House Committee hears patent trolling bill

In an effort to protect small business from scammers, the House Financial Institutions Committee held a public hearing on Senate Bill 706, sponsored by Sen. Mike Cunningham. The bill would prohibit bad faith assertions of patent infringement. This act creates a seven factor test that a court would consider when determining if a person has made a bad faith assertion of patent infringement.

If a person or business believes that they have been a target of a bad faith assertion of patent infringement upon receiving a demand letter, the person shall have a private right to a cause of action. Upon a finding by a court that a person has made a bad faith assertion of patent infringement, the court allows the target to recover certain damages.

“This is a new scam that is hitting banks and small businesses,” Sen. Cunningham testified. “People are trolling businesses and sending out letters to see who will bite at it. The letters are falsely claiming businesses are illegally using their patented software, and demanding they be paid for it. These trolls extort the companies by demanding they go to court or pay them off by employee, some companies have paid 50-60 thousand dollars because they’ve been threatened with lawsuits and told they could be paying millions of dollars.”

A similar bill, House Bill 1374, sponsored by Rep. Stanley Cox, was passed out of the House and has had a hearing in the Senate Judiciary, Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.

This bill would allow the Attorney General to investigate, restrain, and prosecute bad faith assertions of patent infringement claims. The bill was voted do pass by the committee and now moves to the House floor for debate.

The Missouri Chamber is supportive of this legislation.

Bill passed by Senate would help Missouri businesses forgo layoffs

 For years, many Missouri employers have relied on the federal Shared-Work Program to help avoid layoffs during temporary work slowdowns. The program has protected Missouri families from economic swings and allowed businesses to retain their skilled workers. Now, state lawmakers must act this year to allow Missourians to continue to access this beneficial program.

 

Under the Shared-Work Program, during a temporary decline in business, participating companies can reduce the hours of their permanent employees, allowing them to collect partial unemployment payments to make up for lost wages.

 

On April 23, the Missouri Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 844, which would make necessary changes to Missouri’s statutes to make it possible for businesses in Missouri to continue using the Shared-Work Program. State labor officials have said that unless the bill is passed and enacted by Aug. 22, 2014, the program will end in Missouri. Senate Bill 844, sponsored by Sen. Bob Dixon, a Republican from Springfield, contains an emergency clause allowing the bill to take effect immediately upon the governor’s signature. It must still pass the House of Representatives before the legislative session ends on May 16.

 

“The shared work program has been a valuable tool used by many of our state’s employers over the years. We feel this is truly a win-win program, helping businesses retain the employees they need while ensuring workers are paid during slow periods,” said Daniel P. Mehan, Missouri Chamber president and CEO. “We thank the Senate for their vote and we are asking the House to quickly act as well.”

 

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.

 

Taxpayers should demand a fact check of Gov. Nixon’s anti-tax cut message

 The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry is questioning Gov. Jay Nixon’s anti-tax cut messaging.  Following the Missouri House passage of Senate Bill 509, Gov. Jay Nixon wasted no time in decrying the bill, but some of his claims are not accurate.  The bill the governor is attacking is 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 changes would not take effect until 2017, and only if Missouri’s net general revenues rise by $150 million over the highest level across the previous three years.

The Missouri Chamber is troubled to see Gov. Nixon successfully framing the issue in the media as a tax cut for “lobbyists and lawyers.”

“What about the farmers, barbers, pet groomers, carpenters, and thousands of other categories of small business owners who would benefit from this tax cut?” asked Dan Mehan, Missouri Chamber president and CEO.  “What about the factory workers, truck drivers, teachers, and other hard-working Missourians who would benefit by keeping more of their paychecks?  On behalf of the small business members we represent and workers they employ – all of whom would benefit from this tax relief – we need to set the record straight.”

Another fact that the governor is distorting is that the legislation is an attack on education and would cut education funding.

“The legislation delays implementation of the tax cut until 2017, when the governor’s own projections show that the education foundation formula will be fully funded,” Mehan said.  “The tax breaks will not go into effect unless $750 million in additional funding comes into state revenue.  How can the governor say education will receive less funding, when simple math shows the opposite?”

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry supports Senate Bill 509, citing the need to compete with surrounding states that have implemented tax reform.   Six of the eight states bordering Missouri have made moves to cut taxes.  Eighteen states cut taxes last year alone.

“In a decade, we will definitely see the difference in the economies of those states that have established aggressive tax policy and those states that stood still,” Mehan said.  “We are being left behind by states that have embraced reform.  Instead, in Missouri, our governor is spending taxpayers’ dollars flying around the state and holding press conferences rather than giving them a small break.  At the very least, we hope that reporters and taxpayers will see through the rhetoric.”

Meeting notes posted on Politicmo today show the coordination between the governor’s office and some members of the education community to block the tax relief proposal.

“This is another example of politics before policy,” Mehan said.

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

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