Restrictive new climate rules coming: Senate hears bill to help Missouri assert control

As Missouri awaits new environmental rules that could significantly increase power costs for Missouri businesses and consumers, state senators heard about a plan to help the state assert greater control over the situation.

This summer, it is widely expected that the Environmental Protection Agency, under direction from President Barack Obama, will release harsh new standards regulating emissions from existing power plants. In response to this threat, House Bill 1631, by Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, would allow Missouri to make regulatory decisions locally that are in the best interest of our state.

It charges the state’s Air Conservation Commission to develop emissions standards and compliance schedules—rather than wait for the federal Environmental Protection Agency to specify these for Missouri.

“It’s an effort to try to be proactive in the state with how we are going to try to approach and deal with some of the things that we expect out of the Environmental Protection Agency and the president’s climate action plan over the summer,” Rep. Richardson told the Missouri Senate Committee on Commerce, Energy and the Environment on April 15.

The EPA action comes as President Barack Obama is working to reduce gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020, and 80 percent by 2050.

The EPA has already released rules governing the construction of new power plants. The rules are so restrictive that they effectively prohibit the construction of new coal power plants until technology is developed to capture and store emissions underground. At this point, the technology is far from ready.

If the new EPA rules for existing power plants are equally restrictive, Missouri’s power supply could be in trouble. Nearly 85 percent of Missouri’s electrical energy needs are supplied by coal. The new regulations might force many of Missouri’s existing coal plants into retirement. This could lead to energy cost increases of at least 25 – 35 percent. The price of goods and services will soar dramatically as consumers absorb the increased costs of production and distribution that result from a forced reduction in energy output.

Rep. Richardson’s House bill would help Missouri by empowering the state to formulate its own response, rather than wait for the federal government to dictate a solution.

“What we’re attempting to do with House Bill 1631 is assert the state’s jurisdiction under the clean air act,” said Rep. Richardson.

The bill has already been passed by the House.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry supports this legislation and is closely watching how the EPA chooses to issue future regulations. We will keep our members informed.

For more information about environmental issues, contact Jay Atkins, atjatkins@mochamber.com, or by phone at 573-634-3511.

 

Missouri Chamber applauds House and Senate transportation investment proposals

Two pieces of legislation that would provide critical funding for Missouri’s transportation system moved another step further in the legislative process. The Missouri Senate Transportation Committee held a public hearing on Senate Joint Resolution 48, sponsored by Sen. Mike Kehoe (R-Jefferson City), and House Joint Resolution 68, sponsored by Rep. Dave Hinson (R-St. Clair). Both bills propose a one cent sales tax to raise revenue for the Missouri Department of Transportation and, if passed, would be put on the November ballot for a vote of the people.

The Missouri Chamber strongly supports both bills.

The key facts about these resolutions include:

  • The resolutions would create a ten-year, one cent sales tax on all items except medicine, groceries, and gasoline. If the tax is not renewed in ten years, it will automatically expire.
  • The proposal will raise about $790 million per year.
  • MoDOT will create a list of projects they will build with the funding, and provide an annual report of projects.
  • The proposal will require approval by the General Assembly, then go to a popular vote.
  • The proposal will include a constitutional amendment, and the money raised will be earmarked solely for transportation.

“If Missouri is to remain competitive, we have to make moves to invest in our transportation infrastructure,” said Jay Atkins, general counsel for the Missouri Chamber. “It is the very foundation of commerce and economic growth. We can’t drive our economy into the future with crumbling roads beneath our wheels.”

“We have a transportation funding problem right now,” Rep. Hinson testified. “Especially in rural areas we need to widen the shoulders and make the roads safer. The fuel tax is declining and not where it should be. If we were to raise the fuel tax it would be around 25 cents per gallon, and I don’t think the voters want that. We need to find a way to fund these projects to make our roadways safe, and this proposal could do that.”

For more information on transportation issues contact Jay Atkins, Missouri Chamber general counsel, at jatkins@mochamber.com, or by phone at 573-634-3511.
 

House Committee gives approval to legislation to protect Missouri’s Unemployment Trust Fund

The House Workforce Development and Workplace Safety Committee voted do pass Senate Bill 673 on April 14, legislation that makes changes to Missouri’s unemployment insurance system to ensure solvency of this important safety net for unemployed workers. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mike Kehoe (R-Jefferson City), would tie the number of weeks jobless Missourians can receive unemployment benefits to the unemployment insurance rate.

