State senators addressed a wide range of issues during this seventh week of session. We spent several days discussing a tort reform measure that will help reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits bogging down Missouri courts. Senate Bill 45 seeks to modify state laws regarding arbitration agreements between employers and at-will employees.
Arbitration is an alternative form of dispute resolution that occurs outside of the court system and is often used in the workplace. Compared to traditional litigation, it is generally faster and more cost-effective. Since arbitration proceedings are usually held in private, they also maintain the confidentiality of both parties. Despite being endorsed by the U.S. Supreme Court, Missouri courts have repeatedly struck down employment arbitration agreements. Perfected by the Senate on Wednesday, SB 45 will codify the value of arbitration in Missouri law and help standardize the process.
On Tuesday, we passed Senate Bill 108 to grant reemployment rights to Missouri employees who are members of the National Guard of another state and are called up for active state duty. The legislation also applies to members of any reserve component of the Armed Forces called to active duty. Under the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, members of the Army or Air National Guard are provided employment protection when they must leave their civilian job for federal National Guard service. Unfortunately, the Act does not apply when a National Guard member must be away from their job because of state service. Individual states have to pass their own laws in order for National Guard members to gain reemployment rights after active state duty. So far, 28 states grant reemployment rights to National Guard members after active state service.
In 2011, the Legislature passed the organ donor tax checkoff measure, allowing Missouri taxpayers to make a financial contribution when completing their income tax form. All contributions go to the state’s organ donor fund, which is currently set to expire Aug. 28, 2017. According to organdonor.gov, there are more than 119,000 men, women and children on the national transplant waiting list — 3,606,335 of them are Missourians. The organ donor tax checkoff offers Missouri citizens an easy opportunity to make a small contribution and help save the life of someone who is currently waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. The Senate voted this week to pass Senate Bill 248, repealing the organ donor fund’s expiration date.
We also passed legislation pertaining to suicide awareness and prevention programs in Missouri’s higher education institutions. Although college is often an exciting time in a young person’s life, it has the potential to be incredibly challenging as well. Leaving the comforts of home, the pressure of making good grades, money challenges and having to make new friends can quickly become overwhelming and lead to depression, even thoughts of suicide. The rates of depression and suicide are even higher for medical students. Clearly, more action needs to be taken on our college campuses to help prevent our young people from getting to the point where they feel like they have no one to talk to, nowhere to turn and no other alternative.
Senate Bill 52 requires each Missouri public higher education institution to develop and implement a policy to advise students and staff on suicide prevention programs available on and off campus. Each school will be required to provide all incoming students with information about the depression and suicide prevention resources available to them. The policy shall also advise students, faculty and staff of the proper procedures for identifying and addressing the needs of students exhibiting suicidal tendencies or behavior and require training where appropriate. Senate Bill 52 specifically addresses the need to bring more awareness to the prevalence of depression and other mental health issues among medical school students.
Finally, a provision of law allowing counties to decrease their annual budgets expired on July 1, 2016. Specifically, the law permitted counties to decrease their annual budgets twice during any fiscal year in which they experienced a decline in revenue of at least two percent. Passed by the Senate this week, Senate Bill 95 simply extends the expiration date to July 1, 2027.
I always appreciate hearing your comments, opinions and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-2173. You may write to me at Senator Ron Richard, Missouri Senate, State Capitol, 201 W. Capitol Ave., Rm. 326, Jefferson City, MO 65101; email me at email@example.com or visit me on the Web at www.senate.mo.gov/richard.