Since March 21st, initial jobless claims have risen to 30.3 million in the United States due to COVID-19. Approximately 400,000 Missourians and over 800,000 Illinoisans have lost their jobs in this health and economic crisis. As the region's largest business organization representing companies across 15 counties in both Missouri and Illinois, the St. Louis Regional Chamber is working tirelessly to make sure businesses survive, and the integrity of our workforce is preserved.

The Regional Chamber is proud to announce the Missouri Senate passed HB 2046 last week, a comprehensive workforce bill that will increase opportunities for individuals during and after the COVID-19 pandemic in the St. Louis region and throughout Missouri. Included in the workforce package were three Regional Chamber Public Policy priorities: licensing reciprocity, the Fresh Start Act, and the Expanded Workforce Act.  

Licensing reciprocity in Missouri will streamline the process for re-licensing individuals who have moved to Missouri or want to work in Missouri by enabling professionals to continue working in their professions without delay. Under current law, an individual who seeks employment in Missouri must get relicensed in order to work in Missouri. That process can require professionals to take additional tests, attain more training, or wait months for approval from licensing boards before they can begin to work. The Regional Chamber believes a person’s skills do not stop at a state’s border. This will especially help those in our region who live in Illinois and want to access opportunities in Missouri.  

The Fresh Start Act will open more opportunities for Missourians with past criminal convictions by outlawing state licensing authorities from disqualifying individuals for a professional license because of a prior conviction, unless the crime is directly related to the duties and responsibilities for the licensed occupation. This is a tremendous step for criminal justice reform that shows compassion for those who have paid their debt to society and are looking to make a positive impact in our community.

The Expanded Workforce Act makes strides to further the momentum in apprenticeships by allowing apprentices to obtain industry licenses as part of an apprenticeship. According to recent reports, Missouri reached 10,000 new registered apprenticeships in 2019, becoming second in the nation for new apprenticeships. The state also ranked second in number of apprenticeships competed in 2019. As the paths to successful careers change, the Regional Chamber values apprenticeships as a means to helping regional businesses and our workforce excel.

The passage of this comprehensive workforce package would not have been possible without those in the Missouri General Assembly who are prioritizing workforce during this trying time. “Representative Derek Grier (R-Chesterfield), who sponsored the workforce bill HB 2046, continues to be a champion of the St. Louis region and of economic and workforce development. Senators Andrew Koenig (R-Manchester) and Eric Burlison (R-Greene) also deserve credit for the Fresh Start Act and the Expanded Workforce Act, as well as praise for their continued commit surrounding workforce. Finally, without the leadership from Senators Mike Bernskoetter, Dave Schatz, and Caleb Rowden this bill may have never come to fruition. Their leadership helped guide this bill across the Senate finish line. Their commitment to economic and workforce development is unwavering,” said Tom Chulick, President & CEO of the St. Louis Regional Chamber.

While the Chamber is excited to announce HB 2046 has passed its biggest hurdle in the Missouri Senate, the bill still has one more step before it gets to Governor Mike Parson’s desk. The House and Senate must now settle their differences in Conference Committee. We are calling on those who will participate in conference to swiftly settle any differences and advance HB 2046 to the Governor’s desk. 

This is truly a bright spot in an otherwise dark time for our workforce. At a time when unemployment is rising, the Missouri General Assembly is making great efforts to increase workforce opportunities. We hope their efforts will continue in the future.