Missouri legislative leaders laud, lament achievements
For the first time in memory, the Missouri House skipped its traditional end-of-session celebratory paper toss at 6 p.m. Friday.
And outgoing House Speaker Todd Richardson quoted from Shakespeare’s great tragedy, “Macbeth.”
Such were some of this session’s significant differences, large and small, from its predecessors.
Many were prompted by the biggest change: the formal kickoff at 7 p.m. Friday of the month-long special session to consider whether to impeach Gov. Eric Greitens.
Even so, Richardson and his fellow Senate and House leaders, from both parties, did engage in their annual news conferences where they assessed their legislative achievement and failures.
And their views also were colored, in part, by the task ahead.
Richardson, a Republican from Poplar Bluff, called the session, which began Jan. 3, “the most successful implementation of conservative reforms in the history of this state, bar none.”
His list included:
- Individual- and corporate-tax cuts
- “21st-century labor reforms”
- Restoration of Greitens’ cuts to public education
- Tax-credit changes, such as trims in the state historic preservation tax-credit program
- Reduction in state regulations
- Efforts to bolster infrastructure spending, including putting a proposed 10-cent-a-gallon increase in the state’s fuel tax on the November ballot.
Such actions, the speaker said, “will make Missouri one of the most competitive environments in this country to attract business and jobs.”
Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, a Republican from Joplin, was effusive with praise. In his close to 20 years in state government, Richard said, “I’ve never seen the quality of legislation that we passed this year.”
From the viewpoint of House Democratic leader Gail McCann Beatty, of Kansas City, the GOP record was bleak as far as providing what the state needs.
The session was overshadowed, she said, by “scandal and almost-daily revelations of wrongdoing by Eric Greitens.”
But with the public’s attention diverted, Beatty contended, “Greitens’ party used the opportunity to enact an insidious anti-worker agenda’’ while also embracing their “insatiable addiction to tax cuts.’’
The upshot, said Beatty, was less money and less fairness to help Missourians acquire the skills and services needed to get ahead.
She was particularly critical of the GOP’s success in getting rid of the state’s longstanding merit system for public employees. Beatty said that wiping away state-worker protections “gives Greitens sweeping powers to hire and fire state employees without cause, and hand out nonpartisan government jobs as political patronage.”
One of the session’s few legislative successes, as Beatty saw it, was in restoring “whistleblower’’ protections for state workers which legislators had eliminated last year.
The prime common achievement that she did embrace from the GOP list is the ballot proposal to increase the state’s gas tax.
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, left the Capitol without comment. Later, Democratic leader Gina Walsh sent out a statement echoing Beatty's criticisms: "This agenda is destructive to our state, and these bad policies will make balancing the budget and growing our economy much more difficult in the years to come.”
“Thankfully, Senate Democrats worked together to help families, create jobs and move our state in the right direction,” Walsh added. “From helping victims of child abuse, to restoring government whistleblower protections, to outlawing ‘revenge porn,' Senate Democrats made Missouri a safer, stronger and better place to live.”
Greitens makes no post-session appearance
Traditionally, governors also hold an end-of-session news conference, to praise or pummel the General Assembly’s record.
Greitens didn’t do that this time. He simply sent out a two-paragraph statement:
“I’m grateful that members of the General Assembly passed many important bills this session. I’m encouraged to see that so many of our shared priorities — reforms to our foster care system, protections for our veterans, new opportunities for Missouri students, important pro-jobs legislation, and more — are among the many accomplishments.
“At the start of this legislative session, we said that Missouri is strong, and she is getting stronger. As we look back over the work that we have been able to do this year, I am proud to say that Missouri grows stronger still …”
But his fellow Republicans running the House and Senate gave the governor no credit for the General Assembly’s decisions.
Said Senate leader Richard: “We work pretty well by ourselves.”
For both GOP leaders, this session was their last in power. Richard said it was time for new blood, but observed that he was feeling nostalgic as his departure meant “seeing the Capitol in your rearview mirror.”
And Richardson — popular with House members of both parties – emphasized in an emotional closing address that everyone in the Capitol holds office temporarily. He then felt compelled to paraphrase from “Macbeth,’’ drawing an extended standing ovation:
“… Out, out brief candle, life is but a poor player, a walking shadow that merely struts and frets its hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more.”
Key pieces of legislation that passed this session:
- HB 1246 - Requires the Department of Public Safety to create human-trafficking hotline posters and establish what kinds of businesses the posters would be displayed in.
- HB 1413 - Requires public-employee unions to get annual authorization from members to use dues to make political contributions and to collect dues from paychecks.
- HB 1460 - Places a proposed 10-cent-a-gallon increase in Missouri’s gas tax on the Nov 6, 2018 ballot.
- HB 1500 - Eases regulations on hair braiders.
- HB 1558 - Makes it a felony to disseminate private sexual images without consent.
- HB 1635 - Modifies the mandatory reporting requirements for sexual assault victims in long-term care facilities.
- HBs1729, 1621 and 1436 - Modifies the prevailing wage requirement for public-works projects.
- HBs 2001 - 2013 - Appropriates funding for the state budget year that begins July 1.
- HB 2034 - Legalizes the production of industrial hemp
- HBs2280, 2120, 1468 and 1616 - Expands MO HealthNet benefits for pregnant women to provide substance abuse treatment for up to year after giving birth. Missouri will be the first state in the country to implement such a program.
- HB 2540 - Changes the state’s individual income tax rate, gradually reducing it from 5.9 percent to 5.1 percent, if certain economic triggers are met.
- SB 564 - Allows electric utilities more flexibility in changing their rates.
- SB 655 - Raises the minimum age of marriage from 15 to 16, as well as removing the statute of limitations for sexual offenses committed against minors.
- SB 793 - Requires that, unless certified as an adult, a juvenile aged 17 and under must be tried in juvenile court. They also would complete their sentence in a juvenile detention center rather than an adult prison.
- SB 807 - Modifies the A+ Program by removing the requirement that student’s attendance at a Missouri public high school be the three years prior to graduation.
- SB 884 - Reduces the corporate income tax from its current rate of 6.25 percent to 4 percent.
- SCR 49 - Moves the “right-to-work” referendum vote from Nov. 6 to Aug. 7.
Marshall Griffin and intern Erin Achenbach contributed information for this article.
Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter: @jmannies