Special report: Session Success
Lawmakers pass bills to prepare our workforce, modernize infrastructure, compete for jobs
With a flurry of activity in the session’s final days, the Missouri General Assembly passed legislation to address a number of important issues facing our state’s economy. With this work, the 2018 Legislative Session will go down as a turning point for our state’s economy, helping Missouri chart a new future with a better prepared workforce, modernized infrastructure and a fiercely competitive business climate.
This legislative success parallels the goals of the Missouri Chamber’s Missouri 2030 strategic plan, including bills that:
- Bring Missouri energy consumers more stable and predictable rates as well as improved energy reliability.
- Take innovative actions to equip Missourians with valuable skills needed in today’s economy.
- Put a measure on the ballot to raise the fuel tax to fund transportation infrastructure.
- Lower the state individual and corporate tax rates.
- Ensure paycheck protection for public employees regarding unions’ political activity.
- Add protections to ensure businesses aren’t liable for unpreventable third-party criminal acts on their premises.
- Modify prevailing wage law to save taxpayer money on public projects.
What follows is an overview of some of the top pro-jobs bills passed during the legislative session organized by how they align with the drivers of Missouri 2030.
Preparing the Workforce
It’s no secret that employers across the state are concerned about the future of the state’s workforce — and these concerns have only been exacerbated by the current tight labor market. Workforce worries were highlighted in the Gallup research that underlies Missouri 2030. Missouri needs to do a better job of making sure we are graduating students at all education levels who have skills that employers need. Several important bills passed this session to make progress in this area.
One approved bill will incentivize more Missouri high schoolers to take computer science courses by allowing those courses to count toward graduation as a math, science or elective requirement. Senate Bills 894 and 921, sponsored by Sens. Doug Libla and John Rizzo, also create a process to establish rigorous new computer science standards and curriculum guidelines, create a certification for computer science teachers, create a fund to help train computer science teachers, and bring an online program to Missouri that showcases STEM careers to students.
Another passed bill, House Bill 1665 sponsored by Rep. Kathy Swan, will help business professionals who want to share their knowledge in Missouri classrooms avoid the lengthy, costly teacher certification process. Under this bill, business professionals could receive a one-year visiting scholar certificate if they complete an application and a background check. The certificate could be renewed twice. The change would help boost Missouri’s Centers for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) programs. This initiative gives high school students the opportunity to test drive possible career options before they graduate.
In addition, lawmakers passed a budget that fully funds the state’s public school funding formula for the second straight year. The budget also provides stable funding for the state’s public colleges and universities. Earlier in the year, Missouri’s higher education community was concerned that budget discussions could bring as much as $65 million in cuts to public institutions. However, budget leaders worked to avoid those reductions. Also included in the budget is $3 million to open two of Missouri’s four planned adult high schools, a priority of the Missouri Chamber.
The Missouri General Assembly also passed House Bill 1606, sponsored by Rep. Elaine Gannon, which combines several proposals to address important education-related issues. This bill gives Missouri students access to virtual education courses that may not have been otherwise available in their local districts. It will ensure that no matter where students are located in Missouri, they all have equal access to learning opportunities. That measure was originally sponsored by Sen. Bob Onder. Furthermore, the bill requires high schools and higher education institutions to provide resources and career information to students. This will help equip Missouri students with knowledge regarding industry-recognized certificates, in-demand occupations, common salaries, job search skills and more. The bill also improves the state’s Career and Technical Education Council and adds the state’s director of economic development to the council.
Another bill would give teachers greater access to externship opportunities, where educators could go inside workplaces in their communities related to what they teach. House Bill 1415, sponsored by Rep. Jeanie Lauer, allows teachers to count their time spent in externships as professional development hours. In addition, the bill provides greater flexibility for students to take ACT WorkKeys in any year the state funds statewide assessments.
“Missourians are a hard-working people and we’ve always had a strong workforce. The legislation passed this year helps ensure that the education and training systems that support our workers are keeping pace with changing times,” said Daniel P. Mehan, president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “We need to bridge the gap between the business community and educators, so that teachers can feel confident they are giving students the skills and knowledge they need to succeed later in life. The bills passed this session represent strong progress toward this goal and I’d like to thank the leaders in the General Assembly for making workforce a focus this year.”
Competing for Jobs
The General Assembly passed a bill to make Missouri’s corporate tax rate the second lowest in the nation. Senate Bill 884, sponsored by Sen. Andrew Koenig, would cut the state corporate tax rate from 6.25 percent to 4 percent. This is a significant step in tax reform efforts and will improve Missouri’s ranking in the competition for business investment and job creation.
A bill to lessen the tax burden on individual Missourians was also passed. House Bill 2540, sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tem Elijah Haahr, incrementally brings the individual tax rate down from 6 percent to 5.1 percent if state revenue reaches certain levels.
Missouri’s legal climate has long been a detriment to our state’s efforts to attract investment. The state is currently rated as having the 49th worst legal climate in the nation by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform. The American Tort Reform Association calls St. Louis courts a Judicial Hellhole. Such poor national rankings only hurt our state’s ability to attract business here.
To address this problem, the legislature passed Senate Bill 608 to prevent businesses from being sued over on-site criminal acts that they could not have prevented. Under the Business Premises Safety Act sponsored by Sen. Denny Hoskins, a business is only responsible for criminal or harmful acts on its property when it knows or has reason to know such acts are or are likely to be committed in a particular area and there is enough time to prevent it. A business can also claim as affirmative defenses that it had implemented reasonable security measures, the incident occurred when the business was closed, or that the claimant was a trespasser or committing a felony.
