JEFFERSON CITY — Republicans in the Missouri Senate pledged Thursday to focus on education and jobs in the next legislative session and planned to iron out the specifics at a caucus meeting next week.
Newly nominated Senate President Pro Tempore Tom Dempseysaid the acronym "BIG" describes the priorities in the Senate: "build" infrastructure, "invest" in education and "grow" the economy.
"We're working first on a jobs agenda, getting people to work. And that's our focus," said Dempsey, R-St. Charles.
Although next week's meeting was expected to focus on the policies, some ideas were already surfacing.
Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Kirkwood, the chairman of the Senate's economic development committee, said he wants to consider broad-based tax cuts in addition to an overhaul of the state's existing tax credits.
Sen. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, who was chosen Thursday as the majority leader for the 2013 session, said he intends for the Senate to concentrate on economic development.
In past sessions, the Republican-controlled legislature has included changes to employment discrimination laws and the workers' compensation system as part of a package that it said could improve Missouri's business climate. But Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon has vetoed the bills, citing concerns about weakening the legal protections for workers.
The Republicans this week preserved their supermajority in the Senate, controlling 24 seats in the 34-member chamber. The GOP picked up several state House seats, now giving it a veto-proof majority in that chamber too.
Still, Dempsey said he plans to work with Nixon's administration and legislative Democrats.
"I believe the jobs agenda that we are going to advance in the Senate will have broad bipartisan support for most of those items," Dempsey said. "I'm not going to discard anyone's support, not Senate Democrats nor the minority party in the House. I believe that at the end of the day, just as he was supportive of certain business related items in the Senate, that we can get Gov. Nixon's support on our priorities."
Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, who as chosen Thursday as the chamber's minority party leader, said many Democrats are interested in enacting new economic development incentives.
"I suspect there'll be a big emphasis on job creation — that seems to be what we're all talking about right now," Justus said.