The 2021 legislative session is in full swing after a rough first month in which each chamber battled COVID-19 outbreaks among staff and legislators alike. While that challenge is ongoing, the House and Senate have managed to continue their work. As always, all eyes are on the budget.
Governor Parson’s proposed budget addresses many of the issues important to the Columbia business community, including education, workforce development, and infrastructure. If his budget is passed, the Foundation Formula for K-12 education would be fully funded. The A+ program for college-bound students would see an increase of more than $13 million, and the Fast Track Workforce incentive grant program will continue to be funded. On the infrastructure side, his proposals cover $25 million to help fulfill transportation cost-sharing, $5 million for broadband development, and $100 million to support efforts to clear a backlog of maintenance projects for state assets.
In addition to budgetary items, the Chamber is tracking a number of bills in line with the Chamber’s 2021 legislative agenda. SB51, sponsored by Senator Tony Luetkemeyer, aims to address COVID-19 liability protections for small businesses, healthcare workers, and schools. Another, SB108 proposed by Senator Mike Cierpiot, would allow two or more municipalities to form a broadband infrastructure improvement district. Another, SB174 presented by Senator Lincoln Hough, would permit two or more political subdivisions to create Targeted Industrial Manufacturing Enhancement (TIME) Zones to promote economic development by completing infrastructure projects. Perhaps most important of all, Senator Dave Schatz, President Pro Tem of the State Senate, filed SB262, which would raise the gas tax by 2.5 cents per year starting in 2022 until reaching a total increase of 15 cents per gallon in 2027 – this effort would require a vote of approval by the people on the November ballot in 2022. While this is only a sampling of pending legislation, we are glad to see the legislature making strides to address issues important to the Columbia business community and our region.
As always, Chamber staff will continue to monitor and update members on legislation impacting their businesses and the community-at-large. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact the Chamber.