The 2018 regular session of the Missouri Legislature is in the books. Of the roughly 2,100 measures filed this year, 144 proposals made it to finish line. Here is a look at some of the key measures that passed in the Republican-controlled legislature:
Gas tax increase to pay for Missouri’s deteriorating infrastructure
Missouri voters could be voting in November on a proposed fuel tax increase. The legislature passed a bill today that includes a way to help fund the state’s aging roads, bridges, port, and rail systems by asking voters whether the state should boost the gas tax by 2.5 cents annually for the next four years. The proposed tax is expected to raise about $240 million annually for the road fund, along with $288 million for law enforcement and $123 million annually for city and county projects.
State worker pay raises
The next state budget includes pay increases of $700 per year beginning in January for state workers earning less than $70,000. State prison guards would get an extra $350-per-year raise on top of the $700.
State agencies continue to battle with a shortage of workers. The Missouri Department of Corrections, for example, has about 500 correctional officer vacancies and spends big bucks in overtime to cover open shifts. House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick tells Missourinet he hopes the raises will reduce turnover the department.
“The raise we agreed to specifically for correction officers combined with the raise for all state employees amounts to over $1,000 increase, which for some of these corrections officers who are making in the high 20s, low 30s per year I think is significant,” says Fitzpatrick.
Under the fiscal year 2019 state budget plan passed by the legislature, Missouri’s K-12 public schools would get $3.5 billion. The figure represents a nearly $100 million funding increase from last year. The budget outline that begins on July 1 also includes a school busing boost of $10 million.
Lawmakers agreed to a deal with most of Missouri’s public colleges and universities to allow the schools to increase tuition by no greater than 1% during the next school year. In exchange, the legislature would maintain state aid at the current level of $1.2 billion.
Income tax cuts
Lawmakers have passed an income tax reduction. Several proposals were introduced earlier in the legislative session that offered differing versions to massively overhaul the Missouri tax system. The various plans came on the heels of a federal tax package passed by Congress in late 2017.
What the state legislature settled on going into the final day of the session is a much more stripped down and straightforward income tax reduction. The rate would be sliced from 5.9% to 5.5% beginning next year. It would gradually be reduced to 5.1% if the state meets targets for income tax growth. The legislation from Rep. Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, seeks to offset expected revenue losses by gradually phasing out the federal income tax deduction.
The legislature also passed a corporate income tax reduction. The measure to reduce the rate from 6.25% to 4% was finalized by the House on the last day of the session. The rate cut would go into effect in 2020. In addition, the bill changes the way out of state corporations would pay taxes to be based on sales rather the current three-factor apportionment option that lets companies opt for the lower of two rates.
Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, says the change would incentivize businesses, particularly from Kansas, to locate operations in Missouri. House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, says the tax cuts would not have an adverse effect on revenue collections. Democrats largely voted against the income tax cuts.
Sweeping utility bill is finalized
Lawmakers passed a far-reaching utility bill that satisfies the state’s largest electric companies after years of haggling in the legislature. The measure changes the way regulated utilities negotiate rates with the state by allowing them to more quickly recover the cost of infrastructure upgrades. Ameren Missouri, the state’s largest power company, has claimed the plan would open up the power grid to $1 billion in long-needed infrastructure upgrades while limiting rate hikes.
The bill caps rate hikes at 2.85 or 3% per year, depending on the service area. An analysis from state regulators says the legislation could lead to an almost 10% increase in customer rates over the next 10 years.
The measure also calls on the utilities to reduce rates by roughly 5% to compensate for a large federal corporate tax cut the companies are realizing. Ameren says its customers would see the rate reduction within 90 days after the bill is signed into law. But consumer groups contend the adjustment was held up through the legislation itself, which they say was used as a bargaining chip to pass a utility-friendly bill.
Tightening restrictions on liability lawsuits
The Republican-controlled legislature passed a couple of measures that would curb liability lawsuits in the state but failed to advance some of the more far-reaching bills. A proposal that strengthens the position of insurance companies when multiple parties claim damages was approved. It would allow them to use the “interpleader” procedure to avoid paying sums greater than their policy limits.
