Representative Jim Neely's Capitol Report
Greetings Friends of the 8th Legislative District!
Let Freedom Ring….. It's a holiday that many mark with its date, and while most simply refer to it as the Fourth of July, the people of this great nation cannot and should not forget its true designation as Independence Day. This special day is far more than just another on the calendar, or a reason to take time off from work. It is recognition of the battles fought; the lives given; and the peace that was forged in order to form a perfect union. It is a celebration of all that makes America great and a reminder that the freedoms that define this nation were hard earned, and require the continued commitment of the American people to maintain.
Fiscal Year 2021 Operating Budget Signed into Law (HBs 2001-2013)
The Fiscal Year 2021 spending plan approved by the General Assembly has received the stamp of approval from Gov. Mike Parson with some spending restrictions to reflect declining state revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The $35.3 billion budget was signed into law by the governor and took effect on July 1, which marks the beginning of the fiscal year.
Lawmakers had returned to Jefferson City in April with the purpose of approving a spending plan by the constitutional deadline of May 8. They faced the difficult task of balancing a budget as the state’s economy was declining and revenue was dropping because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The drop in revenue prompted budget crafters in both chambers to look for substantial cost savings to bring the spending plan into balance. In total, legislators trimmed approximately $700 million from the spending plan that had been originally proposed before the pandemic began.
The plan approved by the General Assembly made every effort to balance the budget with a minimal impact to existing state services. Lawmakers kept funding for K-12 education almost entirely preserved, and provided colleges and universities with a path to avoid cuts if federal funds become available. The budget also prioritized funding for COVID-19 preparedness and response, authorizing more than $5 billion of spending authority to help mitigate expenses related to the virus, as well as vital programs that provide child nutrition and food assistance, Area Agencies on Aging, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and efforts to increase access to broadband internet in underserved areas.
While lawmakers crafted a responsible plan based on the information they had at the time, continued revenue declines because of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the governor to make additional spending restrictions to the FY 2021 budget. The governor issued line item vetoes for 17 items totaling nearly $11 million. He also announced over $448 million in budget withholds. These restrictions include nearly 150 items across state government. The complete list of vetoes can be found online at https://oa.mo.gov/budget-planning/budget-information/2021-budget-informa.... The list of budget withholds is available online at https://oa.mo.gov/budget-planning/budget-information/2021-budget-informa....
Even though the state continues to face significant budgetary challenges, Parson said he remains hopeful that the economy will recover quickly, which may allow for the release of some withheld funds later in the year. The state also anticipates opportunities in the coming weeks to help offset shortfalls.
Legislation Signed into Law to Reform Missouri’s Legal Climate and Spur Job Creation (SB 591)
During the final week of the 2020 legislative session, the Missouri House approved legislation meant to bring much-needed reforms to Missouri’s legal climate. This week the bill was signed into law.
SB 591 will stop the unfair and unreasonable litigation our businesses face. This bill shows that Missouri is open for business and strikes a fair balance between protecting Missouri employers and employees from frivolous claims while ensuring the ability of those harmed to seek relief in court.
During discussion on the House floor in May, the House handler of the bill said the legislation will bring common sense back to the court system and help make the state more conducive to business and job growth. This bill, and those like it, are intended to open up Missouri for business again. We want to create a positive business economy. We want a state where businesses feel free to come and do business, where we can expand and hire more people.
The handler said that Missouri has become the “nation’s courtroom” and that businesses would rather operate in states that have “sane and fair” rules for their court proceedings. According to the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, Missouri’s legal climate currently ranks 44th in the nation.
The legislation approved by the General Assembly will reform Missouri’s legal climate by stopping the abuse of the state’s punitive damage system. The original intent of the punitive damage system was to punish and deter a small number of defendants who exhibit the worst type of conduct. Today, Missouri’s system instead is used to put pressure on businesses to agree to huge payouts. The bill provides a balanced and fair solution that does not eliminate punitive damages, but ensures they are only awarded in appropriate cases.
The bill that is now set to become law also makes important reforms to the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (MMPA). The MMPA was created to protect consumers from unfair practices. Instead, it is now being used to file huge lawsuits over superficial issues such as having too much air in a package of candy. The reform passed by the legislature is meant to restore the MMPA to its original intent. It includes commonsense changes such as requiring that plaintiffs demonstrate they acted as a reasonable consumer and members of class actions must demonstrate individual harm.
As always, please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions, concerns, or suggestions you might have. As your Representative I am here to assist you however I can. I can be reached by email at Jim.Neely@house.mo.gov or by phone at 573-751-0246.