Following the recession, Missouri’s unemployment insurance system became insolvent and had to borrow money from the federal government to cover claims. Missouri has borrowed more than $1 billion since then to continue paying unemployment benefits. Employers have paid millions in interest alone on the borrowed funds.

Both Georgia and Florida have passed legislation that ties unemployment benefit weeks to the unemployment rate.

Under Senate Bill 673, unemployed Missourians would be eligible for:

  • 20 weeks of benefits if the Missouri average unemployment rate is nine percent or higher;
  • 19 weeks of benefits if the Missouri average unemployment rate is between 8.5 percent and 9 percent;
  • 18 weeks of benefits if the Missouri average unemployment rate is 8 percent up to and including 8.5 percent;
  • 17 weeks if the Missouri average unemployment rate is between 7 .5 percent and 8 percent;
  • 16 weeks of benefits if the Missouri average unemployment rate is 7 percent up to and including 7.5 percent;
  • 15 weeks of benefits if the Missouri average unemployment rate is between 6.5 percent and 7 percent;
  • 14 weeks of benefits if the Missouri average unemployment rate is 6 percent up to and including 6.5 percent;
  • 13 weeks of unemployment benefits if the Missouri average unemployment rate is below 6 percent

The Missouri Chamber is the lead advocate of this legislation and has testified multiple times on its behalf. The bill now moves to the House floor for further debate.

For more information on unemployment insurance legislation, contact Tracy King, Missouri Chamber vice president of governmental affairs, at tking@mochamber.com, or by phone at 573-634-3511.

Missouri Chamber supports House action to cut taxes- Now, it’s up to the governor to decide if Missourians will get a tax break

On April 16, the Missouri House passed Senate Bill 509, legislation that would cut the individual income tax rate from 6 percent to 5.5 percent and phase in a 25 percent deduction on an individual’s business income.  The vote was 104-48 and the bill is now headed to the governor’s desk for signature.  The changes would not take effect until 2017.  The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry believes this legislation is a good start to improve Missouri’s economy through tax reform.

“The legislation is critical to keep Missouri in competition with other states that have reduced taxes.  Six of the eight states bordering Missouri have made moves to cut taxes.  Eighteen states cut taxes last year alone,” said Dan Mehan, Missouri Chamber president and CEO.  “We are being left behind.  In a decade, we definitely will see the difference in the economies of those states that have established aggressive tax policy and those states that stood still.”

The Missouri Chamber applauds House leadership for making passage of this legislation a priority.  Despite heated debate, House leadership guided the debate to successful passage.  Most of the debate of the bill centered around the impact the legislation would have on education.

“The Missouri Chamber believes that Missouri can support Missouri workers, job creators and education.  Missouri does not have to be for one or for the other.  We continue to contend that if we hope to move our state forward, we need to change this shortsighted view,” Mehan said.  “If we grow our economy, we will be increasing funding for all important state programs, including education.

By delaying implementation of the legislation until 2017, lawmakers are ensuring that education will be fully funded.  According to budget projections, the education foundation formula will be fully funded before the cuts would go into effect.

“The argument that this bill would cut funding for state programs is disingenuous and misguided,” Mehan said.  “The proposal includes important protections for the state, should the economy falter.  The tax cuts would begin in 2017, but only if Missouri’s net general revenues rise by $150 million over the highest level across the previous three years.”

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Will Kraus, a Republican from Lee’s Summit.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YzdDQ72N9cc

Virtual learning bill voted out of House committee

The House Education committee voted out House Bill 1780 on April 16, which is legislation to bolster the state’s programs for virtual learning. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Kathy Swan, R-Cape Girardeau.

Swan’s bill would allow Missouri high school students who want to begin postsecondary coursework to access virtual learning programs.

The effort comes as Missouri has fallen behind in the effort to bring digital learning opportunities to K-12 students, according to a Missouri Chamber Education Foundation study released earlier this year. A similar bill has been presented by Sen. Ed Emery.
The bill will now move to the House floor for further debate, and if passed, will move to the senate.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry supports efforts to enhance virtual learning options in our state. For the future of our economy, it is critical that Missouri students receive a world-class education and emerge prepared to compete in a global economy.
For more information about education legislation, contact Jay Atkins, general counsel for the Missouri Chamber at jatkins@mochamber.com or Brian Crouse, vice president of education programs for the Missouri Chamber at bcrouse@mochamber.com , or by phone at 573-634-3511.

