House Approves Legislation to Pave the Way for Uber and Lyft
The Missouri House gave final approval this week to legislation that would allow rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft to expand services throughout the state. The legislation is a priority of House Speaker Todd Richardson who hopes to create a statewide framework that will allow private enterprise to thrive in a free market. Uber has already promised as many as 10,000 jobs in the first year if the bill is passed into law.
The legislation is meant to allow transportation network companies to expand beyond municipalities that have passed their own ordinances governing ridesharing. Currently, Uber operates only in Kansas City, St. Louis, Columbia, and Springfield. Lyft does not currently operate in Missouri, but recently announced it will begin offering services in Springfield.
The bill’s sponsor said the benefits of allowing transportation network companies to expand in Missouri include the creation of jobs and businesses, and a reduction in the number of drunken driving arrests in the state. He said it’s time to “add Missouri to the list of 38 other states that have passed similar legislation and provided their citizens with the opportunities provided by transportation network companies.”
House Bill 130 would establish criteria for fare charges and customer receipts. It would also require local and national criminal background checks for drivers; inspections for vehicles; and an annual registration fee of $5,000. Additionally, the bill would exempt transportation network companies from local or municipal taxes.
During discussion on the House floor, the House amended the bill to include additional protections for the private information of individuals who utilize rideshare services. Supporters noted the companies collect information such as home address and credit card information, and they have the potential to collect information on travel patterns. Members approved an amendment requiring transportation network companies to adopt policies to protect the personal information of riders.
The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.
House Members Reject Proposed Pay Increase
House members came together in bipartisan fashion this week to overwhelmingly reject a proposed pay increase for elected officials and judges. The House approved a resolution that would prevent the pay increase recommendations made by the Citizens’ Commission on Compensation for Elected Officials from going into effect.
The commission meets every two years according to the state constitution to set the compensation for state officials. Once the commission makes its recommendation, it automatically goes into effect unless the legislature rejects the proposal before February 1. It takes a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate to keep the increases from going into effect.
In rejecting the increase, House members agreed it is not appropriate to increase their own pay. They also said the difficult budget situation faced by the state this year makes it even more important to ensure taxpayer dollars are saved for priority items such as education and services for Missouri’s most vulnerable citizens.
The legislation has already moved to the Senate where it is expected to move quickly in order to receive final passage early next week ahead of the deadline.
New House Committee Set to Investigate Problems in the Missouri Department of Corrections
A newly-formed House subcommittee is set to investigate reports of harassment within the Department of Corrections. The Speaker of the House and the chair of the House Corrections Committee this week formed the new committee to closely examine the current problems within the department, and to “ensure the department does not allow a pervasive culture of harassment to exist in the future.”
Recent news articles outlined multiple cases in which corrections employees were the victims of harassment by other employees. Some were retaliated against after reporting incidents. Some cases led to lawsuits that have cost Missouri millions of dollars in legal settlements, with more pending.
The new House Subcommittee on Corrections Workforce Environment and Conduct will begin its work immediately. The chair of the committee has said their work will focus on the department’s procedures and how it follows up on complaints. The chair also noted that with a new governor and the change in administration, it is possible that some of the people responsible for continued harassment, or who had knowledge of it, could have already left the department or be on the way out.
The committee will hold hearings and take public testimony about the problems within the department, and may call in supervisors of harassed employees to answer questions. The committee’s final recommendations could include actions against employees connected to the harassment, if its members feel that is necessary.
As the chairman of the committee said, “We have all been shocked and concerned by the stories and the lawsuits that have resulted from the environment that was allowed to exist within the department. It’s clear significant changes need to be made to put an end to this culture, and to give our underpaid corrections employees a safe, professional work environment.”
General Assembly Welcomes Chief Justice Breckenridge for Annual State of the Judiciary
House and Senate members convened for a joint session this week to receive the annual State of the Judiciary Address. Delivered by Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Patricia Breckenridge, the speech focused on the reforms and improvements made by the court system, and the need to improve pretrial incarceration practices in Missouri.
Breckenridge noted that both the governor and members of the legislature have been critical of the court system and have proposed various tort reform bills. She asked everyone to not view the calls for action as condemnation of the justice system. She added, “We, more than anyone, want our courts to live up to their responsibilities to properly administer justice.” Breckenridge said the court system has worked to own their issues and to address problem municipal divisions in St. Louis County and elsewhere in the state. She noted that judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and clerks worked together to make recommendations for reforms and then put them into effect.
Chief Justice Breckenridge also emphasized the need to improve Missouri’s pretrial incarceration practices. She noted that the Missouri Constitution specifies individuals may be incarcerated before trial only when charged with a capital offense; when a danger to a crime victim, a witness, or the community; or when a flight risk. Despite this, she said people are incarcerated because they are too poor to post bond. Breckenridge pointed out the likelihood that an individual will commit future crimes increases after only three days in jail. A Supreme Court task force will now examine how other states have addressed the problem and recommend necessary changes.
Governor Forms Committee to Reform Missouri’s Tax System
Governor Greitens this week announced the creation of a new committee that will be charged with fixing what he says is a broken tax system. In forming the new committee, Greitens said the state has “a tax system that is complex, corrupt, and high. So today, I signed an executive order to put an end to our broken tax system once and for all.” The 10-member Governor’s Committee for Simple, Fair, and Low Taxes is intended to look for ways to create a simple and fair tax system that will help create jobs.
Greitens has tasked the committee with comparing Missouri’s tax credit programs and its tax rates to those of its peer states. It will also assess the economic impact of existing state tax credit programs, and assess the possibility of financing cuts to overall state tax rates with cuts to tax credit programs. The committee will hold at least four town hall meetings. It must complete its mission and recommend comprehensive tax reform legislation to the governor no later than June 30 of this year.
The committee will be made up of ten unpaid members. The governor will appoint four of the members, and the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tem will be responsible for selecting three members each. The governor will designate the chair of the committee.