A turning point for Missouri: Legislature meets lofty goals for 2017 session
For many years, Missouri has been stuck in a state of almost. The big reforms, the ones needed to truly chart a new course for Missouri, tended to come up just short — blocked by a governor’s veto, a filibuster or a failed override vote.
It’s no surprise, then, that some of our state’s biggest job growth opportunities were meeting a similar fate — almost, but not quite.
This year, things are changing. Missouri voters and a united business community sent a staunchly pro-jobs governor to Jefferson City alongside record numbers of business-friendly legislators who were empowered to act on several long-neglected priorities.
They made the most of this rare alignment:
- After waiting 65 years, Missouri is now a right-to-work state.
- For 10 years, a court-authored rewrite of Missouri’s employment laws left businesses vulnerable to frivolous litigation. This year, the legislature passed a fix alongside a complete overhaul of our state’s legal climate.
- Underfunding K-12 education has been an annual tradition in Missouri. But when school opens next year the state will, for once, be meeting its commitment.
And those are just the highlights.
“This was a watershed year in the General Assembly, there’s no other way to put it,” said Daniel P. Mehan, president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “Following the results of the November election, high goals were set for this General Assembly as it was clear there was finally an opening to pass several long-awaited reforms. I fully believe the work the legislature and Gov. Eric Greitens put in this year will be a turning point in our state’s economy. Some of our state’s biggest, most stubbornly-held obstacles to economic expansion have finally been pushed aside. We fully expect these reforms will ignite a new era for Missouri. We are ready to compete.”
Many of the bills passed this year relate directly to the goals of the Missouri Chamber’s Missouri 2030 plan. The plan was generated by the state’s business community and included a Gallup survey of more than 1,000 business leaders that helped define what needed to be done to move Missouri forward.
One of the four drivers that comprise the Missouri 2030 plan is “Uniting the Business Community.” The Missouri Chamber’s work to unify the business voice paid off this year.
“When we announced our Missouri 2030 plan, many of the action items we set were daunting, to say the least,” said Mehan. “But over the last two years we’ve spent countless hours educating Missouri’s elected officials and the public about what needed to be done to move our state forward and get where we need to be as 2030 approaches. The business community is united behind this effort and our work paid off during the 2017 legislative session. I’d like to thank Gov. Eric Greitens and the leaders of the Missouri House of Representatives and Senate for taking heed of the business community’s voice in Missouri 2030. Their work this year puts our state on a new path.”
In addition to Uniting the Business Community, here is how the other Missouri 2030 drivers fared this session:
Missouri 2030 Driver: Competing for Jobs
Today there is fierce national and international competition for jobs and business investment. Far too often, Missouri has been on the sidelines of these discussions due to the state’s historic lack of right-to-work protections and annual rankings that place Missouri among the states with the worst legal climates for business.
Both of these problems were eliminated this year.
The General Assembly made quick progress on right-to-work and Senate Bill 19 was signed into law in early February. Sen. Dan Brown, a Republican from Rolla, sponsored the bill. While the bill passed easily this year, it was an accomplishment decades in the making. The Missouri Chamber has been advocating for right-to-work since 1952.
Following the success on right-to-work, the Missouri General Assembly passed a series of bills aimed at reforming our state’s legal climate.
Senate Bill 43, sponsored by Sen. Gary Romine, was passed by the legislature and provides a long-awaited response to a series of Supreme Court decisions that lowered the bar in employment discrimination cases and opened the door to frivolous lawsuits against businesses. For a decade, the court-constructed standard has made Missouri one of the easiest places in the country to sue a company and win. Trial lawyers profited by exploiting this situation, which forced businesses into a defensive posture and stunted their ability to make necessary personnel decisions to address workplace problems. Senate Bill 43 fixes this problem while ensuring that businesses engaging in the unacceptable act of discrimination are held accountable. The bill awaits a signature from Gov. Greitens.
Another important bill passed by the legislature will stop junk evidence from influencing court decisions. House Bill 153, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Corlew, a Republican from Kansas City, has been signed by the governor. It provides the same high standards for trial evidence that are currently required in federal courts and most other states. Called the Daubert standard, it ensures that only evidence deemed relevant, reliable and provided by qualified individuals will be admitted as expert testimony.
