Missouri session ends with some of business '6' fixed

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Despite repeated attempts during two legislative sessions, the Republicans who control Missouri's Legislature have passed only part of the six-point, pro-business agenda outlined by the state's main businesses groups, who are some of their biggest supporters.

The package dubbed "Fix the Six" includes changes to the state's workplace discrimination laws, its workers' compensation system, a phasing out of its franchise tax, a change to its minimum wage laws, tort reform and a restructuring of the state's unemployment benefits system.

Lawmakers have passed some of the agenda, and as the latest session ended Friday, they touted their passage of measures that hold the line on taxes and eliminate regulations they believe are unduly burdensome on companies, but they've failed to meet all the goals laid out at the start of the 2011 session to make the state more business-friendly and jump-start the economy.

Business groups pushed the agenda hard during that session, and lawmakers themselves referred to "fixing the six" frequently. That session saw bills pass that will do away with the state's franchise tax by 2016 and reduce the number of weeks that unemployed people in the state can receive benefits from 26 weeks to 20. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon signed both bills.

Legislation dealing with workplace discrimination laws was vetoed this year and last. A measure dealing with the workers' compensation system was vetoed this year, but a new, scaled-down version later passed and is on its way to Nixon's desk.

Measures dealing with the minimum wage and tort reform did not advance beyond the House.

"I'd be crazy if I said we didn't expect more," said Dan Mehan, president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. "But we got something, so that's very important. If you get out of the pocket and off the back of business, business will do fine. This bunch gets that."

Mehan noted the franchise tax change would save businesses $80 million. The six-week reduction of state-paid unemployment benefits also will boost companies' bottom lines because they'll now pay less into that system, he said.

This year saw lawmakers give much less attention to the "Fix the Six" package. In an interview, Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer seemed to only vaguely remember the package's six parts and said passing the entire agenda was not one of his primary goals.

But he also pointed out that four of the six priorities had come through— and passed— his chamber. While the Senate passed workplace discrimination and workers' compensation bills with veto-proof majorities, the House did not have nearly enough votes on either measure to plausibly attempt to override Nixon.

On Friday, House Majority Leader Tim Jones defended his chamber's efforts, pointing to the scaled-back workers' compensation measure, which Nixon has indicated he will sign. That measure, which Jones himself sponsored, would bar employees from suing each other over accidental on-the-job injuries, a practice Jones said costs state businesses millions.

Although that issue "was very contentious over the last two years, (we have) something with nearly universal agreement with labor and the workers and the business owners," said Jones, R-Eureka. "Good employees will not face the choice of losing their jobs and being sued."

Lawmakers in both chambers seemed resigned to continue chipping away at the six-part list in future legislative sessions. Mehan conceded that passing one law — let alone a package of six — can take several years. But he said they need to be passed soon, if the state's business climate —and economy— are to improve.

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