The Capitol Report | March 9th, 2017

Tort Reform, Minimum Wage, & Broadband 

This week was another busy one at the Capitol! One area of reform addressed this week was tort reform. This week reform efforts were enacted by passing legislation that will help put an end to “litigation tourism” and the many lawsuits that are filed in St. Louis by out-of-state parties. The bills, sponsored by Rep. Kolkmeyer, approved today are meant to stop the large number of lawsuits filed in the state by people who live outside Missouri, who are alleging injuries that didn’t occur within the state’s borders against companies that are not from Missouri.

In order to help end Missouri’s reputation as the “Show Me Your Lawsuits State,” in February the Missouri House took up and passed a piece of legislation designed to strengthen the state’s expert witness standards. This week members continued their tort reform efforts by approving a series of bills that would prevent what is commonly referred to as venue or forum shopping in Missouri. Specifically, the legislation would change state laws governing where lawsuits may be filed and whether suits can be joined together. In essence, the bills will clarify the venue laws in Missouri and ensure lawsuits are brought in the proper court. In 2016 there were 140 aggregated mass tort cases pending in St. Louis, with 8,400 plaintiffs in the cases having nothing to do with Missouri. The fix approved by the House will prevent lawsuits brought by out-of-state interests from moving to St. Louis simply by including a plaintiff from the city. Last month the Missouri Supreme Court upheld St. Louis City’s minimum wage ordinance due to procedural issues with the 1998 legislation. This week the House passed a bill I sponsored, HB 1194, fixing these problems. Keeping a uniform minimum wage statewide is vital for economic growth and job creation. A municipality setting their own minimum wage creates an uneven playing field for Missouri businesses and deters businesses from expanding or relocating to our state.

Essentially, the bill will ensure it is not illegal for an employer to hire someone in accordance with the state minimum wage and will protect job creators from being turned into criminals. Moreover, a mandated increase in payroll would force businesses to either raise prices or cut costs by reducing the size of their workforce. In addition, it is important to have a consistent minimum wage across the state rather than an inconsistent patchwork of wages that vary from municipality to municipality.

In other news, several carriers accepted the FCC’s Connect American Fund statewide offers in Missouri to make broadband available to more than 200,000 locations in their service areas in rural parts of the state. CenturyLink accepted the largest commitment to bring broadband to more than 150,000 locations in its Missouri service areas over six years. Specifically, CenturyLink’s 2017 plans call for hundreds of miles of new fiber optic cables to be installed to service more than 52,000 homes in more than 100 different communities across rural Missouri.

In the 120th District, by the end of 2017, CenturyLink expects to be in the final stages of construction, installation, and activation of new broadband equipment in high-cost areas in over 4,885 locations outside of Cuba, Rolla and St. James. Additional communities will be upgraded in the future. CenturyLink and other carriers will notify consumers when the new broadband service is available.

You may read in more detail about what is happening at your State Capitol below.

As always, I will work diligently for you as your State Representative.

-Jason

House Approves Legislation to Put an End to Venue Shopping in Missouri (HB 460, HB 461, and HB 462)

My fellow colleagues and I continued tort reform efforts this week by passing legislation that will help put an end to “litigation tourism” and the many lawsuits that are filed in St. Louis by out-of-state parties. The bills approved today are meant to stop the large number of lawsuits filed in the state by people who live outside Missouri, who are alleging injuries that didn’t occur within the state’s borders against companies that are not from Missouri.

A 2016 study released by the American Tort Reform Foundation named St. Louis as the number one “judicial hellhole” in the country; calling it a “magnet for product liability lawsuits and consumer class actions.” The study noted that plaintiffs travel from out-of-state to file lawsuits in Missouri to take advantage of the state’s weak venue law and low standards for what is considered expert testimony. A Bloomberg Businessweek article noted that Missouri has “developed a reputation for fast trials, favorable rulings, and big awards.”

In order to help end Missouri’s reputation as the “Show Me Your Lawsuits State,” in February the Missouri House took up and passed a piece of legislation designed to strengthen the state’s expert witness standards. This week members continued their tort reform efforts by approving a series of bills that would prevent what is commonly referred to as venue or forum shopping in Missouri. Specifically, the legislation would change state laws governing where lawsuits may be filed and whether suits can be joined together.

The bills will clarify the venue laws in Missouri and ensure lawsuits are brought in the proper court. They note that in 2016 there were 140 aggregated mass tort cases pending in St. Louis, with 8,400 plaintiffs in the cases having nothing to do with Missouri. The fix approved by the House will prevent lawsuits brought by out-of-state interests from moving to St. Louis simply by including a plaintiff from the city.

House Approves Minimum Wage Fix (HBs 1194 & 1193)

In response to a Missouri Supreme Court decision that invalidated part of Missouri’s minimum wage law, lawmakers are moving quickly to implement a fix that would provide a consistent wage in municipalities throughout the state. The House approved legislation I sponsored this week that would reaffirm that the state’s minimum wage is applied throughout Missouri, and keep the decision to raise wages in the hands of the employer and employee.

