Legislative Column for the Week of March 16, 2015

Senate Advances Several Measures Before Spring Recess

Legislative News

The Senate third read and passed a number of important measures this week before adjourning for our annual spring recess. On Wednesday (3-18), the Senate passed legislation I filed pertaining to business facility tax credits. Currently, certain employee-owned businesses may qualify for a tax credit for building a new facility or expanding an existing facility. These businesses must commence or expand operations by Jan. 1, 2020, to qualify for the tax credit. Senate Bill 194 extends the date by which they must commence or expand operations to Jan. 1, 2025. Any time we’re able to offer incentives for a company to grow and expand their business, the entire state benefits in terms of job creation and economic growth. 

On Thursday, the Senate took up and passed Senate Bill 330, a measure addressing revenue bonds, renovation bonds and bond issuance authority. During the 2014 session, we raised the caps on the bonding authority for the State of Missouri to $600 million. Of that $600 million, we’ve already passed $200 million for higher education and community colleges, and another $200 million for deferred maintenance projects, including the state Capitol.

The remaining $200 million had been earmarked for the funding of the new Fulton State Hospital; however, the hospital ended up being funded through another source during the appropriations process, meaning the money that had been designated for it remains unused. In order to use those funds, there must be a statutory change.

Senate Bill 330 simply designates that, of the remaining $200 million, $75 million would be set aside for new improvement projects, and $125 would be set aside for deferred maintenance. If passed, SB 330 would give Missouri the opportunity to put those funds toward a wide variety of projects, including our state veterans home, state parks or even just save it for a rainy day.

Another measure, Senate Bill 336 was also third read and passed on Thursday. The measure specifies that for employees who earn tips, the amount of income the employer should withhold for tax purposes shall be based on the total tips reported to the employer on the employee's written statement. The amount that should be withheld is limited to the amount of the employee's wages in control of the employer. The act also relieves employers of liability for any amount of under-reported tips by an employee.

The Missouri Department of Revenue (DOR) has wrongly been going after restaurant business owners, claiming they have been under-reporting tips. Tips are considered an income tax that is to be paid by the employee. In most instances, it’s up to the employee to honestly report the part of their wages earned in tips. Senate Bill 36 aims to correct this injustice by clarifying that the employer is not responsible for any under-reporting committed by the employee, as well as not being responsible for any income tax an employee is supposed to pay.

Currently, there is a gap in our state’s legal and social services systems when it comes to reporting instances of juveniles sexually abusing other juveniles. On Thursday, by a vote of 33-0, the Senate third read and passed Senate Bill 341, legislation establishing procedures for reports of juveniles with problem sexual behavior. A juvenile with problem sexual behavior is defined as any person, under 14 years of age, who has allegedly committed sexual abuse against another child.

Senate Bill 341 provides that, upon receiving a report concerning a juvenile with problem sexual behavior, the Children’s Division shall immediately report the information to an appropriate local law enforcement office or juvenile office, which will then use a family assessment and services approach to respond to the report.

It’s extremely difficult to know that someone as young as 13 could commit these type of acts against another child; it’s even worse to have this knowledge and not take any type of proactive step to prevent future occurrences. The goals of SB 341 are to protect our children; prevent juveniles who exhibit problem sexual behavior (who are often, themselves, victims of sexual abuse) from slipping through the cracks of our legal and social services systems; and get these troubled youths the help they need now, so we may end generations of future sexual abuse.

Helpful Consumer Financial Information

This week, the Missouri Credit Union Association offers information to help protect you against retail data breaches. It seems like each week, we are hearing about another data breach. Cumulatively, this is exposing millions of payment card accounts to potential fraud. In addition, millions of consumers' names, phone numbers, emails and addresses also appear to have been stolen separately from card information.

Here are five simple steps to help prevent or mitigate potential financial fraud caused by data breaches:

  • Monitor your accounts – Review your card transactions through a secure Internet connection at least once a day. Remember, these hackers are sophisticated and will often ‘test’ cards, making purchases of less than $5, before making a big purchase.  If you see suspicious charges, contact your financial institution immediately.
  • Replace your cards immediately – If you find suspicious activity on any of your accounts, contact your financial institution or credit card provider about shutting down the account and replacing the card.
  • Periodically check your credit report – It’s important to check your credit scores for sudden changes. A big score drop could indicate identity theft. Visit annualcreditreport.com for your free credit report.
  • Purchase identity theft protection – Consider purchasing identity theft protection. These services monitor your purchases to help detect any potential identity theft or credit card fraud. 
  • Always use a credit card – Credit cards do offer protections against fraudulent transactions that debit cards do not. Typically, credit cardholders will be responsible for no more than $50 of the fraudulent charges (and in some cases would be $0). With debit cards, on the other hand, the burden of responsibility falls much more on the card owner—not to mention, all transactions directly impact your available cash flow.
Be vigilant over your financial accounts, as there is no way to know when or if financial fraud will occur. Being aware and applying these few simple steps yourself is almost always the best preventative measure.