Rep. Derek Grier was standing on the deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt watching Navy sailors launch an aircraft off the ship when he noticed how young they were.
He asked a senior officer the average age of the sailors on the aircraft carrier; 18½ was the answer.
Grier, R-Chesterfield, thought of the professional licenses in Missouri that required a minimum age older than 18.
“We will let somebody launch a $100 million fighter jet, and we won’t let them move a toilet as a master plumber in Missouri,” he said.
When he returned to the Capitol, he decided to try and remove what he calls “arbitrary age requirements” from professional licenses. But Grier isn’t a lawyer — he doesn’t usually write bills. So, he called House Research.
House and Senate Research are departments housed in the Capitol that work with lawmakers to draft legislation.
Together, he and the research department drafted a bill that removed minimum ages from most state licenses — plumbers, ironically, being a notable exception. It passed into law in 2018.
It was the first bill Grier passed, and it marked his start in the world of professional licensing. In 2019, he became chairman of the House Economic Development Committee and started looking for new ways to loosen state regulation of certain jobs.
His research led him to the Foundation for Government Accountability, a think tank based in Naples, Florida.
“I went out seeking model legislation instead of trying to create it on my own,” Grier said. “I was trying to find an organization that had already done the research and had some ideas I could use.”
Model bills are written by legislative organizations with the intention of passing the same law in multiple states, and the legislation varies in partisanship and complexity.
Lawmakers don’t have to disclose who wrote a piece of legislation, so it can be difficult to find out who the author of a bill is. Often, the bill is shaped by many different actors before it makes it to the floor for debate; lawmakers, legislative assistants, interest groups and research departments could all have a hand in writing the bill.
It’s impossible to determine how many bills filed during a legislative session are original ideas, how many are taken from other states and how many are written by interest groups. While Grier’s legislation nearly passed into law without much controversy, other model bills introduced in the Missouri legislature, like the Bible Literacy Act, have generated much more debate.
Often, interest groups write legislation on specific issues. For example, the Foundation for Government Accountability crafts conservative policies on welfare, health care and removing barriers to employment.
According to the group’s website, the FGA has passed 229 bills in 40 states. In Missouri, some of FGA’s policy goals, including work requirements for welfare and limits on Medicaid expansion, have already become law.
The model bills are available on the organization’s website.
Multiple FGA model bills were introduced during the 2019 legislative session. Grier is a vocal supporter of the organization’s work and has introduced multiple FGA model bills which would loosen requirements for professional licensing.
House Bill 470, the Expanded Workforce Access Act, would have allowed federally approved apprenticeship programs to meet the training requirement for a Missouri professional license. Grier said this would open up more opportunities for apprenticeships, which are often paid, in addition to trade schools that already fulfill the training requirement.
“Originally, my idea was, ‘I want to find more ways, more vehicles, more tools to be able to provide people with workforce training,’” Grier said, “because I know that’s a need our state has. So, rather than trying to craft and create something from scratch, I thought, ‘There’s got to be some other ideas out there that have been vetted, that have had some experts look at them.’
“So, taking that model legislation, making it more specific to Missouri, I think it’s a great opportunity for us to use what they’ve got and that they’ve already vetted through other states as well,” Grier said.
Grier also introduced the Fresh Start Act of 2019, another FGA bill which wouild loosen restrictions to professional licenses for people convicted of nonviolent felony crimes.
Both of Grier’s bills nearly passed on the last day of the legislative session but didn’t clear the final Senate vote before the session ended. He plans on reintroducing the bills in 2020.
Sen. Eric Burlison, R-Battlefield, also introduced an FGA bill last session. SB 315 would have prevented city governments from imposing any more regulations on professional licenses that the state or federal government already regulates.
A Missouri law that allows parole boards to grant early release to prisoners convicted of nonviolent crimes was originally drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.
ALEC is a conservative legislative organization that compiles model bills and hosts conferences for lawmakers. While ALEC members are not required to be conservative and any lawmaker can join, the group’s agenda includes lowering taxes, deregulating industries and increasing states’ power — priorities that correspond with Republican platforms.
Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, introduced the ALEC model bill during the 2018 session, but it didn’t pass. For the 2019 session, he and Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, who carried the bill in the Senate, held meetings with a prosecutors association, the Missouri Department of Corrections and the governor’s office to revise the legislation.
Smith said he wasn’t initially aware that the original legislation had come from ALEC.
“It has changed dramatically from a structural perspective over the course of this year,” Smith said. “It’s an original piece of legislation at this time. While the spirit of the original legislation is still largely intact, it is simply the result of a cumulative, collaborative process that is very pure and original.”
