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Missouri chamber outlines 1999 legislative agenda

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Daniel P. Mehan, president and chief executive officer of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, has issued an overview of the Missouri chamber's legislative agenda for 1999.

Following is a summary of those issues, and how the Missouri Chamber will address them.

Tax policy. High on the chamber's list of priorities, Mehan wrote, is an equitable solution to the problem of how to distribute surplus tax revenue. Missouri is still collecting more tax dollars that the state constitution allows, pushing state revenues over the Hancock Amendment limit by $240 million in fiscal 1999.

As a result, he added, the General Assembly will again deal with the issue of cutting taxes, and the Missouri chamber will call for inclusion of employer taxpayers in any relief package. In particular, the chamber will push for changes in the corporate franchise tax, either eliminating it altogether or significantly reducing the corporate franchise tax rate.

Also, the Missouri chamber will revisit the possibility of calling for the return of federal deductibility on employers' state tax returns. Prior to 1993, Mehan said, employers could deduct from their state taxes 100 percent of the federal taxes they paid, and he wants to see this reinstated.

Without deducting federal taxes from state taxes, he added, Missouri employers pay taxes on taxes they have already paid on money they never see.

Health care costs. Another avenue for tax relief could be health care costs, Mehan said. Given the fact that employers are the primary purchasers of health insurance in the state, the skyrocketing cost of this benefit inhibits employers' ability to provide health insurance.

Health coverage is available; the problem is affordability. To address this problem, the Missouri chamber will advocate reform focusing on tax incentives to make health insurance more affordable, especially for smaller employers, who are more acutely affected by high health care costs.

Also in the health care realm, the Missouri chamber opposes mandated care proposals that it feels would dramatically increase employer costs, such as a requirement that health care policies provide the same level of coverage for mental health including substance abuse treatment as for physical health.

The Missouri chamber will be watching proposed legislation carefully to prevent any kind of employer mandate or significant restrictions in plan design, Mehan added.

Civil justice reform. According to Mehan, the issue of civil justice reform has taken on more importance for employers in recent years.The Missouri chamber will take a more focused approach in 1999 on civil justice reform, he stated, addressing venue reform, punitive damage limits, joint and several liability modification, and statute of repose reform.

Transportation. With the 1998 passage of the Missouri Department of Transportation's accountability legislation and the abandonment of the 15-year plan, the future of Missouri's transportation system, and how it would be funded, will be a major item for debate in the 1999 session, Mehan stated.

Y2K compliance. Another major issue affecting employers is the year 2000 date problem, Mehan wrote. As awareness of this problem grows, he added, employers are increasingly concerned that smaller businesses in particular do not have the resources needed to mount successful Y2K compliance efforts.

Also, he said, recently filed lawsuits are making companies reluctant to issue any statements on their Y2K readiness a significant problem because a key step in Y2K preparation is knowing the level of readiness of the vendors with whom a company does business.

As a result, the Missouri chamber is advocating the introduction of legislation that would protect from lawsuits the exchange of Y2K information among businesses, Mehan wrote. Such "good Samaritan" legislation already has been passed at the federal level, he added, but stronger protections against lawsuits are needed at the state level.

Employer reference. Another priority for the Missouri chamber is the passage of an employer reference bill, according to Mehan. An effective employer reference bill would allow an employer to provide certain information on a former employee, such as the date and duration of employment, pay level, job description, written employee evaluations and reason for separation from employment, Mehan wrote.

The employer providing the information would be presumed to be acting in good faith, and unless a former employee could prove the employer deliberately provided misleading or false information, the employer providing the information would be immune from civil liability, Mehan added.

Environmental issues. The Missouri chamber remains committed to working with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and members of the General Assembly for common-sense solutions to environmental problems, Mehan wrote.

He added that the chamber anticipates four legislative issues are likely to surface in 1999: water pollution control fees, hazardous waste fees, groundwater cleanup and St. Louis air quality.

The chamber's goal with respect to water pollution and hazardous waste fees is to ensure an equitable fee structure that provides the state DNR with sufficient resources to protect the environment while simultaneously cutting unnecessary bureaucracy, Mehan stated.

Another chamber priority is the introduction of legislation giving the state new authority to clean up contaminated groundwater at so-called brownfields sites.

Such environmentally challenged sites often stymie redevelopment efforts, he added.

INSET CAPTION:

Chamber backs laws protecting employers that give info about former employees

INSET CAPTION:

The Missouri chamber opposes mandated care proposals that it feels would dramatically increase employer costs.[[In-content Ad]]

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