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A plan for economic recovery: Missouri Chamber releases 2021 Legislative Agenda

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As lawmakers prepare to return to Jefferson City for the 2021 Legislative Session, the Missouri Chamber is releasing its Legislative Agenda to help guide our state’s economic recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Missouri Chamber prepared this agenda with polling and input from more than 500 CEOs and top business leaders from across the state. Their responses show that the pandemic has left employers increasingly pessimistic about the state’s business climate. Likewise, businesses enter 2021 expecting to invest less and hire fewer workers than a year ago.

The Missouri Chamber is urging lawmakers to focus on changing this trajectory by passing the reforms included in the 2021 Legislative Agenda, with a special focus on three critical needs:

  1. Stopping the threat of COVID-19 litigation, which is a major new concern for employers.
  2. Fixing Missouri’s crumbling transportation infrastructure, which employers increasingly view as a critical issue.
  3. Enhancing the state’s ability to train and attract a workforce that empowers growth.

Since March, more than 1,000 COVID-19 lawsuits have been filed against employers across the nation. In response, many states — including all but one of Missouri’s neighboring states — have enacted some form of protection against lawsuits. Meanwhile, Missouri employers remain completely exposed. Nearly 800 employers and individual Missourians have signed a letter calling for action. The Missouri Chamber is urging lawmakers to immediately pass emergency legislation to address this problem.

Daniel P. Mehan, President and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry

“If someone contracts COVID-19, today a lawyer can file a frivolous lawsuit against a Missouri business suggesting the company was the source and cause of the infection, even if the employer was following state and federal safety guidelines. This threat looms over every employer in Missouri — including businesses, schools and health care providers,” said Daniel P. Mehan, president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber. “This situation is hurting Missouri’s ability to recover from the pandemic. We regularly hear from employers that they are reluctant to reopen and return to work knowing they could be exposed to frivolous lawsuits. When the 2021 session convenes, it will be up to Missouri lawmakers to immediately address this issue.”

While COVID-19 litigation is a new concern for employers, the state’s transportation system has long been an issue — however, employers are increasingly eager for progress. Employers and all Missourians are paying dearly for the state’s long-running inaction on funding infrastructure repairs and improvements. In December, a national report found that Missouri drivers lose $8 billion annually due to rough roads, congestion and a lack of safety features. The Missouri Chamber is leading the charge to address this issue in the upcoming legislative session, guided by the Missouri Chamber Foundation’s Transportation2030 Report which includes 22 recommendations for strengthening Missouri’s road, port, air and rail assets.

“Investing in our state’s transportation infrastructure will help power Missouri’s economic recovery and lay a new foundation for future growth. As a central state, Missouri has always thrived on our connections. It has been decades since we’ve invested in these assets, which are critical to our continued livelihood,” said Mehan. “The Missouri Chamber is leading the charge on transportation funding this year. Missouri can’t wait for action on this issue.”

Workforce also remains a major concern for the state’s employers. Many workers were displaced during the pandemic. The jobs that return during the recovery may require different skills from the jobs that were lost. With this coming transition, 2021 is not a time to reduce funding for schools, colleges and the state’s critical job-training programs. Additionally, Missouri must continue to lead in innovative training ideas, like apprenticeships, which can help our state gain an edge in the most critical asset for our future — talent.

“We need to do everything we can to help Missouri workers get back on the job as soon as possible,” said Mehan. “For many Missourians, it’s clear that the best path forward involves training and learning new skills that will make them in-demand for the emerging economy. The business community needs state leaders to continue to support all efforts to enhance our workforce and enable Missouri workers to help power our economic recovery.”

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