If you are reading this column on Wednesday, Jan. 8, you’ll find me in Jefferson City. On this day, lawmakers returned to the State Capitol for the start of the Second Regular Session of the 100th General Assembly of the State of Missouri. Along with 33 colleagues in the Senate and 162 members of the House of Representatives (one seat is currently vacant), I will begin the process of considering new laws and changes to our existing statutes.
The Missouri Legislature convenes in regular session for just four and a half months each year. The 2020 session adjourns May 15, with a week off in March. While the governor can call us back for special or extraordinary sessions – as he did last year to address an issue with vehicle sales taxes – generally, lawmakers accomplish their work in a relatively short period of time.
It may surprise some folks to learn that our current schedule is actually longer than originally intended. Missouri’s Constitution calls for each General Assembly to last two years, the length of term for a member of the House of Representatives. In the past, the Legislature convened biannually, in the year following the general election. In 1970, voters approved a constitutional amendment to require annual sessions and the Legislature held its first off-year Second Regular Session in 1972.
Since this is the Second Regular Session of this General Assembly, activity in the Senate will get underway fairly quickly. Lawmakers will continue to serve on the same committees they were assigned last year, so we can skip some of the formalities and get right to work. Also, since there are no new members in the Missouri Senate, everyone is up to speed.
On Jan. 15, the governor will appear before a joint session of the General Assembly to outline his budget and legislative priorities for 2020. I expect he will continue to focus on workforce development and infrastructure improvements. He may have some surprises for us, though. Even before the State of the State Address, lawmakers have a fairly good idea of the issues they’ll be working on this year. Already, nearly 300 bills and two dozen resolutions have been pre-filed with the secretary of the Senate. More bills will surely follow in the weeks to come.
Last year, the Senate considered more than 575 separate pieces of legislation. The House of Representative had its hands full with about 1,300 bills and resolutions. When it was all said and done, just over 90 measures were “truly agreed and finally passed” by the Legislature. The governor signed all but six. Like poor Bill from the old “Schoolhouse Rock” children’s cartoon, any particular piece of legislation has a long, hard road to the governor’s desk.
The process begins in the various committees charged with considering legislation. This term, I serve on eight different legislative committees, including the Fiscal Oversight Committee, which I chair. My committee assignments reflect my long-standing interest in Missouri’s economy and business environment. I serve as vice chairman of the Economic Development and the Insurance and Banking committees. I also sit on the Health Services Review Committee, otherwise known as Certificate of Need. It’s a thankless job reviewing all the various requests for improvements and expansions of hospitals and health care providers, but it’s something I feel strongly about.
My situation is not unique. Throughout my 15 years in the General Assembly, I have served alongside so many dedicated public servants. Each brought their own interests and passions to the Capitol. Together, we somehow manage to advance a bewildering array of policy ideas through the legislative process. If our proposals survive a committee vote, we may get the chance to champion our reforms and statute changes before the full legislative body. Through debate and amendment, we hammer out a version of our idea that a majority of our colleagues can agree to. At that point, we enlist a member of the other legislative chamber to pick up the ball. Only if a measure passes in both the House of Representatives and the Senate – in identical form – does it go to the governor’s desk.
By design, it’s a slow and deliberate process. In theory, only well-reasoned and thoughtful ideas make it all the way through to the end. We all know that reality doesn’t always match the ideal, but it’s the best system we have. For the most part, it works.
The 2020 session will mark my last year in the Missouri General Assembly. I am ineligible to continue to serve in the Legislature after this year, due to term limits. It has been my great honor and privilege to serve as your state senator, and as a member of the House of Representatives. I still have another year to serve you, however. I’ll be sure to keep you informed about what’s happening here in Jefferson City.
As always, I appreciate it when groups from around Missouri and from our community back home come to visit me at the Capitol. If you would like to arrange a time to come and visit me in Jefferson City, or if you ever have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact my Capitol office at 573-751-1882.