Legislature called back for extraordinary session to consider Southeast Missouri jobs issue

State lawmakers will return to Jefferson City next week for a special legislative session.  Governor Eric Greitens (R) is calling them back to address an economic development issue in Southeast Missouri.

Representative Don Rone (at microphone) (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Don Rone (at microphone) (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The legislature did not pass in its session that ended last week language that backers say could allow one company to proceed with plans to reopen the Noranda aluminum smelter at Marston; and another company to build a new steel mill at New Madrid, both in Southeast Missouri.

Both companies hope for lower utility rates that would allow those facilities to be profitable.  To consider lower rates the Public Service Commission (PSC) says it needs the legislature’s approval.

Representative Don Rone (R-Portageville) attached that language to several bills in the final days of the session, but it did not become law.  He said people in that region are in desperate need of jobs, especially after Noranda closed last year eliminating nearly 900 jobs.  He said these two projects could create more than 500 new jobs.

Greitens wants legislators to come back and focus on that one issue.

“I cannot thank the governor enough for the people of Southeast Missouri – all of Southeast Missouri,” said Rone.  “I can’t tell you what it means to these people here to have hope, and the governor saw fit to give us hope by calling a special.”

The House voted for Rone’s language 148-2, and its support in that chamber is expected to remain high, but at least one senator who Rone said blocked it in that chamber – Senator Doug Libla (R-Poplar Bluff) – remains opposed to the proposal.

Rone said he believes the bill can get through both chambers and to Greitens.

“[Senator Libla] can keep his position.  We’ve never asked – in the many conversations I’ve had with him and his people – we’ve never asked him to change his vote.  We’ve always asked him just to allow it to come to the floor and let the people in the Senate vote,” said Rone.  “All we’re wanting to do is let democracy work, let the 34 senators take vote their conscience, and see where it takes us.”

Rone said the entities behind the two facilities are expected to decide soon whether to give up on progressing with their plans for those two sites.  He said if the legislature can quickly pass his bill he is confident those companies will postpone their decisions until they can meet with the PSC.

“I would think that [Governor Greitens] was well aware of the timeline and how critical it is,” said Rone.

The call for the special session comes one week after Rone called attention to the issue in a passionate floor speech in which he called out Libla and two other senators, saying they were, “heartless,” “selfish,” and “egotistical,” in rebuffing his proposal.

The House and Senate will begin the extraordinary session at 4 p.m. Monday.


Missouri Legislature proposes tougher standard for employment discrimination

The legislature has sent Governor Eric Greitens (R) a bill that would make it harder to prove discrimination in the workplace.

Representative Joe Don McGaugh (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Joe Don McGaugh (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Senate Bill 43 would require a former employee to prove that his or her age, race, gender, disability or ethnicity was the main reason he or she was fired rather than one among other reasons.  Republicans said the bill is needed because the courts have allowed too many cases of alleged workplace discrimination to proceed.

The House’s handler of SB 43, Representative Joe Don McGaugh (R-Carrollton), said the legislation responds to Supreme Court decisions that lowered the standard in employment discrimination cases.

“Senate Bill 43, in my opinion, isn’t even tort reform.  It’s undoing judicial activism,” said McGaugh.  “So what’s the effect of the court playing legislature?  Even the most meritless cases have to be decided by a jury.  Employers are required to spend thousands of dollars defending completely baseless claims brought by lawyers arguing anything that can contribute.”

The bill also places limits on the damages that can be awarded to successful plaintiffs, exempts from liability supervisors and managers who are not employers, and limits protections for whistleblowers.

The legislation cleared the House on a Republican-led 98-30 vote, but it had Republican opposition.

Representative Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City) spoke against the measure’s whistleblower section.

“The proponents have not identified a problem with whistleblower law in the State of Missouri.  There is not a spate of whistleblower cases in this state,” said Barnes.  “The whistleblower portion eliminates protections for the employees most likely to know about illegal activity in their employer.”

Democrats said the legislation would make it easier for workplace discrimination to occur and go unpunished, and argue it represents a conflict of interest because its senate sponsor, Senator Gary Romine (R-Farmington), is the owner of a business that is the subject of a pending discrimination lawsuit.

Representative Bruce Franks, Junior (left), talks about SB 43 with Republican colleague Nate Tate (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Bruce Franks, Junior (left), talks about SB 43 with Republican colleague Nate Tate (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

St. Louis Representative Bruce Franks, Junior, read a series of racial slurs cited in that case and called the bill unacceptable.

“We’ve heard time and time again how this sets us back.  All of the forward movement we’ve done, this sets us back,” said Franks.

McGaugh said the legislation has been filed for years, long before there was a case against Romine’s company.

“If you’ve been in this body more than one year you’ve voted on this multiple times,” said McGaugh.  “Everything that we’re going to talk about today this body has seen before and we’ve talked about before.”

The House debated the bill for more than five hours Monday, rejecting five amendments, before voting to pass the bill the Senate had proposed.  It’s now up to Governor Grietens whether it will become law.