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Ten to watch: Bills tied to 10 big issues are filed and ready to move

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Missouri legislators returned to Jefferson City this week to formally kick off the 2020 Legislative Session. The first days of session are mostly a procedural exercise as the House and Senate prepare for months of hearings, floor debate and votes.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry has an aggressive list of legislative priorities for the year. Fortunately, we have numerous pro-business lawmakers who have stepped up to take the lead as bill sponsors.

Just one week in, the Missouri Chamber already has legislation in play relating to 10 areas identified in our 2020 Legislative Agenda. Keep reading to learn more about some of the bills that we will be pushing early this session.

HB 1553, SB 591 — Punitive Damages Reform

In Missouri, plaintiffs’ lawyers are taking advantage of the state’s lax punitive damage system to drive up payouts from businesses. These bills would enact common-sense reforms, including a requirement that plaintiffs must present clear and convincing evidence that the harm was intentional in order to receive punitive damages. The proposals also establish new procedures and timelines for filing for punitive damages. They are filed by Rep. Bruce DeGroot, a Republican from Ellisville, and Sen. Bill White, a Republican from Joplin.

HB 1688 — Expanded Workforce Access Act of 2020

Workforce will remain a major focus for lawmakers this year. This proposal would help advance apprenticeships in Missouri as an avenue for acquiring the skills and education needed for a licensed profession. As the state looks for ways to equip Missourians with the skills needed for today and tomorrow, apprenticeships are likely to play a more central role. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Derek Grier, a Republican from Chesterfield.

HB 1596 — Statute of Repose

In Missouri, companies can be held liable for products sold decades ago — even if they aren’t the original manufacturer. This legislation would place reasonable time limits on product liability lawsuits in the state, requiring actions to be filed within 15 years of the sale or lease of the product. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Curtis Trent, a Republican from Springfield.

SB 724 — Missouri Rural Workforce Development Act

Finding capital for a new business venture or expansion is a difficult task today in rural Missouri. In recent years, lawmakers and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry have worked to find an innovative way to help increase investment in rural businesses. This legislation, filed by Sen. Justin Brown, a Republican from Rolla, would help incentivize investors to fund projects in rural areas of Missouri.

SB 648 — Sales Tax Fairness

Retail businesses located in Missouri currently face a big disadvantage against many internet retailers which are not required to collect sales tax. This bill would require all internet retailers to collect the tax, regardless of whether the retailer has a physical presence in Missouri, putting everyone on an even playing field. It is filed by Sen. Koenig, a Republican from Manchester.

SB 727, SB 745, SB 746, SB 793 — MMPA Reform

The Missouri Merchandising Practices Act is in dire need of reform. Intended to protect consumers from unfair practices, today the law is being twisted by plaintiffs’ attorneys to file huge lawsuits over superficial issues — such as having too much air in a candy package. The Senate looks poised to act on this issue with three Republicans filing reform proposals. The sponsors are Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer of Parkville, Sen. Eric Burlison of Republic and Sen. Koenig of Manchester.

HB 1693, SB 677 — Narcotics Control Act

Missouri remains the only state in the country that lacks a statewide system to help clinicians stop the practice of pill shopping. The Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, or PDMP, this legislation would create is seen as a foundational effort to turn the tide on the opioid epidemic that is harming many Missouri communities. Rep. Holly Rehder, a Republican from Sikeston, and Sen. Luetkemeyer of Parkville are sponsoring these bills.

HB 1859, SB 632 — Broadband Extension

According to the Missouri 2030 Dashboard, Missouri ranks 38th in the nation in broadband access. In 2018 the state developed a broadband grant program to help bring access to more Missourians. These bills would extend the program through 2027. Without action it will expire in 2021. The bills are sponsored by Rep. Louis Riggs, a Republican from Hannibal, and Sen. Dan Hegeman, a Republican from Cosby.

HB 1448, SB 624 — Benefit Corporations

Most states allow businesses to structure themselves as benefit corporations. This arrangement gives companies more flexibility and legal protection when considering how to balance profit interests with social concerns. These bills would bring this idea to Missouri. They are sponsored by Rep. Rocky Miller, a Republican from Lake Ozark, and Sen. Doug Libla, a Republican from Poplar Bluff.

HB 1917, SB 603, SB 649 — Charter School Expansion

Few Missouri business leaders believe that today’s schools are producing graduates who are ready for the workforce. In response, Missouri lawmakers will consider a number of bills that would expand access to charter schools. Several different proposals have been filed, the sponsors include: Rep. Michael O’Donnell, a Republican from Oakville, Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, a Republican from Shelbina, and Sen. Bill Eigel, a Republican from St. Charles.

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