Legislative Halftime: A Recap and Preview for Missouri

by Austin Walker | Mar 22, 2017
Missouri’s 99th General Assembly reached its legislative halftime with Spring Break this week, touting significant midsession momentum with the newly elected Governor and reenergized Republican supermajority. 

The 2017 legislative session kicked off with the House and Senate taking swift action to pass long-anticipated right-to-work legislation, which was signed into law by Governor Eric Greitens just weeks after session began, making Missouri the 28th state with similar laws on the books. The legislature also moved quickly to tackle tort reform measures in the first quarter of the year, with Rep. Kevin Corlew’s bill adopting the Daubert expert witness standards clearing both chambers before the break, a reform that is also expected to be signed by the Governor. 

Effective MTC Program in Danger of Elimination

Governor Greitens put forward a $27.6 billion budget proposal in early February, which includes $572 million in state funding cuts made in part because of the $150 million shortfall in corporate revenue last year. These cuts include steep reductions for higher education and other state funded programs. The Missouri Technology Corporation (MTC) could possibly be eliminated, with the Governor recommending a reduction in funding from $22.9 million to $5 million. The House Budget Committee has gone even further and proposed to cut funding for MTC entirely. If the Senate Appropriations Committee fails to restore some funding for the program, MTC will be eliminated and Missouri will effectively become one of the least competitive states funding statewide programs to attract and cultivate entrepreneurs and innovative businesses. 

The Governor has also issued a few executive orders concerning ethics reform, regulatory reform, establishing a Chief Operating Officer in Missouri, creating a new Governor's Committee for Simple, Fair, and Low Taxes, and paid parental leave.

Speaker Moves House Priorities

Speaker Todd Richardson made progress on several top priorities in the House, including the effort to reduce unnecessary government, which he views as a hindrance to innovation and job creation in the state. The House approved legislation to ensure the state licenses and regulates occupations and professions only when necessary to protect the welfare of the public. The House also passed a measure that would allow ride-hailing companies like Lyft and Uber to expand their operations in Missouri, a move the Speaker feels will help grow private enterprise in the state. 

Chamber’s Top Legislative Issue Advances

Legislation establishing a Missouri Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) was introduced again this year in the House and Senate that if passed into law, would cut taxes for over a half million low-to-moderate income families in Missouri. Rep. Mike Kelley and Sen. Caleb Rowden are sponsoring this Regional Chamber backed legislation that will encourage work, boost local economies, and help lift families out of poverty. Before the break, this bill was passed unanimously out of a new committee created by the Speaker, the Committee on Tax Policy for Working Families. 

The House also passed legislation to nullify a minimum wage increase in St. Louis City after the Missouri Supreme Court upheld a St. Louis City ordinance hiking the minimum wage from $7.70 to $11 per hour. Inconsistent minimum wage ordinances would contribute to regional fragmentation and hurt St. Louis City businesses and workers, making this type of wage increase better addressed at the state or federal level. The current bill, sponsored by Rep. Jason Chipman, requires cities to conform to statewide minimum wage standards. Chipman’s bill overwhelmingly passed the House and is now being considered in the Senate.

What to Expect in the Second Half

Showdowns on a few bills are imminent after session resumes next week. The fight to establish a prescription drug monitoring database comes to a head as Sen. Rob Schaaf threatens to defeat Rep. Holly Rehder’s bill establishing a statewide system to curb prescription drug abuse. Creating this database is critical to saving lives in Missouri, which is currently the only state in the nation without a system in place. The effort to pass REAL ID legislation also faces a standoff in the Senate, with a group of Senators opposing Sen. Ryan Silvey’s bill that seeks to join 45 other states in complying with a federal law established after the 9/11 attacks to improve identification security and better protect American citizens. If Missouri fails to comply by 2018, citizens of the state will no longer be able to use their driver’s license to board an aircraft, enter military bases, courthouses, and federal buildings.