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Opinion: Business community paves way for policy achievements

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The Missouri legislative session ended on May 14, and while the session was an unusual one due to the ongoing effects of the pandemic, it was ultimately very successful, with the passage of several critical priorities for the business community.

From bringing fairness to local brick-and-mortar businesses with the collection of online sales tax from out-of-state retailers to supporting transportation infrastructure with the first increase in statewide motor fuel tax in nearly 30 years, several of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s member-driven priorities made it through the legislature after close to a decade of effort. Here are four legislative victories.

  1. Investment in roads and bridges. Investment in the state transportation system is critical for Missouri’s economic success. Senate Bill 262 provides additional funding for critical improvements and maintenance of the state’s transportation system through an increase in the gas tax along with an increase in fees on electric vehicles. Starting in October, motorists will see a 2.5 cent yearly increase in the motor fuel tax for the next five years. This bill also includes a process for interested users to collect a refund of the increased tax amount.
  2. Online sales tax. A mechanism to collect online sales tax, commonly referred to as “Wayfair,” crossed the finish line after several years of advocacy efforts. SB 153 allows for the collection of a use tax on sellers without a physical presence in Missouri. Along with helping local brick and mortar businesses better compete with online retailers, this is an important modernization step for an increasingly online economy.
  3. COVID-19 liability protections. SB 51 passed on the final day of the session, offering liability protections for businesses, organizations, health care providers and personal protective equipment manufacturers against frivolous COVID-related civil actions. This was a top priority for both the business community and the governor.
  4. Prescription drug monitoring program. SB 63 is heading to Gov. Mike Parson for final approval after many years of work. Missouri was the final state in the nation to implement a centralized, statewide PDMP, which will assist in addressing the opioid crisis.

Additional wins
The legislature approved a Hand-Up pilot program in Greene County. This helps address the child care subsidy “cliff effect” by ensuring participants continue to receive transitional child care benefits when their income surpasses the eligibility level for full benefits. This also will help address workforce shortages by encouraging caregivers to reenter the workforce while maintaining reduced benefits.

Lawmakers also approved a boost to apprenticeships by allowing state 529 savings plans to be used for apprenticeship expenses, enhancing career education and expanding access to employment-focused training in Missouri schools.

Budget
The fiscal 2022 budget included significant core funding increases for Missouri State University and Ozarks Technical Community College, as well as funding for OTC’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing, MSU’s Darr Agricultural Center and a new Cybersecurity Center of Excellence at the Jordan Valley Innovation Center. The budget also fully funds the K-12 education foundation formula, includes increased funding for the A+ and Bright Flight scholarship programs, $10 million for broadband expansion and $6 million for the Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant program. Increased funding also was allocated to the Missouri Technology Corp., which will assist the continued growth of the Efactory and the work of local entrepreneurs.   

The Springfield region’s business and community leaders have consistently helped lead the way on encouraging legislative action on joint priorities. Lawmakers from across the state often comment on legislative engagement from our area, from people with varied professional expertise and backgrounds. This year was no exception. Even as we altered plans due to the pandemic, numerous business leaders, transportation stakeholders and young professionals helped carry important messages to lawmakers through virtual events, letters, written testimony and in-person Capitol visits. Together, this helped pave the way for some important policy achievements.

While work always remains on legislative issues that were not accomplished, many of the priorities that did pass this session set Missouri up for continued growth in the years to come. The chamber and the business community are grateful for the southwest Missouri legislators who supported and championed these important priorities, and we look forward to the governor signing them into law.

Sandy Howard is the senior vice president of public affairs for the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. She can be reached at sandy@springfieldchamber.com.

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