NEWS RELEASE: Missouri employers need to be aware of dangerous Missouri Supreme Court workers’ compensation / discrimination ruling

A ruling today by the Missouri Supreme Court continues to erode employment law against Missouri employers. Following today’s 5-2 decision by Missouri’s High Court, employees will have a much easier time winning cases against employers by alleging discrimination involving workers’ compensation claims. Employees only have to prove that their workers’ compensation claims were a “contributing factor” in their dismissal or demotion in order to win lawsuits claiming retaliation. This disregards 30 years of case law that required the workers’ compensation claim to be the “exclusive reason.” 

“Adopting a ‘contributing factor’ standard is a stark change in our status as an employment-at-will state,” said Dan Mehan, Missouri Chamber president and CEO. “There is no doubt this ruling will greatly increase employer liability by lowering the standard of proof necessary for an employer to prevail in a wrongful termination case against an employer.”

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry filed an amicus brief in support of the employer’s position in the case of Templemire v. W&M Welding. Originally filed in 2007, the plaintiff Templemire claims he was fired because of his filing of a workers’ compensation claim, while the company claims he was fired for failing to complete an assigned work task. At trial and on appeal, the courts found that Templemire could not receive compensation for his wrongful termination claim because his workers’ compensation claim was not the “exclusive cause” in his termination from employment. The Missouri Chamber supports the position of both the Circuit Court and the Court of Appeals that “exclusive factor” is the appropriate standard used in workers’ compensation retaliatory claims. The Missouri Supreme Court reversed the lower courts’ ruling.

“The Missouri Supreme Court is allowing speculation, not just facts, to lead to litigation,” Mehan said. “It is disturbing to watch the Court legislate from the bench. This ruling upends three decades of judicial precedent, in addition to misrepresenting the intent of the Missouri Legislature. It is no wonder Missouri has become one of the easiest states in the nation in which to bring unfounded discrimination claims against employers.”

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry (www.mochamber.com) was founded in 1923 and is the largest business organization in Missouri, representing almost 3,000 employers, providing more than 425,000 jobs for Missourians.

Missouri House votes to block state’s money grab of business unclaimed property

The Missouri House gave first-round approval today of House Bill 1075, legislation sponsored by Rep. Rocky Miller (R-Tuscumbia) that would block the state’s false claims to business unclaimed property.

“All too often, the unclaimed property that is being reported to the state isn’t truly unclaimed property,” said Tracy King, vice president of governmental affairs for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “This is not the state’s money, and it is not the state’s job to take these transactions and dump them into the general revenue.”

Some states have implemented aggressive strategies to target unclaimed business property because if the state can’t find the rightful owner of the property, the state can keep the property. The Council on State Taxation, a national tax association, began ranking states based on their unclaimed property laws in 2008.  While most of the states have made improvements over the years, Missouri has remained in the bottom-ranked states in the country with only Delaware, Mississippi and New York with lower rankings. 

“House Bill 1075 would take Missouri from the bottom four states in the rankings to one of the top ten states for fair treatment of business unclaimed property,” King said.

 

The three main provisions of HB l075 would:

  • Create a business-to-business exemption for unclaimed property: Currently, if a business has outstanding credits or other transactions with another business, the state Treasurer can audit the company and require them to pay into the state unclaimed property fund.
  • Establish a 3 year period of limitations:  There are statutes of limitations in both federal and state tax laws.  If a business files a report in good faith, they would be assured that they will not be subject to audit, resulting in penalties and interest.  The penalties and interest could be significant and the uncertainty would create considerable business planning risks. The statute of limitations defined in this bill is similar to the one for tax law.  The state would have three years after the filing of the report to audit the businesses’ records and to assess any addition property. 
  • Provide a fair appeals process:  Currently, a business has little recourse if it disagrees with the Missouri Treasurer’s treatment of its unclaimed property.  Under this legislation, a business can appeal to a circuit court if it is unsatisfied with the Treasurer’s ruling.

“Compliance with Missouri’s unclaimed property laws is a hidden cost of doing business,” King said. “This legislation is a good step toward blocking this money grab, while making it easier for businesses to stay in compliance and stay in business.”

 

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry (www.mochamber.com) was founded in 1923 and is the largest business organization in Missouri, representing almost 3,000 employers, providing more than 425,000 jobs for Missourians.