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Going through registration process

A worker puts a sticker on a new license plate at the Central West End Driver License and Vehicle Registration Office at 3917 Lindell Boulevard in St. Louis on Monday, March 25, 2019. To renew license plates in Missouri, safety and emissions tests often are required, as is showing proof of insurance and a paid personal property tax receipt as well as paying registration and processing fees. Photo by Cristina M. Fletes, cfletes@post-dispatch.com.

JEFFERSON CITY — Fewer of those dreaded car inspections but higher fees for driver’s licenses are in store for Missouri motorists when a slew of new laws goes into effect .

Wednesday marks the traditional day that legislation signed by the governor begins being enforced. Residents of the Show-Me State will see a range of changes, including an incentive package designed to lure General Motors to make more investments in its Wentzville truck plant, tougher fines for poaching and the renaming of two state agencies.

Here’s a rundown of some of the new laws:

Jail debts

Local courts across Missouri will not be allowed to put people behind bars for failing to pay jail debts under a law that does away with hearings at which defendants must explain to a judge why they should not be locked up for failure to pay jail “board bills.”

Those bills, charged for the cost of imprisonment, can total thousands of dollars.

In some Missouri courts, if defendants do not show up at the hearings, or fail to make payments on their jail debt, they risk reincarceration — and additional jail bills — even after fulfilling their original sentence.

The practice persisted in some local courts, even after the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in March that "the failure to pay that debt cannot result in another incarceration."

Starting Wednesday, jailers will be required to go through a civil-collection process to collect board bills.

The practice of jailing people who didn’t pay their board bills was exposed in a series of columns last year by Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger.

Vehicle inspections

An estimated 1.1 million additional vehicles will be able to traverse Missouri roads without a state-mandated safety inspection.

Current law requires every-other-year inspections for vehicles more than 5 years old. The new law requires inspections for vehicles more than 10 years old, or with at least 150,000 miles.

The change affects more than one-fifth of the roughly 5.1 million vehicles registered in the state, according to a nonpartisan fiscal analysis of the proposal.

Rep. J. Eggleston, R-Maysville, who sponsored the legislation, said the inspection requirement presents a “significant burden” to Missourians. He said in addition to the inspection fee, motorists have to take time off work to get their vehicles inspected.

License fees

In a move designed to help privately operated license offices stay afloat in rural areas, Gov. Mike Parson signed legislation that will boost how much those offices may charge in processing fees.

The fee those offices can charge for handling an annual registration will increase to $6 from $3.50, while the fee for a biennial registration will go to $12 from $7.

The processing fee for a three-year driver’s license will rise to $6 from $2.50. For a driver’s license longer than three years, the fee climbs to $12 from $5.

The fees those offices may charge for title transfers, instructional permits and other specialty licenses will go to $6 from $2.50 under the new law, which was sponsored by Rep. Jeff Knight, R-Lebanon.

The increases are the first in 20 years and license office operators say they will offset rising costs, such as an increase in the minimum wage and the cost of office supplies.

Missouri has 177 license offices that process millions of transactions each year. With most of the costs fixed or rising, operators often only can manipulate their labor costs to make profits.

General Motors

The United States’ largest automaker is poised to get $50 million in state tax subsidies to invest in its St. Charles County truck plant, as part of a package of incentives approved by lawmakers and signed by Parson.

The package is designed to give GM $5 million a year in tax credits over a 10-year period if the company invests at least $750 million in its Wentzville assembly plant.

The facility employs about 3,500 workers and supports more than 12,000 employees at 178 suppliers in Missouri.

Workforce development

A new $10 million scholarship program for adults wanting to retrain for high-demand jobs will get underway as part of a push by Parson to boost the state’s workforce.

Dubbed “Fast Track,” the job training program will cover the cost of tuition and fees for degrees and vocational certificates for in-demand jobs for adults over the age of 25.

Parson said the new program will not only benefit workers, but also will help businesses that cannot fill vacancies because of a lack of trained workers.

The law also has two other economic development programs the Republican governor sought, including a “deal closing fund” that could be tapped by his administration without legislative approval to attract companies to the state.

Name changes

A name change is in store at the Missouri Department of Higher Education.

The new Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development comes as the agency is adding more than 300 employees from the Department of Economic Development as part of a Parson-led revamp of state government.

The changes are designed to make a “more meaningful connection” between higher education institutions and the workforce, officials said earlier.

The change will come with a cost, ranging from moving the now-larger agency into an office building a few blocks away from its current headquarters near the Capitol.

Some of the workers have already moved to the new space, after a tornado damaged state buildings in May.

The department estimates changing letterhead, business cards and signs will cost about $14,710.

Parson also moved employees of the Missouri Arts Council into the Lieutenant Governor’s office and is changing the name of the Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Profession Regulation to the Department of Commerce and Insurance.

Poaching fines

In an effort to put a lid on poaching of wild animals, a new law would allow judges to impose restitution on those who are found guilty of illegal "chasing, pursuing, killing, processing, or disposing" of several species. The measure singles out wild turkey, paddlefish, white-tailed deer, elk and black bears.

The maximum restitution varies, but the penalty for illegally killing an elk or black bear could run as high as $5,000.

Domestic violence law

Landlords will be prohibited from evicting anyone who is a victim of domestic violence or is in imminent danger of being victimized. The new law also requires landlords to let domestic violence victims break their leases if they can show proof, through a police report, of being harmed.

Expungement changes

Three years after the Legislature enacted a law allowing people to seek expungements for a host of nonviolent felony and misdemeanor crimes, a new law adds stealing, forgery, fraud and several other nonviolent offenses to that list.

The measure does not change the law barring violent crimes like sexual assault or domestic violence from being expunged.

It is designed to assist people who were having trouble getting jobs or finding housing because of old criminal records.

Factory farms

Legal wrangling will prevent one law from taking effect as planned.

A Cole County judge has delayed implementation of a law that would bar county governments from enacting laws to regulate large factory farms that are more restrictive than state laws.

The court wants to hear from opponents, who say state regulations are lacking, allowing the big farms to run amok and endanger the environment.

Twenty counties, mostly in the northern half of the state, have sought to regulate large animal operations through local health ordinances. But the new law says other counties now cannot enact such rules.

Parson, a cattle farmer, has defended the state’s standards and the Department of Natural Resource’s ability to regulate the large operations.

“I’m confident that DNR can handle that to make sure that’s done,” he said. “We’re going to make sure the environment’s protected; we’re going to make sure people’s rights are protected.”

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