Missouri House Reaches Session Midpoint
This week is the General Assembly’s annual spring break and the Capitol has been a little quieter than normal! Since we have reached this midpoint in the legislative year, I would like to recap some accomplishments that the legislature has achieved thus far. In the first two months of session, we have upheld numerous promises by addressing issues that will increase transparency and spur economic growth in Missouri. In the first half of session, the House passed the first ever lobbyist gift ban, passed right to work, created 21st century jobs, and balanced our courts with tort reform.
In January, the House passed HB 60, the first ever lobbyist gift ban. This ban would prohibit any gift from a lobbyist to a state legislator, ranging from meals to sporting event tickets. By passing this ban House Republicans are ensuring legislators are truly working for the people and not special interest lobbyists. This is another step forward in building more trust between Missourians and government.
Early in session, the House passed HB 130. This establishes a statewide framework for transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft. With the passage of this legislation, there should be a reduction in drunk driving while also providing residents with additional sources of income. HB 130 is common sense legislation that creates thousands of jobs while also making Missouri a safer place to live.
Labor reform was another promise made. In January Right to Work was passed, letting workers choose whether they want to join a union. The bill is about worker freedom and choice at its core, but it also has the potential to jumpstart Missouri’s economy by making our state a better place to do business. Once it goes into effect, we expect to see healthy job and wage growth as businesses choose to relocate and expand in Missouri.
Another promise the House GOP came through on was tort reform. This included expert witness, collateral source, and venue. These reforms make our judicial system more fair and impartial while also keeping away out-of-state plaintiffs. Once signed into law, these measures will help spur economic growth by reassuring job producers they will not be subjected to frivolous lawsuits which costs them millions of dollars. The House is also working toward creating a more balanced court system that does not favor trial attorneys over small Missouri businesses.
The final promise kept was education reform. Last week, the House approved legislation that would allow charter schools to expand to areas where performance has been poor. The legislation would also increase the accountability and academic requirements for not only new charter schools, but existing ones as well. HB 634 reduces the amount of funding charter schools currently receive and makes it so that no more than 90% of the child’s operating costs go to the charter school. The remaining 10% will be stay in the student’s original school district. This means that public schools end up with more dollars per student. The funding guidelines set forth by HB 634 are contingent upon the public K-12 formula being fully funded. In other words, no charter school expansion is possible without a minimum of $48 million in additional funding being allocated to public schools. Moreover, the final version of HB 634 has some of the highest accountability standards in the country. The bill will force underperforming charter schools to close. If a charter is underperforming other similar schools in their district for two of the past three years, they will be limited to a three-year charter renewal.
These are some of the most notable highlights so far this session. Starting next week, the legislature will reconvene and continue to work hard to further enhance our state and build on the great progress made earlier in the session.
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.
Missouri House Reaches Session Midpoint
The legislative session that began in January has now reached its midpoint with House members touting a long list of legislative accomplishments. The House was able to approve several of its priorities including bills that provide substantive ethics reform, labor reform, and regulatory reform. One of the top priorities in the House, Right-to-Work, has already secured passage in both chambers and been signed into law by the governor. The House now has the week off for its annual Spring Break and will return March 27 to complete the legislative session that will conclude May 12. When the legislature returns, members will focus their efforts on the state operating budget. House leadership hopes to have the budget out of the House and on to the Senate by April 6. The legislature has a May 5 deadline to complete the budget and send it to the governor.
- Ethics Reform (HB 60)
A gift ban was the first bill out of the House for the 2017 legislative session. The legislation received strong bipartisan support and is now under consideration in the Senate where it stalled last year. Current Missouri law places no limits on gifts that lobbyists can give to lawmakers, but the bill passed by the House would put a ban in place that would prohibit gifts that could create an undue influence on the lawmaking process.
- Right-to-Work (SB 19)
Missouri will now become the nation’s 28th Right-to-Work state as Governor Eric Greitens signed SB 19 into law. The new law will take effect August 28. Supporters pledged to make Missouri a Right-to-Work state in an effort to spur job creation and economic development. The bill approved by the General Assembly would simply ensure employees are able to decide whether to join a labor union instead of being forced to join as a condition of employment.
- Paycheck Protection (HB 251)
House members continued their labor reform efforts as they passed legislation commonly referred to as “paycheck protection.” It’s a change supporters say would allow union members to ensure their dues aren’t used for political purposes they oppose. The bill is meant to give public employee union members the right to opt-in annually to have their dues automatically deducted from their paychecks. The current system requires a public employee to opt-out, and if they fail to do so their dues are automatically deducted.
