2014 Missouri Chamber Election Action Center is your campaign information HQ

Each election year we are given the responsibility of voting for individuals to represent us in our state and federal government. As a Missouri voter, you will help elect a new Missouri Legislature and statewide elected officials – individuals who will shape legislative attitudes on business issues.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry continues to provide you with the information you need to make informed decisions about your voting choices, and all this information is provided to you at the newly re-launched www.mochamberelectioncenter.com

The Missouri Chamber’s Election Action Center is the state’s top resource regarding candidates and how their views align with the goal of advancing Missouri’s economy. Each candidate is given the opportunity to weigh in on their priorities to make sure you have all the important information at your fingertips.

Users of the free website can view information about candidates in all the state races as well as races for U.S. Congressional seats. The site will clarify voting records and candidate position on the issues such as tort reform, workers’ compensation reform, tax policy, and other business factors that impact you and your business.

At this site you can track the latest election news and watch video clips of candidates. The site will be updated right up to the November 4 election.

You can also check in on your incumbent legislators’ voting records to see how they stack up to their opponents on business friendly legislation.

Please use this information to your advantage and share it with others in your company and industry!

House committee reviews employment law reform

Employment law reform has been a top priority of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry for the last four years.  This legislation was passed by the Missouri Legislature and vetoed twice by Gov. Jay Nixon, first in 2011 and again in 2012.

The Missouri Chamber seeks a technical change to language in the state’s Human Rights Statute covering employment discrimination.  The change would require workers who bring wrongful termination lawsuits to prove discrimination was a “motivating factor,” not simply a “contributing factor” in the employer’s action.  This change would bring Missouri’s law back in line with federal statutes and with the majority of states.

“A decade of court decisions have eroded our state’s laws and plunged the standards for bringing discrimination cases in Missouri to among the lowest in the nation,” said Jay Atkins, Missouri Chamber general counsel and director of governmental affairs. “For the last four years, the Missouri Chamber has been the loudest proponent of legislative change.  We have said time and time again that discrimination anywhere, but especially in the workplace, is ugly and wrong.  We need a strong law that allows expedient action in cases of discrimination and blocks fraudulent claims from moving forward.”

A new iteration of employment law reform, House Bill 1930, was presented this week to a House committee by Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington.  Atkins testified in opposition to the bill.

“The proposed change is a good first step, but does not go far enough to clarify the definition of motivating factor,” Atkins said.  “As written, this bill would continue to allow fraudulent cases into the system.”

The Missouri Chamber also expressed concern about a provision in the bill that would add a new protected class under the state’s Human Rights statute for sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The Missouri Chamber and many of our members have policies protecting employees from discrimination due to sexual orientation and gender identity.  We encourage more companies to consider adding such policies as well,” Atkins said.  “But there is a dramatic difference between advocating workplace policies, and creating an entire new cause of action that exposes all Missouri employers to further liability under employment law.”

No vote was taken on HB 1930.

For more information on employment law, contact Jay Atkins, at jatkins@mochamber.com, or by phone at 573-634-3511.

The Missouri Chamber holds that all taxpayers should be innocent until proven guilty – including large employers

This week, the Missouri Chamber’s Tracy King told a Senate committee that current Missouri tax policy denies Missouri large employers a basic right – innocence until proven guilty. The Missouri Chamber testified in support of legislation presented to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means that would shift the burden of proof in tax disputes from employer taxpayers to the Department of Revenue (DOR).

This bill is an enhancement to legislation passed in previous years that shifted the burden of proof from individuals and small businesses to the Revenue Department. The Missouri Chamber has been the lead proponent of this movement since the Missouri Legislature first looked at the issue in 1999.

The bill under review by the Senate committee is Senate Bill 829, sponsored by Sen. Will Kraus, a Republican from Lee’s Summit.

“The Missouri Chamber holds that innocence until proven guilty is an unconditional right of every Missouri taxpayer, including large employers,” King said. “I challenge the department to show me how they can draw a correlation between size of business and the frequency of tax evasion.”

Similar legislation was approved this week by the Missouri House Committee on Rules. That bill is House Bill 1455, sponsored by Rep. Denny Hoskins, a Republican from Warrensburg. That means HB 1455 could be debated as early as next week.

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

Missouri changes course to secure additional transportation funding

Signature gathering to place a transportation sales and use tax on the November ballot has been halted.  Bill McKenna, the treasurer for Missourians for Safe Transportation and New Jobs, said this week that his group is redirecting its efforts to secure legislative approval to put the issue before voters.

The group needed to collect 170,000 signatures by May 4 in order for the measure to be included on the November ballot.  That’s a difficult hurdle, compounded by a pending lawsuit by the Missouri Association of Social Welfare challenging the ballot language.

Securing approval by the General Assembly and signature by Gov. Jay Nixon may be an easier road to take to address Missouri’s decreasing transportation funding.

Currently under consideration by the Missouri Legislature is:  House Joint Resolution 68, and Senate Joint Resolution 48. HJR 68 was heard in the House Transportation committee and Jay Atkins, Missouri Chamber general counsel, testified on its behalf.

There is good reason for Missouri to remain diligent in addressing this growing problem.  At the Missouri Transportation Conference last month, Missouri Department of Transportation Director Dave Nichols warned that that MODOT’s construction funding would drop from this year’s budget level of $685 million to $325 million by 2017.  Until more funding is found, no new transportation projects will be added to the state’s five-year spending plan and a local cost-share program will be suspended.  Even with those changes, funding will fall below what is needed to fully fund state maintenance.

