A cold arctic blast greeted lawmakers, lobbyists and reporters who filtered into the state Capitol Wednesday for the start of Missouri's 2017 legislative session.
But it didn't take long for things to heat up, at least on the House side of the building.
As part of his constitutional duties, Secretary of State Jason Kander presided over the opening of the House session until a temporary speaker could be installed to oversee the biannual election of the regular speaker.
Kander also used the occasion to deliver an opening day address in which he blasted Republican leaders for passing legislation requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls.
"I am your secretary of state for a little bit longer, and as a result I feel a responsibility to tell you that even though you have the power to take away the right to vote from the citizens of Missouri, you shouldn't," he said. "If you choose to follow the example of Wisconsin or North Carolina, well then, I guess we'll see you in court."
Kander's speech infuriated Republicans, including Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, who sponsored the implementation bill that took effect after Missouri voters passed Amendment 6 in November.
Fellow Republican Allen Andrews of Grant City fired back at Kander from the House floor a few minutes later.
"On behalf of the voters of the great state of Missouri who voted for voter ID," he said as he was interrupted by applause, "Mr. Secretary, I feel that your opening remarks have been a slap in the face of the democratic process, as well as the voters of this state."
Later on, House leaders took up several opening day resolutions, but skipped one that would have thanked Kander for his years of service as secretary of state. Minority floor leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, called the decision to set aside that resolution "a touch petty."
"I personally liked the fact that (Kander) used that platform," she said. "We have not seen any instance of voter impersonation fraud in our state; that was a piece of legislation looking for a problem that simply didn't exist."
House legislative priorities
House Republicans reiterated that their top goal for 2017 is to make Missouri a right-to-work state, but Richardson said they have several other goals, including ethics reform.
"Our priority to do substantive, meaningful ethics reform has not gone away," he told reporters, "and so we're going to start the session off, as we did last year, with Rep. Alferman's bill banning lobbyists' gifts."
Richardson also said Missouri will see a lot of common ground between House and Senate Republicans and incoming Gov. Eric Greitens.
House Democrats, meanwhile, say they're going to file bills that mirror every one of Greitens' campaign promises on ethics reform.
"I took his campaign promises, we've filed them as a Democratic platform, and we're going to deliver the votes to make sure that get comprehensive and aggressive anti-corruption reform done this year," said Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia.
Those bill are:
- HB 117 – allow the Missouri Ethics Commission to publish financial interest statement online
- HB 212 – ban gifts to elected officials from lobbyists (similar to Republican-sponsored HB 60)
- HB 213 – lengthen the waiting period for ex-lawmakers to become lobbyists from six months to five years
- HB 214 – bar candidate committees from transferring money to candidates’ relatives
- HB 215 – require former candidates for public office to dissolve their candidate committees
- HB 216 – allow the Missouri Ethics Commission to prosecute criminal cases and file civil lawsuits if the attorney general declines to file cases
- HB 217 – an omnibus bill containing all of the above provisions, plus, would ban campaign donations to candidates while the legislature is in session
Richard talks history and civility, but not agenda
In the Senate, president pro-tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, delivered a brief address in which he skipped over his legislative priorities and focused on the history of Missouri and "setting the tone" for 2017.
"Let us pledge to each other that in 2017 and beyond we'll conduct the business of the Senate in a way that rises to the grandeur of the great state of Missouri," he said. "I'm hoping we're remembered for respecting the institution of the Senate and each other, for restoring civility to the chamber, and that we're able to be passionate about our convictions without being combative of one another."
Richard and other Senate Republicans also skipped the usual opening day press conference, but are expected to take questions from the media Thursday on their legislative priorities.
Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport