Tim Taylor's Capitol Report: House Moves to Protect Children in Unlicensed Residential Care Facilities

Tim Taylor
Special to the Boonville Daily News
Missouri 48th District Representative Tim Taylor writes in his Capitol Report on how the House moved to protect children in unlicensed residential care facilities

It has been a great week. It started with a visit from the Boonville Lady Pirates on Tuesday, March 23rd. It was a pleasure to introduce them on the House Floor and to present the 2021 State’s Class 4 Girls’ Basketball Champions with a House Resolution. I would like to encourage my constituents to visit the Missouri State Capitol. 

House Moves to Protect Children in Unlicensed Residential Care Facilities (HBs 557 & 560) 

The news that children in some unlicensed residential care facilities have suffered mental, physical, and sexual abuse has prompted legislators to take quick action to create stronger protections for young people in faith-based reform schools. This week the House gave initial approval to a bill that would create stronger oversight for boarding schools run by religious organizations. 

An exemption in current law allowed residential care facilities managed by a religious organization to operate without supervision. This allowed some bad actors to set up reform schools with no oversight from the state. The sponsor of the bill noted these bad actors came here because Missouri is one of only two states that had such an exemption. 

The issues with the unlicensed facilities were brought to light by the media, which then prompted the House Children and Families Committee to conduct hearings to investigate further. Most recently, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a total of 102 criminal charges, including rape, sodomy, and physical abuse, against the operators of the Circle of Hope Girls Ranch. The attorney general’s office is also working to assist authorities in Cedar County with an investigation of the Agape Boarding School, which has also received allegations of abuse. 

The bill approved by the House will ensure anyone working or volunteering at an unlicensed facility is subjected to a federal criminal background check. It requires all such facilities to notify the Department of Social Services of their existence and to comply with provisions that protect the safety of the children in residence. Additionally, the bill outlines a process to allow the department to intervene when there are allegations of abuse or neglect. 

“I have great respect for these religious organizations. There are a lot of good ones out there. The trouble is with no supervision, the bad ones are going to destroy the reputations of the good ones, or worse, they’re going to cause more regulations,” said the sponsor. 

The bill requires another vote in the House before moving to the Senate for consideration. 

Other Bills Sent to the Senate 

HB 738 makes numerous changes to the state’s election laws. The bill authorizes the Secretary of State (SOS) to audit voter registration lists and require election authorities to remove improper names. Beginning January 1, 2022, it requires the use of a paper ballot and repeals electronic voting system language with certain exceptions for voting equipment used for the disabled. It allows use of absentee ballots without stating a reason beginning the third Tuesday before an election provided that photo identification is provided or other exceptions are met. The bill also specifies photographic identification requirements for voting a regular ballot, but allows use of provisional ballots with any type of documentation currently allowed for voting. Supporters say the bill will ensure fair and secure elections in Missouri. Most of the measures are designed to combat actual problems and attempts at fraud personally witnessed by the sponsor in past years. The use of hand-marked paper ballots will greatly help in securing elections and providing an audit trail. Photographic identification provisions are modified in accordance with court rulings so that they can be implemented. The bill will provide assurance to the general public that Missouri elections will not be questioned in the same way as other state elections. 

HB 228 prevents any public school districts and charter schools from prohibiting a parent or guardian from audio recording any meeting held under the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or a Section 504 plan meeting (Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973). Supporters say it is currently against the law to not allow the recording of these meetings, and these meetings include very detailed and complex amounts of information. Having a recording benefits the students and parents. Several other states have specific policies that allow recording of meetings and Missouri statutes need to clarify that recording these meetings for personal use is allowed. 

To view all bills/legislation go to house.mo.gov and click on Legislation. You can search by bill number and/or keyword. 

It is my honor to serve the constituents of District 48. If you ever have questions, concerns, or input, please feel free to contact me at any time at (573) 751-0169 or you can reach my Legislator Assistant, June, at June.Cardwell@house.mo.gov.