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State House optimistic about 100th session

State House optimistic about 100th session

January 10th, 2019 by Joe Gamm in News

Freshman legislator Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville, near, prepares for a voice vote on his first day in the 100th General Assembly. Next to Veit is Rep. Derek Grier, R-Chesterfield.

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

The beauty of the first day of the Missouri General Assembly may come from its ceremonial nature.

And with 2019 marking the beginning of the state's 100th legislative session — sessions last for two years — lawmakers are looking on this as an historic occasion.

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As such, local representatives on Wednesday's first day of the session tried their best create as many memories as they could for themselves.

Republicans Rudy Veit, of Wardsville, and Dave Griffith, of Jefferson City, were among more than 60 newcomers who joined returning representatives in taking the oath of office for the 100th General Assembly.

Shortly before noon, they circulated with other representatives and found their seats in the House chamber. Griffith shook their hands, laughed and used his cellphone to take photos.

"We've been working for a long time for this moment. It's really an accomplishment for my entire family," Griffith said. "So, we've got a whole office full of people here helping me celebrate this accomplishment."

Griffith said his son and daughter and their families along with in-laws joined him to recognize the first day of the session.

It's not likely that anybody can truly say the importance of the moment doesn't affect them, he added.

"There were a number of times that there was water in my eyes. You start to realize what is really going on here," he said. "And the sense of humility that we have — that I have — and the confidence that the voters have in me. I'm not going to let them down."

With his white hair, Veit was easy to track as he worked through the mass of legislators, greeting his new colleagues.

"It finally hits you once you're there, the importance and the burden that you've undertaken," he said. "The responsibility is there. It really brought home that we were there representing individuals. And that we are individuals who carry out that duty and not our own personal agendas."

However, it was also a chance for family to celebrate his election into the assembly.

For Veit, six brothers and sisters visited the Capitol on Wednesday. As did seven daughters and sons, with their in-laws, and seven grandchildren. It was a troupe. There were enough people, his office couldn't hold them all.

And with thousands of people in the Capitol, many of the Veit group arrived early to find spots in the House committee rooms to watch representatives being sworn in on closed-circuit television. The House only issued four tickets per representative for family members or friends to sit in the balconies above the chamber or wait along the wings.

After the ceremonies, there was a party for the lawmakers in the Capitol Rotunda. Family members dashed home to change into clothes for the formal gala Wednesday evening in the Capitol.

"By the end of the day, I think everybody will be ready to head to their homes," Veit said.

Republicans Sara Walsh, of Ashland, and Rocky Miller, of Lake Ozark, both of whom are returning legislators, participated in the presentation of the House's new leaders.

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Walsh was among a handful of lawmakers selected to escort the newly elected Speaker Pro Tem John Wiemann, R-O'Fallon, to the dais. She also stood with newly elected House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, as he addressed media during a press conference immediately after the opening day proceedings.

Miller was among a contingent selected to escort Haahr into the chamber after he was chosen as the new speaker, and he explained he had helped during an early Haahr campaign for representative.

"Elijah Haahr was one of my early friends in the legislative body," Miller said. "I helped to bring him into the House in more ways than one. I actually knocked on doors for him 6 years ago."

When they arrived in the Capitol, they shared a room in a supporter's attic.

"So, we were the gremlins in the attic for a while," Miller said. "There are several of us who kind of stayed really tight through the six years that we've been through. I'm looking forward to serving with them, and everybody else."

Haahr got choked up during his opening-day speech as he spoke about his parents. Haahr's stay-at-home mother home-schooled her three children, while his father worked in construction.

"The greatness of our state is that anyone can achieve something in their life, no matter where they started," he told his colleagues. "We didn't get here because we were handed it. We are here because we worked for it."

However, none of the people elected to the chamber would have been successful without support from their families, like his wife, who put her legal career on hold and cared for their children while he campaigned and served in office.

"Without you," he told representatives' family members, "we wouldn't be here. We wouldn't get to sit in this arena and debate the future of our state."

During his speech, Haahr assured Missourians that no matter their zip codes, every child will have an opportunity to receive a "world class" education.

He told listeners the 100th General Assembly felt different than others he'd attended.

"I have stood at this spot more than a few times and yet, somehow today feels completely different," he said.

In a press conference after the close of the opening day ceremonies, Haahr reminded reporters the General Assembly for two consecutive years has fully funded the Foundation Formula — the basis for public education funding in Missouri, calculated using attendance figures, adequacy of education, costs of living in a community and how much local taxes can contribute to education.

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He also said the previous Legislature made great strides in tax reform and utility reform. He promised the House would spend a lot of time working on education issues.

Reporters asked Haahr whether the House would support legislation a caucus member made that would give counties the choice to opt in to a right-to-work-style law. In November, voters rejected a statewide law.

Haahr responded the caucus would look at the diversity of its ideas.

He said the caucus is not enthusiastic about taking on the issue on a statewide level, but would "have conversations about what counties want to do."

Haahr also told reporters that legislators' job — when it comes to the criminal justice system — is to find a pathway to get offenders out of prisons and into the workforce.

He also said the House is looking at ways to improve transportation in the state. And the outlook is good for passing a statewide prescription drug monitoring program. Missouri remains the only state that has no statewide program.