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Mid-Missouri lawmakers still hoping for some legislative successes

May 14, 2019 at 4:56 a.m. | Updated May 14, 2019 at 2:50 p.m.

For the fifth day, members of the Missouri Senate's "Conservative Caucus" on Monday blocked debate on bills by holding up approval of the previous day's journal - one of the first steps of business required in the Senate each day, before the rest of the day's work can be done.

However, several Mid-Missouri lawmakers told the News Tribune that they still hope some of their priority bills will be passed by both chambers - with the same language - by Friday's 6 p.m. deadline to end this year's regular legislative session.

While last week's filibusters lasted about two hours each day, Monday's was still going strong after five hours. The delaying tactics included Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, reading some of former President Ronald Reagan's speeches, and Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, reading from books about how people believe things, including faith.

However, they and Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, spent a lot of time criticizing the leadership's handling of the GM assistance bills.

The six-member Senate Conservative Caucus opposes passage of several bills, including:

Making Missouri the last state in the nation to approve a statewide prescription drug monitoring program, or PDMP.

Passing Gov. Mike Parson's "fast track" proposal that would help adults go back to school, to gain technology skills needed in many of today's businesses and industries.

Expanding tax credits.

Proposed tax credits for General Motors, to help it expand work at its Wentzville factory in St. Charles County, was part of the target during Monday's filibuster.

"Folks who aren't willing to compromise are going to be disappointed this week," Eigel said.

State Economic Development Director Rob Dixon said in a series of "tweets" on Twitter this weekend, "(GM) told us what will make this deal work. That's what we're delivering in a way that saves money for MO and benefits the whole state - not just GM."

However, Eigel said he and other members of the St. Charles County legislative delegation heard a different message from the giant automaker, and it's time for Missouri to stop favoring specific companies.

"My call today is to end corporate welfare," he said. "I think the GM (assistance) can be solved simply (and) be put under an existing program."

With Friday's deadline looming, other lawmakers are beginning to worry.

Freshman Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville, told the News Tribune: "I think we need to begin the year (with) some resolutions that we're going to move a little quicker on bills that can be done earlier.

"There are a lot of things, just from a house-cleaning standpoint and a state standpoint, that we should, really, get done before the end of session."

He still hopes the port authority bill - which includes state land near the Ike Skelton Training Center that would be given to the Jefferson City Port Authority - will be sent to Parson.

"That's all state transfers of land" in that bill, Veit said, "but it needs to come back" to the House, because the Senate removed House language that would require the state to sell a state park on the Eleven Points River in southern Missouri.

"If we could get it here," Veit said, "I'm fairly certain it will be approved. There are a lot of bills that (still) need to be addressed (and) could have been resolved earlier."

Reps. Dave Griffith, R-Jefferson City, and Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, and Sens. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, and Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, also support the port authority transfer plan.

Griffith told a reporter his biggest priority is a bill creating Veterans Treatment courts throughout the state.

"(It) is going to be third-read over in the Senate, I hope, and then it will come back here and be truly agreed to," Griffith said.

Fitzwater was pleased lawmakers approved the budget last week, with its 3 percent across-the-board pay raise for all state employees, and extra incentives in the Corrections Department.

"I think there will be an infrastructure plan done here" before the week ends, he said. "I think that bonding plan (in the budget) will be a significant path forward on rebuilding our bridges."

Riddle hopes the Legislature will pass her bill that has included other lawmakers' proposals "that will help our young people, our kids that are in foster care and those that have been abused and neglected."

She also thinks a bill that will "put together a training commission" for coroners in the state "so that it's consistent statewide" could still be sent to Parson.

And Riddle still hopes lawmakers will pass "the auditor's bill" that would require the State Auditor to tell local officials "what they need to do to get compliant," rather than just issue an audit that's critical of the local officials.

Bernskoetter also hopes lawmakers will pass his resolution "to bring the heroes home," involving the remains of those killed or missing in action in overseas wars.

What's needed now is floor time to debate and vote on those measures, he said.

Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, expects lawmakers will still "have the pro-life conversation, and a lot of us are very intent on seeing that come to pass."

He noted the last week of the legislative session "is about big issues - and we've got a lot of them on the table."


Supporting the GM package

The six Mid-Missouri lawmakers interviewed by the News Tribune all support the plan to assist General Motors - with Parson's "fast track" plan included. However, Veit was frustrated the House was debating another GM assistance bill Monday, without the "fast track" language, after approving a different bill last week.

Rowden said the GM package includes provisions "that could have a really robust impact on Mid-Missouri."

Under a bill being debated in the House while Griffith was talking to a reporter, he noted GM would "have to maintain 90 percent of the employees there (so) they won't end up in the same situation that a lot of other manufacturers are doing, where they just leave the state."

He added: "Any time you have somebody who brings a billion dollars into the state, and we invest (only) $50 million - I think that's a good investment.

"I think we're going to have to have some assurances along the way as to what they're going to do, and what we can expect from them."

Fitzwater said "I think that could be a huge deal for our state. That workforce bill is really important to me."

"I want the whole package," Riddle said.

"When we look at other states that use these tools, they have been highly successful - and it also has generated revenue with additional businesses that are involved in this."

She noted the GM assistance package includes "lots of clawbacks in there, if they don't do what they said what they were going to do. In my district, everybody says, 'We want jobs. We want everybody to go to work and we want people to stay at work and maintain the jobs they have.'"

Bernskoetter said, "I think the governor needs to get a win on this, and keep all those jobs and keep GM here in Missouri.

"It's definitely not a St. Charles-only bill - there are suppliers that come from all over the state. And other people could take advantage of this 'fast track' legislation - it's not just for GM."


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