The Missouri Chamber established its strategic plan for the state, Missouri 2030, to provide a consistent and focused direction for Missouri policymakers with workforce, infrastructure and competitiveness driving the agenda. Since the launch of Missouri 2030 in 2015, Missouri has had three different governors and countless legislators come and go. But the business community’s message has remained the same and that persistence paid off in 2019.
Through the leadership of Gov. Mike Parson and his administration, this legislative session has been one of the most productive Missouri employers have ever seen. Becoming “Best in Midwest” and investing in our “Talent for Tomorrow” became the rallying cries for state lawmakers.
Our work this year is telling the world that:
“People are taking notice of the progress happening in Missouri. Under Gov. Mike Parson and with Missouri 2030, business and government are on the same page and working toward the same goals. We are trending in the right direction in the economic rankings and leading in small business wage growth. We have positive momentum on our side. This was exactly what we set out to do when we established our Missouri 2030 strategic initiative and it is promising to see the vision we created becoming reality,” said Daniel P. Mehan, president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “Gov. Parson deserves a tremendous amount of credit for the leadership he demonstrated this session. He laid out an aggressive agenda early in session and took a hands-on approach in the legislature to help it clear serious obstacles. He never backed down, he never wavered and the Missouri business community applauds Gov. Parson for his leadership this session.”
What follows is an overview of some of the top pro-jobs bills passed during the legislative session organized by how they align with the drivers of Missouri 2030.
Preparing the Workforce
Missouri had a wake-up call in 2015 when the Missouri 2030 Gallup survey showed that only 44 percent of the state’s business leaders were satisfied with the availability of skilled workers. Since then, the Missouri Chamber has been leading the charge to bring new workforce programs to the state while also working to align Missouri’s education efforts with employer needs. This year the Missouri General Assembly remained committed to education by fully funding the K-12 foundation formula and providing stable funding for higher education.
Lawmakers also worked on several proposals this year that were inspired by the Workforce2030 Report released by the Missouri Chamber Foundation in 2018. Workforce2030 recommended making Missouri’s workforce training programs more accessible for employers. The report included this telling quote from an employer in the state: “I know there must be lots of workforce programs, but we have never used them. Nobody has the time to figure them all out. I wouldn’t even know where to start.”
The Missouri General Assembly changed that by passing a bill to establish the One Start program. Under One Start, Missouri’s job training programs will have increased flexibility and be easier for employers to use. The funding for the programs will be performance-based and contain new claw back provisions to protect taxpayers. The law also ensures more funding is going directly into job training.
Another newly-passed proposal gives the state’s job training efforts a significant boost by providing financial aid for adult learners who want to pursue education and training for high demand industries. This legislation, called Fast Track, will empower thousands of Missourians to equip themselves with the skills most needed by today’s employers. Both One Start and Fast Track were included in Senate Bill 68, sponsored by Sen. Lincoln Hough, a Republican from Springfield.
State budget leaders Rep. Cody Smith and Sen. Dan Hegeman also prioritized workforce this year by including a new $450,000 appropriation in the state budget to train Missouri educators to teach computer science courses. This funding is needed as the state anticipates strong tech industry growth in coming years. The Technology 2030 report recently released by the Missouri Chamber Foundation projects Missouri will soon be a top 10 state for technology industry growth.
The legislature also passed House Bill 604 to boost awareness of in-demand careers by incentivizing teacher externships. In order to advance on their salary schedule, Missouri teachers currently must spend their summers taking graduate classes. This measure gives them the option to spend those hours in an externship for equivalent credit, allowing them to work inside local companies and take that experience back to their classrooms. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Mike Henderson, a Republican from Bonne Terre.
“Missouri 2030 provided a mandate to our chamber and state government to focus on improving our workforce. The progress made this session will make a difference both in the short and long term,” said Mehan. “This year’s legislation will make it much easier for growing businesses to find the workforce they need to expand in Missouri. At the same time, the newly passed bills help realign our education system and set in motion positive changes that will pay off in the years and decades to come.”
Competing for Jobs
For many years, Missouri’s economic reputation has been hurt by having one of the nation’s worst legal climates. National rankings show there is a real problem. Missouri ranks 49th in the most recent U.S. Chamber Institute for Judicial Reform state legal climate survey. The American Tort Reform Association ranked St. Louis as the nation’s fourth worst “Judicial Hellhole” late last year. Repairing this problem has been a long-term project for the Missouri Chamber and is a goal of Missouri 2030. Major progress was made in 2019.
Positive news came early this year as the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that tort cases must be brought in the county where the plaintiff was first injured — essentially stopping in-state cases from jumping to more plaintiff-friendly venues. Missouri lawmakers then proceeded to pass Senate Bill 7 which will also disallow out-of-state cases from flocking to plaintiff-friendly St. Louis and Kansas City courts.
Such venue shopping has been a major problem in Missouri. During a committee hearing this session, bill sponsor Sen. Ed Emery illustrated the issue by citing that out of the 13,252 mass tort plaintiffs involved in cases being heard in St. Louis City, only 1,035 are Missouri residents. That led Sen. Emery to contend that Missouri is “being used as the nation’s courtroom.”
Senate Bill 7 will finally stop this practice, a major accomplishment that the Missouri Chamber has pursued for years.
“This bill was one of the business community’s top priorities coming into the legislative session,” Mehan said. “I am confident that passing Senate Bill 7, combined with our tort reform efforts from recent years, will greatly improve our state’s standing when it comes to having a fair legal climate for businesses.”
But passing Senate Bill 7 is far from the only progress the state made this year to become more economically competitive. Lawmakers also passed legislation to:
Connecting through Infrastructure
Missouri’s transportation infrastructure remains a major concern for our state’s employers. The Missouri 2030 Gallup survey showed that only 37 percent of the state’s business leaders were satisfied with Missouri’s basic infrastructure. With the state having made little progress on infrastructure in recent years, it’s likely that number has further deteriorated.
After a 2018 effort to pass a fuel tax increase failed, Gov. Mike Parson proposed a new plan to utilize bonding to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for critical repairs. State lawmakers passed the plan in two parts. First, they budgeted $50 million in state general revenue for infrastructure work. Then they passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 14, which authorized the state to bond $301 million for transportation needs if Missouri receives funding through the federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding America program.
“This investment in our state’s infrastructure is an extraordinary step and one that is urgently needed to ensure our roads and bridges remain safe and open for commerce,” said Mehan. “We are very thankful that lawmakers have passed this legislation to allow the Missouri Department of Transportation to begin to address some of the most concerning deficiencies in our system. The passage of Senate Concurrent Resolution 14 is another great example of strong leadership by Gov. Mike Parson and Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz. These two leaders have spent years championing the need for infrastructure investment in our state. The business community greatly appreciates their focus on improving our transportation system. Today’s success in passing Senate Concurrent Resolution 14 is another step forward toward one of the four key goals of our Missouri 2030 strategic initiative, ‘Connecting through Infrastructure.’”
The legislature also passed a bill to protect the state’s pipelines and other critical infrastructure from harmful acts of trespassing and tampering. The bill will create stronger penalties for willfully damaging or willfully trespassing onto critical infrastructure facilities. This language was included in House Bill 355 by Rep. Dean Plocher, a Republican from St. Louis.