As Missourians welcome in the New Year, the General Assembly is gearing up for the start of the 2018 legislative session. While the new session will bring with it a number of legislative priorities that are important to Missouri families and businesses, it’s important to remember the 2017 session was a highly productive one with several major wins for the state.
One of the biggest highlights of the 2017 session is a fiscally responsible state spending plan that makes a record level of investment in K-12 education by fully funding the Foundation Formula for the first time. The legislature was also able to get a Right-to-Work bill to the governor that is meant to protect the rights of workers and encourage job creators to set up shop in the state. The new law is currently on hold because of a ballot initiative that voters will have the opportunity to vote on in 2018 to determine if Right-to-Work is right for Missouri.
Also during the 2017 session, the legislature approved tort reform bills to put an end to frivolous lawsuits by putting new expert witness standards in place, and strengthening Missouri’s workplace discrimination standards. Another major accomplishment for the legislature in 2017 was the passage of legislation that establishes a regulatory framework for ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft so they can expand and create jobs throughout Missouri.
The 2017 session also saw lawmakers approve legislation to allow Missourians to obtain a photo ID that is compliant with the federal REAL ID Act. Missourians were in danger of being unable to fly domestically or visit federal facilities with their current IDs because they are not compliant. However, with the passage of the bill, the federal government has now granted the state a waiver that will allow Missourians to travel with their existing IDs until Oct. 10 of 2018. The state will not have the new compliant IDs available until March of 2019, which means Missouri will eventually seek another waiver to allow residents to use their existing IDs to fly or visit military bases until the new IDs are in place.
While the regular legislative session ended in May, several pressing issues brought legislators back for additional work during the summer months. The governor called lawmakers in for not one, but two, extraordinary sessions to consider policy changes that needed immediate attention.
The first extraordinary session moved quickly and efficiently as the House and Senate worked to get a jobs bill across the legislative finish line in a matter of days. The General Assembly approved legislation meant to bring 500 good-paying jobs to Southeast Missouri. The legislation approved by the General Assembly allows the Missouri Public Service Commission to consider lower utility rates for a longer contract of service for companies that use tremendous amounts of electricity.
The second extraordinary session called by the governor saw legislators work to better ensure the health and safety of women by putting common sense safety requirements in place for abortion clinics. The bill approved by the House and Senate also protects pregnancy resource centers from a city ordinance the governor says has made St. Louis an abortion sanctuary city.
After successfully wrapping up the extraordinary sessions, lawmakers transitioned their efforts to the committee work that is a normal part of the interim period. In an effort to address Missouri’s crumbling roads and bridges, a group of lawmakers and civilians worked together to develop recommendations to repair the state’s aging transportation infrastructure. The 21st Century Missouri Transportation System Task Force was created by HCR 47 that was passed during the 2017 legislative session. The task force is set to reveal its recommendations as the 2018 session begins. The transportation funding issue was also considered by the House Policy Development Caucus, which also has a series of recommendations for adequately funding Missouri’s roads and bridges.
In 2017 the House Speaker also formed a group of lawmakers to look at the direction health care should take in Missouri. The Interim Committee on Stabilizing Missouri’s Health Insurance Markets was created for the purpose of gaining a better understanding of what changes at the federal level will mean to markets in the state. The committee has looked at how the rollback of the Affordable Care Act will alter the health insurance climate in Missouri, and worked to determine if Missouri should pursue a federal waiver to sidestep requirements of the ACA and allow the state to have greater flexibility and stability for the health insurance market.
Another major development in 2017 was the institution of a photo ID requirement for voting in Missouri. It was in November of 2016 that Missouri voters overwhelmingly supported a system of photo Voter ID meant to protect the integrity of the elections process. The legislation approved by the General Assembly, which serves as a companion piece to the voter-approved constitutional change, officially went into effect June 1. Now, Missourians will show a valid photo ID at the polling place to ensure they are who they say they are when voting.
2017 brought with it many important moments for the legislature and for the people of Missouri. Lawmakers now turn their attention to the 2018 session, which promises to have several big ticket issues on the agenda. In the months to come legislators will look to pass substantive ethics reform, approve measures to cut bureaucratic red tape and lessen the regulatory burden on families and businesses, and advance policy changes that will provide more educational opportunities to young people in all parts of the state. The 2018 legislative session begins Jan. 3.