in Greene County alone could qualify for automatic expungement under the legislation. She decried the complexity of the current petition system, saying it costs upwards of $250 and requires a number of online forms.
"I'm a lawyer and I would never attempt to do it, because it's so complicated," Hogan said.
Amendment 3, a constitutional change approved by voters in November, contains language that could allow for the expungement of some minor marijuana offenses. But Trent and Rep. Phil Christofanelli, a St. Peters Republican co-sponsoring the bill, believed their legislation opened up expungement to include a broader array of offenses.
Missouri legislature:Springfield council requests lawmakers curb gun violence, invest in mental health
Mental health services for first responders, eviction moratorium ban, in vitro health coverage and more
Members of Springfield's delegation have already filed a number of bills in the lead-up to session this January. Here's a rundown of some of them. (Many bills never receive a committee hearing or make any notable progress throughout the five-month session.)
Mental health treatment for first responders: Sen. Lincoln Hough, a Republican who represents the city of Springfield, proposed Senate Bill 24, which would allow first responders receiving mental health services to seek reimbursement from a state program and other grants. It would also restrict employers and insurers from imposing geographic requirements or other restrictions on first responders seeking that care. The bill would also establish a task force within the Department of Public Safety to develop recommendations on "access to mental health wellness programs and initiatives, funding for services, education and training programs."
Ban on eviction moratoriums: Trent's Senate Bill 222 bans local governments in the state from imposing a moratorium on evictions "unless specifically authorized by law." A nationwide eviction moratorium was imposed from 2020 to 2021 in the midst of the pandemic; St. Louis County also halted evictions through the holiday season in 2021.
In vitro fertilization health care coverage: Rep. Betsy Fogle, a Democrat representing northeast Springfield, filed House Bill 266 requiring health care programs to cover in vitro fertilization services starting in 2024. That coverage would include services and procedures at certified medical facilities, conforming to medical groups' guidelines and standards.
Privatizing Missouri employers mutual insurance company: Rep. Alex Riley, a Republican representing southern Springfield and Battlefield, filed House Bill 277, which would require Missouri Employers Mutual Insurance, a workers' compensation provider, to transition to a private company by 2025. Riley, a business attorney, also filed House Bill 272, shortening the statute of limitations on personal injury claims from five years to two years.
This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: New Springfield lawmakers focus on criminal justice in early bills