Lawmakers started filing bills for the 2023 legislative session that showed a renewed focus on some of 2022’s most dominating issues. (File photo)

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Missouri lawmakers are hard at work preparing for the 2023 legislative session, with  instructional content in schools, gun safety, participation in school sports and citizens’ ability to shape public policy emerging as top issues. 

Legislators began prefiling bills on those topics and more on Dec. 1 with hopes that early filing would increase the chances of their bills being heard early in the session.

In the legislature, any lawmaker in the House or Senate is welcome to file a bill relating to any topic. Hundreds of bills are filed for each session, and multiple bills on the same topics often get combined into a larger legislative package as the 2023 legislative session progresses. 

While many bills deal with state finances and matters of interest to local communities, the General Assembly in recent years has been dominated by hot-button issues including abortion access, school choice and parental rights and issues regarding transgender and nonbinary children and teenagers. Some of those topics appear set to be center stage again in 2023, along with possible attempts to limit citizens’ ability to place initiative petitions and referendums on statewide ballots.

  • Gun access and public safety
  • Policing
  • Education
  • School sports
  • Civil engagement
  • Women’s health care
  • Abortion

Gun access and public safety

In Missouri’s Republican-dominated legislature, bills regarding firearms access often lean toward granting gun owners more rights and curbing efforts to regulate gun sales and possession. 

Some of those efforts will continue into the 2023 legislative session. In the Senate, Harrisonville Republican Rick Brattin introduced a bill that would require companies that contract with a public agency to have a written policy stating they do not discriminate against a firearm group or firearm trade association. Sen.-elect Nick Schroer, a Republican from St. Charles County, introduced a bill to allow the carrying of concealed weapons on public transportation. 

But with crime high in many parts of the state and the St. Louis area reeling from a late October school shooting that killed a student and a teacher and wounded several other people, some lawmakers are calling for tighter controls on gun ownership, as well as school safety measures.

Rep. David Tyson Smith, a Democrat from Columbia, introduced a bill to prevent the selling or purchasing of semi- and fully automatic firearms by anyone under 20. 

A bill introduced by Rep. Mark Sharp, a Democrat from south Kansas City, would direct the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to build a model for a “controlled access entryway system” in the state’s public and charter schools. The bill is written to be put into place by 2024. 

The system would require all exterior doors to be locked and access to the school limited to the main entryway, where an intercom system would allow parents and visitors to communicate with the school’s administration. 

St. Louis Rep. Peter Merideth, a Democrat, introduced a constitutional amendment, which would need to be approved by voters, requiring a background check for all firearm transfers and a permit to conceal and carry a gun. 

Control of police forces still an issue

Missourians in November approved Amendment 4, which allows the state legislature to set the threshold for how much municipal funding the Kansas City Police Department must receive from city government. 

Control of the Kansas City Police Department is primarily in the hands of the Board of Police Commissioners, whose members are appointees from the governor’s office and the city’s mayor. Despite calls in Kansas City for local control, no bills have been filed so far to accomplish that. 

But, while Kansas City is now the nation’s only major city whose police force is under state control, Missouri also ran St. Louis’ police department until 2012, when a successful ballot initiative handed control of the department to St. Louis city government.

Now, a handful of bills have been introduced to bring STLPD back under state control. Republican Reps. Justin Sparks of Wildwood, Jeff Myers of Warrenton and Chad Perkins of Bowling Green have introduced legislation to return control of the STLPD “back to the Board of Police Commissioners.” 

Education issues still of keen interest

One bill, introduced by Rep. Brad Hudson, a Republican from Cape Fair, would require a school district or charter school to notify parents of the curriculum, materials, tests, surveys or activity 3or instruction of any kind relating to sexual orientation, human sexuality or gender identify. 

Parents would be able to remove their student from any part of the district’s instruction related to those topics, no matter what class that information was taught in. 

The district would also need to make the materials available for public inspection. 

Another bill, introduced by Rep. Ed Lewis, a Republican from Moberly, would establish a minimum teacher salary starting at $34,000 for beginning teachers in the 2024 school year. It would increase by $2,000 until the 2026 school year. Teachers with a master’s degree and at least 10 years experience would have a minimum salary of $42,000 that increased by $2,000 until the 2026 school year. 

After the 2026-2027 school year, minimum salaries would be adjusted annually by the percentage increase in inflation. 

