by Craig Stevenson, Director of Policy and Advocacy for Kids Win Missouri.
The Missouri General Assembly returns from their spring break this week. Let’s recap where they’ve been and where children’s issues are headed during the 2021 legislative session.
In January, when the legislators took their oaths, there were 47 freshmen House members (28%) and 10 new Senate members (29%). The changes in composition of the General Assembly due to term limits combined with a weeklong shutdown in the House due to a COVID-19 outbreak and winter weather resulted in a slower January and early February. The time period between late February until Spring Break (last week) was filled with a flurry of activity to try to catch-up.
The legislature now has 8 weeks left of the legislative session and 7 weeks left to finalize the state budget for Fiscal Year 2022, which will begin on July 1.
Children’s issues have been placed at the forefront of the legislative session in a variety of ways. The Speaker has prioritized foster and adoptive care as a policy priority. The first bills passed from the House were a tax deduction (HB 429) for foster parents and changing the tax credit for adoptive families (HB 430). Additionally, as the FY 2022 House version of the budget is released this week, Chairman Cody Smith may be recommending significant funding increases for those fostering the nearly 14,000 children in care. Missouri ranks 45th in the nation in providing funds to resource parents taking part in the state’s foster care system.
In the State of the State, Governor Mike Parson announced the creation of the Office of Childhood. The new office will merge the efforts of home visitation, child care, and early learning programs. In all, this government reorganization will impact about 150 state employees and better align more than $600 million in annual funding to more effectively serve children and families. Barring a legislative rejection of the proposal this week, the governance change will move forward with a target date of being “up and running” on August 28th of this year. This is a substantial policy change which has the potential to set Missouri up as a leader in early childhood governance. Kids Win Missouri is grateful for the opportunity to partner with state departments and the Governor on this priority.
We are working to support the implementation of Medicaid Expansion, which voters approved in August of 2020. Kids Win Missouri’s Economic Security Workgroup combined forces with the Child Development Account coalition and we are collaboratively working to create child development accounts as envisioned by HB 627 and SB 28. The full House of Representatives gave initial approval to the policy just this week!
Partnering with Foster Adopt Connect and our youth homelessness workgroup, we are excited about the filing of HB 1276 and SB 536 and are expecting a legislative hearing in the next week or so. We are also working to ensure families can access food, health care and other critical supports without undue burden, opposing bills like HB 217 and SB 138.
With federal passage and the signing into law of the American Rescue Plan, we are learning, planning, and educating policymakers on the funds, which Missouri can utilize to support children and families. These new, one-time funding opportunities include more than $700 million in child care funding, incentives to implement Medicaid Expansion, significant K-12 education funding, as well as other funds. Utilizing our national networks, we hope to inform and support Missouri’s utilization of these funds in the coming months.
It has not been an “ordinary” session, and with the infusion of federal resources, it’s fair to assume the extraordinary nature of this year’s legislative session will continue as we enter the second-half of the session. We’ve been excited and are working to advance policies including authorizing local counties to implement an early childhood local tax, the expansion of state Pre-K funding, the extension of the Quality Assurance Report, as well as child protection bills.
Taking a step back from our Kids Win Missouri priorities, broader topics of conversation that will likely see headlines and significant debate include: education reforms, transportation taxes, collection of online sales taxes, and COVID-19 liability. We are likely to see continued movement and positioning among policymakers around the early March announcement from Sen. Roy Blunt that he will be retiring from the U.S. Senate. Politicos expect Attorney General Eric Schmitt will announce his candidacy to replace Senator Blunt soon. Lt. Governor Mike Kehoe announced this week his intention to run for Governor in 2024.
Lastly, be sure to register and attend our Weekly Legislative Policy calls on Fridays at 10AM to hear the latest happenings from the capitol and movement on our policy priorities.