Missouri Senate considers Angel investment tax credits

Another round of economic development legislation was heard in the Missouri Senate Jobs, Economic Development and Local Government Committee this week, gathering the support of the business community.

Senate Bill 698, sponsored by Kansas City Sen. Jolie Justus, would provide tax credits to investors that provide early stage “angel” capital to qualified employers in the state and would be administered by the Missouri Technology Corporation (MTC) with the primary goal of encouraging individuals to provide seed-capital financing for emerging Missouri businesses engaged in the development, implementation, and commercialization of innovative technologies, products, and services. This bill, unlike many tax credit bills, has a ten year sunset provision.

“You can have a great idea, but without a little bit of seed money or a little bit of assistance, you won’t be able to get the idea off the ground,” Tracy King, vice president of governmental affairs for the Missouri Chamber, said. “This is about investing in individuals and ideas and allowing the entrepreneur to create the newest market and the newest product; this is the basis of all economic development.”

The committee took no action on the bill but may vote on the bill next week.

The Missouri Chamber is supportive of Angel investment tax credits and has testified in favor of similar legislation in the House.  For more information about tax issues, please contact Tracy King, vice president of governmental affairs for the Missouri Chamber, at tking@mochamber.com or by phone at 573-634-3511.

Missouri Chamber opposes minimum wage increase

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, alongside other business advocates, voiced strong opposition this week to a proposal to sharply increase the state’s minimum wage.

Senate Bill 531, sponsored by Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, would raise Missouri’s minimum wage to $10 per hour. Missouri’s current minimum wage is $7.50 an hour.

The floor for tipped wages would also rise from 50 percent to 60 percent of the minimum wage. In addition, the bill would require cost of living increases each year.

Sen. Nasheed is proposing to have voters decide on the change.

The Missouri Chamber joined a host of other businesses and organizations testifying against these attempts to drastically increase costs for companies that employ minimum wage workers.

The Missouri Chamber noted that as wages increase, businesses are forced to try to hold overall salary expenses in check. Often, they achieve this by actually reducing their workforce.

“The negative impact of this proposal will fall directly on the people it is attempting to help. While minimum wage employment is seldom considered a dream job, these jobs provide a valuable place to start and offer workers something to build upon,” said Jay Atkins, general counsel for the Missouri Chamber. “By raising the cost of providing these jobs to Missouri workers, we are closing the entry point to our workforce. This is bad for workers, and it’s bad for our state’s economy.”

The bill was heard this week in the Senate Small Business, Industry and Insurance Committee. No vote was taken.

Those backing the increase have also filed an initiative petition but have not begun gathering the signatures needed to place the change on the ballot. The new minimum wage would go into effect in 2016.

For more information on this issue, or to share how this proposal could impact your business, please contact Jay Atkins, general counsel for the Missouri Chamber, at jatkins@mochamber.com or by phone at 573-634-3511.

Missouri Chamber supports effort to establish Prescription Drug Monitoring Act

In an effort to rein in drug abuse throughout the state, House Bill 1133 was third read and passed by the House this week.  The bill is sponsored by Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, and supported by the Missouri Chamber.

The act would establish the Prescription Drug Monitoring Act and would change the laws regarding the prescribing and dispensing of controlled substances.  The act would require the Department of Health and Senior Services to establish and maintain a program to monitor the prescribing and dispensing of all Schedule II through Schedule IV controlled substances by all licensed professionals who prescribe or dispense these substances in Missouri.  The person dispensing the drugs would then be required to electronically submit to the department information for each prescription. The bill would also require the department to establish a statewide pilot project for reporting fraudulently obtained prescription controlled substances.

“Missouri is the only state that does not have this program in place,” Jay Atkins, general counsel for the Missouri Chamber, said. “Forty nine other states have enacted this legislation. If Missouri had a central prescription drug monitoring program, it would block criminals from other states coming to Missouri to fill multiple prescriptions. This is common-sense legislation.”

The act would also require all submitted prescription information to be kept confidential with specified exceptions.  The department would then review the information and, if there is reasonable cause to believe a violation of law or breach of professional standards may have occurred, they would then notify law enforcement.

The bill would also require the department to maintain a registry of people who might reasonably be considered to have violated any prescription drug laws, and they would stay on the registry for a minimum of three years. Any person who violates provisions of the act could receive a $1,000 fine for each violation.

Several business organizations, including the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry are members of the Missouri Prescription Drug Monitoring Program NOW Coalition, which is a strong proponent of this legislation.

For more information about this legislation, please contact Jay Atkins at jatkins@mochamber.com or by phone at 573-634-3511.

 

Proposals would curb governor’s power to withhold from education

Following years of watching Gov. Jay Nixon withhold funding they had appropriated for schools, Missouri lawmakers are considering legislation that would strip or reduce the governor’s power to withhold from education.

During the summer of 2013, Gov. Nixon temporarily took $66 million from the General Assembly’s appropriation for K-12. The governor’s move came as lawmakers were considering overriding his veto of a tax cut bill. The education withholding was part of the governor’s overall $400 million funding freeze. Most of that funding was later released following the legislature’s unsuccessful attempt to override his veto.

Two lawmakers this session are offering constitutional amendments to change this dynamic. A Senate proposal would disallow the governor from withholding from K-12 education while a House proposal would give lawmakers new powers to override the governor’s school funding freezes.

Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, has sponsored Senate Joint Resolution 45, which was approved unanimously by a Senate committee this week. Sen. Silvey’s proposal would hold K-12 education funding and debt payments as untouchable by the governor once they have been appropriated.

Silvey said his joint resolution amounted to ensuring “that money we’ve appropriated actually makes it to its intended purpose.”

Also this week, the House Committee on General Laws passed legislation sponsored by Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff. Rep. Richardson’s proposal differs from Sen. Silvey’s in that it would retain the governor’s ability to withhold education funding while giving new power to the General Assembly to override the governor’s withholdings. Rep. Richardson’s legislation is House Joint Resolution 72.

During Senate testimony on Sen. Silvey’s proposal, education proponents testified that the governor’s withholdings have made financial planning extremely difficult. They said that if the constitution was changed and the legislature’s appropriations were the final word, there would be much greater stability as school districts plan their budgets.

The constitutional change would also further clarify that educational funding should be held as a priority over nearly all other state expenses. The state’s constitution already has a section describing the order of how state money should be appropriated. Education is listed second, after only paying the state’s debt.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry supports changes that provide stability and give appropriate funding to our state’s education system as today’s business leaders will need highly educated workers to compete in a global marketplace.

For more information about education issues please contact, contact Tracy King, Missouri Chamber vice president of governmental affairs, at tking@mochamber.com or by phone at 573-634-3511.

Missouri Senate takes on Whistleblower Protection Act

This week the Missouri Senate discussed Missouri’s Whistleblower policy and what the legislature can do to protect those who speak out on wrongdoing in the workplace. Heard in the Senate Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee, Senate Bill 490 would protect employees that are the whistleblowers that report illegal workplace conduct, and is sponsored by Sen. Brad Lager (R-Savannah). The proposed legislation would also provide legal protection to employers.

Sen. Brad Lager introduces his bill to clarify Missouri's whistleblower statutes.

Sen. Brad Lager introduces his bill to clarify Missouri’s whistleblower statutes.

Sen. Lager told the committee Monday that a court ruling a few years ago dramatically changed the way that ‘whistle blower’ was interpreted in our state.

“We want to take it back to the way it was,” Lager testified, “In order for there to be a whistle blower protection, there actually has to be a finding of something wrong happening.”

The bill would make it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discharge or retaliate against an individual who is a protected person under the whistleblower protection.  The bill would then become the exclusive remedy for any and all unlawful employment practices and puts a cap on the amount of damages a person can receive.  However, a court may award the plaintiff actual and punitive damages.

This Missouri Chamber is supportive of this legislation.  Jay Atkins, general counsel for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, testified on behalf of the bill.

“Those who oppose this legislation argue that potential plaintiffs will be unable to file litigation because the definition of protected person under the bill is more stringent than what currently exists in common law.  However, employers and employees are best served by having this standard established in statute.”

The committee did not take any action on this bill.  For more information about employment law, please contact Jay Atkins, general counsel for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry at jatkins@mochamber.com or by phone at 573-634-3511.

House committee hears legislation that would change prevailing wage laws

The Missouri House Workforce Development and Workplace Safety Committee took on legislation this week that would reform prevailing wage laws in Missouri.

House Bill 1306, sponsored by Rep. Warren Love, R- Osceola, would change the laws regarding the prevailing hourly rate of wages, and would revise the definition of construction as it relates to prevailing wages on public works projects by removing improvements, alterations, or major repairs and specifies that it does not include maintenance work. Currently the law includes construction, reconstruction, improvement, enlargement, alteration, painting and decorating or major repair.

The Missouri Chamber has a long-standing position against prevailing wage mandates.

“Prevailing wage is a product of a bygone era.  The policy mandates an arbitrary level of wage-setting on public projects,” Jay Atkins, general counsel for the Missouri Chamber, said.  “That mandate is costing taxpayers far greater costs for public projects. In some areas of the state, it could nearly double the wage level on taxpayer-funded projects compared to wages for other local construction projects.”

For more information about prevailing wage issues, please contact Jay Atkins, general counsel and director of governmental affairs for the Missouri Chamber, at jatkins@mochamber.com or by phone at 573-634-3511.

Missouri Chamber testifies against legislation to block retail activity on certain holidays

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry opposes legislation that seeks to halt retail sales on Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas. Tracy King, Missouri Chamber vice president of governmental affairs, testified in opposition to House Bill 1284, legislation sponsored by Rep. Keith English, which the Missouri Chamber says would hurt residents, employers and workers in our state.

“This is a return of the ‘blue law,’ outdated policy that almost all states have eliminated. Currently, Rhode Island, Maine, and Massachusetts are the only states that have these so-called ‘blue laws,’ and lawmakers in these states are looking to repeal them. Don’t take Missouri backwards,” King said.

Under HB 1284, any sale for retail is prohibited by this bill.

“The sick and injured won’t be allowed to purchase medicine at pharmacies. Travelers both in this state and out of state won’t be able to purchase gas as they travel through Missouri on the holiday,” King warned.

According to members of the Missouri Chamber, retailers do not have any problem finding workers who want to work the holidays, often earning more than average wages.

The legislation is also an infringement on free enterprise, eliminating an opportunity to add to our state’s economy.

“If consumers didn’t want to shop on these holidays, retailers would not be open,” King said. “If Missouri limits retail sales on these days, consumers that are close to state lines will take their shopping across the borders.”