State legislative session brings major business successes, but work remains

Posted by Chamber Communications on May 19, 2017

The 2017 Missouri legislative session ended May 12, and several priorities from the Chamber’s state legislative agenda made it across the finish line, marking a successful year for the state’s business climate. In addition to Missouri’s Right to Work legislation, which passed early in the session and was signed by Gov. Eric Greitens, here is a look at the key Chamber priorities that made it through the legislature this year.

  • Workforce development – House Bill 93, sponsored by Rep. Jeanie Lauer and championed by Sen. Jay Wasson will make it easier for businesses to work with state community colleges to get employees trained or retrained to ensure they are equipped with skill sets that match available jobs. If signed into law, Missouri also will gradually move to a system where the state can provide up-front funding for job training programs through general revenue appropriations rather than through withholdings taxes.

  • REAL ID – Missouri had been one of only four states not in compliance with the federal REAL ID Act, but the Senate and House have both passed amended versions of REAL ID compliance legislation, which the governor has indicated he will sign. Missourians now will have the option to obtain a driver’s license that allows them to board an airplane or enter a military base. The deadline for issuance of a REAL ID is January 22, 2018, but there will a grace period for states that have taken steps toward compliance.

  • Workers’ compensation reform – The passage of Senate Bill 66 addresses issues related to two recent court rulings: the Templemire case and the Greer case. The former created a standard that made it easier for injured workers to claim that past use of workers’ compensation benefits caused their employers to discriminate against them, while the latter had allowed workers to re-open their workers’ compensation claims if they decided to seek additional medical treatment, even years after a medical professional determined that they have recovered.

  • Tort reform – Legislation passed both chambers addressing both expert witness testimony (joining 42 other states and federal courts in applying a stricter standard) and the Collateral Source Rule (requiring parties involved in litigation to provide the actual cost, rather than the value, of medical services rendered).

  • Transportation network companies - After several years in the Missouri legislature, legislation paving the way for companies like Uber and Lyft to operate in Missouri was signed by the governor in April. It creates a statewide regulatory framework for transportation network companies (TNC) to operate and was modeled on the Springfield TNC bill passed last year by City Council.

  • Population-based legislation – In 2016, a Missouri court ruled that laws based on population size are essentially invalid if the municipality in question’s population has changed so that it no longer fits the statute’s legal description. House Bill 451, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Austin and carried by Sen. Jay Wasson, passed both chambers and awaits the governor’s signature. This bill clarifies that if a municipality’s population was correctly stated at the time the statute was originally drafted, any subsequent change in population will not invalidate the law. The Chamber was supportive of this legislation based on the potential negative impact for Springfield had the legislature not been able to address it.

Navigating the budget

The budget remains a significant challenge, and several Chamber priorities were in flux throughout the session. Here is a look at how the major issues fared:

  • Education – Missouri lawmakers fully funded the Foundation Formula for education, increasing funding by about $45 million. Higher education funding was cut by 6 percent, less than the 9 percent cut anticipated earlier in the session. Key programs including the Springfield Clinical Campus Partnership with CoxHealth and Mercy, and MSU’s cooperative programs with UMKC for pharmacy and with Missouri S&T for mechanical engineering had their funding cut in half. This was an increase from the Governor’s budget, which recommended no funding for these programs.

  • Entrepreneurship – The Missouri Technology Corporation, which helps fund entrepreneurial efforts at The eFactory and the Jordan Valley Innovation Center, saw its budget cut from $22 million last year to $2.5 million. This was an increase from the House proposal, which almost entirely eliminated funding for the program.

  • Customized training – The Chamber continues to advocate for increased funding for the state’s customized training program, but annual appropriations continue to decline. At one point, funding for this program had been around $20 million. Last year’s appropriation was $6.3 million, and the 2017 total was $5.3 million. Employer requests for funds to train or retrain employees total more than $50 million annually. To have a robust and workforce development program, the state must fund customized training at a competitive rate.

  • Business attraction – The legislature eliminated $2.25 million in state funding for the Missouri Partnership, the state’s lead business attraction unit. The Missouri Partnership has worked to attract 3,400 jobs to the state in just the last 10 months. It receives a sizable portion of its funding from the state, but receives some additional funds from private sector donations.

Remaining issues

There were budget challenges in 2017, but also many things to celebrate. Work remains in many areas and the Chamber will continue to advocate in Jefferson City on behalf of businesses to make headway in other important areas, including the following:

  • Transportation funding – Transportation remains a top Chamber priority, but there was little discussion of a long-term funding solution during the 2017 session. This is a critical issue for the state, and the Chamber will continue to advocate for solutions to the funding puzzle.

  • Advanced degree legislation – Time ran out before lawmakers could pass legislation that would have allowed two- and four-year institutions to offer advanced and professional degrees. Current law limits the ability of these institutions to develop graduate and professional degree programs, effectively requiring all such programs to be established only through arrangements under which the University of Missouri is the degree granting institution. The Chamber will continue to advocate for this legislation next year because of the tremendous impact it could have on workforce and talent development in the region.

  • Prevailing wage – Legislation to reform the state’s existing prevailing wage laws passed out of the House but the Senate did not vote on the measure.  

  • Prescription Drug Monitoring Program – Another Chamber priority that made progress this session but could not get across the finish line is legislation establishing a prescription drug monitoring program for doctors and pharmacists in the state. Missouri is the only state without such a database to help combat opioid abuse and addiction. After many years of resistance and filibuster, the Senate finally passed a version of the bill, but the two chambers could not agree on the legislation before the end of session; members in both chambers tried to work out their differences on the bill, but a final vote failed to make it to both floors.

  • Unemployment Insurance Reform – Legislation that would link unemployment benefits to the rate of unemployment to help ensure the solvency of the unemployment trust fund passed out of the House but did not make it out of the Senate. A similar measure was passed in 2015 but vetoed by then-Gov. Jay Nixon.

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