While the state currently has a minimum wage that increases based on the Consumer Price Index, and is currently higher than the federal minimum wage, some municipalities have considered their own increases. St. Louis passed an ordinance to raise its minimum wage to $10 an hour this year and $11 an hour by 2018. The legislation approved by the House would preempt and nullify the minimum wage enacted by St. Louis, and provide that other municipalities cannot enact a minimum wage that exceeds the one established by state law.

The bill will ensure it is not illegal for an employer to hire someone in accordance with the state minimum wage and will protect job creators from being turned into criminals. Moreover, a mandated increase in payroll would force businesses to either raise prices or cut costs by reducing the size of their workforce. In addition, it is important to have a consistent minimum wage across the state rather than an inconsistent patchwork of wages that vary from municipality to municipality.

House Moves to Reduce Regulatory Burden on Missourians (HBs 480, 272, 413 & 609)

The House has advanced part of the policy platform laid out by House Speaker Todd Richardson, who called for the legislature to remove the unnecessary government regulations that stifle innovation and job creation in the state. House members approved legislation to ensure government engages in the licensing and regulation of occupations and professions only when it is necessary to protect the welfare of the public.

The bill approved by the House would establish guidelines for the regulation of occupations and professions not currently regulated by the Division of Professional Registration, as well as guidelines for substantially increasing the scope of practice of currently regulated occupations and professions. The bill would also specify that the state may not impose a substantial burden on an individual’s pursuit of his or her occupation or profession unless there is an important governmental interest for the state to protect the general welfare. If an interest exists, the regulation adopted by the state would have to be substantially related to the public interest to be protected.

The bill also would establish a heightened level of review with specific criteria for all legislation that would seek to license an occupation or profession for the first time or to substantially expand the scope of a current professional license. Criteria would include determining whether unregulated practice could cause harm and endanger the general welfare, and whether the public could reasonably be expected to benefit from an assurance of personal qualifications.

The bill will reduce the burdens placed on individuals trying to practice their professions. It will ensure new regulations are put in place only when they are necessary to protect the public.

Broadband Deployed to Rural Areas of Missouri via the Connect America Fund

For several years, my legislative colleagues and I have advocated for a broadband expansion and faster internet speeds in rural areas of Missouri. Communications providers have been listening and are doing their part to bring broadband to many of Missouri’s rural areas.

High-speed internet access brings many benefits to rural communities, including economic development and better access to education and healthcare services, such as distance learning and telemedicine.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) created the Connect America Fund (CAF) to facilitate the build-out of broadband infrastructure in high-cost, rural communities.  Multiple carriers accepted statewide offers from the FCC to bring internet service with speeds of at least 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload to locations in FCC-designated, high-cost census blocks. In many cases download speeds will be faster.

Recently, several carriers accepted the FCC’s CAF statewide offers in Missouri to make broadband available to more than 200,000 locations in their service areas in rural parts of the state. CenturyLink accepted the largest commitment to bring broadband to more than 150,000 locations in its Missouri service areas over six years.

These CAF monies make it possible for carriers to offer broadband in areas that would otherwise be uneconomic to serve. However, the FCC did not provide enough funding to serve all CAF eligible locations and it is simply not economically feasible to provide broadband access to all extremely high-cost areas across Missouri that are not covered by CAF.

By accepting the Connect America Fund monies, carriers committed to offer broadband in FCC-designated, high-cost areas within their local service territory. The FCC and the Missouri Public Service Commission will verify that these obligations are met.

CenturyLink’s 2017 plans call for hundreds of miles of new fiber optic cables to be installed to service more than 52,000 homes in more than 100 different communities across rural Missouri. In the 120th District, by the end of 2017, CenturyLink expects to be in the final stages of construction, installation, and activation of new broadband equipment in high-cost areas in over 4,885 locations outside of Cuba, Rolla and St. James. Additional communities will be upgraded in the future.

CenturyLink and other carriers will notify consumers when the new broadband service is available.

Legislative Survey

Last week, my office released a new 2017 legislative survey that may be taken by any 120th District constituent. As your voice in state government, I can be more effective when I know your views on the many issues facing our state. Please take moment to respond to this survey. Since I can talk with only a small portion of you personally, it is one of the best ways for me to learn your stance on potential legislation. You can also contact me by calling, emailing, or stopping by my office.

As always, your interests, concerns, and wishes are the reason I am here.

Survey link: http://jasonchipman.polldaddy.com/s/2017-legislative-survey

If you would prefer a paper survey, please contact my office and a copy will be mailed to you.

Capitol Visits

I was honored again this year to host Leadership Phelps County at the Capitol for their Annual State Government Day. LPC Leaders this year were: Chantae Alfred, Tracy Dampier, Tracy Limmer, and Robin Rosenburg.

It was also great to visit this week with 4th grade students, parents, and teachers from Steelville.

I am committed to serve the constituents of the 120th District, so please feel free to contact my office anytime at 573-751-1688. Your District 120 Capitol Office is 201 W Capitol Ave, Rm 415-B, Jefferson City, MO 65101. If you wish to unsubscribe from this report, please email Dylan Bryant at dylan.bryant@house.mo.gov

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s