Capitol Connection: End of Session 2015

Lawmakers Conclude 2015 Session: The gavel fell on the First Regular Session of the 98th Missouri General Assembly at 6:00 p.m., May 15; closing out a year bracketed by two tragic suicides and the abrupt resignation of the Speaker of the House. The death of State Auditor Tom Schweich in late February (followed weeks later by the suicide of his communications director) over-shadowed much of the legislature’s proceedings through March. In the closing days of the session, a front-page story in the Kansas City Star detailing personal text messages between House Speaker John Diehl and a college intern led to his resignation and departure from the legislature. A Senate filibuster that resulted in that body adjourning several hours early on the last day capped a session unlike any seen in recent years.

Despite the political and personal drama in the Capitol, lawmakers did reach agreement on the state’s $26.1 billion operating budget, passed complex bills revising municipal courts and the school transfer law, and approved revisions reducing unemployment benefits and capping medical malpractice awards. A politically-charged debate over the eventual passage of a “right to work” bill barring mandatory union dues dominated much of the legislature’s last week.

The telecommunications industry saw the passage of several bills that will positively impact operations. Final approval this session of SB 149, legislation that creates state and local sales tax incentives for the establishment and expanszion of data storge centers, caps a six-year effort by a broad stakeholder group of businesses, constructions interests and utilitities. Governor Nixon signed the bill into law in early April.

The legislature also repealed an onerous requirement approved just last year that required utility easements to be prepared by a professional land surveyor in order to be valid. That bill, HB 1052, was supported by MTIA, MEDA and other utility groups. A bill supported by several business groups including MTIA will require the Missouri Department of Revenue to inform sellers when DOR or a court makes a determination that changes the taxation of goods or services. The required notification in SB 18 will help telecom carriers and other businesses to stay current with tax determinations affecting operations.

A perennial effort to pass a “parity” tax to fund 911 centers was approved in the House but once again did not clear the Senate. Other industry initiatives to restrict municipalities from providing broadband, revise the way relocations costs are shared, and change the assessment method used for business personal property made significant progress but did not get across the finish line.

Governor Nixon has until July 14 to sign or veto all legislation passed this year. Unless a bill contains an emergency clause or a specific effective date, legislation approved this session will become effective August 28. Lawmakers will next return to Jefferson City September 16 for the annual veto session.

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