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story.lead_photo.caption Thomas Jefferson's statue graces the south side of the Missouri Capitol. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

Missouri lawmakers return Wednesday for the 2018 General Assembly.

"While there is a level of uncertainty going into every session, one thing that will not change are the core beliefs of this Legislature," state Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said last week, "that government exists to help Missourians not to control them with excessive regulations or taxes."

Kehoe, who is the Senate's floor leader and controls the flow of the chamber's debates, said other core beliefs are "that Missourians spend their own money far better than the state or federal government, that government should be as effective and efficient as possible, and that small businesses are the heart of Missouri's economy."

State Rep. David Wood, R-Versailles — whose district includes southern Moniteau County, Morgan County and a part of Miller County — said: "It was very difficult to move legislation through to the governor last session, and I haven't seen anything that would improve the situation.

"I think that the budget will be tighter than last year, and every piece of legislation will be judged by its cost."

Kehoe noted: "The one thing the Constitution requires of the Legislature is to pass a balanced budget. We will certainly do so in a manner consistent with the core principles listed above."

The Missouri Constitution requires the Legislature to "meet on the first Wednesday after the first Monday in January," so lawmakers never can begin a session earlier than Jan. 3.

The 2018 session also will last the longest of any regular legislative session, because the Constitution requires lawmakers to stop working on bills at "6 p.m. on the first Friday following the second Monday in May" and May 1 is a Tuesday, so the last day of the session will be May 18.

State Rep. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, pointed to last year's passage of a bill making Missouri a right-to-work state where employees aren't required to pay fees to unions that represent them in issues with their employers, telling the News Tribune "there are still additional labor reform bills we need to take a look at that will protect Missouri taxpayer dollars and protect Missouri workers' paychecks."

The right-to-work law was blocked from going into effect last August because a union-backed petition campaign for a statewide referendum on the new law next November was successful, and the law can't go into effect unless voters also approve it.

Bernskoetter also said: If our goal is to truly make Missouri a "shovel-ready" state, then we have to find a solution to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.

"Many different ideas have been suggested, and I am hopeful this year we will find something to put before Missouri voters."

And he expects the Legislature will "continue to provide record funding for our schools, helping create the educated workforce businesses look for when moving to a new state."

Freshman Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland — who last August won a special election to represent the district that includes northwestern Cole County, northern Moniteau County and southern Boone County — agreed the budget, education and jobs will be the highlights of her first full session.

Her lawmaking goal in 2018 is "ensuring that our law enforcement officers and first responders have the resources they need to serve and protect our communities."

Wood's prefiled bills include allowing "teachers to move across the salary schedule with undergraduate courses in their subject area," and a boating measures dealing "with 'no wake' coves and the penalties for boat wakes and life jacket violations."

Some observers have suggested the Legislature will accomplish little in 2018, and they point to the controversy surrounding Gov. Eric Greitens' multiple appointments to the State Board of Education so Commissioner Margie Vandeven could be removed from her job.

Wood, a former teacher, said: "I think that there has always been a line in the sand that separates the 'educators' and 'reformers.'

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"The actions with the State Board has turned the line into a wall."

State Board members' appointments must be confirmed by the state Senate, but they can take their seats and make official votes even before they are confirmed. Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, has promised to filibuster the nominations of the five appointees who voted for Vandeven's ouster.

Kehoe said he's "sure that the State Board of Education will be the source of discussion this session — probably a good deal of discussion — but discussion and even disagreement are not synonymous with an inability to work together.

"Based upon my conversations with Gov. Greitens, I have great confidence in his desire to work closely with the Legislature this session to continue to grow Missouri's economy and keep making it a better place to live and work."

Walsh and Bernskoetter both said Missourians should see the Legislature as the place where, as Walsh explained, lawmakers " came together to serve Missourians and fulfilled their promises by working to accomplish legislative and regulatory changes to reduce the burden of government on the people and to ensure our government is efficient, effective and accountable."

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