State Capitol News

Showdown looms over prescription drug monitoring program

 — Even as a Senate committee approved a proposed prescription drug monitoring program, a potential showdown on the bill’s fate was playing out behind the scenes.

House Bill 90, sponsored by Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, would create an electronic log that monitors prescription drug users through physicians and dispensers. 

In a hearing Thursday morning, Rehder presented her bill to the Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee. The committee fast-tracked the bill, passing it 7-0.

The bill passed in the House last week and will now go to the Senate floor, where it was previously expected to receive strong opposition from Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph.

Schaaf has successfully stalled progress on PDMP plans in past sessions, citing privacy concerns over putting people’s sensitive medical records into a database that could be hacked.

Schaaf announced in a press conference Tuesday that he would retract his opposition to the bill, but he included a condition: an amendment to the bill mandating that physicians use the program.

“I won’t block the bill if that amendment is on there,” Schaaf said Thursday morning.

Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, will handle the bill in the Senate. He said he plans to propose an amendment that would create such a mandate.

The Tuesday announcement came as a surprise to Rehder, but she hasn’t voiced opposition to the potential amendment. 

In an interview earlier this week, Rehder said that the wording of a doctor mandate is key.

“We don’t want to get in between our physicians with their patient care,” Rehder said. “This is a clinical tool, it does not need to be turned into some form of, you know, ‘Oh well now we’re worried about all the doctors, if they’re checking the database as often as they should.’ We need to allow some of the medical decisions to be in the hands of our doctors.”

The mandate has received opposition from the Missouri State Medical Association, which previously testified in favor of the bill.


State unveils new tactics to battle human trafficking


Calling human trafficking “modern-day slavery,” a group of law enforcement officials and advocates gathered Monday to unveil a series of steps designed to combat the problem.

The measures, detailed by state Attorney General Josh Hawley, include new consumer protection rules, an anti-trafficking unit and an anti-trafficking task force.

“This is the message I have for the traffickers: Do not come to our state. Do not prey upon our children. Do not commit your crimes here. If you do, we will find you out, and we will prosecute you,” Hawley said during an announcement at a St. Louis-area safe house for victims of trafficking.

The new consumer protection rules will target several areas: the use of businesses as “fronts” for trafficking; debt bondage, in which traffickers lend money or other valuables to a victim and then use it to coerce them into prostitution or forced labor; and bringing people to Missouri under the pretense of a fake job. The measures also provide for new civil and criminal penalties for traffickers.

The duty of reinforcing these new consumer protection rules will be assigned to a new anti-trafficking unit in the Attorney General’s office, which will include local prosecutors and law enforcement officials.

As head of a new permanent task force, Hawley will work with a team composed of law enforcement officials, local prosecutors, social-service providers, victims’ advocates and individual human-trafficking survivors.

Funding for the initiative will come from the attorney general office’s consumer protection funds.

Task force member Chief Danny Whiteley of the Poplar Bluff Police Department said the similarities between trafficking today and that of the past is disturbing.

”Human trafficking is nothing short of modern day slavery. It has no gender, racial or age limitation,” Whiteley said.

Hawley echoed the sentiment, saying, “This is really a modern day abolitionist movement.”

Whiteley also stressed the importance of looking at the issue from a financial perspective.

”To cut the head of the snake off, and make a difference, it’s just like a narcotics investigation. You always have to follow the money trail,” Whiteley said.


Lawmakers consider proposal to rank Missouri hospitals for neonatal care


Expectant mothers in Missouri would be able to compare the level of care available at hospitals statewide if lawmakers approve a bill requiring maternal and neonatal rankings.

Under House Bill 58, Missouri hospitals would be given rankings in regard to the ability of the facility to treat varying levels of risk in the maternal and neonatal care they can provide, with level 1 being the most basic and level 4 the most specialized in high-risk pregnancies. These levels would be determined by an already established risk-level standards set by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

“We’ve done the same with identifying levels of care for stroke patients, for heart patients, trauma centers, why not for prenatal?” sponsor of the bill, Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-St. Louis, said during a Senate committee hearing Wednesday. Haefner’s bill has passed the House and now needs Senate approval.

