The 2021 legislative session came to an end on Friday, May 14 at 6:00 pm as mandated by the state constitution. The last few days of session were interesting, especially the final day, as the Senate adjourned four hours early. The abrupt shutdown was a result of what Democrats perceived as unkept promises by Republican leadership. This led to Democratic leadership holding the floor on the last day and making the unprecedented move to adjourn early.
The end result was failure to pass a key piece of legislation that would extend the sunset on a program that provides a significant amount of funding to the Medicaid program called the Federal Reimbursement Allowance or “FRA”. The FRA provides Medicaid funding to hospitals, nursing homes, ambulance services and pharmacies thereby helping the state pay for these services and allowing them to spend state general revenue dollars in other areas of the budget. Without the FRA, most of the health care providers that benefit from this funding mechanism would be unable to continue operations. It is anticipated that Governor Mike Parson will call a special session to address the issue before the current program expires in September.
Highlights of the session include the passage of SB262, which will increase the state fuel tax by an additional 12.5 cent per gallon, to be phased in over a five-year period. The bill would raise up to $514 million annually by 2027 for road and bridge repairs by MODOT and local governments. Included in the legislation is a provision that allows taxpayers to receive a rebate of the additional taxes paid if they provide receipts and certain documentation to the Department of Revenue. However, not everyone was pleased with the new revenue stream for roads and bridges. Jeremy Cady, President of the conservative, anti-tax group, Americans for Prosperity, has filed a petition with the Secretary of State to put the gas tax increase to a public vote. The group must now begin the process of gathering the required signatures in order to place the vote on a statewide ballot.
Other legislation that has made it to the Governor’s desk includes HB69, which places new regulations on the selling and purchasing of scrap copper, precious metals, and catalytic converters. Additionally, the bill creates the new offense of stealing a catalytic converter and classifies the crime as a Class E felony.
COVID Liability finally made it across the finish line as the last bill to pass. After a bumpy road to the finish line, SB51 is now waiting for the Governor’s signature. The bill offers protections from liability in certain civil actions related to the COVID-19 pandemic and passed on the last day of session. The measure was a priority for the Governor as well as House and Senate leadership.
Also passing this legislative session was the Wayfair tax, which allows for the collection of sales taxes from out-of-state online retailers. The proposal is part of SB153, which is a wide-ranging tax bill covering numerous topics including, Tax Increment Financing projects, Community Improvement District projects, and a reduction in the individual income tax rate.
Legislation dealing with utility locates unfortunately did not advance this year. SB573 and HB1164 both dealt with the establishment of the Underground Damage Prevention Review Board and also put into place certain penalties for improper and untimely locates. Both bills were met with opposition from many utilities, including AT&T, Missouri Association of Municipal Utilities, Spire, Metro St. Louis Sewer District, and Missouri One Call.
The General Assembly also failed to pass funding for Medicaid Expansion. As you will recall, Medicaid Expansion was passed by a vote of the people in August 2020. The position of the Republican super majority is that the initiative passed in August 2020 does not provide a funding stream to fund Medicaid expansion; therefore, the General Assembly was not obligated to appropriate the funds to expand Medicaid. A suit was filed on May 20 and the courts will now decide whether or not the state will have to fund Medicaid Expansion.
The Governor must decide by July 14 whether to sign or veto bills that have reached his desk. He must also make a decision on any budget actions he will take by June 30 as the state fiscal year begins July 1. Legislators may attempt to override any vetoes at the annual veto session on September 15.