The Missouri Legislature’s 2024 regular session has begun in Jefferson City. Members of the newly formed Missouri Freedom Caucus, made up of far-right conservative Republicans, wasted no time picking up where they left off last year.

The group is a local Missouri chapter of the congressional House Freedom Caucus, which has been known to take hard stances toward social conservatism and small government. It’s made up of frustrated and fed-up far right leaning lawmakers from what some see as a lack of action last year.

During his opening day speech, President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, tried to strike a unifying tone.

“Will we focus on principle progress or political pandemonium? Will we care more about Missouri’s future or our own futures? What I’m about to say is not breaking news, political experts and onlookers don’t think this session is going to amount to much,” said Rowden. “My simple message is let’s prove them wrong.”

But like a scratch in a vinyl record, that unifying tone abruptly ended. The Freedom Caucus questioned why priorities like initiative petition changes and property tax relief did not pass last year. Caucus chair Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, took to the Senate floor to put his fellow Republicans to task for blaming him for lack of bills passing last year.

“We’ve been pushed to a point to where we wanted peace,” Brattin said. “We’ve been shown to say peace is no option. Now, I say that in terms of, I’m not going to be spiteful towards an individual, I’m not going to be hate-filled. But, in terms of advancing policy, this will be a ‘show no prisoner’ type of approach.”

Rep. Nick Schroer, R-St. Charles, is also a member. He said the time for statesmanship is over.

“I don’t care if it’s Republicans screwing the pooch or Democrats doing it,” Schroer said. “We need to take this state in the right direction. We need to stop overspending. We need to stop overtaxing. We need to put the people back in power and, yes, if it takes reading a substitute bill that’s dropped on our desks five minutes before we start talking about it, to walk through that bill to see what’s in it, you can count on me to do that this year.”

The caucus called out their fellow Republican members for being “Republicans in Name Only.” Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, said his caucus members tried extending olive branches.

“In every case, those olive branches were rejected,” Eigel said. “Honestly, it was a mistake for some of us to wait till the closing days of session to start pushing back as hard as we did in the last days when suddenly things like expanding gambling were as important as eliminating personal property tax.”

On the other hand, the Senators have been blamed for holding up business in recent sessions and they are expected to again this year.

Top priorities this year for the Republican-controlled legislature include restricting foreign ownership of Missouri land, making it tougher to pass voter-approved ballot measures, ways to reduce property taxes, as well as boosting access to childcare.

The one constitutional duty that state lawmakers has is to pass a balanced budget.

House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, said this will be a different year for the state budget.

“Gone are the federal dollars that have been thrown at the states that have helped grow inflation,” said Plocher. “We must again budget wisely and protect the surplus we’ve so hard worked to build up. The consensus revenues are almost flat. We need to be responsible with the surplus and ensure that Missouri is prepared for the future rainy day that we know always comes.”

Another priority this year for many members of the Missouri House and Senate is passing a bill to help pay for the state’s Medicaid costs. The federal reimbursement allowance bill, also known as the FRA, taxes Missouri hospitals to help with those expenses. Far-right Conservatives are expected to pick up where they left off last year, by blocking bills, possibly jeopardizing the fate of proposals such as the FRA.

The Missouri House’s Republican and Democratic leaders agree that the legislature must pass the FRA. House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said she is concerned about the fate of the bill.

“So if we do not pass the FRA, we will be out so much money and where’s that money going to come from – public education, general revenue. And so, when we have the conversation about the FRA, it’s not just about making our Medicaid program solvent – it’s about making sure that we are funding all of the things necessary,” said Quade.

Plocher, who is running for Lt. Governor, said lawmakers must pass the bill.

“How vital is three-and-a-half to $4 billion on a $50 billion budget if we don’t get it passed? I don’t think our budget can absorb a three and a half to $4 billion hit,” he said. “The FRA has been continually passed in Missouri since 1992 by both parties.”

Two years ago, the Missouri Legislature did not pass the bill during the regular session – forcing Gov. Mike Parson to call lawmakers back for a special session.

Quade, who is running for governor, said she is apprehensive to what Republicans will accomplish this year. But Quade said she is hopeful that they can work together.

“Our expectations are pretty low for a wildly successful year,” said Quade. “As you all know, there are a lot of elections coming up and a lot of Republican primaries in our future. There are a lot of things that have happened over the past few months pitting our Senate and House chambers against each other more so than usual.”

She outlined several Democratic priorities, including ways to boost teacher pay, restricting foreign ownership of farmland, as well as reducing or eliminating taxes on groceries, feminine hygiene products, and diapers.

Plocher, on the other hand, said he’s optimistic about the session.

“Doom and gloom has no business in this building,” said Plocher. “I mean, if you live by that, you wouldn’t want to serve the public, right. I mean, we come down here – it’s hard to pass a bill and it should be. But we have to do the job. I signed up for this. I welcome the challenge. We’re going to pass good stuff. I hope the Senate works with us.”

Both leaders also expressed interest in legislative efforts to reduce crime.

Plocher said he is confident that he can still lead the lower chamber in this new session of the legislature. His comment follows a committee in his chamber reportedly investigating him for months.

“That’s all doom and gloom and just drama,” said Plocher. “I want to get past the drama. I believe the drama will be behind us shortly. Now what the Senate does, that’s their ballgame altogether.”

The nature of the investigation is unknown and so is the timeline for the House Ethics Committee to wrap up its work.

By Anthony Morabith and Alisa Nelson

Copyright 2024, Missourinet.