Missouri legislature approves prevailing wage reform

House Bill 1729 awaits the governor’s consideration

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — During the final week of the 2018 legislative session, the Missouri General Assembly approved a bill limiting the circumstances under which the state’s prevailing wage statutes apply.

Prevailing wage laws guarantee a minimum hourly rate for workers on public construction projects. The specific rate varies by county and the type of work performed.

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The measure, House Bill 1729, eliminates the prevailing wage for any project costing $75,000 or less, but not for occupations in localities with at least 1,000 reportable work hours.

The final language represents a compromise between opposing sides. Several assembly members wanted to go further, with some even advocating a full repeal of the state’s prevailing wage.

The bill’s supporters say prevailing wage doesn’t make sense for small-scale projects in poorer communities. When a district wants to build a new school, for example, making them pay above market-value for construction work is inefficient and costly to taxpayers, they argue. At worst, it could even price the community out of building a new school in the first place, especially during lean budget years.

“Now more than ever is the time to reform how we pay for public construction,” said state Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, “so that the municipalities and schools and cities will be able to have the resources they need to do needed construction projects.”

Those who stand by the existing prevailing wage law, however, believe it protects Missouri workers from out-of-state contractors. With only the relatively low floor of the state and federal minimum wages, which are far below most prevailing wages, large companies could easily out-bid smaller, local contractors.

What’s more, they argue, prevailing wage is never an exorbitant cost, as rates are calculated based on a specific area’s needs. In poorer communities, the prevailing wage won’t be nearly as high as in a wealthy suburb.

“Missouri contractors first. That’s how I’ve always been, and that’s how it should be,” said state Sen. Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, the minority floor leader. “They’re citizens of the state. They pay taxes. The money they generate through the work they do stays in the state. And that’s how I want it to continue.”

House Bill 1729 awaits consideration from Republican Gov. Mike Parson, who is expected to sign it into law. Should he instead veto the legislation, lawmakers will have an opportunity to override the decision during an extraordinary session in September. A two-thirds vote in both the Senate and House of Representatives is required to reverse a governor’s veto.

Public-sector union reform heads to Missouri governor’s desk

House Bill 1413 limits the power of some collective-bargaining units

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri General Assembly last week approved legislation tightening restrictions on public-sector labor unions.

Under the proposal, House Bill 1413, government employees must annually authorize paycheck withholdings for union dues. Additionally, public-sector unions would need prior authorization before using a member’s dues to fund political activity.

Proponents of the measure say it will hold public-sector unions more accountable to their members.

“This is a common-sense labor reform bill to make unions — government unions, specifically — more accountable,” said Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis. “I think it’s a big victory for the state of Missouri.”

The bill’s opponents, however, say it will hinder the ability of unions to bargain in employees’ favor.

“I just wonder, at what point do we get to where we’ll say ‘enough is enough,'” said Sen. Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis, who serves as secretary-treasurer for the Missouri AFL-CIO. “All of the power doesn’t need to be on one side of the bargaining table.”

House Bill 1413 awaits consideration from Republican Gov. Eric Greitens, who is expected to sign it into law.

Missouri General Assembly approves state budget legislation

The proposal now heads to the governor’s desk for his consideration

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri legislature has finalized the state operating budget for the next fiscal year.

The legislation now awaits further action from Gov. Eric Greitens. Under Missouri law, the governor can veto individual line items in the budget. In September, the General Assembly will have a chance to override any vetoes with a vote of two-thirds of the members of each chamber.

As it stands, the approved budget legislation provides increased funding for elementary and secondary education, and reverses proposed cuts to colleges and universities. Various social service programs will see increased funding, as well, while state employees, currently some of the lowest paid in the nation, will receive modest raises come January.

Missouri legislature finalizes 2019 state budget.Still008Because of projected revenue increases, this year’s budget process was less contentious than others of recent years. That made for relatively pleasant debate on the legislation, which passed both chambers well before its May 11 deadline.

