JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Senate leaders on both sides of the aisle laid out their legislative priorities to reporters today ahead of the swearing in of new members for the 98th General Assembly.
Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, declared a defunct agriculture bill from last year, municipal court reforms and student transfer legislation as his biggest goals for the next few months. Dempsey also said he anticipated a push to reform the existing Medicaid program, but said the likely debate to expand the program under the Affordable Care Act was far from settled.
“I’m sure during those discussions amendments will be offered related to expansion,” Dempsey said. “And we’ll have those debates in a respectful way as they come.”
Dempsey later rebuked an earlier comment by Gov. Jay Nixon who said he felt expansion had a real chance of passing the legislature. Dempsey said he had no such belief.
Dempsey intends to remove controversial language dealing with captive deer populations from last year’s failed dairy and agriculture bill. Without that language, Dempsey said, the legislation has a strong chance for success. The Senate leader also indicated that more negotiations on the so-called “private option” in last year’s sweeping education bill would result in moving the bill through the chamber.
Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, will be charged with leading efforts on municipal court reforms. Many of the efforts, but not all, are in direct response to problems highlighted by unrest and protests in the wake of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson. Schmitt has already filed a bill lowering the maximum percentage of their budget a municipality may collect through traffic fines and court fees.
Sen. Majority Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin, has filed an ethics reform bill and says several more are to be heard in committee. Richard’s bill will likely move the quickest onto the floor, although he clarified that it would not include campaign contribution limits, which he said the courts “have ruled is free speech.”
Senate Minority Leader, Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis, said he supported many of the efforts lead by Dempsey and Richard and that he anticipated a relatively smooth and productive legislative session. He agreed with Dempsey on the need for Medicaid reform, while still hinting that his party intended to once again fight for an expansion.
“Nobody is going to defend an inefficient system,” Keaveny said. “But at the same time, we have to find a way to get toward an expansion. If someone is making more than $250 dollars a month, they don’t qualify for Medicaid, and that’s a problem.”
All three leaders said they were optimistic that the senate, a traditionally less partisan chamber, would function relatively smoothly while handling difficult issues. Richard referred to Keaveny as a friend, and noted that the St. Louis Democrat has passed more legislation than many Republicans in the chamber, largely related to complex legal reforms.
The senate will officially convene to swear-in new members and begin the 98th General Assembly at noon today.
Collin Reischman was the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.