Education funding, taxes and tort reform will once again go before the Missouri Legislature as lawmakers gather in Jefferson City for the opening of the 2005 regular session today.
Gov.-elect Matt Blunt, finishing his term as secretary of state, will swear in members of the House and Senate. Legislators will then select leadership for the new session.
This year, though, Republicans will enjoy an advantage they have not had since 1922 – control of both chambers and the governor’s office.
“Now you can’t blame the Democrats for our problems anymore,” Sen.-elect Chuck Graham (D-Columbia) said. “They have all the control, so we will have to see how things go.”
Besides Blunt’s gain of Missouri’s top executive office, Republicans have 17 new seats in the House and seven in the Senate.
Blunt also announced several appointments to administrative posts Tuesday, including two high-profile positions at the state Insurance Department and the Workers’ Compensation Division in the labor department. The selections reflect the governor-elect’s fervor at advancing an agenda that emphasizes streamlining in areas such as medical liability lawsuits and workers compensations claims. More appointments are expected as the week progresses.
Still, Spence Jackson, a spokesman for Blunt, said he did expect some discord as the legislative session begins. But with Republicans in control of both houses, he said the governor would handle the dissension better than outgoing Democratic Gov. Bob Holden did in the last legislative session.
“When differences do come up, I expect that they will be aired and dealt with in a much more polite and cordial tone than what they have been in the past year,” Jackson said, alluding to the former governor’s well-publicized, open frustrations with the legislature.
Holden’s “State of the State” address to the Republican-controlled legislature last year was interrupted by then-Republican Speaker Pro Tem Rob Jetton (R-Marble Hill), who demanded that Holden release $246 million in education funding.
Rep.-elect Judy Baker (D-Columbia) said she hoped that Democrats and Republicans alike would be able to work together on the important issues, such as education and health care, without partisan bickering.
“A lot of that will depend on the tone set by the leadership,” Baker said. “If the tone is collaboration, then I don’t think it will be so difficult.”
Graham, who served in the House last year, said he did not expect the legislature to accomplish much before Blunt’s speech Jan. 26.
“A lot of us will be waiting to see what he says in the State of the State just because we don’t know what he is going to want to accomplish out of this session,” Graham said.
Blunt and a group of legislators got a jump on the 2005 session, meeting with education leaders Monday to discuss alternatives to the current formula used to distribute state revenue among public schools in Missouri. During his campaign, Blunt pledged to find a new way to allocate the money across the state. Almost half of the school districts in Missouri filed lawsuits against the state in 2004, saying they were not receiving a fair cut of state revenue to support their schools.
Rep. Jeff Harris (D-Columbia) said once the legislature settles in and selects new leadership, the funding issue would likely dominate a lot of the General Assembly’s time.
Meanwhile, legislators have been preparing for the session by pre-filing legislation — some as early as Dec. 1 — hoping their bills or resolutions will get a spot on the legislative calendar. Along with the three major issues outlined by Republican leaders, the bills and resolutions address a wide variety of issues:
- Rep. Cynthia Davis (R-O’Fallon) has filed legislation that would require all biology textbooks in Missouri to include a chapter on the origins of mankind – including a critical analysis of the difference between creationism and evolution and differing views in society of both.
- Rep. B.J. Marsh (R-Springfield) has filed a bill that would allow Southwest Missouri State University to drop the “Southwest” from its name.
- Rep. Craig Bland (D-Kansas City) has again filed legislation that would eliminate the state-imposed $500 limit on an individual’s gambling losses. Graham said he plans to file similar legislation eliminating the limit and diverting a higher percentage of gambling revenue to higher education.