The Missouri Capitol drew large crowds this week as committees worked on passionate topics such as the opioid epidemic occurring in our state, utility reform, and organizations pleading for state funding support. The Senate passed its version of Right-to-Work and the House passed its third Republican priority to allow ride-hailing companies to do business in the state. The fast pace continues as Republican priority legislation is sailing through the legislative process.
Governor’s Committee for Simple, Fair, and Low Taxes
On Wednesday, Governor Greitens announced he was creating a committee to study and recommend how to reform the state’s tax rates and credits. The committee was created by executive order. The panel will be charged to compare Missouri’s tax credit programs and tax rates to other similar states and assess the economic impact. Committee members will include four Missourians selected by Governor Greitens, three selected by the state Senate President Pro Tem and three selected by the House Speaker.
State of the Judiciary
Missouri Chief Justice Breckenridge spoke to a joint session of the Missouri House of Representatives and the Missouri Senate on Tuesday to present the annual State of the Judiciary. In her final address, Chief Justice Breckenridge brought to light several factors that she would like legislators to consider improving including the growing pretrial incarcerations of low-income citizens that cannot afford to pay bonds, lowest average government employee salary of any state, and the need to be cautious about publicizing court documents online. She also asked policy makers not to view calls for tort reform as disapproval of the state’s judicial system.
The Appellate Judicial Commission is currently working to identify a replacement for Supreme Court Judge Richard Teitelman, who passed away on November 29th. The commission is responsible for recommending finalists to Governor Greitens for consideration.
Last week the Senate worked on a bill that would adopt the federally-approved identification known as Real ID. This week, the House took a turn at working on the topic. Missouri is one of five states that still needs to pass legislation in order to become complaint with the federal standard. If Missouri does not pass legislation to bring our state into compliance by January 2018, any Missourian seeking to fly on a commercial plane or access a military base would be required to use a passport. State-issued licenses would no longer be permitted.
During the hearing in the House Committee on Government Efficiency this week, Rep. Kidd (R – Independence) voiced concern that the legislation violates 4th amendment rights and said he cannot support the legislation.
The Senate bills, SB 37 and SB 244, are sponsored by Senator’s Silvey (R – Kansas City) and Rowden (R – Columbia). The matching House bill, HB 151, is sponsored by Rep. Corlew (R – Kansas City). The bills have not been voted out of their respective committees at the time of this report.
Ride-hailing Companies Gain Traction
Legislation designed to make it easier for transportation network companies, such as UBER and Lyft, to do business in Missouri passed through the Missouri House of Representatives this week. The topic is a House priority and moved swiftly as a result. Similar to last year’s legislation that was ultimately held up in the Missouri Senate, it would require companies to pay an annual $5,000 fee to the state, without any local or municipal fees or taxes, and allows for the companies to conduct their own background checks. Taxicab companies are open to the competition, but are asking for the same regulatory breaks that the legislature is considering for the popular UBER and Lyft service providers. The main sticking point in regard to fairness boils down to fingerprint background checks. The legislation now moves to the Senate where it will be assigned to a committee for consideration.
Right-to-Work Gets Senate Approval
This week, the Missouri Senate brought the Right-to-Work legislation up for debate for a short period after Senate Minority Leader, Sen. Walsh (D – St. Louis), showed that she was ready to filibuster the bill. The sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Brown (R – Rolla), says the bill is necessary to ensure the freedom of workers and to encourage corporations and businesses to come to Missouri. The bill, SS#2 / SB19, was ultimately brought back up and given approval on Thursday, January 26th, by a vote of 21 to 12. A grandfather clause was included that exempts contracts that were entered into before the legislation’s effective date of August 28. The bill remains a high priority of the Republican-led General Assembly and Governor Greitens.
Keep in mind, the House version of Right-to-Work is awaiting Senate Committee assignment and the Senate version is awaiting House committee assignment.
The President of the Missouri AFL-CIO has submitted multiple initiative petitions to go on the ballot in 2018 that would ask Missourians to guarantee the right of collective bargaining between employees and employers. Lawsuits have also been filed against the language of the initiative petitions calling it unfair and misleading.
Special Elections Scheduled
Governor Greitens announced August 8th will be the special election to replace Sen. Parson (R – Bolivar) who was elected as the state’s newest Lieutenant Governor. August 8th is also the special election date to replace Rep. Jones (R – Columbia), which was previously announced by former Governor Nixon.
No Pay Increase
The Missouri House of Representatives has voted not to give themselves a pay increase. The rejection comes after the House Budget Committee Chairman reminded his colleagues that the Missouri bank account has insufficient funds and Missouri’s state employees have the lowest wages in the nation and should be considered first. The Senate has not considered the bill at this time.
Governor Greitens’ Fiscal Year 2018 Budget will be released next week. Anxious House and Senate leaders are speculating what they may see from the state’s new Governor. Some believe we will see privatization of some government programs and additional decreases to ensure we maintain a balanced budget through the lackluster revenue. The House Budget Committee will tackle drafting the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget first and are already holding hearings through the five Appropriations Sub-Committees in order to prepare.
HB 153 – sponsored by Rep. Corlew (R – Kansas City) modifies provisions relating to expert witnesses. The hearing on this bill in the House Judiciary Committee concluded on Monday, January 23rd. Testifying in opposition to conclude the hearing were the Railroad Employees and the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys. In an executive session the bill was voted out “do pass”. The bill was then voted out “do pass” by the House Rules Committee and now awaits being placed on the House Calendar for debate.
HB 95 – sponsored by Rep. McGaugh (R – Carrollton) modifies provisions relating to collateral source rule and provides that parties may introduce evidence of the actual cost, rather than the value of the medical care rendered. On Monday, January 23rd in an executive session the bill was voted out “do pass.” The bill was then voted out “do pass” in the House Rules Committee and now awaits being placed on the House Calendar for debate.
Other Bills of Interest
SB 37 – sponsored by Sen. Silvey (R – Kansas City) allows the Department of Revenue to amend procedures for applying for a driver's license or identification card in order to comply with the goals or standards of the federal REAL ID Act of 2005. This act requires the department to inform applicants of the option of being issued a REAL ID driver's license or identification card or nonREAL ID driver's license or identification card. The department shall issue a nonREAL ID driver's license or identification card to those individuals who object to being issued a REAL ID license or card. This act contains an emergency clause. An executive session was held in the Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on Thursday, January 26th and a Senate Committee Substitute was offered that would combine SB 244 sponsored by Sen. Rowden (R – Columbia) which contains identical language as SB 37. The amendment was adopted and voted out “do pass”. Sen. Kraus (R - Lees Summit) voiced strong opposition in committee and vowed to offer amendments on the senate floor so that the information in the bill cannot be put in an accessible data bank. The bill will now be placed on the Senate calendar for full floor debate.
SB 280 – sponsored by Sen. Hoskins (R – Warrensburg) requires the Department of Revenue to issue both REAL ID compliant and noncompliant driver's licenses and identification cards. This bill was heard in the Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on Thursday, January 26th. Testifying in support were the Missouri Truck Drivers Association, the Associated General Contractors of Missouri, the Missouri Association of Veterans Organization, and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. Testifying in opposition was a private citizen from Callaway County. No further action was taken on the bill.