The legislative session in Missouri started Wednesday and two local representatives gave their takes on expectations for the spring 2017 session.
State Rep. Nathan Beard, R-Sedalia, is starting his second term for District 52, while state Rep. Dean Dohrman, R-La Monte, is starting his third for District 51. The two local Republicans are being joined in Jefferson City with a Republican majority in both the House and the Senate, as well as the entire statewide leadership, with the exception of Democratic Auditor Nicole Galloway.
Beard said he knew “things were going to be a lot different” the week after the November election when he received a phone call from Gov.-elect Eric Greitens’ office wanting to know about his priorities.
One major change Beard said he has already seen just a few days into the new year is an involved governor.
“In our Republican caucus meeting before the first day of the session, to our great surprise Gov.-elect Greitens came, spoke to us and worked and planned with us on the upcoming session,” Beard said. “As you can imagine, that has never happened, at least in my tenure, for a long time. The biggest complaint about (Gov. Jay Nixon) was we rarely saw him, he didn’t care to reach out, talk, communicate, work together. We never saw him, so to have the governor-elect come down and shake hands, talk with us, work with us, ask about priorities, that’s a huge change.”
Dohrman agreed, noting that the “battle” with the governor’s to pass even simple bills should end.
“The legislature as a whole is upbeat,” Dohrman said. “It is certainly a whole different world than when I stepped into my first year. I think what people are looking forward to is the fact we now have a governor we can discuss things with, especially on the budget. … To be able to go through those priorities and have a discussion with the governor and try to make the process as smooth as possible, not only creating the budget but implementing the budget, everybody is looking forward to that.”
Both offered similar opinions on many of what are considered to be top issues for the new session.
House Speaker Todd Richardson said during remarks Wednesday the first bill of the session will be an ethics reform bill related to banning lobbyist gifts to legislators. Both Dohrman and Beard said they expect the bill to pass easily in the House, and that they believe most legislators follow the rules and are ethical.
“I think most people who have spent time as a state representative feel same way I do — the majority are up there for the right reason, not up there to get gifts, all that you hear rumored,” Beard said. ” I haven’t seen any of that.”
Beard added that a problem with the bill is that sometimes legislators only have time to meet with lobbyists over lunch or coffee, and that could now be seen as a gift.
“At the same time, maybe two decades ago, there were serious problems of corruption and there’s still a stigma that lingers on those of us serving now,” Beard continued. “I think when the bill passes perhaps that will help restore public confidence that some of our predecessors destroyed.”
Right-to-Work legislation is also expected to be one of the first bills discussed this session. Both Dohrman and Beard said RTW is a top issue that has been worked on for years.
Beard said having Greitens in office will help line up the legislation for approval, rather than previous vetoes by Nixon.
“Right-to-Work legislation is something I’ve worked on from the beginning,” Beard said. “I think it’s going to be fantastic for us economically but also as far as fundamentals go, it’s never a good idea to force someone to pay union dues or join a union if they don’t want to.”
Locally, Beard said his priorities include the Katy Trail and the Missouri State Fair. Beard was appointed this session to the Department of Natural Resources Committee, which he said he hopes will help him accomplish his goal of connecting the gap in the Katy Trail in Sedalia.
For Dohrman’s local priorities, he is co-sponsoring a bill related to a REAL ID option for Missouri, which would allow citizens to opt-out. He’s also working on education reform with his role on the Higher Education Committee.
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or on Twitter @NicoleRCooke.