Reaching the Halfway Point of the 2021 Legislative Session
Thursday, March 11, marked the halfway point of the 2021 legislative session. Despite navigating the challenges presented by the coronavirus and taking a week off because of winter weather, I believe my colleagues and I had a productive first half of session and passed several important bills designed to move our state forward.
First and foremost, I am thankful my colleagues and I were able to pass legislation to provide COVID-19 liability protections to small businesses, first responders, health care professionals and certain manufacturers. Senate Bill 51 prevents businesses from being sued if someone contracts COVID-19 on their premises, unless the plaintiff can prove that the business was acting recklessly or with willful misconduct. Likewise, health care providers are shielded from COVID-19 lawsuits by the same “recklessness and willful misconduct” standard. Manufacturers who stepped forward to produce products they don’t normally make, such as a T-shirt company that made masks, are protected from product liability claims, except in extreme cases.
Missourians who stepped up and served their communities in a time of need shouldn’t live in fear of a pandemic-related lawsuit — no one should be punished for trying to do the right thing. Through SB 51, I believe we are providing our business community with the confidence needed to safely reopen their doors and get back to work without fear of being dragged into court and forced to deal with costly legal battles. Senate Bill 51 also ensures our health care workers, first responders and manufacturers of critical PPE are not punished for their good-faith efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19. I am hopeful this legislation can quickly move through the Missouri House of Representatives and make its way to the governor’s desk as soon as possible.
My colleagues and I also approved a public safety bill seeking to help law enforcement and first responders. Senate Bill 26 prohibits dangerous felons who harm police officers or first responders from being eligible for probation. It also stiffens penalties for those who illegally block traffic. In response to calls throughout our country to defund police departments, SB 26 includes language protecting police budgets from being drastically cut compared to other public agencies. The public safety bill also includes a “Law Enforcement Bill of Rights,” which I believe will strengthen due process rights for officers involved in internal investigations.
Our men and women in uniform and our first responders already do so much to protect our communities and keep us safe. I was proud to stand up and support this public safety measure, and I hope it reaches the governor’s desk before the end of the legislative session.
In addition, the Missouri Senate passed legislation reforming the use of tax increment financing (TIF) in the state. This economic development tool allows developers to use a portion of their property and sales taxes to help finance their project. To qualify for TIF, the development project must be in an area considered “blighted” or a “conservation” or “economic development” area. Under current state law, flood plains are considered blighted, providing an incentive to develop in potentially dangerous areas. Senate Bill 22 modifies the definition of “blighted” to ensure sure flood plains cannot fall under this designation.
It is important to note, this legislation does not stop development projects from occurring in flood plains, but rather it stops tax dollars from being used to support private developments in these areas. Our public tax dollars should be supporting schools and essential services — not the risky decisions of private developers. After receiving approval from the full Senate, this tax reform proposal now awaits consideration from the Missouri House.
While there is still much to do in the second half of the 2021 legislative session, not a day goes by where I don’t thank our Creator for the ability to represent our community in the State Capitol. I am truly humbled and blessed to be able to voice your views and concerns in the Missouri Senate. Our state faces numerous challenges, but I am optimistic that by working together, my colleagues and I can pass commonsense solutions designed to move our state toward a brighter tomorrow for all Missourians.
COVID-19 Vaccine Navigator
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) has created an online tool to help navigate the COVID-19 vaccination process. By visiting covidvaccine.mo.gov/navigator, Missourians can register to be notified of when they will be eligible to receive one of the approved vaccines. In addition, this tool will also allow you to enroll in any vaccination events happening in our community. If you are interested in receiving one of the vaccines, I urge you to visit the website and sign up. If you have any questions about any of the vaccines being administered in Missouri, please visit covidvaccine.mo.gov.
It is an honor to be your state senator, and my door is always open to your concerns, questions or comments. Please feel free to contact me at (573) 751-2757 or visit my web page at www.senate.mo.gov/riddle.