The sun is about to set on the First Regular Session of the 99th General Assembly. Back in January, I said reform was going to be the name of the game in 2017 — labor reform, tort reform and regulatory reform. Today, I am proud to say we have indeed passed a number of measures that will help transform Missouri into a pro-worker state, create a fair and balanced legal environment, promote economic development and job creation, cut harmful red tape and reduce government overreach.
In early February, I had the privilege of seeing one of the greatest highlights of my career come to fruition when we sent Right to Work legislation to the governor’s desk. With his signature, Missouri officially became the 28th Right to Work state, ending forced unionism and helping to create a more competitive business climate. Regardless of what you may think of Right to Work, I believe we sent a clear message to those outside of Missouri, looking inward, that we are serious about transforming the way we do business. If nothing else had happened this session, I would still have been pleased. Of course, more did happen. Here’s a look at the other major labor reform and tort reform measures that have been sent to the governor.
Senate Bill 182 will end the discriminatory and unfair practices of Project Labor Agreements (PLAs). Our taxpayers deserve the best product for the best cost, but PLAs drive up the cost of construction by effectively ensuring that all work on a public project is completed by union contractors or non-union contractors who will yield to union demands. If signed into law, SB 182 will remove the current 50 percent state funding threshold for political subdivisions and labor agreements and prohibit bidders from entering into those types of agreements. It will also ensure all contractors get a chance to bid on a project. By eliminating union-only PLAs, we will open the door to private sector bidding on government construction projects and encourage more responsible stewardship of taxpayer money.
Another significant legislative victory came in the form of Senate Bill 43, which will discourage frivolous lawsuits against Missouri’s employers and restore balance to our discrimination laws. Currently, under the Missouri Human Rights Act, an employee only has to prove that race, religion or another protected trait was a contributing factor in their employer’s decision to discriminate. By requiring such a low standard of proof, Missouri’s business community has repeatedly been exposed to costly and time-consuming frivolous lawsuits.
If SB 43 is signed into law, employees will have to meet a higher standard by demonstrating that their protected status was a motivating factor in their termination or discrimination, not simply a contributing factor. Senate Bill 43 will help curb judicial overreach and restore fairness to Missouri’s discrimination laws. By ensuring our laws work for both the employer and the employee, we will create a more balanced legal system and a business environment that attracts and retains job creators.
Senate Bill 66 further reforms workers’ compensation laws in Missouri by creating a clear point in time when temporary disability benefit payments end and permanent disability payments begin. When an employee is injured on the job, workers’ compensation benefits are there to cover medical expenses and provide compensation for lost wages. These benefits are meant to be temporary, created to help an employee get through the recovery process and back to work if possible. Unfortunately, a recent Supreme Court ruling has made it possible for temporary disability benefits to continue almost indefinitely, without the employee ever transitioning to permanent disability. This situation is costly for employers and leaves both parties facing prolonged periods of uncertainty. Senate Bill 66 will make our workers’ compensation laws more business-friendly and attract new investment to our state.
House Bill 153 aligns Missouri’s standard for expert witness testimony with the updated Daubert Standard, allowing judges to act as gatekeepers so that only those individuals who are truly expert witnesses may provide expert witness testimony. House Bill 153 has been approved by the governor. A second reform bill, Senate Bill 31, modifies provisions relating to the collateral source rule and establishes that the appropriate recovery for medical expenses is the actual cost or amount paid, rather than the value of the medical care rendered. Both of these common-sense tort reform measures will go a long way toward improving our legal climate and economy.
We also passed House Bill 339, relating to the reservation of rights and time limited demands. This measure will help ensure insurance companies have sufficient time to perform their due diligence by defining “time-limited demand” in statute and requiring that any settlement offer shall remain open for acceptance for no less than 90 days from the date the insurance company receives the time-limited demand letter. It also guarantees that insurers are notified and have an ability to intervene and participate in litigation before a judgment is entered for damages.
Senate Bill 160 contains seven different provisions aimed at strengthening state child protection laws. It modifies the definitions of child abuse and child neglect to include victims of sex trafficking or severe forms of trafficking. Additionally, the definition of “those responsible for the care, custody, and control of the child” is modified to add any person who takes control of the child by deception, force or coercion. The bill also requires that a child taken into custody by a juvenile officer be advised of the officer’s limited role during questioning by law enforcement and that the officer is not legal counsel for the child. Finally, it adds children’s museums to the list of public places sex offenders are banned from entering or loitering within 500 feet, among several other provisions.
In late April, the Legislature sent House Bill 130, relating to transportation network companies (TNCs), to the governor’s desk. Ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft encourage innovation, provide economic opportunities and increase access to affordable transportation. Unfortunately, Missouri’s regulatory environment was so burdensome that it was difficult for ridesharing companies to operate here, causing our state and citizens to miss out on the many benefits they provide. House Bill 130 created a framework for the regulatory treatment of TNCs, bringing us in line with the other 39 states that have statewide ridesharing laws. This includes all of our neighboring states. By clearing the way for innovation within the transportation industry, we can promote choice and competition, help grow a stronger economy and create thousands of new jobs. The governor approved HB 130 on April 24.
In order to better protect our state’s No. 1 industry, we approved a measure to address the misuse of herbicides that has caused devastating crop damage in certain areas throughout the state, particularly in southeast Missouri. House Bill 662 grants the Department of Agriculture the authority to investigate complaints of the use of Dicamba, impose fines on those who continue to use it and even revoke certain licenses and permits. House Bill 662 has been signed by the governor and is already in effect.
Finally, despite having to make some tough choices, state lawmakers managed to pass a fair and affordable budget for the people of Missouri. One of the biggest highlights of this year’s $27.8 billion budget is that the Legislature voted to fully fund the Foundation Formula for the first time since it was adopted in 2005. For FY 2018, Missouri school districts will receive nearly $3.4 billion in basic aid for K-12 public education. Other highlights include a $12 million increase for early childhood special education, $2 million for virtual education, full funding of the Missouri State Employee Retirement System (MOSERS) and $1.5 million to help the secretary of state’s office educate the public about the new Voter ID laws. Fiscal Year 2018 begins July 1.
These are just a few of the measures we passed during the 2017 legislative session. The governor has the option of signing them into law or vetoing them. Missouri lawmakers will have the opportunity to override any vetoes during September’s annual veto session.