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Sen. Mike Bernskoetter’s Legislative Column for March 24, 2021

The Missouri Senate was back in action this week and entered the second half of the 2021 legislative session. At this point in session, legislative activity begins to shift from committees to the Senate floor. With more time being spent on the floor, there are also more opportunities for lawmakers to discuss some of the big issues facing the General Assembly.

One of the main focuses of the second half of session will be passing the state’s operating budget for the 2022 Fiscal Year, which begins on July 1 of this year. Over the past few months, the budget committees in the House and Senate have been meeting with state departments and agencies to determine their needs for the upcoming fiscal year. In the coming weeks, the House will make its budget recommendations and send those to the Senate, which will carefully review them and make changes where needed. The General Assembly faces a constitutional deadline to pass a balanced budget by May 7.

Another top priority for the Legislature is improving Missouri’s aging infrastructure, particularly our roads and bridges. Missouri has the 7th largest highway system in the country, but is near the bottom in terms of highway funding. The state’s gas tax, for instance, is currently 17 cents per gallon, and hasn’t been raised since in the mid-1990s. Over time, this tax has slowly been losing its purchasing power. Senate Bill 262 attempts to address this issue by gradually raising the gas tax by 2.5 cents per gallon per year until reaching a total increase of 12.5 cents in 2025. The bill also includes a rebate option for Missourians who would like to “opt out” of paying the increase. Senate Bill 262 is currently in the Missouri House of Representatives.

Another tax bill being discussed by lawmakers relates to a proposed internet sales tax. Senate Bill 153 requires online vendors who do business in the state to collect sale and use tax. This legislation hopes to help put Missouri’s brick and mortar stores on more equal footing with out-of-state online sellers. The legislation also increases income tax cuts previously approved by the General Assembly if the state reaches certain revenue thresholds.

Of course, there are other important issues working their way through the Legislature besides those relating to taxes. Education reform, for instance, is being discussed in the General Assembly this year. Bills like Senate Bill 55 and House Bill 349 seek to increase options for students looking for educational opportunities outside of the traditional public school setting through scholarship programs and expanding charter schools. Another major issue of the 2021 legislative session is gambling. There are several proposals moving through the Legislature hoping to expand legal gambling by allowing sports wagering and video lottery terminals throughout the state. Other legislation, meanwhile, seeks to crack down on so-called “gray” gambling machines, which some accuse of skirting Missouri’s gambling laws.

As you can see, there are many big pieces of legislation trying to reach the legislative finish line before the end of session. While the session is slowly nearing the end, there’s still time to have your voice heard in the legislative process. Please feel free to share your thoughts or concerns about the bills mentioned above or any other bill from the 2021 legislative session with my office.

As always, it is an honor to serve the 6th Senatorial District. If my office can be service to you, please feel free to contact us at (573) 751-2076. For information about my committee assignments or sponsored legislation, please visit my official Missouri Senate website at