Passing a balanced budget is the only constitutionally-mandated responsibility of the state legislature. With the appropriations process completed, the General Assembly will now consider a few final bills and resolutions before the 2018 regular legislative session ends at 6 p.m. Friday.

Immediately after the regular legislative session concludes, the General Assembly will gavel in to a historic special session for the sole purpose of considering the possible impeachment of the governor. Greitens is currently under investigation by a special House committee for potential infractions relating to sexual blackmail and campaign finance violations.

As a multimedia specialist for the Missouri Senate, I compiled a video package on the passing of the 2019 state budget. Watch it below, and be sure to visit the official Senate website for daily updates on legislative activity.

 

Corporate tax reform clears Missouri Senate

Senate Bill 674 aims to close loopholes, lower rates and impel economic growth

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — It’s time for tax cuts.

Last week, the Missouri Senate approved a corporate tax reform package by a vote of 28 to 4. Senate Bill 674 would drastically reduce the state’s business tax rate, nearly cutting it in half. Additionally, the bill alters language that its supporters say allowed companies headquartered out-of-state to pay fewer taxes than their in-state competitors.

“It’s a massive tax cut for Missouri-based businesses, without blowing a hole in the budget,” said Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, addressing the state press corps. “You know, nothing’s more destructive to economic growth than the corporate income tax, and so we need to make our state more competitive.”

Those critical of the measure are worried cutting taxes might imperil revenue at a time when funding is tight.

Although he decided to vote in favor of Senate Bill 674, Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, expressed concerns about the legislature’s continued push for lower taxes.

“Do you think that that’s going to help our revenue situation to fund these obligations, or do you think it’s just going to exacerbate the problem that we had this morning, which was not having enough revenue to cover all the bases?” Holsman said during debate on the bill.

The senator was referring to a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing held April 10. The committee is quickly approaching its deadline to approve the state budget for the next fiscal year. It might have to make further cuts to vital public resources, such as higher education and health care. However, the extent to which these programs might be cut — and, indeed, which programs will see reductions at all — is still being debated.

Under the Missouri Constitution, the General Assembly must pass a balanced budget. Thankfully, the “balanced” requirement seems less daunting now than it has in past years. The 2017 process, alone, resulted in a spending cut of $251 million. Don’t expect such drastic reductions for 2018.

Senate Bill 674 is a companion to Senate Bill 617, another tax reform proposal under Senate consideration.

While Senate Bill 674 alters the corporate income tax, Senate Bill 617 focuses on lowering the individual income tax for most Missourians — especially those at the very top and bottom of the income distribution scale. Senate Bill 617 would also gradually increase the motor fuel tax to provide more funding for roads, bridges and other public infrastructure.

Senate Bill 674 cleared the Senate without much fuss, probably due to its relatively minor projected effects on state revenue, or perhaps because it favors Missouri-based corporations over out-of-state interests.

When Senate Bill 617 comes up for a vote, it’s likely to receive much harsher criticism. Left-leaning senators are uneasy about lowering income tax rates for the wealthiest Missourians, even if low-income citizens receive tax cuts, as well. Meanwhile, some conservative lawmakers have voiced concern over raising the motor fuel tax. Currently, it’s one of the lowest in the nation; a fair share of Assembly members would like to keep it that way.

Senate Bill 674 now heads to the House of Representatives for further discussion. Both chambers of the General Assembly have until May 18, the end of the 2018 legislative session, to approve the bill.

After that? The bill must be re-filed for the next legislative session, which begins in January. Before then, Missouri will hold another round of statewide elections. For supporters of the bill, it’s a risk to wait; the next General Assembly might be less amenable to cutting taxes.

Missouri legislature enters back half of 2018 legislative session

The General Assembly has until May 18 to pass new bills

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The 2018 legislative session is winding down.

State lawmakers in Missouri, currently on spring break, will reconvene Monday for the final months of legislative activity. Both chambers of the General Assembly have until May 18 to pass any pending legislation.

