Speaker Richardson emphasized the need to embrace new ideas that will help our state’s economy to keep pace with a rapidly changing world. Among the House’s top priorities will be reforming state government, including regulatory reform, labor reform, tort reform, education reform, and ethics reform, while defending and protecting Missouri’s core values, those values that are most important to all Missourians.
On January 9, thousands of Missourians from across the state came to Jefferson City to join in the festivities and to welcome five new state-wide officials who were elected this past November. Eric Greitens was sworn in as the 56th Governor of our state. Joining him were our five new office holders: Lt. Governor Mike Parson, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, Attorney General Josh Hawley, and State Treasurer Eric Schmitt. After his swearing in, Governor Eric Greitens delivered an address in which he talked about working together to move Missouri forward.
On January 17, Governor Greitens addressed a joint session of Missouri’s General Assembly, defining his vision for the direction our state should take under his leadership, and he emphasized that his priorities were largely shared by the members of the General Assembly. His speech focused strongly on the need to make Missouri a right-to-work state in order to promote job creation and economic growth. He also called for a ban on lobbyist’s gifts to legislators, tort reform, and a reducing of the regulatory burden that has too often stifled job creation and economic growth. In addition, Governor Greitens promised a comprehensive audit of Missouri’s tax credit system, with a goal of establishing a tax code that is fair, simple, and low. He then called on the state to do more to support and protect our law enforcement officials, saying that it is time to update standards and training for peace officers, and to ensure officers have the training, resources, and support they need to both protect themselves and to build strong relationships in their communities. Additionally, the Governor talked about reforming Missouri’s welfare system in order to lift people out of poverty.
The Governor did not include his budget recommendations during his State of the State Address, though it is usually customary to do so. He is expected to unveil his FY18 budget during the first week of February. However, Governor Greitens did announce his decision to restrict spending from the current state operating budget. This is necessary to keep the state budget balanced. He withheld $146.4 million in current spending, as revenues have fallen short of the projection used in crafting the FY17 $27.4 million budget. Governor Greitens restrictions are in addition to the approximately $200 million in withholdings made by former Gov. Nixon before he left office.
On January 24, the General Assembly welcomed Justice Patricia Breckenridge, Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court for the annual State of the Judiciary Address. Her speech focused on the reforms and improvements made by the court system, as well as the need to address pre-trial incarceration practices in our state. She noted that both the Governor and members of the Legislature have been critical of the court system, as evidenced by the various tort reform bills that have been put forth. She added, “We, more than anyone, want our courts to live up to their responsibilities to properly administer justice.” She noted that judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and clerks work together to make recommendations for reforms, and then put these reforms into effect.
In other action during the last days of January, HB 60, a piece of legislation placing a ban on lobbyist’s gifts, has been passed out of the House and is now on its way to the Senate. Currently, Missouri law places no limits on gifts that lobbyists can give to lawmakers. HB 60 will put a ban in place to prohibit gifts that could possibly create an undue influence on the lawmaking process. Also, the House passed and sent to the Senate a right-to-work bill which simply ensures employees are able to decide whether to join a labor union instead of being forced to do so as a condition of their employment. The bill now moves to the Senate for its consideration and approval, but this past week the Senate passed their right-to-work bill—SB 19—and sent it to the Missouri House, where it is to be taken up this week. If SB19 passes the Missouri House (as is expected), it should be on the Governor’s desk by the end of this week. Since Governor Greitens has already made right-to-work one of his top priorities, it is expected he will sign the legislation and make Missouri the 28th right-to-work state.
The House denied itself a proposed pay increase by rejecting the suggestion of the Citizen’s Commission on Compensation for Elected Officials and approving HCR 4, a resolution, if passed, that prevents pay raises from going into effect for elected officials. The commission on pay raises meets every two years—according to the state’s constitution—with the purpose of setting compensation rates for elected state officials. Once the commission makes its recommendation, it automatically goes into effect unless the Legislature rejects the proposal by February 1. It takes a 2/3 majority of both the House and the Senate to keep the increases from taking effect.
The rejection of the proposed increases for elected officials received strong bipartisan support. Members have traditionally refused pay increases when they have been recommended, especially during very difficult budget situations, such as those the state is now facing. As one legislator stated, “It’s a proposal our state cannot afford and that does not align with the priorities we have as public servants.”
Personally, I am genuinely optimistic about where we are going as a state and expect we will see many pieces of positive and productive legislation as the Session moves forward. I will keep you informed as the process continues.