State Rep. Chris Brown, R-Kansas City, presented a bill Monday that would require Missouri counties and municipalities to receive state authorization to establish eviction moratoriums.
The bill is his response to the loss of income that many landlords and investors experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, when evictions were prevented by federal legislation.
In a hearing conducted by the House Special Committee on Small Business, Brown specifically cited the CARES Act, which placed a 120-day moratorium on evictions starting in March 2020, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's moratorium order that expired in August 2021 after its extension was blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Brown said that during that time, some landlords could not evict tenants who could not pay their rent but met the specific requirements for protection.
The $46.5 billion allocated by the federal government to aid landlords was also not dispersed appropriately, Brown said, as only $5.1 billion had been distributed by the end of July 2021.
Brown said the moratoriums set in place during the pandemic infringed on property rights and contract law. He also said these moratoriums were an "arbitrary seizure of property."
"I would also say this, that the government being able to come in and tell me what I'm going to do with my rental property, such as this moratorium -- it appropriates private property for public use," Brown said.
Brown said this caused problems for landlords and investors. Without receiving rent payments from tenants, some landlords had difficulty paying mortgages, property taxes and insurance, and were unable to prioritize maintenance.
"I am absolutely not unsympathetic to individuals that have housing issues or are facing economic issues. That's not the purpose of this," Brown said. "This is not some callous attempt for landlords to railroad tenants."
Rep. Raychel Proudie, D-Ferguson, said she was sympathetic to property owners who struggled due to the moratoriums, but she said there are other "variables here we need to consider."
Proudie said many of these renters were unable to go to work during the pandemic if they were not essential workers.
"It wasn't just willful not-paying of rent, it was because of the pandemic," Proudie said.
She said she agreed with Brown that the way the government handled money for landlords and investors was "an absolute government failure."
Proudie said the "angst" is directed "at the wrong people" because many people did not have the means to make money.
She also said the discussion of the bill should reach a middle ground.
Rep. Bruce Sassmann, R-Bland, wondered if the bill could be amended so that if any county or municipality imposes a moratorium, they would also be liable for any cost to landlords.
In response, Brown said that "sounds like maybe we're going right back to what happened" during the pandemic.
While two people testified in support of the bill, Jeremy LaFaver of Empower Missouri testified in opposition.
Rep. Mike Henderson, R-Bonne Terre, sponsored a bill at the same hearing that he said aims to help businesses "grow their own workers."
If passed, the bill would reimburse employers with a $2,000 grant to help upskill an employee or prospective employee. This reimbursement would occur after the training is complete, which must occur within 12 months.
Henderson said the bill would divide a pot of $6 million three ways: $2 million would go to businesses with one to 50 employees; $2 million would go to businesses with 51-100 employees; and $2 million would go to businesses with more than 100 employees.
Seven people testified in support of the bill. The committee did not hear any testimony in opposition.
Kara Corches, vice president of government affairs at the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, testified in support of the bill and said other states such as Alaska, Virginia, Utah, Colorado and Ohio have similar grant programs for teaching employees new skills.
The program outlined in the bill is modeled after Ohio's TechCred program.
Corches said the bill specifically mentions technology and health care as industries that could benefit from this bill.
"We're in the global competition for jobs, and in doing so, we need to focus on talent because that's what drives economic development," Corches said.
The work of the Missouri News Network is written by Missouri School of Journalism students and editors for publication by Missouri Press Association member newspapers.
HB 730: Establishes provisions relating to a moratorium on eviction proceedings
Sponsor: Rep. Chris Brown, R-Kansas City
HB 417: Grants to employers to encourage employees to obtain upskill credentials
Sponsor: Rep. Mike Henderson, R-Bonne Terre