Missouri House Democrats have ideas they'd like to see accomplished during the 2020 legislative session — addressing urban gun violence, extending health coverage to low-income Missourians and taxing online retailers.
After Wednesday, the first day of the 2020 session of the General Assembly, Republican priorities seem a little less clear.
While some Republicans have priorities, such as tackling video gaming or sports wagering, the party caucus is looking through about 800 bills that have been pre-filed and deciding on around 100 to assign immediately to committees for consideration, said House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield.
"My staff and I sat down the last couple of days and began putting together a list of the initial rounds of bills," Haahr said. "We'll probably get about 100 of those referred out this week and have committee work next week."
The anticipation is that some of the bills will be heard on the floor by the third week of the session, he said.
"We start from scratch every year," state Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, said Wednesday.
Bernskoetter also anticipates Senate committee hearings will begin next week.
Gov. Mike Parson's proposed budget might define the path Republicans in the House take. At the very least, it might help resolve a dispute over how much revenue each of the branches of government expects to have during 2020.
"We continue to have discussions with the Senate and the governor's office," Haahr said. "Obviously, we budgeted in years past based on revenue estimates. We'll wait on the governor's recommendations next week. But, in the meantime, we'll continue to discuss those (estimates)."
Typically, the governor's office, the House, the Senate and a University of Missouri economist get together and come to a number — the Consensus Revenue Estimate, said state Rep. David Wood, R-Versailles. Then the governor builds his budget based on that value, said Wood, who is the vice chairman of the House Budget Committee and chairman of the House Subcommittee on Appropriations — Health, Mental Health and Social Services.
"We can adjust up or down," Wood said. "Not having that number really doesn't matter because of the governor's recommendation — we adjust in the House, and the Senate makes their changes. And it's all really a fluid process. And it takes months and lots of arguing and changes."
The Democratic caucus for the Missouri House of Representatives laid out its priorities during a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
Addressing urban gun violence and extending health coverage to low-income Missourians are priorities for Democrats, said state Rep. Crystal Quade, of Springfield, the House minority floor leader.
Another focus is getting something done with the so-called "Wayfair Tax." Missouri is one of two states (the other is Florida) that doesn't charge sales tax on items purchased online from out-of-state businesses. For years, the lack of a tax has been costing the state revenue, Democrats said.
Democrats have offered up legislation to set a tax, but Republicans want to attach it to an equal cut in taxes elsewhere.
Quade said municipalities need the additional funding.
The governor's budget is expected to be based on about 1.9 percent growth in revenue, Wood said.
"The House isn't quite that optimistic. The Senate isn't quite that optimistic," he said. "It'll be fine, but there's not going to be a lot of excess revenue because we have so many things like infrastructure (to consider). We have education changes. There are requests for additional money."
On top of that is the possibility the Medicaid expansion initiative passes.
The Legislature has to create a budget that will consider expansion, Wood said.
"You have to be prepared, whether it (passes) or not," he said. "There's just a lot of uncertainty right now."
For House veterans, like Wood and state Rep. Rocky Miller, R-Lake Ozark, there's not a lot of added excitement for the first day of the session. Both said they'd be helping other lawmakers get their proposals through the chamber.
Miller said a resolution he introduced Friday that would add the Osage River to the waterways where riverboat gambling is permitted is not intended to expand gambling in the state.
If one of the 13 casinos in Missouri gives up its license, the legislation would allow the Missouri Gaming Commission to decide whether to consider allowing a casino on the Osage River.
As they began their second years, state Rep. Dave Griffith, R-Jefferson City, and state Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville, have hit the ground running, and each has filed a number of bills.
You would think a lot of work could be done in five months, but the work takes a long time, Griffith said.
The caucus must look at all the bills then decide which can make it through the House and Senate.
"I thought I knew what I was doing before I got here," Griffith said. "I learned I didn't know as much as I thought, but I'm trying to absorb it as fast as I can."
Veit will concentrate this year on legislation that can "clean up" discrepancies in state laws.
For instance, he filed the venue bill, which would help pay counties that are left holding the cost for trials after a change of venue.
House Bill 1332 would require offenders who must wear ankle bracelet monitors to recharge the monitors. Existing law has no penalty for not recharging the devices (which disables it).
"They can let it go dead, and do things they shouldn't do," Veit said.
Another bill would allow school districts to divide into precincts.
"Right now you have seven precincts, and they are all 'at large,'" Veit said. "In larger school districts, you may not be getting proper representation. School board members may all be coming from one area."
If passed, the law wouldn't mandate that they do it, but would give school districts the opportunity to divide into seven precincts.
Veit also intends to file a bill that would allow two small school districts to share a single superintendent.
In the Senate, 10 more bills were introduced on the chamber's floor Wednesday, adding to the more than 300 that had already been filed.
New bills brought by senators Wednesday relate to workforce development in K-12 education, construction costs of new electric power generation facilities, extended hours of liquor sales, short-term major medical insurance, and a proposed "Workforce Diploma Program" that would assist high school students in developing attractive career skills, among other topics.
Senate leaders will address members of the media regarding the start of the 2020 legislative session today.
While the Senate convened Wednesday, Bernskoetter introduced a familiar face in a new role — new Senate doorkeeper Jim Bauer.
Bauer retired Dec. 31 from being the Senate's maintenance supervisor after a 21-year career in maintenance.