- Fairness in Public Construction (HB 126)
The House approved legislation meant to put an end to project labor agreements (PLAs) and ensure a fair and competitive bidding process for public works projects in Missouri. In effect, the bill would ban PLAs, which ensure public works contracts are almost exclusively awarded to union contractors or contractors who agree to labor union demands. Supporters of the bill say it is important to make the bidding process for taxpayer-funded projects competitive and fair so that Missourians will get a better return on their tax dollars.
- Unemployment System Reforms (HB 288)
The House approved legislation this session to keep the state’s system of unemployment financially stable. The bill would link unemployment benefits to the rate of unemployment, and ensure the state keeps more money in the unemployment trust fund. Supporters note that Missouri is the only state that has been forced to borrow money from the federal government to pay for unemployment benefits during each of the last five economic downturns. Supporters say the change is an important step toward ensuring Missouri can afford to help its citizens during times when they are without work.
- Missouri Works (HB 93)
The Missouri House approved legislation that would provide a boost to the state’s small businesses, including many in rural areas. House members voted in favor of a bill that would expand the Missouri Works program so that more of the state’s small businesses would be eligible for workforce training benefits.
- Reducing the Regulatory Burden (HBs 480, 272, 413 & 609 and HB 230)
During the first half of the session, the House 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 House also approved a separate bill to specify that hair braiders do not have to obtain a cosmetology license in order to earn a living.
- Paving the Way for Ridesharing Companies (HB 130)
House members approved legislation that would allow rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft to expand services throughout the state. The legislation is a priority of House Speaker Todd Richardson, who hopes to create a statewide framework that will allow private enterprise to thrive in a free market. Uber has already promised as many as 10,000 jobs in the first year if the bill is passed into law.
- Putting an End to Venue Shopping (HB 460, HB 461, and HB 462)
House members approved legislation supporters say 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 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.
- Collateral Source Reform (HB 95)
The House continued its work to improve the state’s legal climate in an effort to make the court system fair to all litigants, and to attract more job creators. As part of its tort reform package, the House approved legislation commonly referred to as collateral source reform. The bill is meant to clarify that an injured person involved in a lawsuit can recover only the actual cost incurred for medical treatment.
- Expert Witness (HB 153)
Continuing with its tort reform efforts, the House also gave approval to legislation meant to improve the reliability of expert evidence that is presented to juries in Missouri state courts. The bill, which has also received Senate approval and is now on its way to the governor, would implement an established standard for determining when expert-witness testimony is admissible as evidence at trial. The proposed standard, which is commonly referred to as the Daubert standard after a 1993 U.S. Supreme Court case, is used in federal courts and in more than two-thirds of the states.
- Protecting Missouri’s Peace Officers (HB 57)
The Missouri House approved legislation to deter crimes against law enforcement officials. The bill would create enhanced penalties for individuals who assault officers of the law. It would increase by one degree the penalty for voluntary or involuntary manslaughter; first- or second-degree property damage; unlawful use of a weapon; rioting; or first-degree trespassing; when those crimes are committed against a law enforcement officer.
- Blue Alert System (HBs 302 & 228)
In an effort to ensure law enforcement officials quickly receive the information they need to apprehend individuals who injure or kill peace officers, the Missouri House approved legislation to create a Blue Alert System. Similar to the Amber and Silver Alert systems, the Blue Alert system would send out identifying information such as a physical description of the suspect and the suspect’s vehicle.
- Stopping Illegal Use of Herbicides (HB 662)
The General Assembly truly agreed legislation that is meant to stop the illegal use of herbicides that have caused widespread damage to crops in Southeast Missouri. The legislation would allow the Department of Agriculture to issue a fine to any individual who knowingly applies a herbicide to a crop for which the herbicide is not labeled for use.
- Charter School Expansion (HB 634)
Heading into their annual Spring Break, House members gave approval to legislation meant to provide young people in failing schools with additional educational opportunities. The bill would allow charter schools to expand to areas where at least one school is performing poorly.
- Expanding Virtual School Options (HB 138)
The Missouri House has approved legislation meant to expand course options and access for K-12 students. The bill would change the Missouri Virtual Instruction Program (MOVIP) to “The Missouri Course Access Program” (MCAP) and allow any K-12 student to enroll in MCAP courses. In order to give students in all parts of the state access to advanced coursework, the legislation would allow students to take online courses that would be paid by the school district or charter school.
- Pay Raise Rejection (HCR 4)
House members came together in bipartisan fashion to overwhelmingly reject a proposed pay increase for elected officials and judges. The House approved a resolution that would prevent the pay increase recommendations made by the Citizens’ Commission on Compensation for Elected Officials from going into effect.
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