Good news for unions, but attacks on Labor expected to resume next session
Jefferson City – The contentious 2021 Missouri legislative session will go down as one of the most “do nothing” sessions in state history, the Missouri AFl-CIO reports.
The session got off to a contentious start when Governor Parson snubbed House Speaker Rob Vescovo as, for the first time, the State of the State address was delivered in the Senate chambers to a pared down audience due to COVID-19.
The feud between the Governor and the Speaker evolved into a shouting match in the hallways of the Capitol and continued to fester during the session, resulting in little, if any, communication between them.
The Senate fractured into several splinter groups during the session. The Conservative Caucus consistently snubbed Senate leadership and pursued its own agenda, leading to gridlock on most issues.
A total of 2,275 pieces of legislation were introduced during the Legislative Session.
“Our plate was full,” Jake Hummel, president of the Missouri AFL-CIO, said in a legislative wrap-up for Labor leaders.
The Missouri AFL-CIO was tracking over 250 bills at the height of the session, including:
- “Right-to-work” – the phony union-busting legislation Republicans just can’t let go, despite voters overwhelmingly rejecting it in 2018.
- “Right-to-work” by county.
- Reducing unemployment coverage for laid-off workers.
- Reducing minimum wage.
- Paycheck deception.
- School vouchers.
- Charter schools.
- Voter ID.
- Purging voter registration lists.
- Restricting voter rights.
- Initiative petition process restrictions.
- Mechanical licensing.
- A gas tax to fund road and bridge improvements.
“While there was no real appetite to pursue the phony ‘right-to-work,’ the legislature was primed to move on ‘paycheck’ but was held in check while waiting for the Missouri Supreme Court to rule on HB 1413,” Hummel said.
The high court last week ruled House Bill 1413 unconstitutional in its entirety, declaring “the exemption of public safety labor organizations in section 105.503.2(1)1 creates a scheme that effectively disfavors non-public safety Labor organizations and violates public employees’ right to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing.
The 2018 law has been declared unconstitutional in all of the lower courts. (See related story.)
With the Supreme Court’s decision delayed until after the session, Republican lawmakers’ latest paycheck scheme did not advance, but Hummel said, “This will most likely be priority number one in the next session.”
The Republican supermajority in the legislature again rebuffed Missouri voters when both the House and Senate budget committees refused to fund Medicaid Expansion, which was approved in the August 2020 election.
“There was a possibility that Gov. Parson would implement the expansion without legislative approval, but he failed to do so,” Hummel said. “A lawsuit filed in Cole County Circuit Court will now likely require the Legislature and the Governor to live up to the will of the voters and the Missouri Constitution.”
FEDERAL REIMBURSEMENT ALLOWANCE
The session came to a dramatic end when the Senate failed to pass the Federal Reimbursement Allowance (FRA).
“For the first time in 30 years, the General Assembly failed to renew taxes on hospitals, nursing homes and pharmacies that are used to acquire matching federal money that funds the Missouri Medicaid program,” Hummel said.
A fight over the funds being used for birth control and abortion derailed the normally routine renewal, Hummel said, exposing deep fissures within the Senate GOP caucus and sparking a filibuster by Democrats that sunk the session’s final day.
“The legislature had kicked this can down the road before, but this time they kicked it too far and could not find it before the end of session,” he said.
As a result, lawmakers have no choice but to return to Jefferson City for a special session before the sunset on these taxes expires in September, he said.
In the end, only 69 bills (including 19 budget bills) were agreed to and finally passed in the 2021 session.
Legislation affecting union members
Legislation affecting union members approved by the Missouri General Assembly this session included:
• HB 85 – Second Amendment Preservation Act – this bill criminalizes the enforcement of certain federal gun laws and fines officers that “infringe” on Second Amendment rights.
• HB 271 – Limits local public health orders in pandemics and bans so-called vaccine passports.
• HB 349 – In a major victory for school-choice advocates, this bill creates an Empowerment Scholarship Account program designed to cover certain education costs, such as private school tuition.
• SB 44 – Water and sewer infrastructure.
• SB 51 – Would shield businesses from most COVID related lawsuits.
• SB 262 – The first tax hike in 28 years will incrementally increase the gas tax to 29.5 cents per gallon by 2025. This legislation will create thousands of jobs for Missouri workers!
• SB 303 – Extends the sunset for second injury fund tax and provides for a simpler filing process.
In the budget, state workers will get a two percent pay raise, with correction officers getting up to a 10 percent raise. The budget also increased funding for Amtrak, which will result in the reinstating of two trains a day, resulting in additional Amtrak jobs in the state.
A push to reinstate a photo ID requirement to vote ran out of steam in the Senate, as did a push to make it harder for Missourians to change state law through the initiative petition process.
WORKING IN AN UNFRIENDLY LABOR ENVIRONMENT
Labor was able to stave off most of the attacks thanks to a divided Republican Party, and through hard work in what has become an unfriendly Labor environment in Jefferson City, said Jake Hummel, president of the Missouri AFL-CIO.
“The next session will require a recommitment from all of Labor to assist in fighting back these attacks,” he said. “We managed through a tough session with a skeleton crew (due to the COVID-19 pandemic), but moving forward and mounting a continued successful outcome will require all of us to meet the challenge.”