SOURCE: News-Press NOW

Missouri lawmakers return from spring break this week for the final push of the 2021 legislative session.

After COVID-19 resulted in a disjointed session in 2020, lawmakers this year have a chance to advance two pieces of legislation that will benefit Missourians. Both have a significant imprint from the local delegation.

The COVID-19 liability protection bill passed in the Senate prior to the break and will be taken up by the House. Sponsored by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, this legislation protects businesses, churches, health-care facilities and other entities from opportunistic lawsuits relating to COVID-19 exposure.

Many of these businesses and organizations did their best to follow the health guidelines throughout the pandemic, something that was not easy to do because the guidance always seemed to change. Without willful misconduct, these employers shouldn’t be subject to lawsuits if someone tests positive, especially since it might be difficult to prove how someone contracted the disease.

As vaccination rates increase and hospitalizations drop, Missourians are eager for a return to normality. That won’t happen as quickly if businesses are forced to base decisions on lawsuit avoidance instead of science.

At the same time, as businesses shut down during the pandemic, many consumers turned to the internet to make purchases. Missouri lost out on significant sales tax revenue because it has not authorized a tax on online purchases, despite a Supreme Court ruling that opens the door for one.

Rep. J. Eggleston, R-Maysville, attempts to correct this with House Bill 554, commonly referred to as the Wayfair bill. This legislation would allow the state and local governments to collect a tax on purchases made over the internet, with a reduction in the income tax as an offset.

While some larger online retailers, like Amazon, already remit sales tax in Missouri, this bill nevertheless would generate up to $161.9 million in total state revenues, according to a fiscal analysis attached to the bill.

The legislation is seen as leveling the playing field with local, brick-and-mortar retailers that have to charge a sales tax. It also could shore up the budgets for cities and counties that would be able to collected an online tax through an existing use tax, with the House version requiring a local vote. The House and Senate version of Wayfair legislation will have to be reconciled.

Both bills, the online tax and liability protection, stand a good chance of passage in the final weeks of the session. Lawmakers always like to call a completed session a success, but these bills would allow them to do so with a straight face in 2021.