A contentious measure proponents said would eliminate plaintiffs from “double dipping” in asbestos claims failed to move in the Senate after passing the House. The bill’s opponents claim it would’ve allowed defendant companies to delay asbestos lawsuits indefinitely.
The single biggest proposal dealing with liability litigation also failed to advance in the Senate after clearing the House. The bill sought to add restrictions on plaintiffs who attempt to join together in the same court case. The federal and state Supreme Courts have recently tightened such lawsuits to require plaintiffs to have a connection to the state in which the case is tried. The bill in the legislature would have called for the connection to be even tighter. Republicans have been seeking to shut off high profile lawsuits with plaintiffs from all over the country from filing cases in St. Louis.
Several measures would chip away the power of unions
In 2017, Republicans finally won a long-fought battle over Right-to-work. Right-to-work laws ban union membership as a requirement for employment at workplaces. The statute in Missouri has been delayed as pro-labor groups successfully have placed a ballot measure before voters to decide the fate of the law.
In the past week, the legislature has moved the voting date on that ballot referendum from November to the August primary when polls generally have a much lighter turnout. Another attempt to nullify union efforts fell short when the Senate failed to advance a bill passed by the House which endorsed a Constitutional amendment to make Right-to-work the law of the land.
A big win for the GOP majority on labor issues came when both chambers passed a partial repeal of the state’s prevailing wage law after years of failing to do so. Critics of the law, which sets pay standards on public works projects based on location, say wages in rural areas are inflated. Democrats say the change in the law will harm workers.
Another labor victory for the GOP also came together in the closing days of the session when the Senate passed a measure that would require public sector unions to conduct recertification elections every three years. The mandate was a late addition to a measure that already included annual written consent of employees for unions to deduct employee pay for union dues or fees, which Republicans had long fought for. On this last day of the session, the House approved the prevailing wage bill that came out of the Senate.
Combatting ‘revenge porn’
The Missouri Legislature unanimously passed Cameron GOP State Rep. Jim Neely’s bill last week that would create a felony crime for distributing intimate images of another individual when a reasonable person would understand that the image was private. It would also hold internet service providers liable if they don’t remove the images within five days of being notified of them. Another piece in the measure would create a felony offense for threatening to distribute non-consensual private sexual images. The legislation is under consideration by Governor Greitens, who has also been accused of taking a graphic photo of his ex-mistress in 2015 without her permission.
Changing the state’s minimum marriage age
Lawmakers have passed a measure that would increase the minimum age for marriage to 16 years old. It would also prohibit those older than 21 years old from marrying anyone younger than 18. The bill, which aims to curtail human trafficking, heads to the governor’s desk.
House and Senate members have endorsed a proposal sponsored by state Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, that would let Missourians grow, cultivate, harvest and process industrial hemp. The measure would create a pilot program and require Missourians to get a permit from the state Department of Agriculture to grow hemp. The plant, which comes from the same plant as marijuana, contains very low levels of the psychoactive chemical known as THC. The product can be used in an about 25,000 products, including personal care products, fabrics and furniture.
Expansion of CBD oil treatments
The Missouri General Assembly has given final approval to legislation that would give medical professionals greater freedom to recommend CBD oil to treat intractable epilepsy. According to State Rep. Jean Evans, R-Manchester, the legislation sponsored by Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, would enact language similar to what other states have in place to protect medical professionals from liability for recommending the drug.
Minutes after the regular session wrapped up, lawmakers gavel in for a special session to consider whether Governor Eric Greitens, R, should be impeached. Earlier this month, 138 House members and 29 state senators made the historic move of signing a petition to call themselves in for a special session. A special House committee investigating the governor continues its work on allegations lodged against the governor that range from blackmail, sexual coercion, computer tampering and state and federal campaign finance violations.
By Jason Taylor and Alisa Nelson
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