JEFFERSON CITY — Area representatives are beginning the 2020 legislative session by addressing issues they’re passionate about and those that will be receiving the most heated debate, ranging from guns to taxes.
Republicans have a supermajority in the House, with 114 members compared to Democrats’ 48. This means policies proposed by Democrats need significant Republican support in order to pass, while Republicans can pass bills without any Democratic support.
Fuel tax increase
Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, said criminal justice reform, professional licensing and public safety funding are areas where the parties could work together on legislation.
Kendrick introduced House Bill 1433, which would increase the state fuel tax from 17 cents per gallon to 19. He said the two-cent increase would raise $60 million a year and go toward paying off a $450 million bond to fund Missouri Department of Transportation road infrastructure repairs. After 10 years, the bond would be paid and the tax would decrease by 1 cent to stand at 18 cents per gallon.
Even if the $450 million bond were approved, the funding would still fall short of the $825 million MoDOT estimates it needs for high priority transportation maintenance, improvements and investments.
“We have to come up with solutions,” Kendrick said. “My bill is not a long-term solution. It’s more of an intermediate, short-term solution that gets us headed in the right direction.”
Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch, R-Hallsville, said she isn’t opposed to the 2 cent tax increase proposed by Kendrick. However, House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, said in a press conference Wednesday that House Republicans were not inclined to support fuel tax increases.
Gun violence solutions
After a violent year in both Columbia and the state of Missouri, Boone County-area House Republicans oppose gun control measures.
The representatives agreed on increasing support for law enforcement as a way to prevent gun violence.
“We need to give our law enforcement communities the tools that they need to enforce the laws,” Toalson Reisch said.
Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, has filed legislation in the Senate that would increase funding for police departments in the state.
Kendrick also supports increases in public safety funding.
“I think that there’s gonna be a robust conversation around violence and gun violence. We’re gonna disagree on how we get to certain solutions, but I think there is plenty of room for bipartisan support and cooperation,” Kendrick said.
Rep. Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport, a fierce Second Amendment advocate, spoke on the potential for restrictions on gun ownership.
“I would support anything that would not infringe on law-abiding Missourians, whether it’s a gun owner or anything else,” Basye said.
Laws restricting gun use wouldn’t stop someone who is willing to commit a crime, Basye said. “If somebody’s going to break the law, they’re going to break the law,” said Basye.
Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland, agreed.
“That’s not a solution, you know, taking away guns from good guys,” Walsh said.
Basye did say he is supporting a measure that would raise the penalty for scratching the serial number off a firearm.
Rep. Martha Stevens, D-Columbia, said her priorities related to gun control are to keep firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers and to allow local governments to impose gun restrictions.
Video gaming machines
As unregulated gaming machines spread across the state, lawmakers of both parties have expressed a desire to control them, although it’s not yet clear what those regulations may look like.
“These machines aren’t regulated. They’re not licensed. They’re illegal,” Toalson Reisch said. “If we’re going to have them in the state, they need to come under the umbrella and be regulated and licensed.”
Toalson Reisch also stated that she is opposed to gambling in general, due to her Christian faith and the harm caused by gambling addiction.
Kendrick said he generally supports the expansion of sports gambling, but favors restrictions on video gaming machines.
“We need to do more as a General Assembly to address the lack of regulation, to make sure that Missourians know what they’re playing and make sure that the systems are fair.”
He also said the gaming terminals could feed into gambling addictions, and expressed support for measures that address the mental health issues that could potentially arise from a gambling machine expansion.
House Republicans also intend to again support an effort to repeal portions of the Clean Missouri amendment, specifically protesting a change to the redistricting process that was a part of the bill. Proponents of the bill argue the redistricting process was being used by the party in power to create an advantage, and the new process will be more impartial.
Opponents argue that the redistricting change was snuck into the amendment, tricking voters who supported other portions such as limits on lobbying and campaign finance expenditures.
“Most folks didn’t read all the details,” said Walsh.
Basye is sponsoring bills that would increase funding for the MU School of Law’s Veterans Clinic, and another that would allow left turns at red stoplights in specific instances.
Walsh is putting forward a bill that would ease the qualifications for child care facility licensing, as well as a bill allowing small towns to create a tax on temporary lodging.
Kendrick filed House Bill 1428, which would refinance some student loans at the state level to lower interest rates.
Stevens is working with “period poverty” groups — which are working to address the lack of access to sanitary products for students — to promote legislation that would require the state to provide free menstrual products in schools. She also is proposing legislation that would allow participants in the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program to use food stamps for items at farmers markets.
Toalson Reisch filed a bill that would allow Hallsville residents to vote on a sales tax increase to fund public safety. The language is similar to a bill passed in 2018 that allowed Centralia to do the same.
She also filed a bill that would allow people convicted of a felony to work in facilities that sell alcohol or lottery tickets. The bill nearly passed last year as part of a larger bill package, and Toalson Reisch is hopeful that it will pass this session.
Supervising editor is Mark Horvit.