Legislators Address Wins & Losses from This Year’s Session

Some members of the St. Joseph area legislative delegation met with Chamber members to discuss the highs and lows of this year’s session at a Public Affairs Coffee on May 30. Sen. Dr. Rob Schaaf (R), Sen. Dan Hegeman (R), Rep. Delus Johnson (R), and Rep. Pat Conway (D) each gave their opinions on the session and then fielded questions and comments from the crowd.

“People say we didn’t get a lot done, but we really did, especially if you’re business minded,” said Hegeman.

He gave Right to Work legislation as an example.

“We don’t even know how many companies didn’t even look at Missouri because we weren’t a Right to Work state,” he said. “Now we’ve joined the other states around  us by becoming a Right to Work state. I think it’ll help mid-size companies come to the state.”

He explained that Right to Work legislation means that you don’t have to join a union to be employed at a company that has a union.

Conway, who is in the minority party, had a different view of the legislation.

“We’re taking away unions as we know it,” he said.

He also had a different perspective of how the session turned out.

“Listening to my three colleagues… I’m pretty sure I was in Jefferson City with them,” he said.

Johnson had just said that he thought that they had a very productive session, even though the House only passed 75 bills, which is far less than normal. He cited the passing of legislature that establishes the framework for Uber and Lyft to operate in the state as an example.

“That was a two-year project that we had to change two different laws for,” he said. “That bill is law now and will create 10,000 jobs.

He also said how the special session just ended with lawmakers agreeing to allow major electricity users to negotiate discounts for lower rates, which will send more jobs to southeast Missouri.

All legislators commented on the frustration to get bills to committee or to the floor. Dr. Schaaf said he had two bills on ethics reform that never even got a hearing, while Conway said the same thing about two election reform bills.

Comments from the audience ranged from thanks for support of certain issues to the urging to make other items a priority. Bruce Woody, city manager, urged state legislators to help keep local decisions to be made locally. He compared it to how states dislike when the federal government mandates too many restrictions on states and urged them to consider that when making decisions that affect municipalities’ ability to govern themselves.

Becky Boerkircher said that every year historic tax credits are on the chopping block in the budget, but reminded legislators how important they have been to the redevelopment of St. Joseph’s downtown.

“We’re really coming into our own and many of the projects would not be possible without the historic tax credits,” she said.

Police Chief Chris Connally said that he thought it was difficult to talk about the success of the session when major priorities aren’t being addressed. He gave examples of transportation and a prescription drug monitoring program. Johnson said that transportation is likely to be a priority in the next session because of a possible upcoming loss of federal funding, but said that a bill being passed for a prescription drug monitoring program was unlikely. Some local communities, like those in the St. Louis area, are having success on their own. Conway said it was confusing for the state government to regulate some small issues for cities, but not take on large issues like the drug monitoring program and leave those for communities to figure out on their own.

Chamber President and CEO R. Patt Lilly brought up that three of the four men on stage were soon going to be reaching their term limits and asked how they thought that would affect St. Joseph’s representation in Jefferson City. All agreed that term limits had good and bad aspects.

“By the time you really learn how to get things done, it’s time to go,” Dr. Schaaf said.

Johnson said that he wishes the term limits were longer so legislators could get more accomplished.