The ALEC model legislation gave judges the power to sentence nonviolent offenders to less time than required by mandatory minimum laws. In the revised version, the power lies with parole boards, which can release prisoners earlier than the mandatory minimum sentence.
The final version of the Missouri bill also specified the statute numbers of the crimes that qualify for early release, whereas the model bill is more general about the circumstances in which a person can be sentenced to less time in prison.
Smith and Emery’s legislation was wrapped into HB 192, which contains other criminal justice reform measures, and passed both chambers. It was signed into law by Gov. Mike Parson on July 9.
“I hope lawmakers are writing their bills, and if they use model policies ... I hope they change it in some way so that it’s better for their constituents,” Missouri ALEC chair Rep. Justin Hill, R-Lake Saint Louis, said. “To take up a bill and just blindly say, ‘OK, I’m going to sponsor this’ — that’s not good practice.”
Legislative conferences like the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments and the Southern Legislative Conference host events where lawmakers can learn about how other states are legislating certain issues. Lawmakers seek out ideas and bring them back to their respective legislatures.
“Every profession in the world has associations that they’re a part of, and they go to these conventions and learn and see what’s out there,” Burlison said.
The Bible bill
The Bible Literacy Act is a model bill being pushed by a coalition of national conservative Christian organizations. A version was introduced in the Missouri legislature this year.
However, Missouri lawmakers deny knowledge of the origins of the bill, pointing to other states as the source of the legislation.
The Bible Literacy Act shows how model legislation travels from state to state, with sponsors often not knowing where, how or by whom the legislation was written.
The Missourian tracked down the origins of the bill to a panel of officials representing religious groups, educators and lawmakers in Kentucky in the 1990s. The panel was put together by Democratic former Gov. Brereton Jones, said Martin Cothran, a lobbyist and spokesperson for the Family Foundation of Kentucky who served on the panel.
Cothran said the panel was a major catalyst that led a national legislative organization to draft the Bible Literacy Act, which was first introduced in the Kentucky legislature in 2010. Cothran said he did not know which legislative organization originally drafted the legislation.
Kentucky Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, was one of the sponsors of the legislation that year; it did not pass. She also introduced the bill in the Kentucky Senate in 2016 and 2017.
It wasn’t until a freshman Republican, former Rep. DJ Johnson, introduced the bill in the Kentucky House of Representatives during the 2017 session that it passed both chambers and was signed into law.
Iowa Rep. Dean Fisher saw a news story about Kentucky’s passing of the Bible Literacy Act and thought it would be a good law in his state. He took the bill’s language almost word-for-word and introduced it in Iowa in the 2018 and 2019 sessions. It has not been passed into law.
Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, said he had the idea to teach the Bible in a historical and literary context before hearing that other states had passed legislation.
As a former history teacher, he said students often missed Biblical references or influence in American historical documents. When he heard about the legislation introduced in Kentucky and Iowa, he decided to bring the Bible Literacy Act to Missouri.
“I took both of those bills, looked at it and kind of modified it for Missouri,” Baker said. “So there is a lot of the same language in the bills in other states.”
Meanwhile, in 2016, a group of national Christian organizations launched Project Blitz, a movement to enact pro-Christian legislation in all states. The National Legal Foundation, Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation and the WallBuilders’ ProFamily Legislative Network put together a document including 21 model acts and resolutions. The Bible Literacy Act is one of them.
It’s not clear how the Bible Literacy Act ended up in the Project Blitz document. Baker, Fisher and Johnson all denied knowledge of Project Blitz and said the national organizations had not reached out to them about introducing the Bible Literacy Act and other Project Blitz bills.
Of the organizations involved in Project Blitz, the National Legal Foundation was the only one to respond to requests for comment.
“We do not proactively connect with state legislators, as drafting is our only role,” NLF president Steven W. Fitschen said in an email. “We might talk to state legislators who contact us about issues of drafting, but that has not happened with any Missouri legislators.”
Sometimes model bills are introduced essentially word-for-word, with only stylistic changes made. Other times, the model bills are starting points for lawmakers, who change the wording as they wish.
The Project Blitz document also provides guidance to lawmakers who want to adopt the model bills in their respective states.
The “Stylistic Notes” portion of the document directs lawmakers to alter the model bills to fit their states’ requirements for formatting legislation. It also suggests that lawmakers look at existing law to determine if the model bill must be worked into existing codes or if it will stand alone as a new section of law.
Supervising editor is Mark Horvit.