The General Assembly passed legislation and sent it to the Governor to make Missouri a Right to Work state, and on Monday, February 6, Governor Greitens signed this bill into law. While Right to Work is not the “silver bullet” to completely address our state’s struggling economy, it will help to attract new companies and industry who seek to locate in a Right to Work state. Today there is fierce competition amongst states to attract industry in order to help create jobs and economic opportunities within their borders. Right to Work now puts Missouri in a better bargaining position.
The House continues to work on its number one priority—the state budget. Other legislation approved by the Missouri House included House Bill 288, a bill dealing with unemployment reform. HB 288 is identical to legislation that was put into law in 2015, but after being approved by the House and Senate, the bill was vetoed by then Governor Jay Nixon. The House took immediate action to override the Governor’s veto. However, the Senate—which was at that time in a standstill in the final days of session, due to a filibuster—did not complete the override motion until the annual Veto Session in September. Because of the timing of the veto override motions, the Missouri Supreme Court later struck down the law. The legislation approved this session by the House is meant to put the law back into effect.
HB 288 changes the law regarding the length of time that unemployment compensation can be received—moving it from 20 weeks to 13 weeks—if unemployment drops below 6% statewide. It also requires increasing the unemployment trust fund minimum balance from $750 million to $870 million. The increased minimum balance keeps the state from borrowing from the federal government during times of high unemployment. When we borrow from the federal government, business lose the unemployment tax credit, which, in turn, raises their taxes. The benefits of this bill keep taxes lower for businesses and reduces Missouri’s dependence on the federal government.
Missouri is the only state that has been forced to borrow money from the federal government to pay for unemployment benefits during each of the last five economic downturns. As a result, our state’s employers have been forced to pay millions of dollars in interest. Supporters say that this change is an important step toward ensuring that Missouri can afford not only to help it citizens, but also to help its businesses. Furthermore, this bill ties unemployment benefits to the average unemployment rate so that more benefits are available when unemployment is high. If the state were in a position of high unemployment (9% or higher), benefits would then be available for 20 weeks. In periods of low unemployment (6% or lower), benefits would be available for only 13 weeks.
Another priority for the General Assembly this session is HB 151, a bill designed for Missouri to come into compliance with the federal Real ID Act. The federal Real ID Act was structured to enhance security procedures by establishing a new minimum standard for driver’s licenses. This law was passed by the U.S. Congress in 2005, following the events of 9/11.
Missouri responded to the requirements of the Real ID Act by passing a state law in 2009 to protect the private information of our citizens by prohibiting the Missouri Department of Revenue from complying with the federal act. Because as a state we have not complied with the requirements, Missouri driver’s licenses are no longer a valid form of identification at federal facilities and military bases and, beginning in January of 2018, will no longer be valid at airports as proof of identity for domestic flights. For Missourians who do not want to comply with federal Real ID requirements because of privacy concerns, this legislation would allow them to request the existing Missouri identification that is not compliant with the federal act. For those Missourians who want or need the federally compliant driver’s licenses, the bill would establish safeguards so that any additional data gathered is used only for the purpose of personal identification.
Supporters of HB 151 say we need this identification to enter military bases and board airplanes. Opponents say that Real ID is a federal overreach and we should not have to comply with their demands but should seek a federal waiver. The bill is expected to be up for a final vote in the House this week.
HB 138, that passed the House and is on its way to the Senate, seeks to expand access to virtual education programs for Missouri students. This legislation is extremely important in rural areas of our state where, oftentimes, advanced courses are not offered because of a lack of money or qualified instructors. A recent report indicated that numerous districts are unable to offer many of the more advanced courses. If passed, HB 138 would give students in smaller (and many rural) districts the opportunity to enroll in virtual courses and have access to same or similar instruction as those students in larger districts. The courses will be paid for with state funds that would normally go to the school districts.
Another bill, HB 655, that has also passed the House and is on its way to the Senate, extends to the year 2026 tax credits for donations made to pregnancy resource centers. Currently, our state issues up to $5 million annually in tax credits for donations made to these centers, many of which offer free services and provide valuable resources and knowledge to women in crisis or in an unplanned pregnancy. These centers provide invaluable services at 74 statewide locations.
Finally, the Missouri House took time recently to honor the hard work and success of Eagle Scouts from around the state. Some who achieved the rank of Eagle Scout were at the capitol on Monday, February 20, for Missouri Eagle Scout Recognition Day. Several of the Scouts came to the House chamber where they were publicly recognized for their outstanding achievements. It is always a pleasure to be able to meet and acknowledge these fine young people.