What Missourians need to know as lawmakers return to Jefferson City

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Lawmakers will return to the Missouri State Capitol next week to kick off the 2024 Legislative Session.

As we turn the calendar to a new year, it means it’s time for the General Assembly to return to Jefferson City to start session. While every member has an agenda of what he or she would like to accomplish by May, with 2024 as an election year, it could complicate the process.

“It’s a mess and I use that word intentionally,” House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said. “I’m definitely worried about how this legislative session is going to go.”

While some are concerned about what is to come in the new year, others are optimistic.

“There will be shenanigan days; hopefully those are outnumbered by the normal ones,” Senate President Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said.

Over in the lower chamber, House leadership is expecting fewer pieces of legislation to make it to the governor’s desk this year.

“I expect fewer bills but I think we want to pass quality bills instead of quantity,” House Majority Leader Jon Patterson, R-Lee’s Summit, said. “I think at the end of the day, we’ll be fine.”

Quade, a Democratic candidate for governor, is focusing on cutting taxes on groceries but her large piece of legislation would also instate a yacht tax and add a tax on agricultural land that is foreign-owned.

“When we’re having conversations at home at the kitchen table of, do we pay the mortgage or do we pay the utility bill this month? I feel that this is where lawmakers should be trying to help and this is a place that will be helping everyone,” Quade said. “I think it pairs perfectly when we’re having the conversation around the cost of food, of who owns that land and who is profiting off what we are purchasing.”

Another topic expected to be debated over the next five months is improving access to child care, a bipartisan issue that fell short of the finish line last year.

“You have people out there making decisions on whether or not the job is more affordable if they are going to take it or if it’s cheaper to stay home,” Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said. “That is diminishing our workforce and it should be a top priority.”

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce said the state’s economy has lost out on more than $1.3 billion due to a lack of childcare providers. One of the governor’s priorities last year was child care tax credits for businesses, providers and families. Lawmakers failed to get that across the finish line and it’s expected to be one of Gov. Mike Parson’s priorities again this year.

“Getting kids in daycare so people can work. It really effects the workforce that we have in Missouri,” Patterson said. “Anything we can do to get people back to work. Get working families some assistance. I think will go a long way.”

Another big-ticket item includes changes to the initiative petition (IP) process and how Missourians amend the constitution, like legalizing recreational and medical marijuana.

“I think Missouri voters deserve a greater transparency in what we’re putting into the constitution,” House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, said. “I think it needs to be vetted more; I think information and dissemination of that information on what we’re putting into our constitution is very important.

Unable to pass the legislation last year, Republicans say they want to increase the threshold needed to change the constitution. Plocher blames the Senate for not sending the legislation to the governor after the House passed the legislation twice.

“I solely put the blame on the Senate,” Plocher said. “The Republican Caucus stands on protecting our constitution and making sure Missourians’ interests are put first and they are vetted well.”

Plocher stated earlier this year that because the General Assembly failed to approve changes to the IP process, abortion will once again become legal in the state. This comes as pro-choice supporters are working on gathering signatures to put a question on the ballot next year asking if abortion should once again be legal in Missouri.

“It is a concern, and we want to make sure we’re protecting children,” Plocher said.

On the other side of the aisle, Democrats say Republicans should be careful.

“When it comes to this issue, the wind is at the Democrats’ back and we should be taking advantage of that,” Rizzo said.

Missourians can also expect a conversation around education, including open enrollment and charter school expansion.

“Nobody is saying that public education is knocking it out of the ballpark, right? So, there’s some ways we can partner, things we can do, choices are good for parents and that’s not always the traditional public option,” Rowden said.

With the topic of sports betting on the minds of many in the Show-Me State, a pathway forward is unlikely.

“Especially with all the states around us, it makes no sense to me,” Rizzo said. “I wish that both sides would sit down and try to figure out a compromise so people can get the services they want.”

A major roadblock for sports betting is video lottery terminals (VLTs). Without marrying the two topics together, some Republicans like Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, said previously there is no path forward. These VLT machines are found in gas stations and fraternal and veterans’ organizations but are not regulated by the state.

It’s something that I would like to see done,” Patterson said. “I know a lot of people that I know who would like to have it done but I’m not sure it’s going to be able to get done this session.”

There’s estimated to be anywhere from 15,000 to 30,000 VLTs in the state.

This comes as professional sports teams, spearheaded by the St. Louis Cardinals, are working on putting a question on the ballot next year, letting Missouri voters decide if sports betting should be legalized.

Besides the budget, lawmakers are required this year to renew the federal reimbursement allowance program, better known as the FRA. It’s a tax that is critical to the state’s Medicaid funding, paid for by health care providers. Back in 2021, the General Assembly failed to get it done in time, forcing them into a special session.

The 2024 Legislative Session starts Jan. 3.


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