The House Committee on Workforce Development and Workplace Safety and the Senate Judiciary Committee held public hearings on two bills that would change the laws regarding unlawful discriminatory employment practices as they relate to the Missouri Human Rights Act.
The proposed legislation would change the state law that indicates discrimination must be “a motivating factor” rather than “a contributing factor” in wrongful termination lawsuits, which is identical to language found in the federal Civil Rights Act. The bill would also allow for summary judgments, provide any party to demand a jury trial, limit awards for certain damages, outlined in federal law, and exclude managers and supervisors from being held liable.
Kevin Austin (R) sponsors House Bill 1019, and Sen. Gary Romine (R) sponsored identical legislation in Senate Bill 36. The Missouri Chamber supports both bills.
“It is not often that the Missouri Chamber says the feds do it better,” Jay Atkins, general counsel for the Missouri Chamber, testified. “48 other states agree that the federal standard is better. Only California is in worse shape in terms of employment law than Missouri is.. The way that disputes have been adjudicated in the courts have put employers at a significant disadvantage. This brings a fair and equitable playing field to handle these disputes.
Previously, two similar bills have passed by the General Assembly, but were vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon. The current bill seeks to bring the law back in line with the 1964 Civil Rights act, which is the federal standard for discrimination suits.
Minimum wage increase
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, alongside other business advocates, voiced strong opposition to a proposal to sharply increase the state’s minimum wage.
Senate Bill 193, sponsored by Sen. Paul LeVota, (D), would raise Missouri’s minimum wage to $10 per hour. Missouri’s current minimum wage is $7.65 an hour.
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 fact of the matter is this would increase the minimum wage by 30 to 31 percent and would place us in a higher wage than any of our other border states that we compete with every day not only to attract businesses but to keep them,” Brian Bunten, assistant general counsel for the Missouri Chamber testified against the bill. “We believe the business community would be at a disadvantage by increasing the cost of doing business.”
The bill was heard this week in the Senate Small Business, Industry and Insurance Committee. No vote was taken.
Unemployment Compensation Overpayments
Also heard in the Senate Small Business committee was SB 406, sponsored by Sen. Brian Munzlinger (R) which would allow for the recovery of overpaid unemployment compensation benefits, benefits obtained by reason of nondisclosure or misrepresentation of a material fact, or benefits obtained by reason of error, omission, or lack of knowledge of a material fact on the part of the Division of Employment Security through billing, setoffs against state and federal tax refunds, intercepts of lottery winnings, and collection efforts as provided under current law.
“The need for this bill was brought about by a court case,” Sen. Munzlinger testified. “This is common sense legislation that I would have thought had already happened but that hasn’t been the case. This will allow the department of employment security to recoup those funds.”
The Missouri Chamber testified on behalf of the bill.
“It is critical that the department are able to collect those overpayments and get that money back into the fund so that it actually goes to pay unemployment benefits for those that truly need and qualify for it,” Tracy King, vice president of governmental affairs for the Missouri Chamber, testified.
Unemployment Compensation reform
HB150, sponsored by Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick (R) which would tie the number of weeks jobless Missourians can receive unemployment benefits to the unemployment rate, has been voted out of the house and was heard in the Senate Small Business committee this week, advancing it one step closer to becoming law.
Under this bill, 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
“This is all about creating some solvency within the fund for the future,” King testified on behalf of the bill. “Had Missouri not paid off the debt by November of last year, employers would have had a $184 million tax increase on top of what they were already paying in unemployment taxes. This is a very significant issue for our employers and members.”
For more information about any of these employment issues, please feel free to contact the governmental affairs staff of the Missouri Chamber at 573-634-3511.