With the 2021 legislative session in the books, lawmakers from both parties and chambers sat down to discuss the final weeks and the bills that passed the finish line.
Sens. Lauren Arthur and Holly Rehder, state Rep. Becky Ruth, and Aaron Baker of Axiom Strategies joined Sunday’s episode of “This Week in Missouri Politics” to cover session’s biggest topics, from education reform to an increase in the state’s motor fuel tax. The tax increase finally passed the lower chamber after a lengthy discussion Tuesday, with Democrats taking to the floor to support it before it was approved. The increase would bolster the state’s roads and bridges, one of Gov. Mike Parson’s top priorities.
“MoDOT has been cut to the bone, and I think that they’ve done as good a job as anyone could, given their circumstances and trying to manage our really expansive system,” Arthur said. “It’s time we take a leadership role and make our investments in a long-term project, and I was happy to see the House Democrats put that issue over the top.”
The lower chamber also progressed a statewide prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP), a labor of love for Rehder, who sponsored it throughout her tenure in the House and finally saw it make it through the process last week. The bill establishes the Joint Oversight Task Force of Prescription Drug Monitoring within the Office of Administration, creating a statewide PDMP. The task force would work with a vendor after a competitive bid to collect and maintain patient data.
“It was a win for all of us — for everyone that’s been fighting for it for years — because it’s a bipartisan issue. It’s about families, it’s about helping those who are struggling with addiction; it’s not about politics,” Rehder said. “For everyone who’s been voting for it year after year and has watched it fail … I’m thankful, but I’m excited for all of us that have been fighting for this. It’s a team win for sure.”
A controversial education bill passed the legislature going the other way the week before: Rep. Phil Christofanelli’s proposal to establish an education savings account (ESA) program, known as the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program, quickly passed the Senate despite extensive pushback during its time in the House. The program would allow taxpayers in the state’s largest cities to claim a tax credit of up to 50 percent of their liability for contributions to educational assistance programs.
“I’m a retired teacher; I’ve spent 25 years in education, and I did not vote in favor of the ESAs,” Ruth said. “But you all have worked on that for a long time — it’s something that you tried to get across the finish line, and you’ve come to some compromises and at the end of the day you were able to get it done.”