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Lawmakers set 2020 priorities

Over 800 bills have been filed for state legislative session that begins Jan. 8

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With the 2020 session less than a month away, state lawmakers have started to highlight their priorities for the year with a slew of bills that were prefiled earlier this month.

Local lawmakers submitted proposals covering a wide range of issues, from economic development to health care and education. They’re also returning attention to economic development in the Queen City and charter school expansion regulation, among other issues.

Prefiling began Dec. 2, and as of press time, 817 bills had been filed in the state House of Representatives and the Senate.

This year, which is also an election season, marks the final stretch for local Reps. Sonya Anderson and Jeff Messenger, who are term limited.

Workforce
Workforce development has been a common thread among local lawmakers so far.

A bill filed by Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, is aimed at attracting manufacturing jobs. If passed, the proposal would allow cities and counties to create special zones to attract a manufacturing workforce.

Rep. Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, is sponsoring a bill for the fourth time that would create a pilot program to allow those on government benefits to make more money. Often called the “cliff effect,” the bill suggests reducing people’s benefits gradually when they make more money without losing support. Currently, the benefits are eliminated once a certain income is reached.

Quade pointed to the state’s Child Care Subsidy Program as one of the most expensive programs in the state.

“What we’re seeing is that, oftentimes, parents aren’t taking pay raises because they don’t want to lose the safety net program they’re on,” Quade said. “This bill will create a pilot program in three counties throughout the state to create a transitional program. Hopefully, this will allow folks to continue to succeed and the state won’t get in the way to create unintended barriers.”

Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, is sponsoring the companion bill.

Concerning “right-to-work” legislation, Sen. Eric Burlison, R-Battlefield, is again taking a stab at banning unions and employers from requiring workers to pay dues.

Economic development
Hough appears to be focused on economic development this session.

One of his bills would allow Springfield City Council to ask voters to approve an increase in the transient guest tax to 7.5% from 5%. The earnings from the tax would be used for capital investments to further support and increase tourism in the area.

Rep. Craig Fishel, R-Springfield, is sponsoring the companion bill to Hough’s transient guest tax bill.

Another bill by Hough would repeal the ability for two counties to create a regional economic development district, which can be used to develop and promote economic growth in those areas.

Hough could not be reached by deadline.

Health care
Medicaid expansion and other health care topics will be another common discussion this year, lawmakers say.

Rep. Steve Helms, R-Springfield, has filed six health care bills so far, including his familiar transparency bill, which would require providers to tell people how much services cost upfront.

“The No. 1 problem in health care today is rising costs, and people have no idea how much things cost,” Helms said. “This will have a good impact in the fact that people will know at a minimum what the service would charge if you’re self-paying for uninsured. And this would address surprise billing.”

On top of Medicaid expansion, Helms said he anticipates transparency in pricing to be a hot topic this session.

“It has to be. It’s the thing that has cost Americans and Missourians far more money than they should be paying,” he said.

Additionally, Messenger is working to end out-of-network health care costs with his Missouri Freedom to Choose Health Care Act.

Education
Quade has brought the charter school debate back to the table.

As someone who opposes charter school expansion, Quade said she wants to add voters to the conversation. In her HB 1479, it’s required that the state board of education’s ability to approve charter school expansion be handed over to the voters of the impacted district. Currently, charter schools are only allowed in Kansas City and St. Louis.

Quade is also wanting to put a sales tax in front of Greene County voters that would support early childhood education programs.

Tort reform
Burlison said one of his main priorities is continuing the conversation on tort reform.

Not only do current laws attract outside lawsuits because of the lax system, he said, but this puts Missouri businesses at a disadvantage.

“Our laws favor the plaintiff’s attorneys, and it makes Missouri businesses really vulnerable to lawsuits,” he said.

One of his bills would require settlements to be based on the combined damages in a class action lawsuit. Current law allows the court to award punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.

Statewide conversations
Last year, the discussions surrounding abortion, prescription drug monitoring programs and gun laws took center stage.

This year, Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, anticipates the main topics of discussion to return to sports betting, utility work and the handling of online sales tax, which comes after the Wayfair Supreme Court decision in 2018. The decision allows states to impose in-state sales taxes on businesses without a physical presence in the state with more than $100,000 in in-state sales.

“This is the year we need to get that done,” Haahr said of the Wayfair decision.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry also has set its priorities for the year. Dan Mehan, president and CEO of the state chamber, said civil justice reform is on the top of the chamber’s priority list. In a study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform, it found Missouri was among the lowest in overall legal climate rankings.

“We’re the sixth best state to get sued in,” Mehan said. “When you look at the advances we’ve made in workforce development and infrastructure, this is what’s holding us back.”

Mehan said he’s also keeping an eye on appropriations for Gov. Mike Parson’s approved Fast Track workforce development program and ways the state can attract a stronger workforce in the technology sector. The Missouri chamber has six lobbyists, including Mehan, according to records with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

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