Lawmakers returned to the State Capitol eager to begin the second half of the 2018 legislative session. While we finished the first half of the legislative session with a flurry of activity, there is still much to do before we reach the finish line. Following a restful spring break spent with family and friends, I am excited to finish my legislative career on a high note as I continue to focus on making our state a better place to live, work and raise a family.

Prior to the start of the legislative spring break, my colleagues and I approved legislation aiming to ensure Camp Crowder, the Missouri National Guard training facility in Newton County, can operate at a safe distance from local businesses and developments. House Bill 1504 is a proactive measure that protects the Missouri National Guard training facilities in McDonald and Newton County from encroachment by any development near their property borders. This legislation establishes a 3,000-foot buffer zone between any local development and the nearest training facility. Through this legislation, we can ensure that Camp Crowder and other similar training facilities in our community have the ability to safely operate without any local development encroaching on the facility’s property. The proposed buffer zone is part of a joint land use study and is supported by both communities. The Missouri Senate approved the proposal without any opposition; the legislation now sits on the governor’s desk for his consideration.

This week, the Missouri Senate gave initial approval to legislation establishing the Small Business Franchise Protection Act. Senate Bill 666 clarifies state law regarding the relationship between a franchise business and its franchisor. In 2015, the National Labor Relations Board replaced a clear rule as to who is and who is not a joint employer with a vague, multi-factored test that could result in frivolous litigation to numerous franchise businesses. Because of this change, small business owners who own and operate a franchise business could be held jointly liable for the actions of its franchisor. Franchising has played a critical role in our country’s small business landscape since the mid-19th century. In Missouri, there are more than 17,000 franchise businesses, and those businesses employ more than 178,000 individuals. Senate Bill 666 clarifies that neither the franchisee nor its employees will be deemed employees of the franchisor unless they meet the traditional “direct and immediate control” standard for joint employment. I believe passing this legislation is vital to protecting Missouri’s franchise businesses from harmful and unnecessary litigation. These small businesses have little to do with the day-to-day operations of the franchisor and shouldn’t be held liable for the franchisor’s actions in a court of law. I am hopeful that this piece of tort reform legislation will reach the finish line before the end of the legislative session.

In addition, lawmakers granted initial approval to legislation aiming to give Missouri’s public school districts more flexibility when it comes to determining their workers’ compensation premium taxes. Currently, the Missouri Division of Workers’ Compensation uses two calculation methods when determining workers’ compensation premium taxes and the Second Injury Fund’s annual surcharges. The ‘filed rate” method is based on an actuarial analysis of the individual company’s own loss experiences. The “average rate” method is based off of the largest twenty insurance companies’ loss experiences.

Since 1985, the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations has allowed the Missouri United School Insurance Council (MUSIC) to use the “filed rate” method when determining their workers’ compensation premium taxes. However in 2017, the department changed its interpretation of state law, claiming MUSIC should have been using the “average rate” method to determine their workers’ compensation premium taxes. Because of this change in interpretation of state law, MUSIC could potentially see a 2 percent increase in their workers’ compensation premium tax, forcing school districts to pay higher premiums as a result of the higher rate. Senate Bill 981 allows MUSIC to use either the “filed rate” or the “average rate” method as long as they consistently utilize the same method for determining their workers’ compensation premium taxes. School districts should be focused on using their resources to provide a quality education for our youth, not worrying about paying higher insurance premiums as a result of a decision outside of their control.