When the state legislature returns to regular session on Jan. 4, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce will lobby for several workforce issues.

The chamber's board of directors approved its legislative agenda earlier this month, which includes education, workers' compensation reform, employment law and labor policy.

"Whether your company is large or small, whether Missouri's economy is weak or strong, workforce issues have the most significant, day-to-day impact on a business' success," Missouri Chamber President and CEO Daniel P. Mehan said. "Successful passage of these initiatives would mean broad-based reform impacting every business in our state, making Missouri a more attractive and competitive place to do business."

Of the four issues, the board of directors placed education at the forefront.

"We can pass business-friendly bills all legislative session, but if we fail in education, none of that matters," Mehan said. "Our education system is the key to our future workforce. For that reason, the Missouri Chamber is preparing to take an aggressive position on education reforms."

The education reforms proposed by the board consist of expanding charter schools for failing districts and terminating the teacher tenure system. The board also wants to institute a merit pay system for teachers where those who performing the best get the highest salary regardless of education or experience.

The board also set workers' compensation reform as another priority, specifically Missouri's Second Injury Fund, which was created to protect employees who are reinjured on the job. The fund currently does not have enough money to pay these benefits.

"More than 100 injured workers are waiting for benefit payments from Missouri's Second Injury Fund that were awarded to them under current law, with no promise of when their benefits will be paid," Mehan said. "More than 30,000 workers are waiting to have their cases heard through SIF, with no idea when their cases will be resolved."

Another area of reform set by the chamber's board includes employment law. This employment discrimination legislation was passed last year by both the House and the Senate, but was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon. Had he not vetoed it, the law would have been similar to several other states and have been aligned with the federal Civil Rights Act.

"Missouri courts have eroded the law to the point that Missouri holds the distinction of some of the lowest standards for discrimination lawsuits in the nation," Mehan said. "In Missouri courts, the employer is guilty until proven innocent.

"Make no mistake, discrimination is wrong. But it is also unfair to subject Missouri employers to a constant barrage of trial lawyers filing frivolous lawsuits hoping for a big payoff."

The final area the board set as a priority involves labor policy. The chamber also supports the "right to work" legislation that gives employees the opportunity to choose whether or not to be part of a union. It will also lobby to do away with Project Labor Agreements that obligate contractors to use only union labor for public projects and adjust prevailing wage laws which require a set level of wages for public projects.

"Project labor agreements stifle free trade and increases costs unnecessarily," he said. "There is absolutely no business reason for it. We need to let the market decide construction contracts, not a state mandate. PLAs stifle infrastructure development at the worst time possible for the construction sector."

Mehan also said the prevailing wage mandate costs taxpayers heavily.

"In some areas of the state, it could nearly double the wage level on taxpayer-funded projects compared to wages for other local construction projects," he said. "Imagine what that means to an area like Joplin, with expansive rebuilding costs for public infrastructure."

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