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We will broadcast special coverage of both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, starting with the RNC tonight at 8.

How election year politics could bog down the 2024 Missouri legislative session

The Missouri State Capitol on Thursday, May 11, 2023, in Jefferson City.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Lawmakers will descend upon the Missouri State Capitol on Wednesday for the first day of the 2024 legislative session.

Missouri lawmakers convene Wednesday for the beginning of the 2024 state legislative session with some concerned that election year posturing will hinder progress.

At the end of session in May, House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, offered her prediction for the 2024 session.

“The unfortunate reality I will say is: Next session we all know is an election year, right? And so if the Republicans couldn't function now, Lord wait until they start running against each other for the Republican primaries,” Quade said.

Quade, who is running for governor, still believes the upcoming election will affect productivity.

“What we've seen in years past when this is happening are Republicans really fighting against each other to try to be the most extreme to try to get the most floor time,” Quade said. “I think we're going to see that even more so this year, just because of the sheer number of folks running against each other for higher office.”

The last couple of sessions have been shaped by conflict not only between Democrats and Republicans but also within the Republican Party itself.

Some of the larger conflicts in the Senate have been between Republican leadership and more conservative Republicans.

Senate Floor Leader Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, said she expects the election year to exacerbate differences.

“I think some people will grandstand at times, and yes that could cause some conflict, but that's really not that much different than any other session,” O’Laughlin said.

Republican State Sen. Cindy O'Laughlin on Monday, Oct. 24, 2022, at her trucking company’s headquarters in Shelbina, Mo.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Senate Floor Leader Cindy O'Laughlin, R-Shelbina, in October 2022 at her trucking company’s headquarters in Shelbina, Mo.

Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, who was a member of the former Conservative Caucus, hopes to have a productive session.

“I think that remains to be determined upon the attitudes of leadership in the Senate to see if they want to help us push forward some conservative bills this year or not,” Hoskins said.

On whether Republican infighting means fewer bills passed that Democrats oppose, Sen. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, said that may be true, but it’s still not an ideal situation.

“From a Democratic standpoint, not getting things done means not doing bad things, and I understand that point,” Razer said. “But it's also disappointing, though, because our system of government isn't functioning.”

Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said that while there are issues left over from last session, he believes lawmakers still want to get things done.

“Moral of the story is, if everybody puts their personality and their egos aside as much as possible on any given day, then you're going to be able to accomplish some stuff,” Rowden said.

From the left, Tanisha Patterson, Ryan Quinones and Chris LeGrand celebrate the passage of Amendment 3 on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, during a watch party at the Crown Room in downtown St. Louis. Amendment 3 legalizes recreational marijuana in the state of Missouri for individuals over the age of 21 and expunges non-violent marijuana related conviction records excluding sales to minors and driving under the influence.
Jon Gitchoff
/
Special to St. Louis Public Radio
From the left, Tanisha Patterson, Ryan Quinones and Chris LeGrand celebrate the passage of Amendment 3 in November 2022 during a watch party at the Crown Room in downtown St. Louis. Amendment 3 legalizes recreational marijuana in the state of Missouri for individuals over the age of 21 and expunges non-violent marijuana related conviction records excluding sales to minors and driving under the influence.

Making it harder to amend Missouri’s constitution

One of the issues likely to again be at the forefront for Republicans is making it harder to amend Missouri’s constitution through ballot initiatives.

Hoskins has filed legislation on the matter.

“We get this mentality of, hey, we need to put everything in the Missouri Constitution. And I totally disagree with that. I think that the Missouri Constitution should be very limited, and everything else should be in statute,” Hoskins said.

However, efforts from Republicans to move forward on initiative petition reform will receive pushback from Democrats.

“It's about power. It's about control, and they don't want people to be able to do anything without having to grovel at the foot of the Republican Party,” Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said.

For Republicans to make any headway on ballot initiatives, Rowden said, will take a lot of effort and time away from other issues.

“My assumption is probably most every Republican, I can't say definitively, but most every Republican would vote for IP reform when it gets to the floor,” Rowden said. “Do they want to give a ton of leverage away to Democrats to get it done? I think that's where the kind of ebb and flow within the caucus is.”

House Majority Floor Leader Jon Patterson, R-Lee’s Summit, believes his colleagues want to limit voter-backed amendments. But states like Arkansas and Ohio defeating similar proposals create something to think about.

“If you look at it, other states and what they've done, the chances of us passing a bill and then having it be approved by the people seems pretty unlikely,” Patterson said.

Making it harder to pass ballot initiatives will not exist in a vacuum. Currently, there are two sets of amendments to make abortion legal in Missouri that are going through the initiative petition process.

Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis, believes these petitions will be on the minds of lawmakers as the session progresses and could influence legislation.

“This is an election year and we've seen it before, everything is going to be on the table. And everything will probably be exploited, which is shameful," May said.

Quade believes Democrats will have to be on defense over legislation centered on reproductive health.

“Lawmakers on the other side of the aisle are just simply not listening, but while we're playing defense in Jefferson City, we'll continue to play offense on the ground, doing initiative petitions and hopefully bring that to a vote of the people,” Quade said.

A teacher works with students at City Garden Montessori in 2019, a high-performing charter school in St. Louis. The Opportunity Trust is funding a major expansion effort by City Garden.
Ryan Delaney
/
St. Louis Public Radio
A teacher works with students in February 2019 at at City Garden Montessori, a charter school in Botanical Heights.

Education priorities

One area of policy that both parties want to see change in is education.

For Republicans, that could mean bills expanding charter schools and creating open enrollment. O’Laughlin said education is a priority for her, including expanding Education Savings Accounts and addressing open enrollment.

