JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — As the 97th General Assembly completes its first regular legislative session, The Missouri Times approached lawmakers, lobbyists, opinion makers, statewide associations and even the governor with one simple question: What letter grade would you assign to this legislative session, and why?
So far there has been a lot of common ground in responses, with people from all our different groups and from all political persuasions turning to the work done on the Second Injury Fund as a noteworthy triumph of session.
An issue that pre-dates many of the people in the General Assembly, the insolvency of the Second Injury Fund has been a priority for the legislature and the governor for years.
But, it’s finished, or at least out of the legislature’s hands as the final product of Senate Bill 1 was truly agreed and finally passed during the final week of session.
Though the sponsor himself, Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles, said the bill isn’t perfect and everyone involved will find something they don’t like about it, he said it’s ultimately a solution.
In the end, SB1 proved to gain bipartisan support with 33 votes in the Senate — Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, being the only no vote.
House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, said the Second Injury Fund was a project dating back to when the Democrats were the majority, and to finally churn out a bill everyone was able to agree on showed the session was “full, top to bottom, of significant, historic legislation.”
“I don’t think you ever have a perfect session,” Jones said, giving the session between an A- and a B+ grade. While he calls the session historic, Jones said there are a few things he would have liked to see done, such as “worker’s freedom” (or “right to work”), a tax credit reform package and an even more substantial education reform — though he noted how proud he was of the legislature to pass Senate Bill 125, an education bill that was eventually stripped of the major controversial aspects and passed after being brought to the House for a vote for the third time.
One accomplishment Jones noted was the way the Senate and House were able to work together.
“We saw more significant legislation moving freely between the chambers than we did five or six years ago,” Jones said. “This is because we have more cooperation between House and Senate leadership. Senator Dempsey is a steady, disciplined leader and a 100 percent honest broker to his floor.”
Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, echoed Jones’ sentiment, attributing the relationship between the two chambers — as well as the environment he said he’s worked to foster within his own chamber — as a very positive aspect of session.
Dempsey gave the session a B, saying that were they able to get an economic development or tax credit reform package through, he would have given the legislature a higher grade.
Another issue Dempsey attributed to his grade choice was the demise of the transportation tax, Senate Joint Resolution 16, which was ultimately laid over during the final day of session by the sponsor, Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, after promises from Sen. John Lamping, R-Creve Coeur, to filibuster the resolution for as long as it would take to kill it.
“We ended on a sour note because of those two things,” Dempsey said, referring to the transportation tax and the lack of an economic development package.
Looking ahead, Dempsey said he’s already “looking at other priorities” for the next session that he thinks are unresolved but likely stand more of a chance than the two downfalls of this session. Among those priorities includes Capitol improvements, changes to the criminal code and tort reform.
“It was a very good year,” Dempsey said. “There are always things that don’t get accomplished, and it’s the failures that always get the coverage. But, there’s much to be happy about this year, and our state is in a better position than many around the country.”
The next issue of The Missouri Times will include the all-expansive story as well as letter grades and accompanying quotes from other people on both sides of the aisle, including leadership, dozens of additional legislators, lobbyists, associations and the governor.
To contact Ashley Jost email email@example.com, or via Twitter at @ajost. To contact Collin Reischman, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Twitter at @Collin_MOTimes.
Ashley Jost is no longer with The Missouri Times. She worked as the executive editor for several months, and a reporter before that.