“Without this legislation, businesses will continue to be treated too harshly in our courts and unfairly held responsible for crimes out of their control,” said Mehan. “We greatly appreciate Senator Hoskins’ leadership on this issue and the legislature’s work to pass a common-sense fix that brings much needed clarity to a muddied area of law and ensures Missouri businesses are protected from liability for third-party acts they have no ability to prevent.”
This session also saw two of Missouri’s most popular and successful job-creation incentives extended through 2030. The provision, added to House Bill 1415, allows Missouri job creators to continue to make good use of the Missouri Works and Missouri Works Job Training programs.
A paycheck protection bill also passed. House Bill 1413, sponsored by Rep. Jered Taylor, applies to public employees and requires consent to withhold paycheck earnings and also requires authorization for unions to use dues and fees to make political contributions. This will ensure that public employees have an easy way to opt out of union membership and stop any paycheck deductions that might fund the union’s political activity. The bill will also provide greater transparency for public union members by requiring the unions to maintain financial records for five years and make those records easily available to any employee member who wants to review them. Sen. Bob Onder was the Senate leader on this issue.
In addition, the legislature passed a bill to address an issue where in some areas of the state prevailing wage law increases the cost of taxpayer-funded projects compared to the cost of other local construction. House Bill 1729, sponsored by Rep. Jeffery Justus, mandates prevailing wage must be paid only after a $75,000 project threshold. Also, each occupational title in a county must have 1,000 reportable hours in a year for prevailing wage to be required.
Another act that passed was Senate Bill 768 sponsored by Sen. Hoskins, which modifies the manufacturing sales and use tax exemption to include telecommunications products.
A measure to designate the week of the second Saturday in October as “Buy Missouri Week” passed the legislature as well. As part of Lt. Gov. Mike Parson’s Buy Missouri initiative, Senate Bill 891 sponsored by Sen. Mike Kehoe will encourage the support of businesses that produce and sell goods made in Missouri.
Connecting through Infrastructure
In response to a growing recognition of the need to invest in Missouri’s transportation system, the 2018 session began with momentum for action as the 21st Century Missouri Transportation System Task Force delivered its final report, highlighting numerous positive steps the state could take to invest in this vital asset. The Missouri Department of Transportation currently maintains the nation’s seventh largest transportation system with funding that ranks 46th in the nation in revenue per mile.
To address these needs, lawmakers passed House Bill 1460. Missouri’s 17 cent per gallon fuel tax is one of the lowest in the nation. This bill implements a 2.5 cent fuel tax increase each year for four years. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Jean Evans and will need to go to voters for approval.
“From my perspective, it’s never been clearer that our state needs to step up and invest in our future transportation system,” said Mehan. “We haven’t seen an increase to fuel taxes in more than 20 years, and the increase in House Bill 1460 is a straightforward path to provide funding we need to put our transportation system back on solid pavement for the future.”
Lawmakers also passed a bill to bring Missouri energy consumers more stable and predictable rates as well as improved energy reliability. Senate Bill 564 will put more than $133 million back in the pockets of Missourians by mandating that utilities refund to customers savings gained from the recently passed federal tax cuts within 90 days of the bill being signed into law. Without this legislation, those refunds could take years. The bill will also cap electric rates so that utility bills are more stable and predictable. Rate increases would be capped at an average annual rate. In addition, the bill will modernize Missouri’s outdated grid to help make it more resilient to outages and more secure from cyber-attacks. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Ed Emery.
“The status of our energy infrastructure is critical to Missouri’s future. States that are investing in this will have a huge economic advantage over states like Missouri with outdated energy infrastructure,” said Mehan. “Senate Bill 564 will help our state attract more infrastructure investments and put more Missourians to work.”
The Missouri General Assembly also took steps to expand high-speed internet access in the state by passing House Bill 1872, known as the Missouri Rural Broadband Development Fund. This bill was sponsored by Rep. Delus Johnson.
Uniting the Business Community
With the close of the 2018 Legislative Session, some of Missouri’s strongest pro-business policymakers are preparing to step aside for a new generation of leaders. Both the Missouri House of Representatives and the state Senate will lose more than a quarter of their members to term limits this fall. Lost in the turnover will be several lawmakers who made business issues the cornerstone of their time in Jefferson City.
“On behalf of the state’s business community, I would like to thank the many pro-business lawmakers who have reached the end of their careers in the Missouri General Assembly having worked tirelessly to improve our state and grow our economy. It starts at the top with Speaker of the House Rep. Todd Richardson and Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, both of whom have been tremendous advocates for making sure Missouri is open for business,” said Mehan. “Even as the guard changes in the House and Senate, we feel confident that the trend of positive economic policy will continue with the next generation of leaders. We need to continue to build on the progress we’ve made to ensure that we meet our potential and achieve the goals established in the Missouri 2030 strategic plan.”
The turnover in the Missouri General Assembly this year highlights the importance of Missouri 2030 and a united business community.
Change is a constant in politics. But with the business community’s Missouri 2030 strategic plan now in place, we have vision to guide policy no matter who holds office.
“Perhaps the most important aspect of Missouri 2030 is the independence it has given us. Our vision is not reliant on any politician or party. Our long-term strategy doesn’t change course when power changes hands,” Mehan said. “While we are now three years into our Missouri 2030 plan, we remain excited about the power this independent vision has to help move our state in the right direction and improve our economy.”