Right to work, tort and ethics reform rise to top in new Mo. session

On January 4, 2017 at 12:00pm the 99th session of Missouri’s General Assembly began. There are now 117 republican members of the House of Representatives and 46 Democrats.  In the Senate, there are now 24 Republicans and 9 Democrats (there is one vacancy as Senator Mike Parson will be leaving his Senate seat to become Lieutenant Governor).

Senator Ron Richard (R-Joplin) was re-elected to his position as President Pro-Tem of the Senate and Representative Todd Richardson was also re-elected to his position as Speaker of the House.  Both men gave opening statements to their respective chambers.

Speaker Richardson used his speech to lay out his priorities for the upcoming legislative session which included:  regulatory reform, passing statewide regulations that would allow ride-sharing, school choice and tort reform.

Senate President Richard used his speech to set the tone for the 2017 legislative session.  He spoke of how the Capitol building should serve as a reminder to all members of the weight of the issues they are tackling on behalf of Missourians.

House and Senate Committees Named

On Thursday, January 5th, both chambers appointed committees.  There were some significant changes in the House Committee structure.  Rather than having standing committees that report bills to a larger select committee as has been the case for the last two years, the House will have roughly thirty committees that are divided into two groups.  One group will report bills to the Standing Committee on Administrative Rules and the other group will report bills to the Standing Committees on Legislative Rules.  The two rules committees will serve as a second hearing process to vet bills again before they are sent to the House floor. You can see the House Committee list and a list of committee members here.

The Senate also named its committee members on Thursday.  While there are a few new committees, the Senate structure remains largely the same.  As of the writing of this report, the committee assignments were not on the Senate website, but you can read the chairs below:

  • Agriculture, Food Production & Outdoor Resources- Brian Munzlinger
  • Appropriations-Dan Brown
  • Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy & the Environment-Ryan Silvey
  • Economic Development- Jay Wasson
  • Education- Gary Romine
  • Fiscal Oversight- Mike Cunningham
  • General Laws-Bob Onder
  • Government Reform-Ed Emery
  • Health and Pensions-Rob Schaaf
  • Insurance and Banking-Paul Wieland
  • Judiciary & Civil & Criminal Jurisprudence- Bob Dixon
  • Local Government-Dan Hegeman
  • Professional Registration-Jeanie Riddle
  • Progress & Development-Gina Walsh
  • Rules, Join Rules, Resolutions & Ethics- Mike Kehoe
  • Seniors Families & Children- David Sater
  • Small Business & Industry- Doug Libla
  • Transportation, Infrastructure & Public Safety- Dave Schatz
  • Veterans & Military Affairs- Wayne Wallingford
  • Ways & Means-Will Kraus

Legislative Priorities

When Republican Governor-Elect Eric Greitens is sworn in on January 9, for the first time ever, there will be a Republican Governor and a supermajority of Republicans in both chambers of the legislature.  This line-up means many Republican priorities that were vetoed by Democratic Governor, Jay Nixon, are likely to become law this session.  Leadership in both chambers and Governor-Elect Greitens have made it clear they agree on several issues that the General Assembly is expected to begin working on as soon as session gets underway.

Those priorities include:

Right to Work– This measure guarantees that no person can be compelled, as a condition of employment, to join or not to join, nor to pay dues to a labor union.  While it is widely expected this measure will be one of the first, if not the first, measure to pass both chambers, it will have considerable opposition from national and local labor unions.

Tort Reform– Reforming Missouri’s judicial system has been a priority for Missouri Republicans for many years.  There are roughly fifteen different kinds of tort reform being discussed among interest groups, but Senate President Pro-Tem Ron Richard (R-Joplin) signaled his tort reform priorities when he filed two tort reform bills dealing with venue. (See them here and here)

Ethics Reform– When it comes to ethics reform, there appears to be consensus among legislative leaders and Gov. Greitens on two proposals: a complete ban on lobbyist gifts and placing an initiative petition on the ballot that would impose term limits on all statewide office holders.  A third proposal by Governor-Elect Greitens that is likely to meet some resistance in the legislature, includes lengthening the time elected officials must wait before becoming registered lobbyists.

Greitens’ Team Takes Shape

With his inauguration just days away, Governor-Elect Greitens’ team has begun to take shape with some familiar and some new names:

Cabinet positions:

Director Department of Corrections, Anne Precythe, North Carolina’s current Director of Community Corrections in the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.

Director Department of Agriculture, Chris Chinn , a fifth generation Missouri farmer.

Director Department of Public Safety, Drew Juden, Sikeston, MO Chief of Police.

Deputy Director of Public Safety, Greg Favre, Saint Louis Fire Department Captain.

Governor’s staff:

Senior Advisor, Austin Chambers, Greitens’ campaign manager and senior advisor to the Governor’s transition team.

Chief of Staff, Mike Roche, former Anheuser Busch executive and attorney at Armstrong Teasdale.

Deputy Chief of Staff, Caleb Jones, Republic State Representative from Boone County, MO.

General Counsel, Lucinda Luektemeyer, an attorney with Graves Garrett who has a lot of experience working with governments.

Legislative Director, Jennae Neustadt, former Chief of Staff to Senator Bob Onder (R-Lake Saint Louis) and Senator John Lamping (R-Saint Louis County)

Policy Director, Will Scharf, policy director of Catherine Hanaway’s gubernatorial campaign and Eric Greitens’ gubernatorial campaign.

In late December, Chambers did a press call in which he said the Governor-Elect is expected to roll out additional hires in the coming days.  One of those to be named shortly is that of Chief Operating Officer, a new position within the Governor’s office.  During his campaign, Greitens discussed that his COO would be someone who comes out of the highest levels of the corporate world and whose primary responsibility would be finding waste in government, cleaning up state departments and making state operations run more efficiently for Missourians.

Pre-filed Bills to Watch

Tort Reform- As stated above, tort reform is a priority for the Governor-Elect as well as House and Senate Leadership.  There have been several tort reform bills pre-filed including: two bills by Senator Pro-Tem Ron Richard that address venue issues, and others that include collateral source and expert witness legislation that was passed by the legislature and vetoed by Governor Nixon in the past.

Social Conservative Issues- Two bills (one in the House and one in the Senate) have been filed that would require all restrooms, that are not single occupancy, to be gender specific. Senator Ed Emery (R-Barton County) filed the bill in the Senate and Representative Jeff Pogue (R-Salem), in the House.

Tax Credits – There are, once again, several bills filed dealing with Missouri’s tax credit programs. The most discussed legislation is Senator Ron Richard’s (R-Joplin) that would cut the cap on Missouri’s Historic Tax Credits from $140 million to $120 million and use the additional funds to pay for upgrades to the capitol building.

Utility Regulation- There have been many bills filed, especially by Senator Ed Emery (R-Barton County), dealing with the regulation of utility companies.  Senator Emery’s bills primarily deal with what the utility companies refer to as “regulatory lag” and ratemaking.  Utility issues have been especially contentious in the last several sessions, and while many remain hopeful this year could be the year that rate-payers and the utility companies come together to reach an agreement, it is likely to still be a hotly debated issue.