How Kids Won the 2021 Session and the Work Ahead

by Craig Stevenson, Director of Policy and Advocacy, Kids Win Missouri

The 2021 Regular Session of the Missouri legislature concluded on Friday, May 14th at 6 PM. Policy priorities such as COVID-19 liability, criminal justice reform, gasoline tax, and education reform were all sent to Governor Parson’s desk. As these priorities were resolved, Republicans and Democrats worked together, reaching compromise. Medicaid Expansion dominated the budget discussions, but budget-writers ultimately did not include full funding for Medicaid in the state spend plan. The Senate ended its legislative session by abruptly adjourning after not having the ability to pass a clean extension of the federal reimbursement allowance (FRA). The FRA provides more than $1 billion in support to the state’s budget. State government followers expect Governor Parson will announce a special session of the legislature to address this extension. Additionally, the legislature did not pass a solution to the Missouri Department of Labor’s overpayment of unemployment benefits made in 2020 which totaled $109 million.

The 2021 session saw the Missouri House faced historic ethical issues, ultimately censuring Rep. Wiley Price and expelling former Rep. Rick Roeber. The censure was the first in Missouri House history and the expulsion was the first since the Civil War era.

By the constitutional deadline, 45 policy bills, 18 budget related bills, 1 joint resolution, and 3 concurrent resolutions (which do not have binding authority) were truly agreed and finally passed. 

Prioritizing Children

This is my third session with Kids Win Missouri and in all three years, when legislation is on the House or Senate floor, it’s encouraging to see some of the partisanship vanish and hear members explain that these policy ideas are why they are away from their families–to improve the lives of children. Let’s check-in on where our policies landed by our workgroup topics.

It’s easy to focus on what didn’t pass – and that work will continue! However, let’s not let failures be overshadowed by our Kids Win Missouri coalition successes. It could truly be considered a hallmark session. All of these successes were the result of collaboration and cooperation with our partners — we led on some issues and supported others. I’m grateful to be among such outstanding child advocates!

Early Childhood Education

Context: Early in the legislative session, Governor Parson and House Speaker Rob Vescovo publicly supported efforts to invest and encourage policy change in the earliest years. 

Completed Priorities:
  • Governor Parson announced and the legislature approved the creation of the Office of Childhood, merging child care, home visitation, and early learning programs previously housed in three departments. The Office will be “live” on August 28. The governance change moves nearly 150 state employees and $650 million in program funding under one office. Legislative rulemaking authority cleanup for child care licensing was included in HB 432 to prepare for the August 28th effective date.
  • The legislature approved a $2 million increase requested by DESE for developmental screenings through Parents as Teachers
  • Kids Win Missouri, Aligned, and our legislative champions gathered  on January 14 with 28 legislators and approximately 30 staff attending a virtual and in-person event.
  • Budgetary language was included in the budget to require the child care subsidy program to pay providers the market rate for services provided to children in foster care.
  • The budget includes language that requires the state to cover the sliding fees for families to access child care
Incomplete Priorities:

Economic Security

Context: All session, Governor Parson called for the passage of a Wayfair fix (to collect sales tax on purchases from out-of-state vendors), and the Missouri Budget Project worked closely with Senators Koenig and Arthur to ensure a state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) remained in the forefront as policymakers developed and advanced the tax policy bill.

Completed Priorities
  • Passage of SB 153 included collecting sales tax from out-of-state vendors, and also, beginning in 2023, creates the Missouri state earned income tax credit.
  • The FY2022 budget includes funding of the Pandemic EBT program and expanded SNAP (food stamp) benefits.
Incomplete Priorities
  • Child Development Accounts did not pass this session, but did pass the House 151-2, laying the groundwork for the issue to be picked up again next year.

Health & Mental Health

Context: The health policy arena was among the most contentious all session, whether it be budget and policy debates over Medicaid expansion or the Federal Reimbursement Allowance (FRA). These issues, which were ultimately left unsettled, are likely headed to court and special session, respectively. 

Completed Priorities
  • Since the public health emergency is likely to be extended through the end of 2021, continuous eligibility for Medicaid likely remains in effect until at least December 31, 2021.
  • The Missouri Immunization Coalition successfully defended against legislation that would have likely reduced rates of childhood immunizations
Incomplete Priorities
  • Policymakers did not include funding in the budget to cover the full costs of the Medicaid program after voters approved Medicaid expansion in August 2020. Governor Parson withdrew the state plan amendment to pursue Medicaid expansion implementation.

Safety, Security, Families, and Community

Context: Speaker Vescovo kicked off session talking about his childhood in the foster system and his prioritization of foster issues and child welfare resulted in some big wins in this space during session.

Completed Priorities
  • $90 million in new funding was allocated to support kinship, foster, and adoptive families in the FY2022 budget.
  • $13.2 million was allocated for the courts to handle Raise the Age, $5.3 million increase for the Division of Youth Services to provide services to newly eligible 17-year-olds
  • HB 432 created a Birth Match program to ensure newborns are in safe environments if their mother has previously had parental rights terminated for due cause
  • The legislature ensured that a juvenile’s right to counsel is protected in certain circumstances
  • Raise the Age clarification was included in SB 53
  • Various pieces of food security legislation were passed including the “Farm to Food Bank” project, the “Food Security Taskforce,” allowing WIC recipients to use their benefits at farmer’s markets, and ensuring organizations like the YMCA’s have access to the Child and Adult Food Program. 
  • HB 557 created new requirements for unlicensed, faith-based homes for youth. These requirements include notification of their existence, background check requirements, parents’ access to their children, and a method to be removed when abuse and neglect is suspected.
  • Advocates successfully defended against work requirement burdens for those on SNAP and/or Medicaid.
Incomplete Priorities
  • Restoring Children’s Division budgetary cuts/restrictions and staff reductions
  • There were no opportune vehicles for inclusion of priorities such as baby courts, Guardian Ad Litem reform, community-based sentencing, and access to original birth certificates for adoptive children.

Youth Education

Context: While much discussion took place and there’s bipartisan, bicameral support of competency-based education efforts and uplifting at-risk students, education policy continued to be stuck due to education reform conversations.

Completed Priorities
  • Legislation was passed to ensure that organizations providing support services to homeless youth age 16 or older can legally assist without the youth being in fear of reported for abuse/neglect strictly because they are experiencing homelessness.

The legislature codified uniformity for parent notification for seclusion and restraint policies passed in HB 432. This bill also ensures parents are allowed to record IEP or 504 meetings for students with special needs or disabilities.

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