Pictured above: Rep. Doug Beck, D-Affton, left, and Rep. Sarah Unsicker, D-Shrewsbury, right, discuss the highs and the lows of the 2019 legislative session during a town hall meeting at the Affton Elks Lodge. Photo by Erin Achenbach.
By Erin Achenbach
State representatives Doug Beck, D-Affton, and Sarah Unsicker, D-Shrewsbury, held a joint town hall this summer to discuss the highs and lows of this year’s legislative session.
Beck represents Affton and Concord Village in Jefferson City, and Unsicker’s district includes Crestwood. They were both elected to their first terms in 2016 and re-elected in 2018.
Beck and Unsicker discussed bills that passed during session, good and bad, as well as legislation that didn’t pass, and took questions from a room of around 30 people at the Affton Elks Lodge. The town hall was held a few weeks after the 2019 legislative session ended May 17.
To start the town hall, Unsicker highlighted “Nathan’s Law,” which affects daycare facilities and expands the authority of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Nathan’s Law, championed by Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, limits the total number of children in an in-home daycare facility to six, with no more than three under the age of 2. Facilities that violate the law would face a misdemeanor and possible fines. Continual violators could face prison.
The legislation is named after Nathan Blecha, who died in 2007 from suffocation at an in-home daycare facility serving 10 children in Jefferson County. The law was added to House Bill 397, sponsored by Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold.
“We only have three bills that we consider good that passed, and that was one,” Beck said of Democrats, who are far outnumbered by a Republican supermajority.
Beck said the other “good” bills for Democrats included legislation that expands the list of nonviolent criminal offenses that can be expunged from someone’s record and legislation that does not allow counties to threaten additional jail time over a defendant’s failure to pay jail debt.
Unsicker pointed out a tort reform bill that passed that would make it more difficult for an individual to get in front of a judge if they are harmed by a product and make it more difficult to file a class-action lawsuit. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, requires individuals to claim where they live, where they are injured, or the main place of business of the defendant. It also requires those who want to join cases to have been injured in the same instance or the same circumstances.
Unsicker also lamented drops in Medicaid enrollment across the state. In 2018, enrollment across the country dropped 2.6 percent, but dropped by 7.2 percent in Missouri.
“Another bad thing that happened this year that didn’t get a lot of coverage in the Missouri House or Senate… is Medicaid. I think about 70,000 people, over 50,000 of them children, were dropped from the Medicaid rolls last year. These are children who are eligible for Medicaid… but because of the state’s mistakes, they are no longer receiving Medicaid and they had to reapply, and the application process can take months,” said Unsicker. “This year, January through April, 18,000 additional children were dropped from Medicaid. And 9,000 of those were in April of this year. This is over 10 percent of the children who are receiving Medicaid.”
Unsicker said the numbers were concerning and that she was working to see why the drops were happening and what she could do about it. In 2018, the state said drops in enrollment were due to several factors, including an improved economy.
A piece of legislation that Beck and Unsicker were happy not to see pass would have changed the state’s Sunshine Law.
An amendment added to House Bill 445 by Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, would have made communications between public officials at all levels of government and their constituents largely immune to public-records requests by classifying as closed any communication between constituents and public officials or communications on pending legislation.
The bill that the amendment was added to was sponsored by Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, and would have extended lobbying restrictions to local governments. The bill did not make it out of the Senate.
One audience member asked about a $301 million bonding bill for bridges passed by the Legislature, and what would be in it for the St. Louis region.
“It’s all rural. All that is rural,” replied Beck. “They’re saying it’s going to free up other money from MoDOT (Missouri Department of Transportation) that we can use here in the cities, but this is all for the rural areas.”
Michael Burton, an Affton resident who briefly ran last year for the 5th District County Council seat, asked why legislation in both the House and the Senate to create a statewide prescription drug monitoring program failed to pass. Unsicker said opponents of the bill felt it was a privacy issue. Missouri is the only state in the country that does not have a statewide prescription drug registry.
Both Beck and Unsicker were elected to their second two-year term as representatives in November 2018. Beck announced in January of this year that he plans to run for state Senate District 1. The seat is currently held by Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton, who will be term-limited.