Capitol Connection: End of Session 2016

Lawmakers Conclude 2016 Session: Lawmakers wrapped up the 2016 legislative session at 6:00 p.m. last Friday, closing out a year marked by a focus on partisan, election-year issues and a renewed interest in ethics reform. Although three bills did pass addressing ethics and lobbying, major initiatives reforming campaign contributions and banning gifts to legislators did not get through. Issues sure to be used on the campaign trail, included an approved constitutional-carry gun law, abortion restriction bills, and a much-debated religious freedom constitutional amendment took up much of the agenda in the House and Senate.

Efforts to increase the state’s motor fuel tax, update regulation of the state’s electric utilities, ease restrictions on transportation network companies, and institute a prescription drug database all failed passage. The legislature did approve the state’s $27 billion operating budget with limited controversy.

Although the telecommunications industry avoided any obvious legislative trouble (always a good outcome), little of the pro-telecom agenda made it across the finish line. The session’s biggest victory came from an unlikely source, with the passage of SB 823. The bill, supported by MTIA, permanently bans state and local sales taxes on Internet access, mirroring the recent federal ban adopted by Congress.

The measure was amended in the closing days of the session with a provision to delay the impact of a recent Missouri Supreme Court decision that could put the “manufacturing” sales tax exemption now enjoyed by the industry and other businesses in jeopardy. The one-year reprieve added to the bill will give the telecom industry, along with the broader business community, a chance to seek a legislative remedy in the 2017 session.

The measure was amended in the closing days of the session with a provision to delay the impact of a recent Missouri Supreme Court decision that could put the “manufacturing” sales tax exemption now enjoyed by the industry and other businesses in jeopardy. The one-year reprieve added to the bill will give the telecom industry, along with the broader business community, a chance to seek a legislative remedy in the 2017 session.

Another bill supported by MTIA, SB 838, will allow for court orders that permit wireless carriers to work with victims of domestic violence to transfer certain accounts and mobile numbers. MTIA member-company AT&T worked with victim advocacy groups to gain its passage.

An effort to require municipalities to hold an election before offering broadband service in competition with the private sector made it to the House debate calendar but was blocked from consideration. Legislation allowing telecom carriers to use an accelerated depreciation schedule for tax purposes was approved in House and Senate committees but did not see final floor action. A perennial effort to allow local governments to vote on a “parity” tax on wireline and wireless service to fund 911 call centers died in the last days of Senate work.

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 signed into law this year will become effective August 28. Lawmakers will next return to Jefferson City September 14 for the annual veto session.

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