The 99th General Assembly First Regular Session has officially begun! Yesterday, the official swearing in ceremony was conducted on the House Floor and Representative Todd Richardson was elected again to serve as Speaker of the House. I was honored to be sworn in for a third time to serve as your state representative!
Some important news for those who will be visiting the Capitol, beginning January 10, 2017 visitors entering the Missouri Capitol will be subject to search. X-ray conveyors and walkthrough magnetometers will be operated by law enforcement officers and security personnel to ensure firearms and other dangerous items do not enter the building. The following protocols will be in place: Visitors will be required to enter the Capitol Building through a searched entrance. These entrance points are located at the first floor South Carriage Tunnel and the first floor West entrance. This requirement also applies to contract employees, special guests, members of the media and lobbyists. The primary disabled entrance is the South First Floor Carriage Door. Secondarily, the Capitol Basement Garage may be used. Members of the disabled public are subject to search when choosing to enter the Capitol. Please call ahead for special accommodations for school and large groups.
Delivery drivers, who are not state employees, will no longer be able to drive into the Capitol Basement. They will be required to unload outside of the Capitol Basement Garage and are subject to search by security. Deliveries will also be allowed to enter the South First Floor Carriage door, subject to search.
Missouri House Begins 2017 Legislative Session
The members of the Missouri House of Representatives convened in the House Chamber on Wednesday, January 4 to officially open the 99th General Assembly. As the legislature begins the 2017 legislative session, the House currently stands at 116 Republicans and 46 Democrats with one vacancy (Representative Caleb Jones, District 50 has joined Governor-Elect Greitens' staff). Of the 162 members serving in the House, there are a total of 39 new members, which includes 20 Republicans and 19 Democrats.
The party breakdown in the House means Republicans will once again have a super majority. However, because the governor's office is now occupied by a Republican, the legislature will likely end its trend of numerous veto overrides each year.
The legislature opened the 2017 legislative session with a much more optimistic tone regarding its working relationship with the incoming governor. As Speaker Todd Richardson said to the members of the House, "For the first time in Missouri's history, our great state is governed by a super-majority of Republicans and a Republican in the governor's mansion." He added, "But with this greater power comes even greater responsibility; a responsibility to make the legislative process deliberative. That means we must respect the voices and viewpoints of every Missourian, as represented by each and every one of you."
House Speaker Richardson Calls for Legislature to Embrace Innovation and Change
As Speaker Richardson addressed his colleagues in the House, he emphasized the need for Missouri to embrace new ideas that will help Missouri's economy keep pace with a rapidly-changing world. As Richardson said, "A changing economy puts some of our old ways of doing things in doubt. Competing with other states and other countries for the jobs of today, requires a workforce, an education system, a legal framework, and labor policies that are capable of providing a strong, stable, and steady foundation for a growing economy."
Richardson also strongly reminded his colleagues that the role of government is not to create jobs. As he said, government's role is to lay a stable foundation upon which entrepreneurs and hard-working Missourians can do the job-creating.
With that in mind, Richardson emphasized several key issues he wants the legislature to address in 2017 to create an economic environment conducive to growth and job creation.
The Speaker called on his colleagues to remove the unnecessary government regulations that stifle innovation and job creation.
He tasked two House committees with examining the state's regulation and licensure requirements and crafting legislation to relieve the regulatory burden on businesses in Missouri. Richardson noted that companies like Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, HomeAway, and others have expanded nearly everywhere but in Missouri. He said in Missouri these businesses have met with regulations that have stifled their growth. As he said in his Opening Day speech, "It is past time that Missouri had statewide frameworks for disruptive technologies and allowed private enterprise to function in a free market."
The Speaker made legislation commonly referred to as right-to-work one of his top priorities for the session. As he told his colleagues, Missouri is now in the minority nationally and one of the last states in the region that doesn't allow workers to choose whether they want to join a labor union.
Richardson also cited statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that show Michigan has added 58,000 manufacturing jobs since becoming a right-to-work state in 2012. In comparison, Missouri has lost approximately 1,200 manufacturing jobs over the last two years. The Speaker also noted that Michigan's average weekly wage is growing at almost twice the rate of Missouri's. The Speaker said he will assign right-to-work legislation to committee immediately and plans to have the bill moved to the House floor as soon as possible. Richardson said, "To build a more stable foundation, to grow jobs, to increase wages, we will put right-to-work legislation on the governor's desk and he will sign it."
In his address, the Speaker also called on the legislature to help create a court system that is fair to all litigants. He noted that St. Louis was recently rated the worst judicial jurisdiction in the country, which he said is the result of state policies that have made
the city a national magnet for massive litigation. The Speaker said it his goal to get major pieces of tort reform to the floor and over to the senate for consideration early in session. The Speaker said, "We must make Missouri a place where fear of needless litigation is not a disincentive to job creation."
In the area of education reform, the Speaker said the goal is to embrace what is working and continue to invest in the thousands
of educators across the state who are tasked with the incredible responsibility of teaching Missouri's youth. At the same time, the Speaker said it's important to be mindful of the areas where the state is falling short and to be willing to embrace innovation.
As the Speaker said, "During this session, we will work to increase access to high performing charter schools. We will work to expand course offerings through virtual education. And we will work to make education savings accounts available to parents and students most in need."
--Defending Missouri's Core Values
In addition to their work to create a climate for stronger job creation and economic growth, Speaker Richardson said the House will continue to protect the issues and values that matter most to Missourians. As Richardson said, "Missouri will continue to be a place that has a steadfast culture of life. Missouri will continue to be a place where fundamental constitutional rights are protected. Missouri will continue to be a place where we live within our means and hold the line on taxes."
Richardson also said the first bill out of the House in 2017 will be substantive ethics reform that will ban gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers. Richardson said to his colleagues, "Missourians also want a government they can trust and believe in. Last year we passed
the first meaningful ethics reform in modern Missouri history, and we must continue the job we started. A gift ban will be the first bill out of this House."
As I related in earlier Capitol Reports, I am working on a solution for our Real ID situation in Missouri. I heard from many of you, and came to the conclusion that we should have an option solution so that those who do not wish to have a Real ID can be exempt. To this end, I have co-sponsored Rep. Kevin Corlew's bill providing an option for Real ID in Missouri. I will keep you informed of further developments on this important issue.
House Speaker Announces New Committee Structure and Makes Committee Assignments
On the first day of the 2017 legislative session the Speaker of the House also announced committee assignments for the members of his caucus. The assignments come with a revised committee structure that is meant to allow members to better focus on specific areas of expertise. Previously, members would serve on four to five committees and have their attention spread across numerous issues. During the 2016 session, the House had nearly 60 committees. For 2017 that number will drop to 32. With the new structure, members will serve on two or three committees and be able to devote more of their time and attention to the policy areas covered by their committees.
I am pleased to be selected again to serve as Vice Chair of Higher Education, and as a member of the Veterans Committee. I have also contacted the Speaker about renewing my membership to the National Conference of State Legislatures Task Force on Veterans and Military Affairs, and he has agreed to this reappointment.
The new House committee structure will also allow for the creation of subcommittees to focus in on specific policy issues. The subcommittee structure will allow members to gain additional specialized expertise within the broader issue areas discussed by their committees. Some subcommittees have been formed and more will follow.