In Speaker Richardson’s opening address to the House, he encouraged each member to strive to work together to “find answers to the seminal challenges of our time and (to) make tough decisions.” He also reminded members that the Missouri House of Representatives “cannot be a place where inaction, infighting, and indifference defines it.” He went on to say, “This must be a place where we tackle and solve real problems.” The Speaker then set the tone for the upcoming session by establishing some of the top legislative priorities, including that of ethics.
The first days of session will address ethics reform. Every bill that has been filed relating to ethics has already been assigned to committees, with hearings scheduled to begin Monday. Ethics reform legislation will be dealt with early in the session, and the desire is for each member of the General Assembly to do his or her part to improve the environment and to restore public trust and confidence in the legislative process. Personally, I feel it is unfortunate that the poor behavior of a few individuals causes a cloud of doubt and mistrust to come over all those who serve in government positions. By far, the majority of state elected officials are respectful of and conscientious in the positions they hold.
In the upcoming ethics reform discussion, topics such as banning lobbyist’s gifts, closing the “revolving door” (the practice that allows elected officials to immediately become lobbyists after leaving office), clarifying personal financial disclosures, capping or limiting campaign contributions, and prohibiting the practice of elected officials serving as paid political consultants while still in office will be addressed. There is major support in the House to pass legislation to positively address these points of contention. Several of the ethics bills are expected to come to the floor as early as this week for debate. Hopefully, a House ethics bill will be approved and sent on to the Senate as quickly as possible.
Following the Speaker’s address, the Missouri House finished its day by passing House Resolution 1, which notified the MO Senate that the House had convened and was in session; House Resolution 2 notified the Governor that the MO House was in session; then the House passed two House Concurrent Resolutions—HCR55 set Wednesday, January 20 as the date for the State of the State Address, and HCR56 established Wednesday, January 27th as the State of the Judiciary Address. On Thursday U.S. Senator Roy Blunt addressed the House concerning current federal issues, one of which was the new federal five-year transportation bill.
A pressing state issue for the 2016 session will deal with finding a funding solution for Missouri’s transportation system. The Missouri Department of Transportation (MODoT) will need an additional $160 million in new revenue just to maintain and make necessary improvements to the existing state highway system. Different views and ideas will be discussed to address its funding shortfall. There is growing support among lawmakers for a proposed small fuel tax increase of 1 1/2 cents per gallon of gasoline and 3 1/2 cents per gallon of diesel. At today’s fuel prices, consumers would likely feel minimal impact on their wallets; however, this will generate only approximately one-third of the needed $160 million. Last session the MO Senate gave first round approval to a similar small fuel tax increase, but it never made it to the House. This year, several different versions of a fuel tax increase have been filed in both chambers. Even though the idea of the proposed increase is gaining momentum, there are many House members who will refuse to support it.
While in the coming weeks legislators will be spending time trying to find a possible solution to the transportation funding crisis, we are hopeful that we will have already successfully dealt with the ethics reform concerns and made positive strides in our list of other legislative priorities.
Overall, the first week of session started on a positive and upbeat note, with legislators now ready to get down to work. It is shaping up to be a busy session, and I will keep you updated as we move through it.