Personal contact with lawmakers is the best way to help them understand issues, Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe told about 50 members of Missouri's chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business on Thursday afternoon.
"Making sure that our legislators know how important your issues are is the best advice I can give you," Kehoe said. "I just (must) continue to tell you how important letting elected officials understand what your challenges are.
"There's a lot of great men and women in that (Capitol) building, (but) most of them have not signed both sides of a paycheck. You give them a unique perspective — and I would encourage you to continue to do that, because it just makes a huge difference."
Brad Jones heads the NFIB-Missouri office and lobbies at the Capitol for the association.
"We had small-business folks come in from all over the state" for their annual lobbying day, Jones told the News Tribune. "Our members have pocketbook issues that remain somewhat consistent" from year-to-year, including "workers' comp, labor issues, tax issues, health insurance, civil-justice reform and liability insurance issues — there's a core group of issues that we work on all the time."
Kehoe said the 2019 session has been pretty typical — starting slowly with committee hearings on proposed laws, then having lawmakers gradually spending more time debating those proposals in the House and Senate.
Thursday was the last day to file bills in the state Senate, with more than 500 proposed new laws or law changes filed by the deadline.
Noon today is the last day for filing bills in the House, with a technical session scheduled so they can be received, and more than 1,200 measures had been filed as of Thursday afternoon.
"At the end of any typical year, about 100 bills end up getting signed by the governor," Kehoe reminded the NFIB members, with about 20 of those involving the annual budget.
"When you think about the huge opening we're at right now, with all these bills filed," he added, "the funnel becomes very, very narrow.
"As a conservative, and the way our Founding Fathers wanted it — that's probably a good thing. It's supposed to be a little bit hard — although aggravating to people, sometimes — to change the state statutes."
Jones said: "You're not supposed to pass a thousand bills a year. Sometimes, we get a couple that are really helpful to small businesses — and we're grateful for that."
A number of bills introduced this year are connected to Gov. Mike Parson's call for workforce development improvements, Kehoe said. And he applauded Parson's executive orders moving some agencies out of the Economic Development Department, so its work is more focused.
"I think, when you work to develop a workforce that our businesses actually need," Kehoe said, "that's just a win-win for everybody.
"Government can't create a business — but we can create an atmosphere where businesses can survive and grow."
Infrastructure is Parson's other major initiative, Kehoe said, noting that's an issue involving several different areas.
"There's a lot of high-speed internet pieces," he said. "Over 50 percent of Missourians do not have access to high-speed internet.
"Most legislators in that building, if they're from an urban setting, don't believe that because they have high-speed internet at their home, their Starbucks and the grocery store."
He said a recent federal grant that may help the state improve that situation.
Still, Kehoe said, "We have 14 public school districts (that) have no internet access."
The lieutenant governor also explained Parson's plan to sell bonds to pay for repairing or replacing about 250 bridges around the state, which would provide improvements that will last 50 or more years, for only a 15-year commitment from general revenue funds to repay the bonds.
"That makes potentially about a billion-dollar impact to our transportation system," Kehoe — a former member of the Highways and Transportation Commission — told the NFIB members.
"It does not fix all of our problems (and) is not the fix we have to have long-term," he said, "but it definitely is a Band-Aid to kind of get some things moving."
Eventually, he said, state leaders must find a plan that voters will accept for long-term improvements to the state's highway system.
Kehoe encouraged the small-business leaders to get involved with the "Buy Missouri" program originally launched by Parson when he was still lieutenant governor.
"We've had over 13,200 hits on our website in the last several months," Kehoe said. "We represent companies in 71 of Missouri's 114 counties."
He told the News Tribune that "Buy Missouri" works with the state Agriculture Department's "Missouri Grown" program to promote Missouri products.
"Many of the Missouri Grown members are also Buy Missouri members," he explained, "and we're working with the Department of Ag to try to weave those programs together, so we don't have duplication and confuse people."
Missouri Grown deals with foods, while Buy Missouri covers a wider range of Missouri products, Kehoe said.