The Missouri General Assembly is back in session. And while the House is slated to have an early focus on overhauling ethics laws, the Senate is planning to take a hard look at some of Gov. Eric Greitens’ appointees.
House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, is pushing his chamber to pass a bill banning gifts from lobbyists before the end of the month. Last year at this time the House sent a similar bill to the Senate, where it died without a vote.
“It’s the first day of session, so I have to be optimistic at this point,” Richardson said. “Yes, I’m very optimistic that we’re going to continue a good, strong working relationship with the Senate, and I’m hopeful that we’ll see the Senate be able to take up and pass that bill.”
Representative Gail McCann Beatty of Kansas City, the Democrats’ House Leader, said other ethics bills need attention, too. That includes barring legislative staff from serving as paid political consultants and making it a crime for candidates to transfer campaign funds to relatives.
“Quite frankly, I would hope that the Speaker will hear all of the ethics bills, and (that) we move all of them with that lightning speed that he’s moving the lobbyist gift ban,” she said.
Richardson told reporters he also wants to spend the first month of session working on legislation to combat human trafficking and lessing regulations on small business owners, including hair braiders.
“This is going to be a session for us that is focused on continuing our mission of trying to create what we think is the most competitive economic environment you can find anywhere in the country,” he said. “We’re going to take a strong look at our tax policy in Missouri, we’re going to continue our efforts on tort reform (and) labor reform.”
Most of the Missouri Senate’s opening day zeroed in on Greitens’ interim appointees.
Some Republican senators were upset that Greitens’ five appointees to the Missouri Board of Education fired Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven. Those five people were not confirmed by the Senate, and the governor announced on Wednesday that he planned to reappoint them to the board to give the Senate “more time” to consider their nominations.
Because Greitens withdrew the nominations of the five board members, the state Board of Education won’t have a quorum until the Senate approves several appointments.
And Greitens’ interim appointments face a tough road to being confirmed. Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said it’s not a sure thing that the board members that fired Vandeven will even get a committee hearing. Richard is the chairman of the committee that oversees gubernatorial appointees that need Senate confirmation.
“Don’t ever take out my ability to do business and protect the Senate,” Richard said. “I’m going to protect the Senate at all costs and our job is to do what we do.”
Sens. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, and Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, urged the governor on the Senate floor to find different people for the Board of Education vacancies. Schaaf said the chances of the five interim appointees getting confirmed was “near zero.”
“Anyone that’s willing to make a decision of this magnitude without being fully informed does not deserve to be serving on the state Board of Education,” said Romine.
For his part, Richard said he wanted the 2018 session to focus on restricting lawsuits and curtailing the “prevailing wage” for local construction projects.
But when it came to talk about cutting the state’s income taxes, Richard took a more cautious approach. He even went so far to say that “he didn’t want to Brownback things,” a reference to how Kansas had budget problems after an array of tax cuts earlier in the decade.
“I’m going to be pretty careful,” Richard said. “I like low taxes too. But I’m going to be very careful to make sure that we’re not endangering this institution… and the taxpayers after I’m gone beyond repair.”
Asked about the prospect of further tax cuts, Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh said “I’ve watched us incrementally since 2003 reduce our taxes, reduce our services and everything else that keeps Missouri moving.”
“We’ve got to figure out a way to pay for things in this state,” said Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors. “We’ve taken a terrible hit. It’s nice to tell people we’re going to reduce their taxes. But you have to tell them you’re going to reduce their services at the same time.”
Silvey to depart
Meanwhile, the upper chamber is set to shrink by one member.
Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, has been nominated by Greitens to fill a vacancy on the Missouri Public Service Commission. A vote is expected on Silvey’s confirmation Thursday, after which, he has publicly stated that he would resign his Senate seat.
Silvey had been one of Greitens’ fiercest Senate critics. Near the end of last year’s session, Silvey said the governor needed to be more collaborative with the GOP-controlled legislature — adding that “You can’t govern by soundbite. Governing is much harder than a bumper sticker.”
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