BY TIM SAMPSON
Missouri News Horizon
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – After months of hearings, debates and filibusters, a slew of new laws went into effect in Missouri this week. From synthetic substances and electric cars to adoptions and concealed carry rules, the new laws cover a wide swath of policy areas.
Here are some of the notable changes most likely to impact the everyday lives of Missourians:
Concealed carry age lowered
Starting this week, properly trained firearm owners no longer have to wait until their 23rd birthday to obtain a concealed carry permit. House Bill 294 lowers the age for obtaining a permit for covertly carry a firearm to 21 years of age. The measure easily passed both chambers of the Republican dominated legislature, largely on the grounds that – at 23 – Missouri previously had the highest age restriction of any concealed carry state in the country. The same bill also prohibits the state or any local government from levying a sales tax on firearms that is higher than the tax on other sporting goods.
New limits on late term abortion
Any woman seeking an abortion more than 20 weeks into her pregnancy will now face stiffer legal requirements. Senate Bill 65, which was allowed to pass into law without Gov. Jay Nixon’s signature, would make it a felony to perform an abortion in the state of Missouri after 20 weeks, unless it can be determined by two independent physicians that the mother’s health is in jeopardy or that the fetus is non-viable. It also prohibits mental health conditions from being considered as a threat to the mother’s health.
The bill passed both the House and Senate with heavy majorities, but not without sharp criticism from some lawmakers who called it a scientifically unnecessary assault on abortion rights. Critics like NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri argue that no fetus is viable at 20 weeks, and that all abortions that take place in Missouri after 20 weeks are non-elective, resulting only from medical calamities. But supporters argued that the fetus represents an independent life and that extra precautions should be taken to ensure its safety.
Synthetic pot illegal in Missouri
A statewide ban on synthetic Marijuana goes into effect this week. The ban includes substances such as K2 and bath salts that are used to create the same chemical effects as smoking Marijuana. The new law makes possession of synthetic cannabinoids a class A misdemeanor if it is less than 35 grams, and class C felony if it’s greater than that amount.
Drug testing welfare recipients
A controversial new law that requires to state to screen suspected drug users goes into effect this week. House Bill 73 requires the state department of social services to begin drug testing Missourians who receive financial assistance from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Those who test positive will lose their benefits for six months. If they enter a recovery program and test negative for drugs after the six months, they can begin receiving benefits again. However, a second failed test will lead to a three-year ban on receiving benefits.
Although most lawmakers agree the government should not subsidize drug addiction, many disagreed over the particulars of the bill. Critics say the most glaring fault is that the bill fails to appropriate more funds for drug treatment programs. They also say that testing process and the network of third party bureaucrats who will see that TANF payments are still received by the offender’s children, is too complicated and will cost the state money.
New adoption and foster parent policies
A slew of new adoption rules and initiatives will go into effect this week, with the passage of House Bill 431. Among other things, the bill directs the Children’s Division of Missouri’s Social Services Department, to expedite the licensing process for would-be foster parents who have a pre-existing relationship with the children they are seeking to adopt. It also sets new guidelines, encouraging the Children’s Division to place children with family friends when appropriate and to keep siblings together when possible. The bill also establishes the Foster Care and Adoptive Parents Recruitment and Retention Fund where Missourians can choose to donate their income tax refunds.
Emissions test exemption for electric cars
To encourage more drivers to switch to greener vehicles, the state will no longer require the owners of plug-in electric cars to submit to the mandatory emissions inspection. The exemption does not apply to hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles, only to those that can run solely on electricity. These cars will still be subject to the annual safety inspection though.