Missouri Speaker of the House Todd Richardson, R-152, was the featured speaker during the Farmington Regional Chamber luncheon Thursday.
Richardson was elected to his first two-year term in November 2010. He served as the House Majority Leader for the 98th General Assembly before being elected Speaker of the House.
In addition to his legislative duties, Richardson is a practicing attorney in Poplar Bluff. He previously served as an adjunct instructor at Three Rivers College where he taught business law and national and state government classes.
State Rep. Kevin Engler introduced Richardson, saying his integrity and ability to articulate the concerns and problems in the House are what led him to his position.
“I think he led one of the most efficient Houses when he was floor leader,” Engler said. “That’s who decides what bills go forward, what amendments … that type of thing.”
Richardson, Engler said, was “thrust” into the role of Speaker early on in his legislative career after the resignation of Rep. John Diehl in 2015.
“He’s done a great job. He has the respect of the people, his members, and he does a super job,” Engler said. “If he tells you something, you can believe it. And that’s not the case always (in Jefferson City).”
Richardson said he believed this was, in his opinion, one of the most productive sessions in his seven years serving in the state House of Representatives.
“Our goal when we started this legislative session was pretty straightforward,” he said. “The voters had sent us to Jefferson City with a truly unique opportunity. For the first time in our state’s history, we have a super majority of Republicans in the House, a super majority of Republicans in the Senate and a Republican in the Governor’s mansion.
“… that created an opportunity to do a lot of things that we’ve been working very hard on for a long time. Our mission was to try and create what we believe is the most competitive economic environment you will find anywhere in the country.
“The reason we’re so focused on that is you look at Missouri’s economic record over the last decade and it’s been less than stellar. Our population has been growing slower than the national average, our unemployment rate has been about the national average – although it’s gotten a little better.
“Most troubling is we have seen almost no wage growth in Missouri. A family of four has less buying power today than they had a decade ago – less buying power by about $5,000, when you count for inflation. There is no way that we are going to give people the opportunity to build a better life for themselves, no way we’re going to get the economy growing at the kind of robust pace we want if we aren’t able to see some wage growth.”
One way, Richardson said, to create an environment to help businesses succeed and attract new companies to Missouri is to create a plan with “substantive labor reform, substantive and meaningful tort reform, and substantive and meaningful regulatory reform.”
“When you put those three pieces in place, those are the kinds of states that are growing to grow at a rate faster than the national average,” he said, giving examples to the states of Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Texas as states with what he called growing, robust and vibrant dynamic economies.
Richardson noted the designation of Missouri as the 28th “Right to Work” state – something he acknowledged has been a very contentious issue across the state.
“What we see is the Right to Work states … growing at rates faster than the national average,” he said. “We also see the fastest growing rates for union membership … in Right to Work states.”
Regarding tort reform, Richardson said five “meaningful” tort reform bills made their way to the desk of Gov. Eric Greitens this year.
“With those five bills, we’ve started the process of creating a fair litigation environment in Missouri,” he said. “I don’t know any attorney, any member of the business community that wants anything other than a fair litigation environment. When businesses here in Missouri are afraid to do business, afraid to locate in the state out of fear of being sued, then we’ve gotten that out of whack. The five bills we passed this year go a long way in restoring that balance.”
The final piece of the puzzle was regulatory reform. Richardson said there is a lot more work for legislators to do on regulatory reform “… but we should not have needless regulations in this state that stop businesses from being able to open.”
He gave two examples of how regulatory reform has hindered business in the state. The first was for the ride sharing services of Uber and Lyft.
“Missouri was one of the last states to get those services to open in a broad way. The reason is government regulation was stopping them from coming to the state,” he said. “We worked very hard to put a state-wide regulatory framework (in place) so those kinds of companies can operate.”
Richardson said opening up the regulations to allow such services to operate gives “10,000 Missourians a full-time job, a part-time job or just a little job on the side to earn extra money for their family. The only reason that wasn’t happening was because of government regulation.”
Another example given by Richardson was the restrictions placed on hair stylists looking to braid hair or open a salon offering hair braiding.
“It takes 1,500 hours of training you have to go through if you want to earn a little extra money braiding hair or if you want to start a business braiding hair,” he said. “Why do we have that requirement? Because the state department of professional registrations said that’s what you’ve got to do if you want to braid hair.
“That’s the kind of over-the-top, ridiculous regulations that we’re trying to stop. Common sense regulations are fine and needed in a lot of areas. But you shouldn’t have a situation where it takes nearly four times what it takes to be an EMT or twice what it takes to be a police officer if you just want to braid hair in the state of Missouri.”
Richardson said the most important mission of the legislators each and every year is to pass a budget.
“Once again, Missouri delivered a balanced budget,” he said. “This is the most challenging budget environment we’ve had in the time I’ve been there. We had to cut nearly $500 million out … of a budget with about $8 billion of discretionary. It’s a difficult challenge. But we were able to do that while continuing to prioritize the things we believe are important to Missourians.”
Richardson noted the budget marked the first time in Missouri history for the Education Foundation Formula to be fully-funded.”
“Forty-eight million dollars of additional money went into education in an environment where we were having to cut $500 million out of the rest of the budget,” he said. “That is a testament to the hard work of our budget committee and really strong public education advocates like Rick Francis, Mike Henderson, Kevin Engler and Paul Fitzwater.”
Richardson mentioned the two special sessions for the legislature called by the governor. The first, Richardson said, could allow for additional employment opportunities in the Bootheel. In that session, lawmakers authorized discounted electric rates for potential steel and aluminum businesses that could create hundreds of jobs in southeast Missouri.
The second session, as explained by a recent Associated Press story, was called by Greitens partly in response to a recent federal judge’s ruling that struck down some state abortion laws. The ruling invalidated requirements that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, and that clinics meet hospital-like standards for outpatient surgery. Greitens says he wants lawmakers to pass more abortion laws in response.
“Thank you for sending good, quality people to Jefferson City,” he said. “I can make this commitment to you … with their help we’re going to work hard every day to deliver you the kind of legislature you deserve and the kind of legislature you can be proud of.”
Shawnna Robinson is the managing editor of the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-518-3628 or firstname.lastname@example.org