Much has changed in Missouri since legislative leaders closed the 2014 Legislative Session in Jefferson City. During the summer and fall, political campaigns dominated televisions and newspapers. Sadly, in August the focus shifted to stories of violence and protests – stories that have continued to dominant media in Missouri and around the nation. Many wonder how the newly elected General Assembly and the lessons learned from the unrest in Ferguson in 2014 will impact the upcoming 2015 Legislative Session. With this backdrop, Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry believes, now more than ever, that long-term policies for job creation should be the focus of Missouri’s policy makers.
“Missouri is stronger when everyone who wants to work can find a job,” said Daniel P. Mehan, Missouri Chamber president and CEO. “And Missouri will create more jobs when we improve the business climate in which our job creators – Missouri’s employers – operate. We can’t downplay the complexity of social problems that have moved to the forefront in recent months. However, creating more job opportunities can make a difference and is within reach this legislative session.”
As the state’s largest business advocacy group, the Missouri Chamber will advocate for policies that would have a broad-based impact on Missouri employers and ultimately create more job opportunities across all industries.
“The most effective policy for growing the most jobs is to provide the best possible business environment,” Mehan said. “That’s why basic business issues such as education and workforce development, workers’ compensation reforms, unemployment reforms, legal reforms and health care are among the Missouri Chamber’s top priorities.”
A full list of the Missouri Chamber’s 2015 Legislative Agenda can be found at: http://www.mochamber.com/mx/hm.asp?id=LegislativeAgenda
EDUCATION AND WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT INITIATIVES
Perhaps no other issue impacts Missouri’s workforce and Missouri employers’ ability to compete as much as education policy. A long-term plan to make our education system as effective as it can be is essential to the future of our state.
“Our workforce is the front line of our economy and our education system determines the strength of that front line,” Mehan said. “Like any other component of a business or organization, if you are not constantly monitoring and making changes to keep up with the times, you will fall behind. Or workforce is too important to allow us to fall behind because we are afraid to make change.”
Recognizing this, the Missouri Chamber board of directors has approved a broad agenda of education reforms, including fully funding our education system, providing better support for high performing teachers and administrators and setting higher standards for Missouri students.
The Missouri Chamber will also advocate for measures that better align our education and workforce development system with the needs of business.
“Our employer members tell us that they have jobs to fill, but not enough qualified workers to fill those positions,” Mehan said. “We must rethink how we approach workforce development so that Missouri is maximizing training dollars toward this need.”
UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE REFORM Reducing the tax liability of Missouri’s unemployment system is another measure that would provide broad-based relief to all Missouri employers. Following the last recession, Missouri borrowed millions of dollars from the federal government to cover claims the state fund was unable to pay. Missouri employers, who fund the state’s unemployment insurance system, were required to pay millions of dollars more in additional penalties and interest. This summer, Missouri’s outstanding federal debt was finally repaid. Missouri was one of the last states to pay off its debt. Missouri is the only state that has had to borrow federal money during the last five recessions.
“Missouri employers bear the weight of this problem, because employers fully fund the system through federal and state UI taxes. Employers have every right to demand a more cost-effective and stable system with greater measures of accountability to root out fraud,” Mehan said.
The Missouri Chamber will work to implement stricter standards for workers who can access the system. The Missouri Chamber also will push for legislation to tie the unemployment rate to number of weeks unemployment benefits will be paid. These moves could help provide long-term stability for the fund in the future so that the system can serve the workers it was designed to protect – people unemployed by no fault of their own.
Several states have taken common-sense steps toward stemming the tide of unemployment insurance debt. In the last two legislative sessions, the Missouri Chamber has successfully advocated passage by the General Assembly of similar measures. Some of these provisions were vetoed by Gov. Nixon.
