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Missouri Legislature back in session

Missouri Legislature back in session

January 5th, 2017 by Bob Watson and Brittany Hilderbrand in News

Members of the Missouri House of Representatives stand Wednesday for the Pledge of Allegience during ceremonies as the 99th General Assembly gets underway. The Missouri Highway Patrol provided the day's color guard for House opening day activities.

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

House Speaker Todd Richardson on Wednesday highlighted right-to-work legislation, lobbyist gift bans and increasing access to charter schools' education as some of the Missouri Legislature's priorities in 2017.

And Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard urged his colleagues to set a "tone" of respect this year, even when they disagree on issues.

However, outgoing Secretary of State Jason Kander, a Democrat — after gaveling the House into session — warned Republican lawmakers not to go too far with voter photo identification requirements.

Missouri voters last November approved a constitutional amendment allowing the Legislature to require a photo ID for in-person voting at polling places. And enabling legislation passed last year puts those requirements into place starting in June.

"I feel a responsibility to tell you that even though you have the power to take away the right to vote from the citizens of Missouri," Kander said, "you shouldn't."

Northwest Missouri Rep. Allen Andrews, R-Grant City, called Kander's speech a "slap in the face" to the democratic process.

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During Todd Richardson's final term as House speaker, he pledged the lobbyist gift ban will be the first bill out of the House and right-to-work legislation will be filed in the Economic Development Committee as soon as today.

"The voters have spoken, our majorities campaigned on it and the governor's race was fought over it," Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff said. "Missouri should and will soon be a right-to-work state.

"If employees want to join (a labor union), they should be able to join, but no one should be forced to join an organization against their will."

Richardson also pointed out the state must be mindful of areas where it is falling short, and be willing to embrace innovation.

He identified access to high-performing charter schools and creating an environment that makes Missouri an attractive place to do business as two prime examples of the changes that must occur in order to "remove the unnecessary government regulations that stifle innovation and job creation."

In a news release, House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, said Democrats will be working to protect public education, worker rights and the integrity of Missouri's judicial system during the 2017 session, along with rooting out corruption in state government.

"Change may be coming, but not all change is positive," she said.

For the first time in Missouri's history, the Republican Party holds supermajorities in both the House and Senate, while also controlling the governor's office.

"With this greater power comes even greater responsibility," Richardson said, "a responsibility to make the legislative process more deliberative."

State Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, told the News Tribune: "Speaker Richardson laid out a bold agenda. I look forward to working with him, my legislative colleagues and Gov. Greitens to achieve it."

In his six-minute address to the Senate, Richard, R-Joplin, said he would announce the chamber's agenda at another time, then reminded colleagues: "What we do here matters, and how we do it matters."

Pointing to the state's history, he cited several examples of Missourians who took bold steps, even against others' advice.

"Without a knowledge of history, there can be no patriotism," Richard said. "Without a reverence for our pioneer forbears, there can be no respect for the government they sacrificed to build."

He added, "I'm hoping that we're remembered for respecting the institution of the Senate and each other; for restoring civility to the chamber; and that we were able to be passionate about our convictions without being combative with each other."

Mid-Missouri's four senators liked what they heard.

Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, told the News Tribune: "It is all about what we come out of the session with and how we act while we're here."

He noted Gov.-elect Eric Greitens sat on the dais and watched the entire Senate opening day ceremonies, including Richard's speech.

"In the six years I've been here, I'm not sure I've seen a governor or a governor-elect, in the chamber," Kehoe said. "What I read into that is, I think he wants to be involved in the process in a bipartisan way."

Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, added: "(Richard) is a historian. He loves Missouri and loves this building, and wants to preserve it for decades and generations to come."

New Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said: "I think we'll be defined less this year by what we do than by how we do it.

"I think the civility — how we respect each other and how we go about the process, I think, are pretty important."

Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, said: "I think he's absolutely right — we do not know patriotism if we don't know history. We've got plenty of time to work out our priorities."

The Associated Press contributed some information used in this story.