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Missouri lawmakers rush in final hours of 2020 session

The Associated Press//May 15, 2020

Missouri lawmakers rush in final hours of 2020 session

The Associated Press//May 15, 2020

Missouri lawmakers have only hours left to pass bills before their 6 p.m. Friday deadline after an unprecedented 2020 session stunted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Lawmakers left the Capitol mid-session for a weekslong break aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19. They returned — some wearing masks, others not — days before Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s statewide stay-at-home order expired May 3.

Still pending this session is legislation to allow voters to request mail-in ballots for upcoming elections if they’re concerned about heading to possibly crowded polls on Election Day.

Voters currently can request absentee ballots if they provide an excuse. Illness is one option, and election authorities in areas including Boone County and St. Louis County have said all voters can use that excuse to request an absentee ballot because of the pandemic.

But the law isn’t explicit on whether the illness excuse would cover healthy voters who are concerned about catching or spreading COVID-19, and voters in other parts of the state might not be able to get an absentee ballot for that reason.

The election bill would allow any voter to request to vote by mail, although they would still need to get the ballot notarized.

A pending crime bill has divided lawmakers. Among a wide range of other provisions, it would ramp up penalties for possession and selling of the powerful opioid fentanyl.

Under the bill, people caught with fentanyl could face up to 15 years in prison. Supporters argued it’s needed to curb overdose deaths, but critics slammed the policy as a tough-on-crime approach that would address addiction with lengthy prison sentences.

Lawmakers are still trying to make Missouri the last state to adopt a prescription database to track addictive medications.

Supporters say the goal of a prescription drug monitoring program is to alert doctors of potential medication misuse so they can treat patients with addictions, but Republican skeptics for years have fought against creating a database over concerns about the privacy of patient data.

Few bills have made it across the finish line so far during lawmaker’s roughly five month session, although the Republican-led Legislature this week succeeded in sending a new redistricting plan to the ballot that will ask voters to undo key parts of another redistricting measure they passed less than two years ago.

Supporters wanted to accomplish the move this year because new state House and Senate districts will be drawn in 2021.

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