The wooden gavel dropped around noon today in the Missouri Senate to signal the beginning of the Legislature’s 100th session. Dave Schatz, a Republican from eastern Missouri’s Sullivan, was chosen to serve as the new Senate President Pro Tem. Schatz is the first Senate President Pro Tem in Missouri history to come from Sullivan. He replaces the term-limited Ron Richard, a Republican from Joplin.
During an opening speech to the 34 Senators and upper chamber crammed with family, friends and lobbyists, Schatz gave Missourians a glimpse of what to expect from the Republican-dominated Legislature. In the Senate, the GOP controls that chamber 24-10.
“Each and every day, we owe it to the people of Missouri to remain committed to our shared priorities, that is great schools, good jobs and safe communities. We must work to reduce the burden of government by promoting reforms to our regulatory, our tort and our tax system,” he says.
Schatz went on to say that state education and infrastructure will get the funds they deserve.
“Advanced practical skills are the ticket to the middle class and economic prosperity,” Schatz says. “We need to invest in the citizens of our state by offering training opportunities, regardless of age or experience. Any Missourian who wants to better themselves through hard work and education should have their state as an ally and not as a hinderance.”
Schatz does not think a Right-to-work proposal will make it to the governor’s desk this year. In August, Missouri voters overwhelmingly opposed a measure that would have banned required union fees as a condition of employment.
He says legislators will have to find creative measures to help fund Missouri’s declining highway system. In November, voters rejected a proposal that would have increased the fuel tax 2.5 cents per year over for years to help pay for the state’s roads and bridges.
Many Republican and some Democratic lawmakers have been outspoken about their opposition to a ballot initiative known as Clean Missouri. In November, voters passed the measure that will limit campaign donations, lobbyist gifts to lawmakers and redraw legislative districts. Bills are likely to be filed that Schatz and Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, say would clarify the measure to do what voters intended it to do.
“We have to make sure what we are doing is not trying to undo the will of the voters, but there are some dynamics there and there are some changes that may need to occur in order to make that more clear and really give the voters what they actually wanted and what they thought they were voting for,” Schatz says.
Rowden says the Clean Missouri proposal was very poorly written, mainly the open records and lobbyist gift ban restrictions. He thinks most voters saw limits on lobbyist gifts and restricting legislators from becoming lobbyists soon after leaving office.
“That’s the beauty of Clean Missouri,” Rowden says. “They put the gift ban and Sunshine stuff, and all the things around it that people can really understand and get their heads around. It was all designed to kind of be a cover for this redistricting.”
He goes on to say redrawing the districts is terrible policy. Minority Leader Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, disagrees with Rowden’s assertion.
“I don’t think it’s terrible policy. I don’t know that all of it is good policy. If there are fixes that need to be done, I’m all for that. But I don’t necessarily know that we need to throw the baby out with the bath water,” she says. “I have seen other efforts where the folks in charge up here think that they know better than what the will of the people has been mandated after we’ve gone through an election process. I think that it would behoove us to listen to them.”
Of the tort measures being proposed this year, Schatz wants one known as joinder venue passed this session. It would shut down lawsuits with out-of-state defendants from filing cases in St. Louis. It would also add restrictions on plaintiffs who attempt to join together in the same court case.
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