The Missouri House Republican and Democratic leaders have different perspectives on the 2017 legislative session’s first half.

The Missouri House voted to approve charter school legislation on March 15, 2017 (photo courtesy of Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications}

House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) says Republicans have delivered on many promises made at the start of the session.

During his January opening day address, Richardson told the House a gift ban would be the first bill passed by the House. That happened on January 17, when the House approved the bill 149-5. Speaker Richardson addressed the Capitol Press Corps on Thursday afternoon.

“Obviously I said at the beginning of session that ethics reform would be the first bill out of the House. It was, thanks to the efforts of Representative (Justin) Alferman and others to get a lobbyist gift ban through the House,” Richardson says.

State Rep. Justin Alferman’s (R-Hermann) bill bans gifts from lobbyists. Alferman says his bill includes exemptions for flowers, plants, speaking fees and any gift that would be given to all 197 state lawmakers. A Senate committee has heard Alferman’s bill, but has not voted on it yet.

Lawmakers return from the spring break on March 27.

Richardson is pleased with the halfway point in the 2017 session. Richardson says in addition to ethics, the House also passed historic labor reform.

“We then began work on improving Missouri’s economic climate, with a range of labor reforms including making Missouri the 28th right-to-work state and sending a clear signal across the country that Missouri is open for business,” says Richardson.

Right-to-work says that a person cannot be required to join or refrain from joining a labor organization, as a condition of employment.

House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty (D-Kansas City) describes it as “anti-worker”. Beatty tells reporters that House Republicans are focusing on the interests “of a handful of wealthy donors.”

Richardson and Beatty also view charter schools differently.

The Speaker praises this week’s House passage of a charter school bill.

“But I was proud we were able to get a good bill, one that protects public schools, invests in public schools, but also embraces innovation where it works through the House,” Richardson says.

The House voted 83-74 this week to approve a proposed statewide expansion of charter schools. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R), who traveled to Jefferson City two weeks ago, describes charter schools as independent public schools.

Missouri House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty addresses the Capitol Press Corps on March 16, 2017 (Brian Hauswirth photo]

Beatty is blasting Republicans.

“Republican special-interest donors are getting exactly what they’ve paid for: right-to-work, tort reform that closes the doors to the courthouse to Missourians and the erosion of our public school system through the passage of statewide charter schools,” Beatty says.

The Missouri School Boards’ Association says there are currently 39 charter schools in Kansas City and St. Louis.

With Missouri lawmakers heading back to their districts for spring break, Beatty is calling on her House colleagues to update state driver’s license requirements to comply with federal law. The Kansas City Democrat is worried that Missourians could be barred from getting on planes starting next year.

“That’s what our constituents want,” says Beatty. “I know when I did my surveys, that’s one of the priorities of our constituents. They want to know why our Legislature has not taken care of this.”

Beatty also says it’s a top priority for the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. State Sen. Ryan Silvey (R-Kansas City) has filed legislation allowing the Department of Revenue to issue REAL ID compliant driver’s licenses and identification cards.