JEFFERSON CITY — The buzzword for the upcoming state legislative session being echoed by several legislators is "bipartisanship."
Missouri House leadership from both parties emphasized cooperation, following the election of Democrats into nearly every statewide office and the continuing Republican majority in the House and Senate. The 2009 legislative session opens Wednesday at noon, with the swearing in of new members and election of chamber officers.
This session's biggest goal is ensuring that the parties work together, said House Democratic floor leader Paul LeVota.
"The legislative process is a dialog with the people of Missouri," LeVota said. "During the election, they sent us a pretty clear message. A lot of people think it's vague. I think it's clear. The message is 'Work together. Cooperation is key.' So that's going to be our (House Democrats') ongoing saying."
Incoming House Speaker Ron Richard agreed that the voters' message was a call for bipartisanship.
"The voters sent a message that they want a different look in executive and legislative, but they also want people to come together and work together," said Richard, R-Joplin. "And we'll do that."
LeVota said he hopes to achieve bipartisan solutions, particularly in the economic and job sectors. But he anticipates the parties to clash over health care.
"There's going to be a lot of pressure to say that since we have a challenging budget situation, that we shouldn't do anything for health care," said LeVota, who is from Jackson County. "My message is, since we do have a challenging budget situation, we have to do something with health care.
"We have to be aggressive about this, because it not only helps people's health, it's going to help Missouri's economy deal with the problem. And there's going to be some contention about that. To me, it's clear that we need to do that, but I don't think it's clear for the majority party."
Health care is a component of the "family recovery plan" Richard proposed in December. The plan, which emphasizes job creation, was promoted as a package that would improve the economic well-being of Missourians.
Both House leaders said they anticipate much of this year's legislation to address the problems emerging from a floundering economy.
"If there is a key piece of legislation that isn't drafted yet, I'll be looking for economic development and job issues as primary," Richard said.
Keeping in line with the call for bipartisanship, LeVota cited a bill which both Richard and Democratic Gov.-elect Jay Nixon support.
"From ideas on how to grow the economy, ideas on how to improve the quality of jobs, incentives for small business, worker retraining — those are ideas that we've pushed in the past," LeVota said. "And now we see that the speaker-designate is supporting a bill that has the same things that the governor-elect is supporting."
Legislative staff say outgoing Gov. Matt Blunt has not requested an opportunity to address lawmakers before Monday, when Nixon will be sworn in as governor. Nixon is expected to address lawmakers in late January to present his legislative and budget plans.