JEFFERSON CITY — The price of driving down Missouri roads is about to go up, but motorists may recoup new fuel taxes they’re about to pay — if they can remember to save their receipts.
The state’s 17-cents-per-gallon excise tax on fuel will jump 2.5 cents on Oct. 1, the first increase required by a new state law going into effect on Saturday.
By mid-2025, the fuel tax will have risen a total of 12.5 cents — to 29.5 cents per gallon — with money raised going toward road projects across the state.
But legislators included a loophole: Motorists may save purchase receipts and fill out an online form at the start of each state fiscal year to earn a refund on the new taxes.
The act is among the highest-profile of dozens of measures signed into law this year by Republican Gov. Mike Parson after clearing the GOP-led Legislature.
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While the addition of “emergency clauses” expedited the implementation of some laws, including new limits on local pandemic-related orders and the enforcement of federal gun laws, remaining legislation approved in 2021 takes effect Saturday.
The gas tax law lays out five annual 2.5-cent increases, starting this year.
The first increase will be Oct. 1. Starting in 2022, the remaining four increases will take place on July 1, the start of the state’s fiscal year.
Motorists may file for refunds on or after each July 1, and through Sept. 30, for taxes paid the previous fiscal year.
The law says a claim, which may be filed electronically, must contain a vehicle’s vehicle identification number, date of fuel sale, name and address of fuel buyer, name and address of fuel seller, number of gallons purchased and, separately, the number of gallons purchased and charged Missouri fuel tax.
Asked if that meant motorists would have to enter information manually for each gas transaction, Michelle Hirschman, spokeswoman for the Department of Revenue, said the state was weighing what to do.
“We’re still determining the process by which customers will submit their transaction information, and we’ll provide that information on our website once it’s available,” Hirschman said in an email.
“The Department will be developing an online system for customers to be able to electronically file a claim and receive an approved refund,” she said. “Records of each purchase must be maintained by the customer and available for inspection by the Department for three years.”
Only vehicles with a gross weight of less than 26,000 pounds may qualify for the refund.
The fuel tax is expected to raise more than $77 million in the nine months the tax will be in effect for the current fiscal year, according to a nonpartisan analysis by legislative researchers.
In fiscal year 2023, analysts said the tax could generate $206 million. By fiscal year 2027, when the tax is fully implemented, the analysis said the increase could raise more than $500 million.
That is before refunds. Because it is unclear how many motorists will claim the refund, analysts did not offer a clear estimate on how much the state will net.
The past legislative session marked a major victory for school choice proponents, who overcame resistance among many Republicans to establish Empowerment Scholarship Accounts for students.
The law allows private donors to give money to nonprofits that in turn will provide the scholarships, which may be used to pay for private school tuition, transportation to school and other education-related expenses. Donors to the program would get state tax credits equal to the amount they give.
Rep. Phil Christofanelli, a St. Peters Republican and the lead sponsor of the law, said even though the measure takes effect Saturday, scholarships for this school year were not an option.
When students will be able to access the scholarships isn’t clear, Christofanelli said. The state treasurer will oversee the new program.
“The question is really whether they will be available for the August of 2022 school year or the August of 2023 school year and that’s a determination that the treasurer’s office is going to have to make,” Christofanelli said.
“It is my belief that they should be available in the 2022 school year, but I’m not the one that gets to make that call,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick said the treasurer hadn’t determined how to proceed.
Personal delivery devices
Personal delivery robots could be hauling hot pizzas to your door sometime soon.
One new law, sponsored by Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, lays out the rules of the road for autonomous delivery devices.
The law allows the robots to roll down sidewalks, crosswalks, municipal and county roadways, “provided that the personal delivery device shall not unreasonably interfere with motor vehicles or traffic.”
The act says the devices may not go faster than 10 mph on sidewalks and says the machines are exempt from vehicle registration rules but must be registered for at least a $100,000 general liability insurance policy.
One law intended to crack down on catalytic converter theft requires purchasers to maintain catalytic converters for five business days before altering them. The law increases the length of time certain records must be kept from two to three years.
It subjects licensed buyers to a $5,000 fine for the first offense of knowingly purchasing a stolen detached catalytic converter. The buyer would have their license revoked after a third offense.
Prescription drug monitoring
The creation of a state-run prescription drug monitoring database in Missouri had been stalled for years as vocal Republicans killed attempts to track prescribing habits.
But this year, Sen. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, was able to shepherd the measure to Parson’s desk.
The program will collect prescription information for controlled substances so that medical professionals can learn what a patient has already been prescribed.
The act is to replace the program launched by St. Louis County to track prescriptions, which counties across the state joined after the Legislature failed to approve a statewide program for years.
Vandalizing “any public monument or structure on public property” will be a felony. Previously, the crime was considered a misdemeanor. The upgraded charge could mean more jail time and a higher fine. Another provision in the new criminal law creates a new class D misdemeanor for anyone who “willfully or recklessly” interferes with an ambulance.
Racial injustice protesters often march or gather on streets, roads and highways, which authorities say risks blocking access for ambulances and other first responders.
Another new law makes it a misdemeanor crime to point a laser pointer at police or other first responders.
New laws ban police from using chokeholds or neck restraints like former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin used in the death of George Floyd. They would also make it a crime for police or prison guards to have sex with detainees, or to have sex with anyone else while they’re on duty if they use coercion.
Police will get new legal protections under another law. Cities and other local governments will be banned from decreasing the budget for a policing agency by more than 12% compared with the jurisdiction’s other departments over a five-year period. The new law also requires records of any administrative investigation of a police officer to be kept secret unless there’s a subpoena or court order requiring the records to be released. It outlines other rules for investigations of officers and provides protection against civil claims unless the officer is criminally convicted.
Missouri restaurants will be allowed to sell to-go cocktails, which the state had temporarily allowed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The change is now permanent. Mixed drinks must be sold along with food and in tamper-proof, sealed containers intended to discourage drinking while driving. The new liquor law also allows alcohol to be sold from 6 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Sunday, the same hours as the rest of the week. Previously, Sunday alcohol sales were limited to 9 a.m. to midnight.
Missouri lawmakers, pushed by business groups and Republican Gov. Mike Parson, this year banned many COVID-19 liability lawsuits against businesses and health care providers in an attempt to shield good actors that tried to help during the crisis. Coronavirus-related lawsuits will be allowed only if plaintiffs can prove they were exposed and sickened by the coronavirus and that the entity engaged in “reckless or willful misconduct.”
Missouri’s public colleges and universities no longer will be limited in how much they can raise tuition rates. A former state law restricted tuition rate hikes to only as much as was needed to keep up with inflation, compensate for cuts in state aid or keep up with the average tuition rates across the state. The new law also allows college athletes to make money off their fame and celebrity, although the change likely won’t have much effect because the NCAA already lifted its ban on athletes earning money.
Beginning Saturday, Missouri farms can be inspected only by the state Agriculture Department, Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the county sheriff or another state or federal entity with regulatory authority. That means local police no longer are allowed on Missouri farms without permission.
Judges will be allowed to issue lifelong restraining orders and orders of protection for pets. Currently, orders of protection are limited to one year at most. After that, victims must seek an extension. The new law gives judges the option to grant restraining orders for longer lengths of time, and orders could be programmed to be automatically renewed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.