Representative Neely's Capitol Report
House Approves Legislation to Put an End to Venue Shopping in Missouri (HB 460, HB 461, and HB 462)
House members continued their tort reform efforts this week by passing legislation supporters say will help put an end to “litigation tourism” and the many lawsuits that are filed in St. Louis by out-of-state parties. The bills approved Thursday are meant to stop the large number of lawsuits filed in the state by people who live outside Missouri, who are alleging injuries that didn’t occur within the state’s borders against companies that are not from Missouri.
A 2016 study released by the American Tort Reform Foundation named St. Louis as the number one “judicial hellhole” in the country; calling it a “magnet for product liability lawsuits and consumer class actions.” The study noted that plaintiffs travel from out-of-state to file lawsuits in Missouri to take advantage of the state's weak venue law and low standards for what is considered expert testimony. A Bloomberg Businessweek article noted that Missouri has “developed a reputation for fast trials, favorable rulings, and big awards.”
In order to help end Missouri’s reputation as the “Show Me Your Lawsuits State,” in February the Missouri House took up and passed a piece of legislation designed to strengthen the state’s expert witness standards. This week members continued their tort reform efforts by approving a series of bills that would prevent what is commonly referred to as venue or forum shopping in Missouri. Specifically, the legislation would change state laws governing where lawsuits may be filed and whether suits can be joined together.
Supporters say the bills will clarify the venue laws in Missouri and ensure lawsuits are brought in the proper court. They note that in 2016 there were 140 aggregated mass tort cases pending in St. Louis, with 8,400 plaintiffs in the cases having nothing to do with Missouri. They say the fix approved by the House will prevent lawsuits brought by out-of-state interests from moving to St. Louis simply by including a plaintiff from the city.
Those who oppose the bill say it will change the venue laws so that more cases are filed in the rural areas of the state and prevent plaintiffs from pooling resources in lawsuits against large companies. They say the bill will further increase costs for rural counties because of the need for additional courtroom resources, and increase the burden on residents needed to serve as jurors in those counties. Opponents also note that restricting plaintiffs’ ability to join their lawsuits together in a single venue, thereby forcing them to pursue their suits individually, would prove cost-prohibitive.
House Approves Minimum Wage Fix (HBs 1194 & 1193)
In response to a Missouri Supreme Court decision that invalidated part of Missouri’s minimum wage law, lawmakers are moving quickly to implement a fix that would provide a consistent wage in municipalities throughout the state. The House approved legislation this week that would reaffirm that the state’s minimum wage is applied throughout Missouri, and keep the decision to raise wages in the hands of the employer and employee.
While the state currently has a minimum wage that increases based on the Consumer Price Index, and is currently higher than the federal minimum wage, some municipalities have considered their own increases. St. Louis passed an ordinance to raise its minimum wage to $10 an hour this year and $11 an hour by 2018. The legislation approved by the House would preempt and nullify the minimum wage enacted by St. Louis, and provide that other municipalities cannot enact a minimum wage that exceeds the one established by state law.
Supporters say the bill will ensure it is not illegal for an employer to hire someone in accordance with the state minimum wage. They say the legislation approved by the House will protect job creators from being turned into criminals. They also note that a mandated increase in payroll would force businesses to either raise prices or cut costs by reducing the size of their workforce. In addition, they say it’s important to have a consistent minimum wage across the state rather than an inconsistent patchwork of wages that vary from municipality to municipality.
Opponents of the bill say it’s important to preserve local control and allow municipalities the right to determine their own minimum wage standards. They say raising the minimum wage can help Missourians obtain a livable wage and move closer to self-sufficiency. They also note that the legislature passed similar legislation in 2015 that included a deadline to allow cities to enact a higher minimum wage, and that St. Louis met that deadline with its ordinance.