Missouri is not alone in its transportation funding woes.  As gas taxes continue to lose buying power and federal funding remain uncertain, many states have felt the pain of working with fewer and fewer transportation dollars.  According to a recent report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, several have taken action to fix their problems.  State legislatures in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia passed transportation funding increases last year after years of deadlock.  Maryland, Ohio, Vermont and Wyoming also passed significant transportation packages.  Pew reports that transportation is expected to be an important part of debate in Delaware, Iowa, Oregon and Washington.

For more information on transportation issues, contact Jay Atkins, Missouri Chamber General Counsel and governmental affairs, at jatkins@mochamber.com, or by phone at 573-634-3511.

Right to Work talks continue in House committee

The discussion about making Missouri a Right to Work state continued this week in a House committee.

On Tuesday, Jan. 21, the House Committee on Workforce Development and Workplace Safety heard testimony on House Bill 1053, filed by Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson, and House Bill 1143, filed by Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin. Both bills would end the practice of employees being required to join a union as a condition of employment. Rep. Lichtenegger’s bill would put the proposal to a statewide vote.

During the hearing, advocates for Right to Work, including the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, pointed out how more and more states are adopting Right to Work legislation. If Missouri fails to act soon, the state will find itself at a competitive disadvantage compared to the 24 states that have already adopted Right to Work, including six of Missouri’s eight border states.

“While the Missouri Chamber and pro-business legislators have worked for years to create a compelling case for business growth and expansion in Missouri, Right to Work status remains a big issue that employers truly consider when deciding where to invest,” said Jay Atkins, general counsel and director of governmental affairs for the Missouri Chamber. “It is promising to see our legislators taking a proactive approach and making this change a priority this session.”

The House committee considering these bills has already also heard testimony on House Bill 1099, sponsored by Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, which contains similar provisions.

For more information about Right to Work 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.

More than a pothole: Transportation conference brings stark warning

There was a stark, recurring theme during the 2014 Missouri Conference on Transportation – by 2017, there will not be enough funding to even continue maintaining our existing infrastructure.

“Missouri transportation has made great leaps and bounds in the last 12 years in moving transportation forward in our state,” said Joe Carmichael, chairman of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission. “But we see that progress coming to an end in the foreseeable future.”

Missouri Chamber President Dan Mehan speaks at a press conference during the 2014 Missouri Conference on Transportation.

Missouri Chamber President Dan Mehan speaks at a press conference during the 2014 Missouri Conference on Transportation.

Unless a solution is found soon, the Missouri Department of Transportation, which once invested more than a billion dollars into transportation infrastructure each year, will be forced to make ends meet on an annual budget of $325 million beginning in 2017.

“That’s not even enough money to do the preservation work,” said MODOT Director Dave Nichols. That amount won’t allow Missouri to “hold our own and keep our highway system in the condition it is today.”

Already, Missouri is seeing consequences from the coming funding decline. In fact, earlier this month the highways and transportation commission decided to stop adding new projects to the department’s five year building plan.

The state is also suspending its cost share program, which allowed MODOT to partner with cities and counties to fund projects that the state could not have funded on its own.

The transportation department is largely funded by fuel tax revenues. The last times those were increased were in 1992 and 1993 for the state and federal taxes, respectively. Recently, those tax revenues have begun to decline as people are driving few miles and purchasing more fuel efficient vehicles.

All of this is happening while the cost of building transportation projects continues to rise.

“Really, we’re able to do less with the dollars that we have to invest,” Nichols said. “That’s where the challenge is hitting us.”

One idea to help solve this funding crisis is to establish a new 1-cent sales tax to help fund transportation. The new tax would need to be passed by voters. The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry supports this proposal.

“If we invest in transportation, it means good things for economic development for the whole state,” said Dan Mehan, president of the Missouri Chamber.

As the state prepares for the possibility of bare bones transportation funding, MODOT leaders have been asking Missourians what they want and expect from their transportation system. Right now, those expectations are far from becoming a reality.

“Missourians are telling us when we speak with them that they want more,” said Carmichael. “But when we look at the balance sheet, look at the finances available and the resources we have, we’re unable to deliver what we’re hearing from them that they want.”

For more information about transportation 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 supports restoring medical malpractice damage caps

The Senate Small Business, Insurance and Industry Committee discussed a bill to reinstate medical malpractice caps in Missouri this week.

The committee discussed Senate Bill 589, which would re-establish legislation putting a cap on malpractice payouts. Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, the sponsor of the bill, thinks the cap should be restored in order to encourage more doctors to practice in Missouri.

The Missouri Chamber was a lead proponent of sweeping tort reforms passed in 2005 that included placing medical malpractice caps.

In 2012, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned caps on malpractice payouts. The Missouri Chamber fought the overturning of the law.

“Missouri has had no cap on non-economic damages for the first time since the 1980s,” Sen. Brown testified. “A lot of doctors are opting not to do high risk procedures in Missouri. We have a lot of great medical experts in the state; we have a lot of great students in our medical schools that we are losing to other states because of this issue.”

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry supports this legislation.

“Non-economic damages awards, such as for pain and suffering, are highly subjective and inherently unpredictable – there is no market for pain and suffering,” the Missouri Chamber wrote in a brief.  “In recent years, a confluence of factors has led to a significant rise in the size of pain and suffering awards, creating the need for statutory upper limits to guard against excessive and unpredictable outlier awards.  Such awards may occur when juries are improperly influenced by sympathy for the plaintiff, bias against a deep-pocket defendant, or desire to punish the defendant rather than compensate the plaintiff.”

For more information about tort reform, please contact Jay Atkins, general counsel and direct of  governmental affairs for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry at jatkins@mochamber.com or by phone at 573-634-3511.