Missouri’s House Speaker says the 2019 session’s first half has been successful. Lawmakers have left Jefferson City for their spring break, and won’t return to the Statehouse until Monday.

Missouri House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith (right) and House Speaker Elijah Haahr brief Capitol reporters on March 6, 2019 in Jefferson City (file photo courtesy of Tim Bommel at House Communications)

House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, briefed the Capitol Press Corps on Thursday. He addressed numerous topics, including job growth, workforce development, transportation and criminal justice reform.

Haahr says the House has given final approval to 70 bills, adding that economic growth remains a top priority for House Republicans.

“We’ve passed four separate workforce development proposals,” Haahr says. “Obviously those were a priority for our members as well as for the executive branch.”

The House has voted 101-49 to approve one of Governor Mike Parson’s (R) top priorities, called the “Fast Track” program. The legislation, which is sponsored by State Rep. Kathy Swan, R-Cape Girardeau, is aimed at adults who are working toward a certification, undergraduate degree or a credential for a high-demand occupation.

The “Fast Track” bill is now in the Senate.

Meantime, Missouri House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith’s (R-Carthage) proposal to use $100 million in general revenue for the state road fund has the support of Speaker Haahr.

“We’ve had some fruitful discussions with both Senate leadership and the governor’s office on reaching an agreement, and I think those discussions will continue and I’m hopeful,” says Haahr.

The governor’s office has said they’re confident that a final transportation agreement with lawmakers is possible, before the end of session in May. Chairman Smith says the state Department of Transportation (MoDOT) has paid more than $700 million in debt payments in the past two years.

Speaker Haahr also supports the concept of a proposed constitutional amendment that would reduce the House’s size in Jefferson City. Haahr says the proposal from State Rep. Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, is a “great idea as far as conceptually.”

“This is something that we’ve discussed for a long time. The House body (163 members) is the fourth-largest in the country. I think it’s something we need to at least consider going forward to how we streamline some of our procedures, and I think his is a good starting point for that discussion,” Haahr says, in response to a question from Missourinet.

Missouri currently has 197 lawmakers, although there are two current House vacancies. Fitzwater’s proposed constitutional amendment would decrease the House’s size from 163 to 136.

If lawmakers approve the plan, it would be placed on the November 2020 statewide ballot.

While Democrats are outnumbered in the Missouri House by a 114-47 margin, the House Minority Leader says their efforts have led the Department of Revenue (DOR) to “abandon its false cover story of a withholding error.”

Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, also briefed Capitol reporters on Thursday. Leader Quade says Democrats pre-filed a tax bill in December, to force the conversation.

“Our efforts to bring awareness to the surprise tax bills countless Missourians are being hit with under the Trump tax law changes count as a major accomplishment for the Democrats this session,” says Quade.

The withholding issue has been the topic of four hearings conducted by the bipartisan Missouri House Special Committee on Government Oversight, and DOR Director Joel Walters is resigning on Friday.

Quade is calling on her House colleagues to approve legislation from State Rep. Dean Dohrman, R-La Monte, which would prevent penalties for delayed payments on outstanding income tax liabilities for the 2018 tax year.

Criminal justice reform has also been a key issue for Quade and House Democrats. Haahr notes the House has already approved six separate criminal justice reform bills. They have strong bipartisan support in the House.

The final day of the 2019 legislative session is Friday May 17.