The Missouri Senate is now heading into its fifth week of the 2017 session. Bills have started arriving on the Senate floor for debate, and committee work is moving at a brisk pace. Just this week, I presented four of my sponsored bills in committee, the first of which was Senate Bill 43. Before I get down to the details, I want to thank all those who came to testify on behalf of this important initiative. Substantially similar to legislation I have filed in previous years, SB 43 is part of my effort to make Missouri a more business-friendly state.
Senate Bill 43 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 "because of, but for causation." “Because of, but for causation” essentially means that an adverse decision or action would not have been made but for the employee’s status as a protected person. While I am attempting to modify current state law, the goal of SB 43 is actually to restore the original meaning and legislative intent behind existing statutes — something Missouri courts have moved away from within the last decade.
Senate Bill 43 stipulates that a person claiming to be aggrieved by an unlawful discriminatory practice shall file a complaint with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR) within 180 days of the alleged unlawful conduct, and it provides that the Commission may only issue a "Right to Sue" letter under certain circumstances. One of the most frustrating things I have encountered during my more than 25 years as a small business owner involves Right to Sue letters. On three different occasions, I have had to go before the MCHR as a business owner. In each instance, they determined the employee’s case had no merit, yet they still sent out Notice of Right to Sue letters, which opened the case up all over again. In its current form, this system encourages individuals to pursue a meritless case simply to force a settlement, costing our small businesses time and money they do not have.
Senate Bill 43 also provides that any party to an action filed under the MHRA has a right to a jury trial. This provision was included to help ensure there is a balance between employees and business owners and operators, giving plaintiffs their day in court while protecting businesses from frivolous lawsuits. It also instructs Missouri courts to rely on federal case law to the extent it is not inconsistent with Missouri case law.
If signed into law, SB 43 will help Missouri employers avoid meritless litigation and clarify their potential liabilities while retaining significant protections for employees. It will also align Missouri law with standards adopted at the federal level and by a majority of other states.
My office has already received an exceptionally good response from members of the business community. It is a solid piece of legislation that will go a long way toward reforming Missouri’s legal climate and improving our ability to grow existing businesses and attract new employers.
I was proud to present Senate Bill 44 to the Education Committee. This measure builds upon last year’s career and technical education (CTE) efforts by linking the CTE classes a school district offers to industry recognized certifications or state licensing requirements. It requires the CTE Advisory Council to annually update the list of certifications. And, it links students to area employers by encouraging businesses to participate in college and career fairs hosted by local school districts.
The entire goal of CTE is to provide our students with the necessary education and technical skills to be ready to enter the workforce, or continue their education or training, upon graduating from high school. With SB 44, we have crafted a bill that will be more accommodating to industry needs by allowing them to help curate the curriculum, increasing the odds that a CTE program will include the appropriate training and instruction that area employers require. My bill will also give our schools the leeway they need to be more creative with their curriculum.
Last but not least, I presented two local issue bills in committee this week. Senate Bill 146 simply seeks to address a technical error in the original statute. It 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.
The second piece of local issue legislation I presented is Senate Bill 163. According to state law, it is a crime to possess, deliver, deposit or conceal certain items in a prison or jail. Although it may come as a surprise to many, cell phones are not among the items currently prohibited. Senate Bill 163 adds two-way telecommunications devices, such as cell phones and their component parts, to the list of prohibited items. The measure is not applicable to law enforcement officers who are lawfully engaged in their duties or any person who is authorized to use such a device in the facility. Similar to measures I have filed in the previous two sessions, SB 163 is especially important for the residents of the 3rd District, which contains several correctional facilities.
These are just a few of the measure my office is working hard to pass. For a complete list of all my sponsored legislation, please visit my Senate website as www.senate.mo.gov/Romine.
Finally, on Monday evening, my office staff and I joined other senators and Senate staff for the 2017 Senate Bowling Tournament. This year, we were able to raise over $8,000 for the St. Raymond’s Society, which supports mothers who have chosen life for their child, taking particular care to continue that support after the baby is born. While Romine’s Rollers may not have won, it was nice to spend time with our Senate colleague outsides of the Capitol, and we were very proud to support such an incredible and worthy organization.
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 email@example.com.