Tax Increase, Tax Cut, Second Injury Fund, Undocumented Workers and Whistle-blower Update

April 12 – Well, as you can tell by the headline, it has been a very busy 24 hours!

Our tax cut bill, HB 1639, sponsored by Representative Jerry Nolte, advanced from the House Rules ImageCommittee this morning and will be eligible for debate by the full House as soon as next week.  The bill would cut the taxes of every Missouri employer by 50% over five years.

Our standalone whistle-blower bill that will protect employees that are alerting authorities to truly illegal acts by their employer, HB 2099, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Elmer, has advanced from committee and will be sent to the House Rules Committee.  Also, a committee substitute for SB 592, with the same language addressing whistle-blowers only, was distributed to committee members of the House Workforce Development Committee today and a vote on that language is expected on Monday.  You will recall Governor Jay Nixon has twice previously vetoed language that would have aligned Missouri’s standard for proving discrimination with federal law and this whistle-blower provision was a part of both of those vetoed bills.

New language that would end the Second Injury Fund and move some claims into the regular worker’s compensation system has been circulating among stakeholder groups.  We are analyzing the impact of the language now and will report to you when we have analyzed the real impact of the language and have firmer details.  Meanwhile, the House yesterday approved HB 1403 that would reform the Second Injury Fund and fix the two issues with worker’s compensation (co-employee liability and coverage of occupational diseases in the work comp system – see articles below for more details).  That bill has been referred to committee in the Senate.

Last evening, the House International Trade and Job Creation Committee heard testimony on a bill that would require every Missouri employer to use E-Verify, a system that helps identify illegal aliens.  Associated Industries of Missouri opposed the bill because it would place a new burden on every Missouri employer.  AIM President Ray McCarty pointed out to the Committee that it was unfair to place this burden on employers because the federal government has refused to properly fund and aggressively enforce federal immigration laws.  Several representatives on the Committee were obviously frustrated with the lack of enforcement by the federal government and thought an additional employer mandate was the solution.  We reminded them that was the wrong approach to this federal issue.  McCarty told the committee that employers that are satisfied with the performance of E-Verify and the protection it affords would voluntarily use the system and the mandate would be unnecessary.

ImageThis morning, the House Ways and Means Committee heard testimony on a bill that would dramatically increase business taxes.  The bill would require combined reporting, decouple Missouri’s income tax law from the federal law, remove the option for 3 factor/single factor apportionment, remove the timely filing discount for withholding taxes, reduce the number of common carriers that are eligible for sales and use tax exemptions for vehicles and trailers, and deny refunds to retailers unless they pass the refund through to their customers.  You may remember this bill was originally proposed under the Holden administration as a “loophole closing” bill.  I reminded the committee that this bill was a tax increase bill, pure and simple, and explained the various problems with each of the items in the bill.

We will continue to report on these issues as there are additional developments.

Associated Industries of Missouri Supports “Whistle Blower” Reform

April 11 – AIM President Ray McCarty testified before a House Committee yesterday in favor of two bills that would reform protections for employees claiming “whistle blower” protection under Missouri’s employment law.

While many committee members expressed agreement with at least some components of HB 2099, a bill that reforms only the “whistle blower” statutes, vigorous discussion ensued when the committee opened testimony on SB 592, a broader bill that aligns Missouri’s discrimination laws with federal discrimination laws on the books today.  AIM and other business groups have endorsed both changes, but testified in support of the narrower bill in an attempt to reform at least the whistle blower provisions.  McCarty stressed to committee members AIM’s support of the narrower bill on whistle blower, but also explained and answered many questions regarding the discrimination provisions in SB 592.

Governor Jay Nixon vetoed HB 1219 last month.  That bill addressed both discrimination and whistle blower reforms.  It is unclear whether the Governor supports the more limited bill dealing with only the whistle blower issues.

Under current law, employees may claim whistle blower protection even if they are alerting authorities to an action by the employer that is not illegal or in violation of regulations or public policy.  The bill would clarify that protection is available to employees, but only if the company is contemplating an action that would violate the law, regulations or public policy.

The hearing on the bills will be continued.