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Business issues take center stage in General Assembly

May 14, 2006
By: Jason Rosenbaum
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Business-related issues, which dominated last year's legislative session, were once again a prime issue in the Missouri General Assembly.

Major issues pushed by business that cleared the 2006 session included:

  • Passed: Changes to eminent domain regulations throughout the state which allow communities to retain the right to use condemnation.
  • Passed: Requirements that gasoline in Missouri have 10 percent ethanol.
  • Passed: Denial of worker's compensation benefits to anybody fired for alcohol or drug abuse on the job.
  • Passed: A business-backed plan to let a private company build and operate a toll bridge over the Mississippi River in St. Louis. On the other hand, legislation to gradually repeal the corporate franchise tax failed.

    Dan Mehan, the president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, said he likes what he sees coming out of this year's legislative session -- and said businesses across the state will too.

    "So far, so good," said Mehan during the closing days of the session..

    Mehan said the shift in the state's business atmosphere came about with the change in the state's top-elected official's agenda.

    "[Blunt] ran on worker's compensation reform, tort reform, medical malpractice reform, responsible government, fiscal disciplined," Mehan said. "And he's done all of that. He actually did it in the first year."

    Rep. Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence, added Blunt's desire to transform the business climate of Missouri has consequences.

    "They said they were going to make this a business-friendly state," Shoemyer said. "There's one problem with that -- it comes at someone's expense, and that's generally the work force."

    Shoemyer said the state needs workers who are committed, devoted and happy before business obtain success.

    "And I think with some of the language we've seen in regards to worker's compensation and those types of reforms this administration and this majority has done, while we've made profits bigger for the shareholders, I don't think we've done a favor for the businesses within the state of Missouri," Shoemyer said.

    House Democratic Leader Jeff Harris said he agreed that this session provided an favorable atmosphere for Missouri businesses -- but only if those companies are large, out-of-state corporations.

    "This administration has not done much for small businesses," Harris said.

    Harris said the environment could be better for smaller companies if the legislature pursued legislation that cut red tape and provided avenues that would make health care more accessible and affordable.

    "Small business people who want to do right by their employees just aren't able, in many cases, to provide health insurance for their employees," Harris said. "And that's why you see sometimes people who are employees of small businesses, and of course big businesses too, being on the Medicaid rolls."

    Shoemyer said raising the minimum wage might help people who are educated beyond their pay scale. But Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, said pursuing such action would send the wrong message to businesses looking to move into Missouri.

    "If you want to do that a federal level, that's negotiable. I would be against that because I know the consequences of it," Robb said. "At a state level I think it's silly."

    Raising the minimum wage would put the state at a substantial disadvantage, because Missouri's two biggest metropolitan areas border other states, Robb said.

    "We all know that Kansas City, Missouri has a big enough problems dealing with Johnson County on the Kansas side," Robb said.

    While Mehan said there did not seem to be as much high-profile legislation dealing with strictly business issues like last session, he said there have been a lot of creative ideas providing the state with a favorable business climate.

    Mehan cited a bill to change eminent domain regulations sponsored by Rep. Steve Hobbs, R-Mexico, as an example. He said the final legislation passed by the legislature still allows cities to use condemnation as a force for economic development, a move he attributed to a last-minute compromise by many competing interests, such as the Farm Bureau, the cities of St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield and the Chamber of Commerce.

    "Everybody gave a little and nobody got hurt bad," Mehan said.