Lawmakers also approved a bill that will allow courts to consider whether plaintiff’s losses have been covered or reduced through other sources such as through insurance, workers’ compensation or adjusted hospital billing. Senate Bill 31, sponsored by Ed Emery, a Republican from Lamar, will stop plaintiffs from using inflated damages to trigger windfall-sized awards.
The legislature also passed Senate Bill 66 to correct two costly Missouri Supreme Court rulings that relate to the workers’ compensation system. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Dave Schatz, a Republican from Sullivan, fixes the Supreme Court’s 2014 Templemire decision, raising the standard of proof in workers’ compensation discrimination suits. It also establishes a fair, logical endpoint for temporary workers’ compensation benefits. Once signed by Gov. Greitens, the bill will help safeguard the employer-funded workers’ compensation system from frivolous benefits claims and excessive litigation.
In addition, lawmakers passed a response to a minimum wage hike in St. Louis. House Bill 1194/HB 1193 will preempt and nullify all local laws establishing minimum wage rates higher than Missouri’s state minimum wage. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Dan Shaul, a Republican from Imperial, and Rep. Jason Chipman, a Republican from St. James.
Delivery fees will also no longer be subject to sales tax under Senate Bill 16, sponsored by Sen. Will Kraus, a Republican from Lee’s Summit. Prior to 2015, sales tax had never been assessed on delivery fees. But a court ruling that year gave the state the go-ahead to begin taxing deliveries. But once Senate Bill 16 is signed by Gov. Greitens, the Department of Revenue will be prohibited from assessing sales tax on delivery fees
“We can’t overstate the progress the legislature made on competitiveness this year,” said Mehan. “The lawmakers who sponsored and supported these bills deserve a lot of credit for taking on difficult, complex issues. Collectively, these bills should improve our state’s economic trajectory.”
While these bills will help reshape the state’s business climate and make Missouri more competitive, one bill already signed into law is expected to directly create thousands of jobs. House Bill 130 accomplishes this by revising Missouri’s statutes that regulate the taxi industry, opening the state to an expansion of ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft. The bill allows these companies to operate statewide, generating new wages for residents. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Kirk Mathews, a Republican from Pacific.
In addition, the legislature passed a bill to put the state in compliance with federal Real ID standards. The bill will help ensure Missourians will continue to be able to use a driver’s license to board planes. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Corlew.
Missouri 2030 Driver: Preparing the Workforce
This session bills to reform our state’s education system and enhance workforce training received a significant amount of debate and discussion in the Missouri General Assembly.
Lawmakers did achieve a major success when they wrote a state budget that prioritizes education in a way we’ve never seen. Budget writers chose to fully fund the state’s K-12 foundation formula. This decision aligns directly with an action item included in the Missouri 2030 plan. Fully funding the foundation formula also triggers additional state investment in early childhood education.
“The Missouri business community strongly supports the legislature’s decision to invest in our education system,” said Mehan. “This effort goes hand-in-hand with our work to make Missouri more competitive for job creation efforts. As we do this, we need a world class workforce to meet employer demand. By bolstering our state’s support of our K-12 school system, we are acknowledging the likelihood that our business climate reforms will lead to more job creation and, thus, the need to have a talented workforce at the ready.”
In addition, the legislature passed House Bill 93 to improve access to the popular Missouri Works Training Program. The bill also establishes four adult high schools in the state. Roughly 500,000 adult Missourians don’t have high school diplomas, making it difficult for them to get jobs and leading to a high rate of reliance on public assistance. Establishing adult high schools will give these Missourians a second chance at attaining a high school diploma. House Bill 93 is sponsored by Rep. Jeanie Lauer, a Republican from Blue Springs.
Missouri 2030 Driver: Connecting through Infrastructure
Missouri’s transportation system remains in need of a new investment strategy. This was not solved during the session. However, the legislature did pass a resolution to set up a task force that will study the condition of Missouri’s transportation system and offer funding recommendations by January 1, 2018.
“Leaders in every region of Missouri can easily point to a list of transportation projects that would improve both safety and economic connections,” said Mehan. “With so many unmet needs, Missouri’s current transportation system is a problem for business. While we can continue to search for creative ways to patch our current system, it’s been clear for years now that there is only one viable long-term fix: increased revenue.”