Haefner said Missourians would be able to access this information online and would then be able to determine with their physicians which hospital would best meet the needs of the pregnancy.

In addition, the bill also cites that the ranking processes would not take into account counseling for pregnancy terminations or referrals for pregnancy terminations.

”It was important to me that this process had nothing to do with counseling or referrals for abortion,” Haefner said. “That it’s strictly, if you have identified the problem (with a pregnancy), these are your options for levels of care, not to take it a step further and be able to counsel or give referrals for abortions.”


After chiding, UM System avoids further cuts in House budget

After a firm scolding, the University of Missouri System escaped further punishment from lawmakers Tuesday.

One of the largest lines in the higher education budget is the UM System, which had a bullseye on its back during this tight fiscal year. Many lawmakers nocked their arrows and aimed at the UM system to try and move money to other, smaller programs. They all missed their mark.

As bill amendments were debated on the House floor, many lawmakers voiced their displeasure with the system.

They cited a state auditor’s report that was critical of $2 million in bonuses and voiced long-simmering frustrations with the system. Despite the complaints, several lawmakers argued that cutting money from the system now would be like beating a dead horse.

House Budget Chair Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, said any more money beyond the $50 million already slated to be cut  would be “beyond punitive deductions” and that making additional cuts would create more pressure to raise tuition.


Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, proposed two amendments that would have stripped money from the system. One would have moved money to a program that would try to attract senior citizens to Missouri. The other would go toward a program that helps families cover childcare costs.

Even though both amendments failed overwhelmingly, they sparked intense reactions from lawmakers across both aisles in the House.

Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson, House Higher Education Committee chair, said “This nonsense has to stop. The university has heard what we have said to them. Let’s give them a chance to turn themselves around.” She said that lawmakers can’t continue to “dig, dig, dig at the University of Missouri.”


State considers next steps to combat intern harassment

Three years ago, Gina Walsh wouldn’t have wanted her daughters working at the state Capitol.

Today, the state senator from Bellefontaine Neighbors said, “It’s a much more professional workplace.”

Marga Hoelscher said she believes the General Assembly’s priorities have shifted. 

”We want to make sure our work environment is not a hostile environment for anyone who comes in the Capitol to do business,” Hoelscher, Senate administrator, said. “Twenty-five years ago, we didn’t talk about it like that.”

It’s been nearly two years since former Missouri House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and Country, admitted to inappropriately texting a college freshman intern.

Just over two months later, in July 2015, two interns accused Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, of repeated sexual harassment.

“It was the first time I’d ever encountered anything like what was happening at the Capitol,” Robynn Kuhlmann, intern coordinator at the University of Central Missouri, said. What followed was a thorough education on Title IX and intern rights. 

Criticism descended on the statehouse as details of the two scandals came to light. Other women stepped forward, sharing their stories of harassment while working at the Capitol. U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill divulged her experience with workplace harassment as a statehouse intern.

McCaskill suggested creating a hotline for interns, should they need help, and even donated $10,000 in December 2015 to the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence to develop resources.

Spearheaded by current House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, Capitol administrators and legislative leadership have pushed key policy changes, turning to the Women’s Foundation, a Kansas City nonprofit, for counsel.

House and Senate employee handbooks now more clearly outline what constitutes harassment and how complaints are reported. House members, their staff and interns go through yearly in-person sexual harassment prevention training.

The Senate already had online training in place. 

Outside of the Capitol, sexual violence prevention experts are working on compiling resources for interns, and women in government have taken it upon themselves to mentor interns starting their careers.

Equity activists and training specialists approve of the Capitol changes as a baseline measure, but call on the legislature to “continue the conversation” beyond the realm of training.

But what does it mean to continue the conversation, and how do you effectively do that, especially when dealing with a topic as sensitive as sexual harassment?

The simple answer? It’s complicated.

”Think of an organizational culture as a blanket, a fabric that crafts the organization,” Debbie Dougherty, interim chair of MU’s Department of Communication, said. “It’s all-encompassing. It’s woven together. Trying to rip a hole through the fabric to reshape it is a really hard process. And that’s what sexual harassment policies are attempting to do.”