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Mid-session legislative review

It was the Senate’s first week back after the General Assembly’s annual spring break. With only six weeks remaining in the 2017 session, I’m pleased to be able to say that of the roughly 64 Senate bills that have made it to the House, seven are measures I have sponsored. I am grateful our office has had such a productive and successful first half of session, and I look forward to seeing how these final weeks play out. The following is a recap of where the seven measures that have advanced to the House stand as of close of session today.

In late February, the Senate gave its approval to Senate Bill 45, which has been reported out of the House Special Committee on Litigation Reform and is waiting to be taken up on the House floor for debate. This measure modifies state law regarding arbitration agreements between employers and at-will employees. Arbitration is an alternative method of dispute resolution often used in workplace settings. When compared to traditional litigation, it’s generally more cost-effective and produces a quicker resolution. It also protects the confidentiality of both parties. Arbitration allows for the same claims and remedies as traditional litigation; it simply occurs in a different forum.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly endorsed employment arbitration and stated that these agreements must be treated in the same manner as other contracts, Missouri courts have become notorious for striking down arbitration agreements. In fact, our courts have challenged arbitration agreements to the point where legislative action is necessary. Senate Bill 45 will codify and re-establish the value of arbitration agreements in Missouri.

Moving SB 45 through the Senate required a willingness from members on both sides of the aisle to come together and find some middle ground. The same can also be said of Senate Bill 43, which changes the standard for determining whether an employer is liable for a discrimination charge under the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), as well as the Whistleblower Protection Act, from a contributing factor to a motivating factor, among other provisions. This legislation is part of a larger effort to restore fairness and balance to Missouri’s employment discrimination laws and protect our business community from frivolous lawsuits.

As I’ve previously stated, SB 43 is not about permitting discrimination or making it easier for businesses to mistreat their employees; I firmly believe employers who discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex or another protected class should be held accountable for their actions, and their employees should be able to pursue justice. That being said, I also believe the proverbial pendulum of the law has swung too far to one side, so much so that simply being a member of a protected class is enough to bring a discrimination case against an employer, regardless of the circumstances. Senate Bill 43 is scheduled to be heard by the House Special Committee on Litigation Reform on April 3.

On Tuesday, the Senate approved legislation (Senate Bill 355) I’m sponsoring that would allow Missouri’s two-year colleges to utilize essentially the same road signs as traditional four-year colleges, irrespective of differences in student housing or types of degrees offered. Currently, if a two-year college has to replace the signage that directs visitors to its campus, it must switch to signs that are much smaller in size when compared to those of four-year colleges. My language simply allows our community colleges to use signage that is equal in size to that of our four-year campuses whenever they need to replace them. Senate Bill 355 has been second read in the House and is awaiting its committee assignment.

Before adjourning for spring break, the Senate voted to advance a measure I’m sponsoring that seeks to modify provisions relating to school employee retirement systems. Currently, a nomination of a successor beneficiary must be filed within 90 days of a remarriage. Senate Bill 394 simply extends the deadline to within one year of a remarriage. Senate Bill 394 has been second read in the House and is awaiting its committee assignment.

Senate Bill 146 corrects the description of St. Francois County in a provision of law concerning expenditure of the county’s special road and bridge tax monies. This will allow St. Francois County to get the benefits of a first class county. It has been second read in the House and is awaiting its committee assignment.

Under the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), members of the Army or Air National Guard are provided employment protection when they must leave their civilian job for federal National Guard service. Unfortunately, the Act does not apply when a National Guard member must be away from their job because of state service. Each state must pass its own laws enabling National Guard members to gain reemployment rights after active state duty.

Senate Bill 108 provides that Missouri employees who are members of the National Guard of another state and are called up for active state duty by the governor of that state shall be entitled to reemployment rights upon their return to Missouri. Regardless of what state they came from, if members of our military end up finding jobs in Missouri as a result of their service and then are called to serve, they should be afforded the same rights as Missouri residents to return to their employment positions. Senate Bill 108 has been passed out of the House Veterans Committee and is awaiting floor debate.

Just today, the Senate voted to advance Senate Bill 293, which seeks to modify the $2 per ton fee that is paid to the Division of Fire Safety for the use of explosives under the Missouri Blasting Safety Act. The fee pays for the costs of administering the law and funds two full-time inspectors, who are responsible for investigating complaints of blasting activity. The state fire marshal’s office has done an excellent job making do with the original $2 fee for nearly a decade, but that nominal amount is no longer enough to cover the costs of administering the law. If signed into law, SB 293 will raise the fee ceiling to $7.50 so that the fire marshal’s office does not have to keep coming back to the Legislature if they need to raise the fee again at some point in the future. SB 239 includes a provision that prohibits the fee from yielding more revenue than what is required to administer the cost of the program.

Today I met briefly with Paul Brockmiller and Brad Bauman both successful construction company owners from our district. I was able to help facilitate a meeting between them and the Governor to discuss the importance of keeping Prevailing Wage laws intact. I haven’t heard yet, but I am hopeful the meeting was successful and insightful.

Finally, my staff and I were pleased to welcome the following individuals and groups at the Capitol this week: James Hutchins, of Farmington; Al Kennon, of Ste. Genevieve; Robert Lord, Jason Saylor and Crystal Saylor, all of Bloomsdale; Jim Hamblin, of Farmington; Steve Grider, Recorder of Deeds St. Francois County and Pamela Blair, Recorder of Deeds Washington County; Sheri and Dylan George, both of Farmington; Rick Bach, of Ste. Genevieve; David Silvester, Natalie Roark and Preston Kramer with MoDOT; Alan Wells, of St. Francois County 911; Ashley Merritt, Jeremy Leach and Lisa Umfleet, who were here for Pharmacy Advocacy Day; and Clint Johnson with Jefferson R-7 School District. And last, but not least Mike Ramsey with B104 was set up in the Capitol Rotunda for interviews. It is always a pleasure to have our local stations visit the Capitol and keep listeners up to date with what goes on in state government.

I always appreciate hearing your comments, opinions and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at 573-751-4008. You may write me at Gary Romine, Missouri Senate, State Capitol, Jefferson City, MO 65101; or email me at gary.romine@senate.mo.gov.

Gary Romine

Gary Romine

This report was filed March 31, 2017

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