After that… well, there’s always next year.

This session, which began in January, has seen its fair share of successful legislation. Few measures have been passed by both sides of the legislature — normally, the Senate and House of Representatives wait until the second half of session to consider proposals from the other chamber — but scores of bills have already made their way through one or the other.

For example, the Senate has managed to pass bills raising the age cutoff for juvenile prosecution, capping utility rate increases and broadening eligibility for the Missouri Rx prescription drug assistance program.

But several high-profile proposals still remain in limbo, including:

  • Various tax reform measures
  • Prevailing wage repeal (or curtailment)
  • School choice scholarship waivers
  • Tightening joinder and venue laws
  • Repealing tuition increase caps for public universities

Before session concludes, the legislature must also pass the state’s operating budget for the next fiscal year.

As a multimedia specialist for the Senate, I created a video package reviewing the first half of the 2018 legislative session. Watch it below, and be sure to visit the Senate’s webpage for daily legislative updates.

Missouri Senate passes bill to raise the age of juvenile prosecution

Currently, 17-year-olds are prosecuted as adults. Senate Bill 793 would change that.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — By unanimous vote, the Missouri Senate approved a bill that would raise the age of juvenile prosecution for most criminal offenses.

Currently, 17-year-old Missourians are prosecuted as adults. Senate Bill 793 would raise the minimum age for prosecution in courts of general jurisdiction to 18 — unless the accused is already certified as an adult or is charged with a traffic or curfew violation.

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The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, believes this measure would humanize the Missouri court system, while also making it more efficient. In a press conference held March 8 immediately following the bill’s passage, he noted how the criminal justice system often fails to rehabilitate those it punishes.

“The recidivism rate for people in the juvenile justice system is a lot better than putting them in the criminal justice system,” Wallingford said. “In the criminal justice system, people say it’s kind of like a graduate school for criminals.”

Senate Bill 793 awaits further debate in the Missouri House of Representatives. The state legislature has until May 18, the end of its 2018 regular session, to take action on the bill. If approved by the House, the measure would need the governor’s signature or a two-thirds veto override from both chambers to be enacted into law.

As a multimedia specialist for the Missouri Senate, I created a short video package on the legislation’s passage. View the video below, and be sure to visit the Missouri Senate website for daily updates on state government news.

Missouri Senate passes regulatory reform for public utilities

Senate Bill 564 sets a cap on rate increases, but some say it could have unintended consequences

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Senate endured a multi-day fillibuster over Senate Bill 564, a proposal to cap public utility rate increases and alter the regulatory framework of the Public Service Commission.

The bill’s supporters say it would ensure consumers’ electric costs stay consistent between billing periods, and would provide avenues for public utility companies to update a deteriorating electrical grid.

Opponents believe the bill would hurt the PSC’s ability to protect consumers, ultimately resulting in higher rates down the road. They see it as a giveaway to moneyed interests that lobbied hard for the bill’s passage.

The issue crossed partisan lines. The legislation is sponsored by Republican Sen. Ed Emery and is supported by many of his colleagues of both political parties, but was pilloried by Republican Sens. Rob Schaaf, Gary Romine and Doug Libla, who led the filibuster against the bill. The conservative trio was bolstered by Democratic Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, who joined the filibuster hours after it first began.

Under Missouri Senate rules, a single senator can hold the floor for debate on a bill indefinitely, forestalling a final vote in the process. Opposition senators began the filibuster shortly after 7 p.m. on Feb. 7. Swapping in and out, they held the floor through the night and into the next morning, all the while atttempting to negotiate concessions from the bills’s supporters. Over 24 hours later, having secured a compromise, they relented.

Senate Bill 564 was declared perfected on Feb. 8, and was officially passed by the Senate a week later. It now awaits further action in the House of Representatives.

As a multimedia specialist for the Missouri Senate, I compiled a short video on the debate for official government use. Watch the package below, and don’t forget to check out the Missouri Senate website for daily updates on the 2018 legislative session.