Road to Recovery: Legislative success brings reason for economic optimism
The Missouri General Assembly has passed vital, forward-looking legislation that will modernize our infrastructure, safeguard reopening businesses and prepare Missourians for the post-pandemic economy — proposals championed by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The Missouri Chamber succeeded in advancing legislation that will:
- Repair and modernize our transportation infrastructure
- Stop opportunistic COVID-19 lawsuits
- Provide sales tax fairness for local businesses
- Train Missourians for in-demand jobs
- Modernize Missouri’s utility infrastructure
- Safeguard against prescription drug abuse
- Protect Missouri’s business climate
These successes, combined with a strong push to vaccinate Missourians against COVID-19 and the coming phase-out of enhanced unemployment benefits will place Missouri ahead of the curve as the global economy recovers.
“The Missouri Chamber believed the 2021 Legislative Session was our chance to position Missouri to thrive as the economy recovered from the global pandemic. We came in with an ambitious plan backed by data and supported by a united business community. We applaud the leaders in the Missouri General Assembly for their strong support of our job creators,” said Daniel P. Mehan, president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “This was a strong, forward-looking session. The legislation passed in Jefferson City in 2021 will pay dividends in Missouri for years to come.”
Keep reading for a closer look at some of the most important legislation passed this year.
Repair and Modernize our Transportation Infrastructure
Key legislation: Senate Bill 262 by Senate President Pro-Tem Dave Schatz
Missouri’s economy has always depended on a transportation system that takes advantage of our location at the heart of North American trade. Now, after decades of waiting, the state is finally ready to invest and modernize the state’s transportation infrastructure to support our economy of the future.
The legislation passed this year will invest a much-needed $500 million per year in transportation funding for state, county and city projects. The bill would phase in an increase in the gas tax by 2.5 cents each year over five years. It includes a rebate mechanism so that drivers who do not wish to pay the increase can get their money back. The legislation also phases in increased fees on electric vehicles.
The Missouri Chamber led a broad coalition of stakeholders who rallied this session in support of transportation funding. The Missouri Can’t Wait campaign united business and labor, rural and urban interests, Republicans and Democrats behind the need to repair the state’s roads and bridges.
A study released by the Missouri Can’t Wait campaign showed that the legislation will create a $1.8 billion positive impact on Missouri’s economy. This will also create an overall increase of $722 million in earnings across the state and more than 17,000 jobs.
“Passage of this bill is a huge step toward helping our state make the most of our location and truly become a logistics hub for the Midwest and North America. The infusion of funding into our transportation system will create an immediate economic boost. But the long-term effects of this investment will be even more profound as our state modernizes our transportation system to support our future economy,” said Mehan. “We are grateful for Sen. Dave Schatz’s steadfast leadership on this issue in the Senate, Rep. Becky Ruth for carrying the legislation in the House, and for the Missouri General Assembly’s decisive action to fund our transportation infrastructure.”
Stop Opportunistic COVID-19 Lawsuits
Key legislation: Senate Bill 51 by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer
Missouri lawmakers also took decisive action to stop an expected wave of COVID-19 lawsuits coming in the wake of the pandemic.
One recent report counted more than 5,800 COVID-related complaints that have been filed across the country. That number will rise as trial attorneys continue to pour tens of millions of dollars into advertising to recruit plaintiffs. And the number of lawsuits today likely vastly underrepresents the problem in Missouri. Our state’s statute of limitations allows plaintiffs to wait years before filing a suit. It will likely be years before Missouri can begin to assess the quantity and scope of the litigation caused by this pandemic.
That’s why the Missouri Chamber urged lawmakers to address this issue. The Missouri Chamber’s call for action on this topic was joined by roughly 800 employers and Missourians who signed a letter in support of action to stop COVID-19 litigation.
“The threat of this litigation has loomed over every employer in Missouri. It is clear that we need to protect our employers as they seek to reopen,” said Mehan. “With this bill now passed, employers should have greater confidence as they get Missourians back to work. Once enacted, employers in Missouri can operate knowing they are safe from the kind of COVID-19 litigation that is spreading rapidly across the country. We thank sponsor Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer and House handler Rep. John Wiemann for their leadership on this topic and the leaders in the legislature for pushing this bill across the finish line.”
Provide Sales Tax Fairness for Local Businesses
Key legislation: Senate Bill 153 by Sen. Andrew Koenig
Since the arrival of internet retailers, physical stores in Missouri have been competing at a big disadvantage. However, Missouri lawmakers have finally put all retailers on equal footing by requiring online sellers to collect sales tax.
“This legislation is especially timely as we work to reopen businesses across the state. It never made sense to place our own Missouri employers at a disadvantage against online retail giants. With the risks of the pandemic starting to fade, creating a level playing field will help encourage Missourians to patronize local stores and reinvigorate our economy,” said Mehan. “We thank Sen. Andrew Koenig for his work to pass this very important bill.”
Train Missourians for In-Demand Jobs
Key legislation: House Bill 297 by Rep. Wayne Wallingford
As recently as March, more than 115,000 jobs were open across Missouri, while nearly 130,000 Missourians remained unemployed. As our state economy seeks to recover, we are facing the significant challenge of helping workers off the sidelines and equipping them with the skills needed for today’s economy.
Apprenticeships are one vital tool that can help quickly upskill Missourians for in-demand jobs. Lawmakers have passed legislation that will boost apprenticeship by allowing the state’s 529 savings plan to be used for apprenticeship expenses.
In addition, lawmakers have passed language to establish a statewide plan that would enhance career and technical education in the state, expanding access to valuable employment-focused training during high school.
“We have been hearing for years that workforce is one of the biggest issues facing Missouri employers. As we come out of the pandemic, these concerns are intensifying due to the growing worker shortage,” said Mehan. “The bills passed this year are breaking down unnecessary barriers and will help Missourians attain the skills they need to join our workforce and power our economic recovery.”
Modernize Missouri’s Utility Infrastructure
Key legislation: House Bill 734 by Rep. Michael O’Donnell, Senate Bill 44 by Sen. Bill White
With Missouri’s utility companies focused on modernizing their systems, lawmakers have passed bills that will help Missouri continue to benefit from reliable and affordable utility services.
Legislation passed this year would allow water and wastewater management providers to upgrade and repair systems proactively — saving ratepayers money. In addition, lawmakers voted to create a renewable natural gas program, allowing utilities to capture methane gas to be used as biogas, a renewable source of energy. The capture and use of biogases from landfills and agricultural operations improves the air quality near facilities while providing more energy for the state. The Missouri General Assembly also approved a bill that will stop local municipalities from limiting their consumers’ power choices. If an energy source is available, consumers will have the ability to use that energy source. Another measure establishes a financing mechanism for electric utilities that will yield access to new renewable energy sources while saving ratepayers money.
“We tend to take reliable utilities for granted in Missouri. However, if we want this advantage to continue, we need to modernize our systems and help our providers invest to prepare for the future,” said Mehan. “The Missouri Chamber was a leader in passing these bills. Thanks to this progress, our whole state will benefit from having strong, affordable utility services.”
Safeguard Against Prescription Drug Abuse
Key legislation: Senate Bill 63 by Sen. Holly Rehder
Missouri has been the only state in the nation without a statewide prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP), which allows medical professionals to view what prescriptions their patients have been taking before they prescribe. Having access to this information empowers doctors to detect drug abuse early and provide appropriate care for patients at risk of substance abuse disorder.
“This is a big step forward for Missouri and finally puts this longstanding issue to rest. Having a statewide PDMP will help physicians and pharmacists identify patients who pill shop — and help stop the abuse that impacts so many Missouri families and workplaces,” said Mehan. “This legislation will help prevent deaths and address the trends of addiction in our state. Drug addiction impacts Missouri employers directly. It impacts productivity, safety and morale at work. It also drives up employer-paid prescription costs. We thank the legislature for passing Senate Bill 63 and we applaud bill sponsor Sen. Holly Rehder on her years of leadership and commitment to this issue.”
Protect Missouri’s business climate
Key legislation: Senate Bill 226 by Sen. Andrew Koenig, House Bill 345 by Rep. Bruce DeGroot, House Bill 604 by Rep. Kurtis Gregory
The Missouri Chamber also championed legislation that will help create a strong, fair business climate that nurtures economic growth. Legislation passed this year will:
- Ensure businesses don’t have the burden of paying property taxes when their facilities are shuttered due to government-imposed lockdowns.
- Ensure the solvency of the Second Injury Fund and protect employers from excess fees
- Allow all parties, including insurance companies, have a voice in arbitration discussions
The Missouri Chamber also protected the business climate by defeating a number of proposals that would have harmed employers, including bills that would have:
- Tossed aside manufacturers’ intellectual property rights in favor of a poorly-conceived “right to repair” standard
- Taken away employers’ freedom to require vaccination against COVID-19
- Reduced employers’ ability to protect themselves with non-compete clauses
- Tipped the scale against employers in whistleblower cases