JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Rep. Bruce DeGroot’s journey to becoming a Missouri lawmaker has taken a number of turns in his life, but each experience has helped prepare him for the latest adventure.
DeGroot and his family have lived in Chesterfield for more than two decades. The representative, born in South Dakota, moved to Missouri with his wife, Jill, after graduating from the University of South Dakota in 1987. He took a job selling stocks and bonds and worked his way through law school, graduating from St Louis University School of Law in 1993. He has been a practicing attorney ever since.
DeGroot’s first steps into the world of politics were taken when he was appointed to the Chesterfield Planning Commission in 2013. While on the commission, he served in leadership roles as the Vice Chair and Secretary. DeGroot also served on the Board of Variances and on Chesterfield’s Drug Task Force.
The Republican didn’t plan on running for the state legislature this early, but after the departure of Rep. Don Gosen in Feb. 2016, DeGroot decided to declare his candidacy. He came out on top in a four-person primary race, going on to defeat Democrat Dennis Lavellee in November.
Now that he has arrived in the Capitol, DeGroot looks to help solve problems in a number of issues, especially tort reform. It’s become one of the top issues in the legislature this year and is an issue the freshman legislator takes a personal interest in. DeGroot’s career in law began with insurance defense firms and his own firm for a time. It was there where he learned about torts, and developed the knowledge that he thinks will aid in addressing the issues in Missouri, and especially St. Louis, which was labeled the number one judicial hellhole in the nation this year.
“I understand why Missouri is now number one on the judicial hellhole list,” he said. “For a conservative state like Missouri, it just makes no sense. It’s killing our businesses. When I graduated from law school in 1993, the worst place on the planet to be in court as an insurance company, small businessman, or doctor, was in Madison or St. Clair County in Illinois. Now, those groups would rather be in court over there than in the state of Missouri. We have to fix that.”
DeGroot has filed six bills this year, with at least two bills specifically addressing tort reform, with more addressing legal issues and insurance provisions. He says that his goal with these bills is to even the playing field for everyone.
“I’m not trying to run anyone out of business; plaintiffs’ attorneys absolutely provide a valuable service to our communities, and are necessary,” DeGroot said. “But for too long, they’ve been writing the rules that they get to play by in court. And that has severe consequences, not just with insurance premiums going up, but our economy. It’s a bad business climate. We have businesses who don’t want to do business here because they understand that if they get sued, they’re going to pay, and pay big.”
“I’m looking for common sense approaches to streamlining the legal process, making it more accessible, understandable, and affordable for the little guy coming into court,” DeGroot said.
DeGroot says he’s happy to see tort reform is a top priority, not just for the House, but also for the governor. He says that now is the time to bring about change, a position that has been echoed by both House Speaker Todd Richardson and Gov. Eric Greitens.
DeGroot also is a self-proclaimed budget hawk and looks forward to working toward a balanced budget for the state. His experiences with the Planning Commission have also provided him with a background to use in the future.
While the Chesterfield representative is passionate about the law and tort reform, he’s even more dedicated to his family.
The congressman’s office features photos of his three kids, Reagan, Cliff and Thomas, all whom he proudly brags about. DeGroot has coached all three kids in numerous sports, including basketball and volleyball.
His youngest son, Thomas, is a freshman in high school, with a knack for the theater, while Cliff is currently listed as one of the premier 3-point shooters in high school basketball in the Show-Me State. Reagan is following in the footsteps of her mother, making her mark in the world of hair salons in the St. Louis area.
DeGroot says that while he loves the opportunity to serve as part of Missouri’s legislature, the demands and sacrifices of the office can be trying. He doesn’t always have the time to catch Cliff’s games or take Thomas to practice for the next play.
“It’s tough. It’s a sacrifice” DeGroot said. “I’m not there, and that’s very frustrating to me at times.”
His family has been extremely supportive, and DeGroot says that the lessons from his mother have helped him learn to manage everything. DeGroot comes from a family in which his mother raised three kids on her own, while also working her way through school for physical therapy. She was the first person to donate to his campaign, and he calls her nearly every day.
But he says that he, like the other lawmakers, is there to do a job and serve Missouri to the best of his abilities.
Benjamin Peters was a reporter for The Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine and also produced 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.