JEFFERSON CITY — Areas of potential conflict and cooperation across the aisle were the theme of the first day of the legislative session Wednesday.
After inducting six new members into the Missouri House, leaders from both parties held news conferences to stress their priorities and opinions on what will be among the most contentious issues of the year.
Democrats and Republicans have expressed differing opinions regarding Clean Missouri, which amended the state’s constitution regarding lobbying, campaign finance and redistricting rules in 2018.
In particular, the amendment created a “nonpartisan demographer” position to redraw the state’s district lines that could potentially shake up party representation. The amendment passed with 62% of the vote.
House Republicans have proposed six resolutions that would either change or repeal the Clean Missouri initiative. State House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, said that they have discussed the amendments heavily and will continue to do so throughout the session.
Democrats, however, have opposed any amendments.
“Sixty-two percent of Missourians said this is what they want,” said House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, referring to the winning vote total in the Clean Missouri referendum. “We have seen time and time again with the Republican majority that they don’t care what the voters tell us to do. ... We’ll see where the language lands, but I can tell you that we’re going to uphold the will of the voters.”
Senate Democratic Leader Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, also released a statement Wednesday calling for lawmakers to remember their “shared duty to respect the will of the people and honor the oath each senator swore to uphold the constitution.” Walsh said that duty is why her party will continue to defend the Clean Missouri Amendment from attempts to weaken or reverse it.
Other key issues
Four bills have been proposed in the House that would increase Missouri’s motor fuel tax in over two decades, aiming to increase MoDOT funding for infrastructure. When asked about the bills, Haahr said “there is not a lot of appetite in our caucus” for an increase in motor fuel tax.
Some Democrats and Republicans in the Senate have expressed support for a gas tax increase. Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, has filed legislation that would increase the gas tax by 2 cents. He believes that increasing the tax is the fairest option to improve Missouri’s infrastructure.
“It doesn’t make any sense not to fund the economic engine that we have in Missouri as a crossroads of America,” Libla said.
Both House Democrats and Republicans addressed possible gun violence legislation that has been filed for this session — each with differing priorities.
Quade said that addressing gun and urban violence will be one of the top priorities among House Democrats. She said that her caucus will take into consideration experts who believe current laws are not safe.
In addition, Quade said they need to consider the underlying causes of gun violence.
“We need to be having conversations about funding after-school programming, looking at the root causes of poverty and addiction and the things that we know lead to the violence,” said Quade.
Haahr said there has been collaboration between Republicans and Democrats regarding some of the gun violence bills. He said House Republicans are interested in looking into protection for those who have witnessed crimes and ways to help law enforcement.
“But our caucus as a whole,” Haahr said, “anything we view that violates the Second Amendment is not something we’re going to consider at this time.”
Both parties also discussed unregulated gambling machines that have spread across Missouri. Quade said that Democrats are looking into all aspects of the machines.
“The members who have been on the committees ... have been putting a lot of time, not only looking at the revenue situation of this, but what this could do for jobs for folks who work in our casinos, what this does for the addiction community and our lack of mental health funding,” said Quade.
Democrats have proposed House Bill 1989, which would prohibit the use of unregulated video gaming terminals in bars, convenience stores, gas stations and restaurants.
Haahr also said House Republicans would be looking into the machines, and that he does not believe the issue would fall along party lines.
Gender discrimination is also poised to be a hot topic for lawmakers this session.
State Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis, filed Senate Bill 682, which aims to prevent workplace gender discrimination and ensure equal pay regardless of gender. The bill joins the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, to be filed by State Sen. Brian Williams, D–University City, among others, which seeks to add sexual orientation and gender identity to Missouri’s Human Rights Act.
Quade also said in a press release that the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act will be a top priority for House Democrats this legislative session “to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Senate leaders from both parties will hold a press conference Thursday.
Reporter Emily Wolf contributed to this report.