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March 2017 Update - What's Happening at the State and Federal Levels?

Posted By Governmental Affairs Committee, Wednesday, March 1, 2017

State

At our February monthly SAHRA meeting, Attorney Spring Taylor, with Constangy, Brooks, Smith and Prophete LLP, gave us some insight into what we might expect this year from President Trump and Governor Greitens.  Only time will tell what will actually happen, but she did state that Missouri’s Republican Legislature plans on addressing issues such as changing the contributing factor standard, under the Missouri Human Rights Act, back to motivating factor, and creating damages caps for MHRA cases that are more like federal caps.  A couple of other items in Missouri to keep an eye on are:

  • Senate Bill 45 – Clarifies Missouri’s arbitration statutes and ensures that signed arbitration agreements are honored.
  • House Bill 288 – Ties the unemployment rate to the weeks unemployment benefits are available to jobless Missourians.  In addition, the bill adjusts employers’ payments into the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund to sustain a balance that can weather economic downturns in order to be able to continue paying benefits without going into debt. 

Things have been moving right along since Governor Eric Greitens was elected into office.  On Feb. 6th, 2017, Governor Greitens kept his campaign promise and signed Senate Bill 19 into law, making Missouri the 28th right-to-work state in the nation.  The law, which will become effective on August 28, 2017, bans mandatory union fees for people represented by unions in contract negotiations and disputes over workplace conditions.  Proponents say it will bring business and jobs to the state.  Opponents say it aims to weaken unions and could lead to lower wages.  Seven of the eight states that surround Missouri already have right-to-work laws, including Kentucky, where it passed in January.   Below are a few things employers should know about the new law:

  • Senate Bill 19 was passed with a “grandfather clause,” meaning existing union contracts remain in effect until they expire.  Until the contract expires, an employee is required to pay union dues.
  • New union contracts entered into after Aug. 28, 2017, or contracts made prior to Aug. 28 but renewed, extended or modified after effective date, must not require employees to join a union or pay union dues.
  • The enforcement of a union security agreement after the effective date of this law is a misdemeanor.  The prosecuting attorney in the county where the alleged violation took place or the Missouri Attorney General has the authority to investigate and prosecute violations.
  • Union-free employers should not assume the right-to-work law will make it easier to stay union free.  Employees still have the right to join a union.  It is important to note that some of the largest union organizing drives in recent years have occurred in right-to-work states. 

Federal

As for what’s been going on at a Federal level, since taking office President Trump has been busy putting his Cabinet in place with nominations and appointments, and putting out executive orders and memorandums.  As of February 27, Trump has signed 12 executive orders and 12 presidential memorandums.  These executive actions have been both fulfilling his campaign promises and rolling back the policies of former President Barack Obama.

An executive order is a legally binding document that declares government policy.  Unable to reverse a law passed by Congress, it is more often used to delegate and direct government agencies and departments. 

Some of the executive orders that have received more attention include: rolling back Obamacare; preventing refugees from entering the country for 120 days and immigrants from seven Muslim majority-nations for three months; and reducing regulation and controlling regulatory costs.    

Presidential memorandums have less legal weight than executive orders and are more important as documents laying out the priorities of the administration.  They can have real consequences however. 

The presidential memorandums have ranged from addressing the federal hiring freeze, to construction of American pipelines, to rebuilding the US Armed Forces and defeating ISIS. 

As we have been saying since the election was over, it is certainly going to be an interesting year.  

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