Jul 17, 2023

Missouri drivers can't text on the road, and other new laws

City of St. Louis Water Division workers stand over a pit containing a broken water main on Monday, June 12, 2023, at the intersection of Plainview Avenue and Chippewa Street.

JEFFERSON CITY — A ban on texting and driving and the removal of residency requirements for St. Louis city workers are among dozens of new Missouri laws taking effect Monday following this year’s legislative session.

The list of new laws ranges from controversial restrictions on transgender medical care, to lesser-known initiatives designed to encourage new farming operations and incentivize film production in Missouri.

One major impact for St. Louis is the removal of the residency requirements for city workers — a change to state law sought by Mayor Tishaura O. Jones as the city struggles to recruit essential workers.

The new law builds on a 2020 change that allowed first responders to reside outside city limits. The law taking effect Monday still says the city can require workers to live within an hour response time.

Missouri on Monday also becomes the 49th state to ban texting and driving for all drivers; previous restrictions only applied to motorists younger than 21.

But law enforcement will only be issuing warnings for the offense until Jan. 1, 2025.

And police will not be able to stop someone only for texting and driving. To be cited, someone will have to commit another traffic violation, such as running a stop sign, before being pulled over and cited for texting and driving.

Still, Missouri Department of Transportation officials highlighted the new law in a news release last week, saying that too many deaths on the roadways had been caused by distracted drivers.

MoDOT said that between 2012 and 2021, the state recorded nearly 200,000 distracted driving accidents that resulted in more than 800 fatalities.

“We’ve seen a troubling and unacceptable trend of distracted driving crashes in recent years, and sadly, more times than not, someone other than the distracted driver was killed,” said Nicole Hood, MoDOT state highway safety and traffic engineer.

The new law prohibits motorists from holding or supporting a cellphone while they drive, with certain exceptions such as accessing a map on a phone or reporting an emergency to law enforcement.

“The passage of the law provides law enforcement officers with an additional tool to help stop motorists from being distracted by their cellphones,” said Capt. John Hotz, spokesman for the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

The patrol, he said, “will continue to focus on educating the public about the dangers of distracted driving to prevent traffic crashes from occurring.”

A long list of initiatives was scheduled to take effect Monday, including:

Bible courses: Public schools will be able to offer elective courses on the Old Testament and New Testament of the Bible. Students will be able to use a preferred text translation different than one selected by their school, and the law says schools will need to follow “applicable law and all federal and state guidelines in maintaining religious neutrality.” (Senate Bill 34)

Transgender athletics: Student-athletes in Missouri will only be allowed to compete on sports teams according to the sex on their birth certificate, or other government record. The Missouri State High School Activities Association has changed its policy to comply with the new state law, which also applies to public and private colleges. (Senate Bill 39)

Transgender health care: Minors who aren’t currently prescribed puberty blockers or hormone therapy for gender transition will not be able to access the treatments in Missouri for four years. A state judge on Friday declined to temporarily block the law. (Senate Bill 49)

Name, image, likeness: One of the country’s least-restrictive laws on how college athletes may profit from their name, image and likeness takes effect. “This bill represents another step forward in allowing us to be extremely competitive in the NIL landscape,” Missouri Tigers football coach Eli Drinkwitz said. Said state Rep. Kurtis Gregory, R-Marshall: “This is the new arms race.” (House Bill 417)

Vehicle sales tax: Car dealerships will eventually collect and remit to the state sales taxes due on cars, which proponents say will help address the proliferation of expired temporary license plate tags in Missouri. (Senate Bill 398)

Physical therapists: Patients are now able to visit a physical therapist without a referral from a physician, subject to certain conditions. (Senate Bills 51, 70, 106, 157 and House Bill 115)

Film tax credits: A decade after the program ended, Missouri is bringing back tax credits to lure more film production to the state. (Senate Bill 94)

Farmer benefits: Farmers who sell, lease or engage in crop-sharing with a beginning farmer may claim an income tax deduction. (Senate Bill 138 and House Bill 202)

Adoption tax credits: A new law will remove a $6 million annual cap on adoption tax credits. A $10,000 per child tax credit for adoption expenses will increase with inflation. The credit will be refundable in 2024, meaning adoptive parents could receive money back from the state. (Senate Bill 24)

Transitional benefits: A new law establishes “transitional benefits” for food stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Proponents said the change would end the need for some families to reject small raises or promotions because a pay increase could eliminate their welfare benefits completely. (Senate Bills 45 and 106)

Animal chiropractors: Animal chiropractors will be able to practice without having to obtain a veterinarian license. The animal chiropractors will be regulated by the State Board of Chiropractic Examiners and animals will need a referral from a veterinarian before receiving services. (Senate Bill 157)

PTSD compensation: First responders will be able to access worker’s compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder under one law taking effect. Preexisting diagnoses will not qualify. (Senate Bill 24)

Judicial privacy: A new law prohibits the soliciting, selling or trading on the internet of a judicial officer’s personal information to harass, intimidate or influence the officer “with the intent to pose an imminent and serious threat to the health and safety of the judicial officer or the judicial officer’s immediate family.” (Senate Bill 103)

Livestock transport: Lawmakers created the new crime of interference with transportation of livestock in response to one lawmaker’s concern over protesters disrupting a St. Joseph meat packer’s operations. Someone’s first offense is a Class E felony while subsequent offenses are Class C felonies. (Senate Bill 186)

Drug masking: Distribution of a “drug masking product” such as synthetic urine “to defraud an alcohol or drug screening test” is now a Class A misdemeanor. The new law was approved amid lobbying by Quest Diagnostics, which performs employee drug tests and said inconclusive tests can cost companies. (Senate Bill 186)

Missouri's Legislature reflects the federal structure in many ways. Video by Beth O'Malley

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Jefferson City reporter

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Bible courses:Transgender athletics:Transgender health care:Name, image, likeness:Vehicle sales tax:Physical therapists:Film tax credits:Farmer benefits:Adoption tax credits:Transitional benefits:Animal chiropractors:PTSD compensation:Judicial privacy:Livestock transport:Drug masking: