Seven issues to watch
We are now in the final days of the 2021 Missouri Legislative Session.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry is continuing to advocate for several critical bills to improve Missouri’s business climate and jumpstart our economic recovery.
While hundreds of bills are still technically in play, we’ve chosen to highlight the top seven proposals that the business community should be watching closely.
We need your help to get these bills across the finish line. Please consider contacting your local House and Senate members and asking them to pass these bills before session ends.
1. (tie) Missouri Can’t Wait for Transportation Funding
Missouri is on the verge of investing a much-needed $500 million per year in transportation funding. The fate of the legislation — Senate Bill 262 — is now in the hands of the Missouri House of Representatives. 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. A study released last week showed that passing Senate Bill 262 could create a $1.8 billion positive impact on Missouri’s economy. This would also create an overall increase of $722 million in earnings across the state and more than 17,000 jobs.
How you can help: Ask your House member to support Senate Bill 262!
1. (tie) Stop COVID Lawsuits
Equally important, there is still time for Missouri to stop opportunistic COVID-19 lawsuits. The path forward requires the House Rules Committee to reconsider an earlier vote on Senate Bill 51 and move the bill to the floor for approval. Action is needed now as 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 is urging the Missouri House pass Senate Bill 51 as soon as possible. While many states have acted to stop or limit unfair COVID lawsuits, Missouri employers remain completely exposed. There is widespread support in the business community for this action, with roughly 800 employers and Missourians joining our call to stop COVID lawsuits.
How you can help: Tell your House member to support Senate Bill 51!
3. Sales Tax Fairness for Local Businesses
Missouri retail businesses are forced to compete at a big disadvantage against many internet sellers that aren’t required to collect sales tax on goods sold in our state. We are one of the few states that have not yet passed a law to put brick-and-mortar businesses back onto an even playing field with online sellers by requiring internet retailers doing business in Missouri to collect the tax regardless of whether the retailer has a physical presence in the state. This legislation is especially timely due to the economic hardship Missouri employers have faced from the pandemic, including the rising trend of consumers shopping online instead of patronizing local stores. This law would level the playing field for all employers doing business with Missourians and applies the state’s existing sales and use tax fairly.
How you can help: Tell your senators to support Senate Bill 153!
4. Helping Businesses Find Skilled Workers
Following strong progress on workforce policy in 2020, Missouri looks poised again to pass important legislation aimed helping employers find workers who have the right skills for their jobs.
- Apprenticeships are a growing career pathway in Missouri and lawmakers are close to passing language that would boost apprenticeship by allowing the state’s 529 savings plan to be used for apprenticeship expenses. This language is in Senate Bill 152 and also amended onto numerous other bills.
- In addition, lawmakers are seeking 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.
- With nearly a half-million adult Missourians lacking a high school diploma, the legislature is close to passing a bill that would give these adults additional options to complete their diploma — a prerequisite for many employment opportunities.
5. Modernizing our Utilities
As Missouri’s utility companies continue to invest and modernize their systems, lawmakers appear set to help in the work by passing a number of important proposals that are vital to the state’s ability to continue having reliable, affordable energy and water.
- Senate Bill 44 would allow water and wastewater management providers to upgrade and repair systems proactively — saving ratepayers money.
- Senate Bill 141 would 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.
- Lawmakers are also considering a bill that would stop local municipalities from limiting their consumers power choices. If an energy sources was available, consumers would have the ability to use that energy source.
6. Reforming our Unemployment Insurance System
Currently, unemployed Missourians can receive up to 20 weeks of jobless benefits. House Bill 1083 creates a sliding scale model instead, from 12 weeks if the state average unemployment rate is at or below 5.5%, to 20 weeks if the unemployment rate is higher than 9%. This method would help protect Missouri from the huge debts the state absorbed to pay unemployment benefits during previous recessions — debts that ultimately came out of employers’ pockets with interest. The legislation would also stop the state from seeking repayment of incorrect unemployment benefits funded by the federal CARES Act, while also using federal funds to make up the difference. This would help to reduce the financial burden of affected Missourians, while not leaving employers to make up the difference with additional payments to the trust fund.
7. Reducing Prescription Drug Abuse
Missouri is the only state in the nation without a statewide prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP), which would allow 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 addiction. Longtime PDMP advocate Sen. Holly Rehder is championing the issue with Senate Bill 63. It would not only help prevent deaths and address the trends of addiction in our state, it will also help lower costs associated with prescription drug abuse for employers. In addition, it would provide more privacy protections than Missouri’s current patchwork county-by-county PDMP by creating a task force composed of licensed medical professionals to oversee the data.