House Moves to Reduce Regulatory Burden on Missourians (HBs 480, 272, 413 & 609)
The House has advanced part of the policy platform laid out by House Speaker Todd Richardson, who called for the legislature to remove the unnecessary government regulations that stifle innovation and job creation in the state. House members approved legislation to ensure government engages in the licensing and regulation of occupations and professions only when it is necessary to protect the welfare of the public.
The bill approved by the House would establish guidelines for the regulation of occupations and professions not currently regulated by the Division of Professional Registration, as well as guidelines for substantially increasing the scope of practice of currently regulated occupations and professions. The bill would also specify that the state may not impose a substantial burden on an individual's pursuit of his or her occupation or profession unless there is an important governmental interest for the state to protect the general welfare. If an interest exists, the regulation adopted by the state would have to be substantially related to the public interest to be protected.
The bill also would establish a heightened level of review with specific criteria for all legislation that would seek to license an occupation or profession for the first time or to substantially expand the scope of a current professional license. Criteria would include determining whether unregulated practice could cause harm and endanger the general welfare, and whether the public could reasonably be expected to benefit from an assurance of personal qualifications.
Supporters believe the bill will reduce the burdens placed on individuals trying to practice their professions. It will ensure new regulations are put in place only when they are necessary to protect the public.
Increasing STEM Career Awareness (HB 248)
Just one week after legislators took time to observe the state’s annual STEM Day, House members gave bipartisan support to legislation that would establish a statewide program designed to promote careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The legislation is modeled after successful programs in Tennessee and Arkansas that have helped promote the importance of the STEM fields to young people.
The bill would require the state Department of Economic Development to establish the STEM Career Awareness Program to increase awareness of careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics for students in grades six through eight. The program would involve online-based curriculum that would raise awareness of more than eighty different careers and technologies, and would be organized around the concept of solving societal or human-centered problems. The bill would require the department to have the program in place by the 2018-19 school year.
Supporters of the legislation say it is critical to promote the importance of STEM careers in order to support the economies of the state and the nation. They say a lack of awareness of STEM fields is what is keeping many young people from pursuing careers in these areas. By giving students increased exposure to these careers, the state can better prepare the next generation of Missourians to succeed in the fastest growing job sector.
Missouri Unemployment Numbers Continue to Drop
The state of Missouri received good news this week as the state’s jobless rate continues to decline. The Missouri Department of Economic Development released its latest data showing that unemployment dropped to 4.2 percent in January. The number is a decrease from the December rate of 4.4 percent, and is also lower than the 4.5 percent unemployment rate the state saw in January of 2016.
The department’s data also shows an increase in the number of jobs in the state. Missouri gained 7,300 jobs from December to January. The state also has an additional 10,000 jobs when compared to January of last year. The state now has seasonally adjusted nonfarm employment of more than 2.97 million.
Raising Awareness of Multiple Sclerosis
House members joined Missourians across the state this week in wearing orange to raise awareness of multiple sclerosis. In 2015 the legislature approved HB 861 to designate the first full week of March each year as Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Week in Missouri. The week is designed to call attention to the need for additional research, care, and support for those living with multiple sclerosis. According to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, the disease affects more than 400,000 people in the United States, and about 2.5 million people worldwide. Approximately 200 new cases are diagnosed each week in the United States.
Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, with at least two to three times more women than men being diagnosed with the disease
As always, please do not hesitate to call or write me anytime with your questions or thoughts on this or any other issue. My Capitol office is 573.751.0246 and my email is email@example.com . Thank you for the honor to serve as your Representative in the Missouri House of Representatives.
Working on your behalf,
Representative Jim Neely
Proudly Serving the 8th House District
Clinton, Caldwell, Clay and Ray Counties
Missouri House of Representatives
573.751.024602/14/2017 Referred to Committee (RJRR)
Designates August 21, 2017, as "Total Eclipse Day" in the state of Missouri
I urge you to contact my office with any questions or concerns you have about state government so I can better represent you during the 2017 legislative session.
I always appreciate hearing your comments, opinions, and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-4302. You may also email me firstname.lastname@example.org.