JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri lawmakers wrapped up several items before packing up and heading home from the State Capitol Thursday, anxiously waiting for the chance to recharge before returning for the final stretch of the legislative session.
Republicans famously rolled right-to-work outs the first bill to move through both chambers, which Gov. Eric Greitens quickly signed into law. Republicans also pushed through a number of contentious bills seeking to address economic development in the Show-Me State, focusing on reforming labor, regulations, and torts.
The GOP leaders in the House and Senate on Thursday called their work in the first half very successful.
“We’ve had an outstanding session,” Senate President Pro Ten Ron Richard said. “We’ve done some labor reform, tort reform, and some other legislation that I never thought we’d sign in my lifetime, and it was a pleasure to sign it.”
“We’ve done some things that are really good for this state, and most importantly, we’ve been following through what we told the voters of this state we’d do when the elections came around in November,” Richardson said. “One of the things that have been important to both the Pro Team and I from the start of our tenures in our respective positions is that the House and the Senate work cooperatively together, and that relationship continues in a very strong way to this day.”
But Democrats disagree with the Republicans’ view, saying the legislation passed during the session has weakened public education, attacked workers’ rights, and targeted the weak, elderly and disabled.
“A few mega-donors spent millions of dollars to elect Republican lawmakers to do their bidding, and they are getting everything they paid for,” House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, said. “Unless you have a fat wallet and a willingness to open it, you have no say in the Missouri Capitol. That can’t continue if our democracy is to survive.”
But a number of bills still await action, some with even more riding on them. One of the most controversial pieces of legislation is the matter of REAL ID.
When asked if they had the votes to pass the legislation, Richardson said there’s substantial support in the House, and that he thinks the votes are there. Richard said the Senate had postponed working on REAL ID in an effort to give Sen. Will Kraus time to reach out to the federal government. Missouri has until January of 2018 to enact the REAL ID laws here or risk losing the ability to fly or access military bases without identification like a passport.
But the real efforts will be the continuing work on the state budget.
House Budget Chair Scott Fitzpatrick unveiled his spending plan this week, which would fully fund Missouri’s public schools under the current provisions, as well as restore proposed cuts to in-home care and nursing home services.
“We are in the midst of the toughest budget cycle in a generation. The budget I’ve proposed is the first step in identifying the priorities of the House of Representatives,” said Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob. “One issue I am proud to champion is our strong commitment to K-12 public education. Under the current state foundation formula, this plan fully funds our public schools for the first time. I intend to go a step further by restoring proposed cuts to K-12 transportation funding,”
Democrats argue that the full funding that Fitzpatrick speaks of is only possible because last year Republicans “rewrote the formula to shave more than $400 million off of its cost.”
“Cooking the books to create the illusion of full funding doesn’t improve public education,” said House Minority Whip Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia. “Redirecting scarce resources to unproven charter schools doesn’t improve public education.”
The House Budget Committee is expected to consider Fitzpatrick’s spending plan beginning the week of March 27th, when lawmakers return.
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.