The Missouri General Assembly’s 2017 legislative session concluded on May 12. Significant measures were passed, especially pertaining to tort reform and labor reform. These issues were priorities for Governor Greitens and the leaders of both the House and Senate. In addition, the General Assembly focused on improvements to the state’s business climate while avoiding inflammatory social issues whose discussion undermined the legislature’s effectiveness.
Several major items failed to pass both chambers before adjournment. These covered ethics reform, an economic development package for southeast Missouri, prevailing wage modifications, and a state prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP).
Governor Greitens announced that he is calling the legislature back for a special session starting today at 4:00 p.m. The special session will be focused on attracting a steel plant and aluminum smelter to southeast Missouri.
Early in the session, Senate Bill 19, commonly referred to as Right to Work, was passed by the legislature and signed by the governor. This measure prohibits employers from requiring a person to become a member of a labor organization as a condition of hiring or continued employment. The law exempts existing union agreements.
Another priority for legislators was legislation repealing project labor agreements (PLAs) for public construction projects. Under a PLA, local governments can require nonunion contractors to pay union wages, something legislators viewed as an unfair practice that discourages competition. However, Senate Bill 182 would prohibit Missouri’s cities and counties from using PLAs, which the state is already prohibited from doing.
Local Minimum Wage
Legislators gave final approval to House Bill 1194, which would prohibit cities and municipalities from imposing a minimum wage exceeding that required by state law. The impetus for the legislation was the growing patchwork of minimum wages throughout the state, which makes it difficult for businesses to anticipate labor costs. The governor is likely to sign this legislation.
Legislators sent the governor House Bill 151, which would allow each Missouri resident the choice of whether to obtain a license that complies with the federal REAL ID Act. Missouri had until January 22, 2018 to offer such licenses. Compliant drivers licenses are required to fly commercially or enter military bases and federal buildings. The governor is expected to sign the legislation.
Governor Greitens signed House Bill 130, allowing ride sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft to operate under a single statewide regulatory structure. The new regulations require each company to pay a $5,000 licensing fee and establish separate contracts with airports. Individual drivers must have liability insurance and submit to background checks, but they are not required to obtain a chauffeur’s license.
Three major litigation reforms were approved by the legislature. In March, the governor signed House Bill 153. This legislation changes admissibility standards for expert witnesses in civil actions, so that Missouri's standards are consistent with those of the majority of other states and with federal court rules. The measure would require that an expert's opinion be based on sufficient data and be reliably applied to the facts of a case. These reforms do not apply to juvenile or family court matters.
Also passed was Senate Bill 43, which would modify existing standards in discrimination lawsuits. The bill would change the current “contributing” factor standard to a “motivating” factor standard. The legislation also would set graduated caps on damages based on an employer’s size.
Last, the legislature approved Senate Bill 31, known as the collateral source rule bill. This measure would mandate that in a lawsuit, an injured person can recover only the actual medical costs she or he incurred, and not the estimated value of care or treatment. Such reforms allow businesses that are frequently subject to personal injury lawsuits, to more effectively quantify their exposure.
Items Not Passed
Several issues were debated heavily during the session, but ultimately failed to advance through both the House and Senate:
Under an amendment to Senate Bill 124, the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) would have been granted the ability to negotiate a lower electric rate for a company considering southeast Missouri as the location for a new iron smelter. The smelter is expected to bring 500 jobs to the area, partially offsetting the 900 layoffs when Noranda Aluminum went bankrupt earlier this year. The measure received House approval but was filibustered in the Senate as a result of debate over utility rate-making regulations.
Under House Bill 60, gifts from lobbyists to state public officials would have been banned. The bill passed the House, but the Senate did not prioritize the measure. Similar lobbyist gift bans were debated in previous legislative sessions, but these also failed.
House Bill 104 would have repealed Missouri's prevailing wage law. Currently, contractors and subcontractors working on public-works projects are required to pay employees the prevailing wage for the locality in which the project is being completed. The measure would have changed the law to require contractors and subcontractors to pay employees the equivalent of the state or federal minimum wage, whichever is higher. The bill passed the House, but it stalled in the Senate.
Close to passage was House Bill 90, establishing a statewide PDMP to track individuals’ purchases of prescription opiates. Different versions of the legislation passed both chambers, but all failed to be approved in conference committee negotiations.
Click here for a complete list of bills truly agreed to and finally passed. Legislation passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor takes effect on August 28, 2017.