“I believe that until parents have the ability to choose where their children go, there's really not a strong incentive for the schools to, you know, try to improve,” O’Laughlin said.

Sen. Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, said last year’s open enrollment was too watered down.

“I think parents ought to have the option to send their kids where they think it's best for their children. So, I hope we have that discussion. I think we can have a big discussion on that,” Fitzwater said.

Democrats, like Rizzo, would like to see more money for schools to combat low teacher pay and four-day school weeks.

“The only thing that we can do right now that would be more beneficial than anything would be to properly fund our schools,” Rizzo said. “They are forced to fight a fight with one hand tied behind their back right now.”

Quade said she would like to see higher accreditation standards and teacher pay.

“I would love to see the legislature lay off our educators and let them do their jobs instead of continuing to try to take money away from them and overregulate what they're doing in their classrooms,” Quade said.

The last couple of years, the legislature has fully funded its share of the K-12 foundation formula. For this session, Patterson hopes to update that formula.

“The foundation formula is about 20 years old. It might be time to think about reformulating it,” Patterson said.

Dana Luster, 42, reads to Louis, one of her 3-year-old students, on Thursday, March 23, 2023, at Little D’s Home Daycare in Bella Villa.
Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Dana Luster, 42, reads to Louis, one of her 3-year-old students, in March 2023 at Little D’s Home Daycare in Bella Villa.

Expansion of child care gets bipartisan backing

Razer said expanding child care is something the legislature has to figure out.

“If we can fix the child care issue in this state, our economy is going to blossom. And families are going to be better off,” Razer said.

On the House side, Patterson says child care is one of the biggest issues people talk with him about.

“Some of the statistics I've seen show that we lose about $1.3 billion, because people can't work,” Patterson said.

Quade believes better child care access is something the two parties agree on and are working on.

“I'm very grateful that the Missouri Chamber of Commerce has made child care one of their No. 1 priorities this year. So I'm excited to continue to have that conversation and dive in to find solutions,” Quade said.

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Jordan Walker (#18) stands in the outfield on Thursday, March 30, 2023, during the team’s Opening Day matchup against the Toronto Blue Jays at Busch Stadium. Walker is the Cardinals’ youngest position player to make his Major League debut since 1981.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Jordan Walker (#18) stands in the outfield in March 2023 during the team’s Opening Day matchup against the Toronto Blue Jays at Busch Stadium. Walker is the Cardinals’ youngest position player to make his Major League debut since 1981.

Another year of trying to legalize sports betting

Another lingering issue from last session is legalizing sports betting in Missouri.

The conversation the past few sessions has been tied to the legalization of video gaming machines that are found at truck stops and gas stations.

May said legalizing those machines is a priority for her.

“I think it's a small business game changer, and I would like to see it get done,” May said.

Meanwhile, sports organizations have expressed frustration over the delay, and a ballot initiative that would legalize sports betting in Missouri’s constitution is in the petition gathering stage.

Rowden said he’s glad that a petition is circulating.

“The teams will definitely have to spend some money if they're going to pass it at the ballot. But I think it's something certainly that they're exploring, and I think they're well within their rights to do so,” Rowden said.

A silhouette of the 9-year-old son of Daniel and Karen Bogard
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
The 9-year-old son of Rabbis Daniel and Karen Bogard, pictured at his St. Louis County home in March 2023 is one of the transgender Missourians who targeted by anti-trans policies, rhetoric, and legislation during the 2023 Missouri legislative session.

More restrictions on health care for transgender minors

Last year, the Republican-led legislature passed legislation barring transgender minors from accessing gender-affirming health care like puberty blockers and hormone treatment.

They also passed a law barring trans student-athletes from playing on teams that align with their gender identity.

Both bills contained sunset clauses, meaning they expire after four years. Now, there are talks to remove the expiration dates.

“I'd love to see the sunset go away, but outside of that, I don't know that that’s going to be a broad discussion this year,” Fitzwater said.

As far as other bills that target the LGBTQ community, Razer, the only openly gay member of the Senate, said he’s prepared to push against them.

“I'm going to be there to stand up for folks that are getting kicked around, those that are easy targets for people who want to bully,” Razer said.

Gov. Mike Parson reacts after Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe pats his back and House Speaker Rep. Dean Plocher, R-St. Louis County, left, listens in on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023, during Parson’s State of the State address at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City.
Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson reacts after Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe pats his back and House Speaker Rep. Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, left, listens last year during Parson’s State of the State address in Jefferson City. This past session, Parson vetoed over $500 million from the most recent budget.

A smaller budget and a must-pass FRA

Beyond what the legislature wants to get done, there are two tasks it is required to complete.

One is the annual responsibility of passing the budget. This past session, Gov. Mike Parson vetoed over $500 million from the most recent budget.

Lawmakers, like Rizzo, take that as an indication the upcoming budget will be smaller, especially without the windfall from federal dollars of the past few years.

“We're going to see over these next few years what the state looks like without federal influx of money and how the Republican Party has cut taxes to a degree that it could be a detriment going forward. I hope it's not,” Rizzo said.

The legislature also must pass the Federal Reimbursement Allowance, which funds most of Missouri’s share of Medicaid payments.

It took a special session in 2021 to pass the FRA due to disagreements over efforts to eliminate Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood.

O’Laughlin said she doubts it’ll take a special session again.

“The total amount of money involved is about $4 billion. There is no way it doesn't get renewed,” O’Laughlin said.

The legislative session will run through mid-May.

Sarah Kellogg is a Missouri Statehouse and Politics Reporter for St. Louis Public Radio and other public radio stations across the state.