AIM celebrates successful legislative session
From a meaningful tax cut for the state’s employers to helping hold the line on unemployment insurance claims to aiding businesses in their dealings with the Department of Natural Resources, lawmakers during the 2013 legislative session passed important legislation that will help Missouri business.
“From the very beginning of the session, Senators and Representatives proved they were serious about legislation that will help Missouri business remain competitive, while creating an atmosphere where they can grow and prosper well into the future,” said Ray McCarty, president of AIM. “AIM and its members across the state would like to compliment the General Assembly on a productive session for business and industry.”
AIM celebrates the Association’s tax reduction bill that cleared the legislature with more than a week to spare. The bill will provide all Missouri businesses, no matter how large or small, with a tax cut and it also provides individual citizens the first tax rate reduction since the 1920’s. The bill’s unique feature of allowing tax rate reductions only in years where state tax revenues have grown by $100 million is a measured response to the controversial tax cuts in Kansas that may entice new business, but may also cripple the Kansas state budget.
“This is an historic piece of legislation,” said McCarty. “We believe that it will lead to a better and more vibrant Missouri both for business and for individuals.”
AIM also applauds the success of legislators in passing environmental bills which make several improvements for employers that must deal with the Department of Natural Resources. The bill streamlines several permitting processes and sets up a structure for stakeholders to have a say in rate increases. The bill also formalizes the process for businesses to obtain variances from the department on the issue of contaminants in water during periods of drought and high temperature.
One bill would have limited crippling punitive damage awards relating to the management and maintenance of mining operations in Ste. Francois County by the Doe Run Company. “While this bill sought to bring reasonable resolution to this issue and allow the Doe Run Company to continue their remediation efforts, it appears the Governor may veto the legislation,” said Ray McCarty. “This makes no sense. If the company continues to be hit with these unreasonable punitive damages that are designed to stop activity that has already ceased, the only impact of the Governor vetoing this legislation would be to enrich trial attorneys and potentially drive a good Missouri employer out of business or out of the state.”
Employers will gain more protection from problem employees who file unemployment claims thanks to the passage of Senate Bill 28 and House Bill 611. The bills change the definition of employee misconduct to a “knowing disregard” of company rules. Currently, state labor laws read that the employee can only be disqualified for unemployment benefits if their job was terminated due to “wanton or willful disregard.” Employers must currently also prove an employee acted intentionally and with substantial disregard of the employer’s interests to qualify as misconduct.
The bill disqualifies employees from unemployment benefits if the employee violates an employer’s rule. The bill is designed to cut down on the amount of unemployment claims awarded to terminated employees throughout the state every year.
Currently, the state’s unemployment insurance fund is hundreds of millions of dollars in the red to the federal unemployment insurance stabilization fund. Proponents of the legislation say the state could save up to $500 million by enacting the components of the legislation. “This bill is an important step to help employers deal with runaway unemployment costs,” said AIM president Ray McCarty. “The pendulum has swung too far in favor of the terminated employees, and to allow the current situation to continue is certainly not healthy for employers.”
House members on the state budget conference committee also managed to minimize the effects of large cuts to job training funds. Protecting job training funds was a top priority for AIM this year.
McCarty says AIM is also satisfied with the fix that will save the Second Injury Fund. AIM has fought for several years to ensure that reforms are enacted to the system in exchange for modest and temporary additional funding for the Fund. The language in Senate Bill 1 represents a good balance of reforms and additional funding for the Second Injury Fund. Associated Industries also supports language in the bill that would clarify that occupational diseases are covered under the exclusive remedy provisions of the workers’ compensation law.
But AIM remains concerned over large amounts that would be allowed to workers contracting diseases from exposure to toxic substances and materials. The language in the bill would, in the words of one representative, establish the highest awards for toxic exposure diseases of any state in the nation.
Associated Industries of Missouri will now focus attention on Governor Nixon as he considers and takes action on these and other bills affecting Missouri employers.