Session over: Missouri lawmakers trumpet sales tax, gas tax increase, and police reform

Politics

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri lawmakers have returned to their districts, leaving the Capitol empty and quiet after the legislative session ended Friday, as it’s now up to the governor to approve measures the General Assembly sent to his desk.

When the session started in January, Governor Mike Parson told lawmakers in his State of the State Address that some of the top priorities he wanted to be accomplished were an online sales tax for out-of-state companies and protection for businesses from COVID-19 related lawsuits. Late last week, both of those items got across the finish line. Gov. Parson also congratulated legislators for increasing the state’s gas tax.

“The folks of Missouri are begging for infrastructure help and we don’t want to be liable when bridges collapse,” House Minority Leader Crystal Quade (D-Springfield) said.

Missourians will soon be paying more at the pump.

“After 30 years, we finally adjusted the funding source that will pay for some of those transportation needs in the future,” Senate President Dave Schatz (R-Sullivan) said.

Schatz sponsored the legislation that increase the gas tax 2.5 cents over five years with a total hike of 12.5 cents by 2025. Currently, Missouri has one of the lowest gas taxes in the country at 17 cents. When fully implemented, it’s estimated to bring in $500 million for infrastructure.

“Our roads are crumbling, our infrastructure is crumbling, and we have to go to things like regressive taxes like increasing that tax to repair roads and bridges,” Quade said.

The increase would start in October and offers a refund for Missourians who keep their receipts and apply for a rebate with the Department of Revenue.

One of the governor’s priorities this session, taxing online retailers is waiting for his approval.

“Level the playing field for local businesses and our mom-and-pop shops back home,” Senate Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden (R-Columbia) said. “Correcting this imbalance was something a lot of us have wanted to do for a long time.”

The legislation is known as the “Wayfair Tax.” Many other states have already passed something similar. Here in Missouri, the measure also comes with income tax cuts and a tax credit for low-income families.

Another one of Parson’s items he wanted across the finish line this session, COVID-19 liability protection.

“Every brick-and-mortar store that was open and trying to survive during COVID-19 is protected from somebody walking into that place, catching COVID or not there, claiming they caught COVID there and then suing somebody,” Rep. Wes Rogers (D-Kansas City) said on the House floor Friday.

The legislation protects any business from liability for the spread of COVID-19.

Another bill that passed the legislature restricts public health officials from issuing restrictions or orders during an emergency for more than 30 days without the local government’s approval.

Missouri is the only state that doesn’t have a statewide prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) but lawmakers sent a measure to the governor’s desk to change that.

“Missouri has stepped up its effort to fight the opioid epidemic monitoring the use of prescription powerful drugs,” Schatz said.

More than 80% of the state uses a program operated by St. Louis County, but this new legislation will replace that. The electronic database collects a person’s prescriptions to monitor the way a drug is used. Sen. Holly Rehder (R-Scott City) has been working to pass this measure for the past nine years.

One of the biggest pieces of bipartisan legislation this session was a police reform bill from Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer (R-Parkville) and Sen. Brian Williams (D-University City).

“We’ve proved, since the death of Michael Brown, that black lives matter in the state of Missouri,” Williams said.

The measure ban chokeholds, requires a department to check an officer’s background and criminalizes officers who have sex with detainees. For Kansas City, it relaxes the residency requirements, allowing officers to live within 30 miles of response time, in Missouri.

“That bill was a big step in the right direction of criminal justice reform,” Senate Minority Floor Leader John Rizzo (D-Independence) said.

Just before lawmakers adjourned Friday, the General Assembly sent a bill to the governor’s desk, which strengthens gun protection for all Missourians. It also would punish law enforcement agencies that infringe on someone’s Second Amendment rights.

There was also a public safety bill that passed the legislature, sponsored by Sen. Bill Eigel (R-Weldon Spring), that penalizes someone who vandalizes a public monument. A piece of the bill was removed in the final days of session that penalized protesters for blocking a roadway.

“If we don’t do this, we’ve already had threats from the Biden administration that they will restrict our rights,” Rep. Jered Taylor (R-Republic) said.

Taylor was the sponsor of the Second Amendment Preservation Act (SAPA) which waives the state of Missouri from any federal gun laws.

“Passing SAPA sends a strong message, not only to Missourians, but to the rest of the country that Missouri will protect and defend our constitutional rights even when the federal government won’t,” Rowden said.

All these pieces of legislation are waiting for Parson’s approval.

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