The Farmington Regional Chamber utilizes participation with organizations such as MEDC, Missouri Economic Development Council, and Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry to curate content about the legislative session to keep members informed of current happenings and policy developments. While Farmington Regional Chamber legislative positions may vary from these organizations, their updates are provided as an information service to members.
MEDC Legislative Update – January 9, 2015
By Brian Grace, Legislative Consultant
Missouri Legislature Convenes
Wednesday, marked the beginning of the First Regular Session of Missouri’s 98th General Assembly. The focal points of the day were swearing in new members and electing leadership in the House and the Senate. As expected, Senator Tom Dempsey was reelected as Speaker Pro Tem of the Senate, and Representative John Diehl was elected Speaker of the House. After taking their oath of office, both leaders gave opening day addresses, highlighting their priorities for the impending session.
Senator Dempsey began his address by recognizing how bipartisanship has been integral to previous legislative success, and must be continued if the legislature wants to pass policies that make Missouri a better state. He then highlighted some achievements from the previous year including: creating a more business friendly state by reducing the tax burden on individuals and small businesses, revising Missouri’s outdated criminal code, and repairing the Second injury fund. A central point of the speech was further improving Missouri’s job market and economy.
Dempsey shined a spotlight on a resurgence in manufacturing thanks to high-tech needs and supporting the farming industry as ways to create jobs growth and security in the state.. At several points in the speech he also spoke of improving education in the state. Although the legislature funded the highest K-12 budget in state history, he looked to education reform and as a way to improve educational opportunities for disadvantaged students across the state.
He concluded the speech by acknowledging issues raised by the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri; promising attention and concern for the problems, while condemning the criminal acts. In the past Dempsey has declined to make speeches on the first day of session, it is clear he wants the Senate to accomplish specific goals this session.
Across the building, newly elected Speaker John Diehl, also gave an opening address. However, Speaker Diehl kept his address noticeably more vague, choosing to focus on general principals rather than specific policy objectives. The first principal he spoke of was preventing the further expansion of government, saying Missouri should instead look to the private sector as the answer for job creation and prosperity. Diehl also highlighted a need for equal education opportunities, though again no policy suggestions were made. He took a moment during the speech to recognize first responders from the Ferguson area, vowing answers for the danger they were put in after the Grand Jury decision, but saying little else. He concluded his speech by encouraging Representatives to work hard, and enjoy their opportunity to serve the state of Missouri. Diehl has consistently declined to share a specific policy agenda, perhaps to avoid situations where previous years where speakers failed to get their agendas passed. Bothe Diehl and Dempsey have made it clear they want to work, across the aisle and across the building to create the best Missouri possible.
Ferguson Plays Important Role in First Day
As the legislature was gaveled in to session, a few hundred protestors gathered in the rotunda to stage a die-in. They were protesting the death of Michael Brown at the hands of a Ferguson police officer, and the subsequent failed indictment. Though they numbered fewer than last month’s march on the Capitol, there were still enough to get noticed. Following the die-in, protestors filtered into the upper galleries of the Senate. They held signs and remained quite for a while, but after someone hung a large sign over the edge of the gallery protestors began chanting. Subsequently, Lt. Governor Peter Kinder called the Senate in to recess until the galleries could be cleared and closed the galleries to the public for the remainder of the day.
Protestors were not the only ones trying to draw attention to Ferguson related issues on Wednesday. As an outspoken advocate for the African American community, Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal used the opening day of session to admonish Governor Nixon for his failed actions in regards to, not only Ferguson, but the entire African American community. The remonstrance, which took over 5 minutes to read cited various offences by the governor.
Chappellle-Nadal accuses the Governor of failing to fight segregation in schools and having a “disdain for children of color.” She goes on to criticize his lack of leadership in the face of rioting and says his willful neglect will cost the tax payers millions of dollars in reparations for burned businesses. The remonstrance concludes by calling for Nixon’s immediate resignation, and in the event he fails to do so, strongly encourages the House of Representatives to being impeachment proceedings. The Senator has not hidden her disapproval of Governor Nixon in recent months, and has vowed to keep fighting against the institutionalized racism she feels plagues the St. Louis area.
Issues raised by the events in Ferguson have been a focal point in the state for many months, and have prompted dozens of bills being filed for this session. Members in both the House and Senate have filed legislation relating to police body camera, police using deadly force, and protests. Senator Dempsey, the President Pro Tem, has made it known he plans to explore these issues and address them if possible. In comments to the press, House Speaker John Diehl has made it clear he wants to address the fundamental problems in the state that led to these issues, not throw money at the problem without really solving anything. Countless hours will, undoubtedly, be spent on issues of race and public safety in both chambers as they try to create a better life for all Missouri citizens.
Speaker Diehl Announces New House Committee Structure
Operations of the House and Senate change with each new leader that takes control. This year, in an effort to generate more cohesive legislation, Speaker Diehl has decided to restructure the House committee process. The largest change will be the role of the Rules committee and the emergence of “select” committees. There will be eleven select standing committees: Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Financial Institutions and Taxation, General Laws, Insurance, Judiciary, Labor and Industrial Relations, Social Services, State and Local Government, and Utilities. These eleven committees will oversee the forty-three regular standing committees and function much in the way the Rules committee did before them, while the Rules committee will be more focused on procedural questions.
The goal behind this restructuring is to make the House a more efficient legislative body. First, since there is no longer just one committee designated to screen all bills for contradictory language, the bottleneck, which used to for at the Rules committee, should be alleviated. This will allow legislation to reach the floor in a more expedited fashion and reduce drafting errors having to be corrected on the floor. Additionally, since the select committees correspond to state agencies, investigations in to these agencies will fall under clear jurisdiction. Finally, having a less fragmented House committee structure will allow for a more unified voice in conference committees and dealings with the Governor.
The restructuring of the committee process requires a change to the House Rules, meaning the Rules committee must meet to approve the change. Speaker Diehl has named Kevin Engler, Chairman of the Rules committee and appointed Reps. Cierpiot, Jones, and Johnson to serve as the Republican committee members. While Minority Leader, Jacob Hummel has appointed Reps. Gardner and Rizzo to serve as the Democrat committee members. The House Rules committee is scheduled to have their first meeting Monday, January 12th, upon evening adjournment.