Lewis also introduced bills to allow districts to create different salary schedules for teachers and to authorize a tax deduction for certain teachers. 

Rep. Patty Lewis, a Democrat from Kansas City, filed a bill to provide free period products at no cost for middle and high school students in public school districts and charter schools.

School sports participation up for debate again

Participation in high school sports has been top of mind for some lawmakers for a couple of years, and the interest shows no sign of dying down.

Rep. Brian Seitz, a Republican from Branson, introduced a bill dubbed the Save Women’s Sports Act, which would apply to private, public and charter schools that participate in the Missouri State High School Activities Association, or MSHSAA. 

The bill outlines that every MSHSAA sport should be designated for boys only, girls only or coed. 

The bill would require parents to sign an affidavit acknowledging the biological sex of their child at birth. 

If a student who was a biological male played on a girls sports team, a member of the opposing team would be able to have a cause of action for pursuing monetary damages due to “direct or indirect harm” caused by the violation. 

Similar versions of the bill were introduced by multiple members of the Senate. 

A bill introduced by Republican Rep. Jamie Burger of Benton would simply prohibit students who were not assigned the female sex at birth from participating in girls sports. It would allow female students to play in competitions designed for male students if no other equivalent is offered. 

Under Burger’s bill, districts that violate the hypothetical law would not receive state aid.

Barriers to civil engagement

Several bills have been filed to increase the number of signatures required for a citizens’ initiative to qualify for the ballot to be voted on by Missourians. Because it would change the process involving constitutional amendments, any bill passed regarding the threshold would need to be approved again by voters. 

One resolution, introduced by Rep. Hardy Billington, a Republican from Poplar Bluff, would increase the number of signatures required to 15% of legal voters in each congressional district, instead of 8% of legal voters from two-thirds of the state’s congressional districts. 

Some new requirements for petition signatures were also introduced in the Senate. 

Another resolution would require two-thirds approval from voters at the ballot when voting on a constitutional amendment, not a simple majority of 50% as currently required.
In another proposed structural change, Sen. Travis Fitzwater, a Republican from mid-Missouri,  filed a resolution to reduce the membership of the House of Representatives from 163 members to 136 members. It would also allow someone to serve up to 12 years total in the General Assembly. Members can currently extend their length of service by moving from one legislative chamber to another.

Women’s health care bills gain bipartisan support

One area that has prompted some bipartisan support is women’s health care. Across the Senate and House, members of both parties introduced various bills to extend coverage under Missouri’s Medicaid program for postpartum women up to 12 months. 

A number of different bills were also introduced to reduce taxes on diapers and feminine hygiene products. Kansas City Reps. Sharp and Maggie Nurrenbern, as well as Rep. Jo Doll, a Democrat from St. Louis County, all filed bills aiming to reduce the tax for those products. 

Another bill, introduced by Doll, would include mental health screenings as a part of perinatal care in Missouri. The Department of Health and Senior Services would be required to establish guidelines for health care professionals treating mental illness during pregnancy. 

Some lawmakers are also introducing bills to require insurance coverage for fertility treatments. 

Abortion banned in Missouri, but still of interest in the 2023 legislative session

Seitz, the Republican from Branson, introduced a number of bills relating to abortion in Missouri, which was banned outright over the summer after the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional precedent set in Roe v. Wade. In the 2022 session, Seitz introduced a bill to prohibit abortions in the case of ectopic pregnancies. Then-Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden said the bill was dead on arrival at the time. 

One bill would make it a Class B felony to import, export, distribute or deliver abortion-inducing drugs. The bill would only prosecute those who imported, exported or distributed the drug, not the person seeking it or taking it to induce an abortion. 

It would also make it illegal for an out-of-state wholesale drug distributor or third-party coordinator to deliver an abortion-inducing drug to a Missouri resident via mail, carrier service or any other delivery service. 

In the Senate, Democrat Greg Razer of Kansas City introduced a bill to exclude the use of birth control to prevent pregnancy from the definition of “abortion” in state law. It would also include life-threatening ectopic pregnancies in the definition of “medical emergency,” which is the only instance in which an abortion can take place in Missouri.

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MEG CUNNINGHAM is The Beacon’s Missouri Statehouse reporter. Previously, Meg worked as a national politics reporter for ABC News in Washington, D.C., where she covered campaigns and elections. Meg is...