AIM Legislative Update March 24, 2023
By Ray McCarty, email@example.com
March 24, 2023 - We want to update you, our business members, on our legislative activity for the last week, representing the business position on some important legislation. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about any of these issues, please contact me at the email address above. Of course, we are doing much more than is reflected in this article, but this article is a good high-level review. By the way, if your business is not yet a member of Associated Industries of Missouri, please consider joining and supporting our efforts.
This was a busy week in the Missouri Capitol as legislators returned from the Legislative Spring Break and the sprint to the finish of the 2023 Legislative Session began.
Many bills that were referred to committee before break were heard this week, including a handful of tort reform bills supported by Associated Industries of Missouri (AIM). On Tuesday, March 21, Chairman Alex Riley's General Laws Committee heard, but did not hold a vote, for the following bills:
HB 272 (Riley) Reduces the statute of limitations for personal injury claims from Missouri's extraordinarily long five years to two years (a top tort reform priority for AIM);
HB 273 (Riley) Ensures only actual costs may be recovered in the cost recovery phase of a lawsuit;
HB 274 (Riley) Requires plaintiffs to disclose eligibility for asbestos trust fund claims in lawsuits against third parties;
HB 628 (Christofanelli) Establishes the "Consumer Legal Funding Model Act" a framework for litigation funding reform; and,
HB 1009 (Hardwick) Clarifies original intent of previous legislation that insurers should be given opportunity to adequately review claims before the plaintiff may move forward with a claim in excess of policy limits because the insurer allegedly acted in bad faith.
Also this week, AIM's language to prevent the Missouri Department of Natural Resources from using guidance documents in punitive actions took a step forward as HB 779 (Bromley) extending current fees and reauthorizing the stakeholder fee-setting process was unanimously approved by a committee and moved to a calendar for debate by the full House of Representatives. This language is a top environmental priority for AIM. A senate hearing on the Senate companion bill was canceled due to an all-night filibuster in the Senate.
On Wednesday, the Senate Progress and Development Committee heard SB 424 (Washington), a bill that would modify the definition of "race" in the Missouri Human Rights Act to include hair styles and textures. AIM pointed out modifying the definition of "race" in this manner would likely lead to lawsuits against employers and suggested removing this provision, noting it was removed from the House companion bill. Associated Industries of Missouri was the only business advocacy group appearing in opposition to this bill. The committee took no action on the bill at the hearing.
HB 1143 (Keathley) a bill supported by AIM that allows utility companies to lower gas rates for commercial and industrial customers that are expanding in Missouri was heard in committee this week.
The House engaged in a long and heated debate on HCS HBs 816 & 660 (Deaton) which has been dubbed the largest tax cut in Missouri’s history (estimated $1.3 billion). The bill lowers the top tax rate of Missouri individual income tax from 4.95 to 4.5%, lowers the corporate income tax rate from 4% to 2% and contains revenue triggers that, if met, would further lower the corporate income tax rate to 1%. The House gave final approval to the bill on Thursday and sent it to the Senate for further consideration.
MISSOURI EMPLOYERS MUTUAL PRIVATIZATION
SB 181 (Crawford) would allow Missouri Employers Mutual Insurance Company (MEM) to be a private company, a change from its current quasi-governmental status. The change is necessary to allow MEM to write workers' compensation policies for companies with operations in Missouri and other states. Current restrictions prevent MEM from writing such policies. AIM is fully supportive of this change. The bill was unanimously approved on Thursday and sent to the House for further consideration.
HB 668 (Houx) allows the Department of Economic Development (DED) to distribute one-time grants with a 10% match to employers for the purpose of enhancing cybersecurity. The AIM-supported bill requires the DED to create an online application for the program. Employers seeking a grant must outline how cybersecurity will be enhanced and how it plans to cover the 10% match. Priority would be given to any company contracting with the state for the purpose of protecting critical infrastructure. There was little debate before the House passed the bill by a 111-40 vote. The bill now will be sent to the Senate for further consideration.
EMPLOYER REQUIRED VACCINATIONS
HB 700 (Hardwick) that allows employees exemption from employer vaccination requirements and other "medical treatment" including insertion of mechanical or electronic devices under the skin and treatments to edit or alter human DNA. AIM testified that employers should be able to have vaccination requirements if they so choose, noting that it is now rare for employers to require vaccinations unless mandated by federal law, due to the high demand for employees. To receive exemption, employees must have a doctor's note that the medical treatment is not in the employee's best interest OR must have a deeply held religious or non-theistic moral belief that forbids the employee from receiving the medical treatment. The bill received initial approval this week and needs one further vote before advancing to the Missouri Senate for further deliberation.
A well-meaning but deeply flawed bill seeking to reduce employment of illegal immigrants, HB 188 (Murphy), was passed by a House committee this week. AIM opposed the underlying bill because it would require all employers to use the EVerify system (ironically, the EVerify system was down while the hearing was taking place). The EVerify system is used by most employers that employ people on a regular basis but, as AIM pointed out, the system is burdensome for employers that rarely hire new employees, requiring online education and testing before use. But the Committee, instead of removing the onerous provision, actually made the bill worse by adding strict enforcement of the EVerify provision including loss of licenses, permits, exemptions, etc., until the employer files an affidavit that they will comply with the requirement, has terminated all illegal aliens, and will not knowingly employ illegal aliens. Of course, employing illegal aliens is already a violation of federal law, but the bill goes even further by extending the licenses suspension provision for hiring illegal aliens from two weeks to 120 days and makes subsequent violations a class D felony! The bill will need approval of another committee before it may be debated by the full House. AIM remains opposed to the bill as written.
We will continue to update you on key bills as the session progresses. Employees of AIM member businesses may contact us anytime for an update on any issue. We thank lobbyist Trent Watson who provided additional information for this report, David Overfelt who helps AIM cover hearings, and Chuck Pierce who serves as one of the top tax experts in the Missouri Capitol. We are all working hard for you.