JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Thus far, the 2017 legislative session has seen multiple wins for the supermajority Republican caucus as major pieces of labor and tort reform have found their way to the governor’s desk with a chief executive eager to sign them.
“We’re thrilled to get to Spring Break week having delivered on a lot of the promises we made at the beginning of the session,” Speaker Todd Richardson said Friday.
The session started with a bang when Gov. Eric Greitens signed right-to-work into law in early February after years of effort by Senate and House Republicans. Republicans in both chambers wasted no time in passing bills from Sen. Dan Brown and Rep. Holly Rehder.
The landmark bill would not require workers to join unions or pay dues for union representation. Unions across the country have fought against right-to-work laws while business organizations have pushed for it, saying it helps attract jobs to various states. Missouri’s passage of the legislation continues an emerging trend of more states signing onto the measure – Missouri is now the 28th right-to-work state.
Greitens signed Brown’s bill Feb. 6.
“Today represents a great victory for the people of Missouri and especially those families who are looking for jobs,” Greitens said just before signing the bill. “Passing right-to-work sends a very clear message: that the people of Missouri are ready to work, and Missouri is open for business.”
Rep. Kevin Corlew’s bill to establish the Daubert expert witness standard in the state was signed by Richardson and Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard on Thursday, the last day before the legislative break, and the governor is expected to sign that piece of tort reform.
Beyond that, however, some prioritized bills have run into snags, especially because of deliberation in the Senate. Rep. Justin Alferman’s lobbyist gift ban bill, the first bill passed out of the House, has languished in a Senate committee awaiting an executive session since January. Sen. Ed Emery’s collateral source rule change bill was only referred to the Special House Committee on Litigation Reform Thursday, more than a month after its second reading in the House. And there are still significant questions over what kind of prevailing wage law the House and Senate will agree on when it comes to labor reform.
Republicans have also begun infighting on REAL ID with Sen. Ryan Silvey’s bill to give Missouri citizens the choice of obtaining a REAL ID compliant license facing strong opposition from a contingent of senators, led by Sen. Will Kraus, who say adopting REAL ID would be a kowtow to the federal government and a mark of subservience. Silvey says the bill needs to be passed so Missourians can use their own driver’s licenses to board airplanes or visit military bases.
The state also looks set on adopting some form of a prescription drug monitoring program this year as well with Sen. Dave Schatz and Rehder continuing their battle against Sen. Rob Schaaf on the issue. Schaaf this year offered his own version of the bill to track prescription drug use, which he says will protect the privacy rights of Missouri citizens. Schatz and Rehder do not believe the bill gives enough power to doctors to prevent doctor shopping or identifying early signs of addiction to prescription opiates.
Thursday, Democrats, who hold no insignificant amount of power on this issue given the Republican split, said they would prefer to pass Rehder’s bill. House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty has also said they would likely back Silvey’s REAL ID bill, though they would prefer legislation that simply made Missouri IDs compliant.
Speaking of the minority party, House and Senate Democrats have won some small victories in the face of major defeats to their platform. Rep. Lauren Arthur put in work to shore up Alferman’s ethics bill and attached an important amendment to Rep. Kirk Mathews’ Uber bill (which has also stalled in the Senate) A slate of ethics bills from Democrats, all of which match campaign promises from Greitens, received hearings, which while minimal is progress from alst year. A strong slate of first-year legislators, like Reps. Bruce Franks and Mark Ellebracht, have made an immediate impact on the Capitol.
The minority party has also been nothing short of a vocal opposition. House and Senate Democrats have criticized Greitens for not releasing the source of private funds for his inaugural ball or his charter plane travel. Ellebracht has also been an outspoken critic of Richard’s SB 5, which could drastically change how class action lawsuits are filed against businesses. Ellebracht says the bill would help David Humphreys evade a current class action lawsuit he’s facing.
Greitens also caused his own stir of drama in January when he sharply criticized Sens. Paul Wieland and Denny Hoskins for voting against a measure that would bar a small pay increase for state legislators. Hoskins said he approved of the measure to attract more people to becoming legislators and ensure the rich and well-connected were not the only people serving. Several other senators recused themselves from the vote, but Greitens held court in Richard’s office, and lambasted multiple senators, attempting to get them to vote in favor of the resolution.