OUR OPINION: Fresh look at familiar legislative issues

Fresh faces will focus on familiar issues when the 2011 legislative session begins Wednesday.

Those fresh faces include 81 new representatives in the 163-member House. New local representatives will include Mike Bernskoetter and Jay Barnes, elected in November in the 113th and 114th districts, respectively.

In the 34-member Senate, the 12 new senators who will be seated include Mike Kehoe, who will represent the 6th District, which includes Jefferson City.

All the new Mid-Missourians are Republicans who will replace Republicans swept from their offices by term limits.

One key issue they will face is congressional redistricting, required by the U.S. Constitution based on the government’s official, 2010 Census numbers just released to President Obama this month.

But many issues they will face will hardly be new. Again at the top of the list will be crafting a balanced state budget while grappling with an anticipated, substantial revenue shortfall.

Budget considerations will drive discussion and debate on other proposals, including legislation pertaining to education and economic development.

Preliminary discussion has included a possible freeze on state funding distributed through the foundation formula to local public school districts. Those districts already are coping with cuts, including decreases in transportation funding.

Educators also will be watching proposals on open enrollment, which allows a student residing in one public school district to enroll in another without being required to pay outof-district tuition, now required by state law.

The state’s use of tax credits to cultivate economic development also is expected to receive renewed scrutiny this session.

A panel that reviewed the state’s 61 tax credit programs concluded government could save $220 million in the next five years by eliminating 28 tax credits programs and improving the operation of 30 others.

Budget woes also will complicate passage of a pro-business agenda, including possible corporate tax cuts, expected to be pushed by the GOP majority.

Also on the repetition radar, expect:

• Renewed restrictions to strengthen Missouri’s ethics laws for public officials.

• Efforts to repeal or revise Proposition B, the recent, voter-approved initiative that placed added limits on licensed dog breeders.

• A reprise of a Senate initiative, “Rebooting Government,” to solicit public comment on ways to streamline government.

Will newcomers to the lawmaking process bring new ideas and insights to problems that have beguiled and bewildered past legislatures?

We eagerly await their arrival and activity.

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