WORKERS’ COMPENSATION REFORM
Workers’ compensation is a bottom-line issue for Missouri employers and it is an ongoing challenge to keep up with anti-employer court rulings that annually erode Missouri’s workers’ compensation system. A leading priority of the Missouri Chamber in the upcoming session is to address an April 2014 ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court that gives employees a much easier time winning cases against employers by alleging discrimination involving workers’ compensation claims. As a result of the Templemire v. W&M Welding ruling, 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,” Mehan said. “There is no doubt this ruling will greatly increase employer liability by lowering the standard of proof necessary for an employee 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. 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” of 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.
Missouri lawmakers’ decision on Medicaid expansion will also have a far-reaching impact on every Missouri employer.
“The impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on employers is more far reaching than most can imagine. Not only does it dramatically increase how much employers have to pay for health insurance coverage for their employees, it also is driving costs up on our state’s health care providers, some of the largest employers in Missouri,” Mehan said.
All health care providers will see radical cost shifts as a result of ACA and those cost shifts will be borne by Missouri employers in the form of higher insurance costs and taxes. Some small health care providers, such as rural hospitals, will not be able to shift enough of the burden and may be forced to limit services or even close their doors.
“These are the cold, hard facts about Obamacare and these are the reasons the Missouri Chamber is advocating that Missouri expand its Medicaid program in order to recoup as many federal dollars as we can as a state to ease the blow,” Mehan explains. “This is the only action the Legislature can take to make Obamacare better. We can block transformation on philosophical arguments, but the reality is this position is going to close hospitals’ doors. This is a chance to make the changes we want made to Medicaid without losing billions in taxes our citizens have already paid.”
CIVIL JUSTICE REFORM
One of the biggest challenges to Missouri’s business climate is the need for continued, meaningful legal reform. The trial bar is intent on increasing the amount of time employers spend in court. Each year, dangerous, anti-business legislation is pushed by this powerful and well-funded special interest.
Reform to the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (MMPA) is a leading priority of the Missouri Chamber. The law as currently written and interpreted promotes costly and sometimes outlandish lawsuits for which consumers and jobseekers pay the price. A few simple reforms can begin to return Missouri’s MMPA to its original mission of preventing and punishing truly deceptive business practices.
“Like many state consumer protection laws, the well-intentioned MMPA originated in the 1960s. But since then, the law has been so distorted and contorted by legislative amendments and judicial interpretations that it’s now just as likely to be used to boost trial lawyers’ bank accounts as it is to compensate truly defrauded consumers,” Mehan said.
A 2009 study by Northwestern University’s Searle Civil Justice Institute shows that reported decisions of consumer fraud claims in Missouri from 2000 to 2009 rose an astonishing 678 percent – more than four times the national average — even as the state’s population rose just over 6 percent.
In addition to reforms to the MMPA, the Missouri Chamber will revisit legal reforms, including joint and several liability, third-party liability and employment law.
In recent years, county and city officials have passed ordinances that make Missouri a confusing patchwork of laws and regulations. This patchwork makes it difficult to market Missouri as a whole and also makes it difficult for employers that operate in multiple communities in the state.
“After failing to pass anti-employer statewide mandates, we are seeing special interest groups target their efforts at the local level,” said Mehan. “It’s time to put a stop to this new effort to fragment Missouri before it begins driving jobs out of our state.”
For example, the cities of Jersey City, New York City, Portland (OR), San Francisco and Seattle all require private employers to offer paid sick leave to employees. Additionally, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, San Francisco, San Jose, and most recently Seattle and Chicago, will have minimum wages that surpass the state and federal wage. About a dozen states have taken action to preempt some of these mandates and keep a unified business environment throughout the state.
The Missouri Chamber will advocate for legislation that would protect Missouri from these mandates, specifically targeting ordinances that mandate leave beyond the FMLA, modified discrimination laws and standards and increased minimum wage.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry (www.mochamber.com) was founded in 1923 and is the largest business association in Missouri, representing almost 3,000 employers providing more than 425,000 jobs for Missourians.