COLUMBIA, Mo. – Speaker Todd Richardson spoke to members of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce Thursday about his legislative priorities for the upcoming legislative session.
Richardson spoke at length with business owners about his excitement at the prospect of working with a Republican governor for the first time in his political career while also detailing primary areas of work in the House and what that meant for Columbia and the mid-Missouri region.
Richardson said that his first priority would be a focus on economic and workforce development. He plans to accomplish this goal with reforms to the education, labor and tort systems in place in Missouri, naming the passage of a Right-to-Work law as an essential part of “embracing 21st-century labor policies.”
For tort reform, Richardson said he was focused on passing the Daubert standard for expert witnesses as well as passing the collateral source bill, two measures which failed in last year’s session. He did not expand on specific education reform but said that Missouri should be keeping its promises to the children of Missouri, especially those in failing school districts.
“Our economy has not been growing as fast as our neighbors; it has not been growing as fast as the rest of the country,” Richardson said. “I know if Missouri focuses on those issues, we’ll be able to see the kind of strong, vibrant, dynamic, growing economy we all want.”
Part of the reason Richardson went to Columbia was to discuss the role of the University of Missouri, the state’s flagship four-year education institution, for Missouri to become the best state in the nation for workforce development. However, some of those who attended expressed concerns about funding for higher education and the emergence of student debt as a major issue stymieing growth in four-year education. Richardson said that the budget vacuum created by social service entitlements had forced the legislature to shift focus away from programs that could help keep higher education costs down.
“Medicaid spending has been up 27 percent over the last 7 years,” he said. “Our enrollment, despite the fact the legislature has chosen not to expand Medicaid eligibility, is up by about 60,000 over the last seven years. So one of our challenges is how we control those costs long-term.”
Sen.-elect Caleb Rowden, who attended the event, laid the blame for that problem at the feet of the outgoing federal administration.
“We have to be mindful of the fact is the reason we are in the position we’re in with student debt is because the federal government took it over,” Rowden said. “It wasn’t this way seven years ago when Barack Obama decided he was going to be the czar of student loans… We need to keep in mind that the reason we are here is that government got involved.”
Richardson also took time to speak to the chamber members about his optimism working with Gov.-elect Eric Greitens
“I think the state is going to very quickly fall in love with Gov. Greitens,” Richardson said. “Having a governor… who will work directly with us to accomplish this change rather than stonewalling us is a huge opportunity.”
However, he added that the outgoing Gov. Jay Nixon deserved recognition for his nearly three decades of work in the Missouri government.
“The state owes a debt of gratitude to the Nixons for the time they have spent serving the state,” Richardson said.
Richardson as well as many other mid-Missouri and Columbia legislators then spent time touring the Missouri University Research Reactor.