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Missouri House provides important legislative victories on the last day as Missouri Senate adjourns

After a couple of legislative sessions fighting for and passing major tax cuts for individuals and businesses alike, the 2015 legislative session may have been more subdued, but provided some important victories nonetheless.

House Bill 116 prohibits an employer from requiring a person to become a member of a labor organization as a condition or continuation of employment. Dubbed “Right to Work,” the legislation gives employees the right to choose union representation in a workplace should they feel it necessary. The bill gives Missouri employers a chance to compete with most of the states that border Missouri that are also Right to Work states. It also would put Missouri in the running for even more manufacturing expansion, as most foreign-based manufacturers will not locate in states that are not Right to Work.

Labor organizations say the bill weakens the organized labor system and will result in lower wages for workers in Missouri. Governor Nixon has also been very critical of the bill and is expected to veto it.

Senate Bill 210, a bill extending the expiration dates of federal reimbursement allowance taxes, was passed by the Senate prior to adjourning shortly after 3:00 on the final day of the legislative session (the session’s constitutional deadline is 6:00 p.m.). Such taxes are used to help draw down federal Medicaid dollars. The House also passed the bill, sending the bill to the Governor.

Despite a lack of action on the part of the Senate, which only passed the Right to Work bill and federal reimbursement allowance extension bill in the entire final week of the legislative session, the Missouri House showed it could function and passed many bills benefiting employers on the final day of session.

House Bill 514 allows the use of state tax increment financing to re-purpose massive abandoned automotive plants in the St. Louis suburbs. The bill also includes a $12-million expansion in the cap on a tax increment financing plan that would help keep the Geo-spatial Intelligence Center in St. Louis. The current center employs more than 2,000 people. The federal government is currently looking at the possibility of moving the center out of St. Louis.

Legislation that passed the General Assembly on several occasions last year, only to be vetoed at every turn by Governor Nixon is now law. Senate Bill 19 clarifies for the Department of Revenue language on tax apportionment. The somewhat complicated subject matter is of utmost importance for businesses that have customers outside Missouri. The bill arrived on the governor’s desk in time for him to make a decision with enough votes in both the House and Senate to override a possible veto. But the governor signed the bill, and the language in the bill will be law August 28, 2015.

Tax issues were at the forefront of AIM-supported bills that made it across the finish line in 2015. House Bill 517 and 754 includes several issues. The bill states that mandatory gratuities at restaurants are not subject to sales tax. It also requires the Department of Revenue to pay interest on tax overpayments not refunded in 45 days. Currently, interest on such refunds aren’t required until 90 days have passed. The bill prevents the DOR from using unreasonable methods to estimate tip income for withholding tax purposes. Among other issues, the bill also allows a taxpayer to claim a credit or a refund after the period of limitations expires, and allows a seller to advertise that sales taxes are assumed or absorbed into the price of an item.

House Bill 384, signed by the governor, provides for an amnesty period for delinquent unpaid state taxes. Beyond that, the bill includes language that creates an Office of Taxpayer Advocate to work with taxpayers and the Department of Revenue to resolve disputes. HB 384 also creates the Study Commission on State Tax Policy to study the state tax structure, identify its strengths and weaknesses and investigate ways to improve tax policy.

Caps on non economic damages returned to state law when Governor Nixon signed Senate Bill 239  into law. It will limit non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits.  The new law limits awards for pain and suffering in most personal injury cases arising from medical procedures to $400,000. In catastrophic injuries, the limit would be $700,000. The measure also would raise the existing cap on wrongful death cases from $350,000 to $700,000.

And House Bill 92, Senate Bill 142 and Senate Bill 445 include some important pieces of environmental legislation. The bills change that state law on water of the state of Missouri, seeking to circumvent the EPA’s expanded definition of such waters that are under the jurisdiction of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The bills also include new language for solid waste districts, oil and gas councils, ambient air quality monitoring in non-attainment areas and other environmental regulations. And the bills require the DNR to file regulatory impact reports prior to submitting state implementation plans for EPA regulations. AIM fully supported many of these provisions, including ensuring the ability of companies to use actual monitoring of sulfur dioxide rather than relying on computer models.

Senate Bill 20, a bill that reinstates an exemption for commercial laundries on purchases made for use in providing their services, was finally passed in the House in the final hours of the session. The bill, supported by AIM, overturns a court case that was decided against laundries that should be entitled to the exemption under current law.

Senate Bill 18, requiring the Department of Revenue to notify taxpayers of changes in interpretation of the tax law before holding them accountable for such changes, was also passed nearly unanimously by the House in the final hours. The bill seeks to put an end to the DOR’s “notification by audit” where taxpayers find out about changes in DOR interpretation of laws when audited.

A couple of bills supported by AIM did not make it through the legislative process this session. House Bill 150, legislation that links the duration of jobless benefits to the state’s unemployment rate and protects against former employees with golden parachutes from simultaneously receiving unemployment benefits, was vetoed by the Governor . The veto was overriden in the House with no votes to spare, but the Senate adjourned without overriding the veto due to the impasse created by forcing the vote on the Right to Work bill. The bill may be revived in the veto session in September.

Also coming up a little short was House Bill 627. AIM’s  Manufacturing Infrastructure Investment Act which would expand the incentive program currently used to draw automobile-related manufacturing to the state to all manufacturing, passed the House of Representatives with 87 votes. But the passage came too late in the session for any meaningful action in the State Senate. AIM will try again next year.

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