March 10, 2017

Making Missouri More Business-Friendly

By Wayne Wallingford, State Senator

JEFFERSON CITY -- Among the legislative priorities set forth by the majority caucus this year was a strong commitment to strengthening the state’s economy by making Missouri more attractive for businesses looking to relocate, as well as those already operating here. As we near the half-way point of this year’s legislative session, I am pleased to report we are making a lot of significant progress toward that end.

This week’s efforts to improve the state’s business climate include perfecting Senate Bill 66, which would modify provisions of law related to workers’ compensation. In workers’ comp cases, claimants are often encouraged to get third, fourth and sometimes even more medical opinions, during which time they can continue drawing temporary benefits. This creates a situation whereby both the worker and the employer are left in limbo, facing a lot of uncertainty for a prolonged period of time, which can even last years. Benefits truly intended to be "temporary" are lasting far longer than originally intended, creating an unsustainable burden on business owners.

Senate Bill 66 would rectify this situation by addressing Maximum Medical Improvement, or MMI. Claimants will still be able to receive a second opinion, but it would need to be obtained within six months of MMI being determined. In order to help ensure workers are receiving proper treatment and that they are getting the benefits to which they are entitled, the bill does provide for extenuating circumstances, as determined by an administrative law judge, whereby an extension of this six-month limit may be granted.

I believe this much-needed legislation will protect business owners from the financial volatility brought about by the uncertainty of open-ended claims. At the same time, great care was taken in the crafting of this bill to ensure workers’ rights continue to be protected.

Other bills perfected this week include:

Senate Bill 62, which would change the employer contribution for the College and University Retirement Plan and requires employees to contribute to the plan.

Senate Bill 11, which would modify the language relating to agreements that may be entered into by municipalities that participate in industrial development projects.

Senate Bill 139, which would create the Rx Cares for Missouri Program. The goals of the program are to promote medication safety and prevent prescription drug abuse.

Senate Bill 34, which would create the crime of illegal reentry, cracking down on some immigrants living in the country illegally. If the bill becomes law, previously deported immigrants who come back and commit assaults or other dangerous felonies would face three to 10 years in prison.

Senate Bill 65, which would change laws pertaining to watercraft. Presently, the operator of a motorboat is prohibited from allowing anyone to ride or sit on the gunwales, the decking over the bow, or the top of a seat-back unless the boat has adequate guards or a railing. If this common-sense bill makes it to the governor’s desk and is signed, you’ll be able to sit wherever you want on your boat without fear of a frivolous ticket.

Budget Update

The Senate Appropriations Committee, on which I sit, continues to hear testimony from the state departments. As always, one of the biggest challenges the committee will face this year is figuring out how best to fund our public schools, which serve 918,483 Missouri students, grades PK-12, in 518 school districts. The governor’s 2018 recommendation of $3.4 billion for the Foundation Formula is roughly $48 million short of full funding, but a lot closer than we have been in recent years.

One bright spot thus far is that a court ruled in favor of the state, enabling us to recoup $50 million in tobacco settlement money owed us. Baring a counter ruling at the federal level, the governor has reinstated $11 million of those funds for school transportation, a line item he cut by $36 million earlier this year. Unfortunately, that still leaves a $25 million shortfall in transportation funds, which is a real concern, particularly for rural districts. As one of my Senate colleagues noted in an example, school buses in Cassville, Mo. travel more than 1700 combined miles a day, which is farther than the distance to Los Angeles.

The governor has also recommended spending the remainder of the tobacco settlement money -- $42 million – to restore his previously recommended cuts to in-home care.

Following Legislative Spring Break, which runs March 17-24, the budget bills will move over from the House to Senate Appropriations and we will begin reviewing the lower chamber’s budget against the governor’s recommendations to craft our recommended budget. We will then conference with the House Budget Committee until we arrive at a finalized budget that reflects the work of both chambers.

As noted in an earlier column, the finalized budget needs to be sent to the governor’s desk for his signature by April 28. As the final stretch of this legislative session promises to be extremely busy on the budget front, I look forward to keeping you apprised of developments, specifically as they relate to the 27th District.

Contact Me

I always appreciate hearing your comments, opinions, and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-2459. You may write me at Wayne Wallingford, Missouri Senate, State Capitol, Jefferson City, MO 65101, or email at wayne.wallingford@senate.mo.gov or www.senate.mo.gov/wallingford.