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Missouri Lawmakers Pass Computer Science, Drug Court Bills

Missouri Capitol Building
Missouri Statehouse in Jefferson City

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers passed bills during a special session Friday aimed at expanding courts for people struggling with addiction in the state and encouraging high school students to take computer science classes.

Senators voted 28-1 in favor of a measure to allow high school computer science credits to count toward a math, science or practical arts credit needed for graduation. The legislation would also create an online course intended to boost career awareness for science, technology, engineering and mathematics professions.

The treatment courts bill passed 29-0. Springfield Republican Sen. Bob Dixon, the Senate handler of the bill, said it will allow circuit courts to open treatment courts to give specialized attention to people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction and other issues.

Both measures now head to Republican Gov. Mike Parson's desk.

Parson called the special session to give lawmakers a chance to address concerns that led him to veto similar bills in July.

In a letter to lawmakers explaining his veto, Parson wrote that bidding criteria for the STEM awareness course "appear to be narrowly tailored to apply to only one company, which violates the Missouri Constitution."

House bill sponsor Rep. Travis Fitzwater told senators Thursday that the company Learning Blade would have met that criteria, but said he didn't intend for the bill to only benefit them. The new bill would require bidders to meet the majority of six criteria, instead of the original 12 benchmarks.

Republican House Speaker Todd Richardson said to compete for jobs in the 21st century, "we've got to have a trained educated workforce."

"That means up and down the skill spectrum," he told reporters Thursday. "This legislation I think is going to help us close the gap in some of the skill spectrum."

Parson wrote that he vetoed the treatment courts bill because it also dealt with issues including judicial retirement plans and efforts to clean up abandoned property, potentially violating constitutional prohibitions on including multiple subjects and changing a bill's original purpose.

The measure passed Friday only addresses treatment courts, a move backers say could reduce recidivism.

"This is getting people out of the system," Dixon said. "It's true intervention, saves money and it helps people become productive members of society."

Although both bills faced little opposition from lawmakers, some Democrats raised concerns that passing the computer science bill will allow students to graduate without any math credits.

That's because Missouri already allows students to substitute math credits for agriculture and career training courses. The state requires three math credits to graduate.

"I do think all of these course opportunities are important," Creve Coeur Democratic Sen. Jill Schupp said Friday. "But we can have kids graduating from Missouri high schools with zero math credits because they've been able to substitute all three."

She said that could mean students pay more to take remedial math classes in college.