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Business groups said they are satisfied with the session

May 17, 2003
By: David Bryan
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Despite losing some key bills on their agenda, business groups said they are satisfied with the turnout of the first Republican Legislature in more than fifty years.

After a report from the U.S. Labor Department saying Missouri has lost more jobs in the last year than any other state, business groups backed several bills they said would make Missouri's business climate more attractive and keep jobs in Missouri.

"If you speak to those companies who decided to move to other states, they will say it's the cost of doing business in Missouri," Rep. Richard Byrd, R-St. Louis County.

While the Missouri Chamber of Commerce has said the loss of jobs in Missouri is cause for a state of emergency, the governor said that Missouri is below the national average for unemployment.

Still, leaders from both parties cited job creation as one of the highest priorities of the session.

"As I said in my state of the state address our single most important priority can be summed in one word--jobs," Gov. Bob Holden said in a speech Friday after the session.

Two bills, one restricting what is covered under workers' compensation, and one that sets new limits on lawsuit awards including medical malpractise claims, were, among other bills, the top priority of business groups this session.

"No effort better demonstrates the commitment of lawmakers to job retention than the battle over workers' compensation and tort reform this legislative session," Dan Mehan, President of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, said.

Mehan said tightening the definition of the type of injury covered would decrease the abuse of workers' compensation and cut insurance and medical costs.

The measure, which was put aside after Senate Democrats threatened a veto earlier in the session never made it to the governor's desk.

The bill limiting lawsuit awards was sent to the governor's desk, but the governor has promised to veto the bill.

In the final hours of the session, House democrats expressed outrage by booing and chanting "no" when House Speaker Katherine Hanaway, R-St. Louis County, did not allow debate on the bill.

Rep. Rick Johnson, D-Jefferson County, who ran down the center aisle pointing his finger and calling Hanaway a coward, said this bill had become an issue of politics rather than an issue of policy.

"That's selfish and it's politics and it shouldn't happen in this body," Johnson said later in an interview. "She's acting on this issue like a coward."

Despite loud opposition on the House floor, the bill was passed by a vote of 98 aye and 58 no.

Other business-supported bills included a measure that would deregulate companies, such as Southwestern Bell (SBC) and Mediacom, which provide both high-speed internet service and long-distance telephone service.

The bill, supported only by SBC and Mediacom, and opposed by local internet providers passed in the House but failed to pass in the Senate.

If the governor vetos the bill limiting lawsuit awards, none of these bills will become law, but business leaders still said they were pleased with the bills that were passed this session.

"There have been three or four issues the general assembly has done a good job of addressing," Gary Marble, president of The Associated Industries, said. "I am very pleased with the way the legislature has conducted themselves this session."