Legislative leaders present their agenda for 2015 session

Republicans hold historic majorities in House, Senate

By State Capitol Bureau staff

JEFFERSON CITY — Ferguson, education, economic development and resistance to federal regulations were cited by the Missouri Legislature’s Republican leaders on the opening day of the 2015 legislative session on Wednesday.

The session began with Republicans being handed historic majorities by Missouri voters in November. The GOP holds far more than the two-thirds majority to override a veto by the Democratic governor.

“As for the broad direction of policy in this session, it seems to me that this has been set by the people themselves, The voters of Missouri sent an unmistakable message in November, delivered in person today by at least 117 of us,” said House Speaker John Diehl, R-St. Louis County, in his address to the chamber after his election as speaker.

Democrats hold just 45 seats in the House with one vacancy when a Republican resigned shortly after the November elections to become a lobbyist.

In the Senate, Republicans command a 25-9 majority.

Both Diehl and the Senate’s top leader — Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Louis County — urged bipartisan cooperation.

“By and large, over my 14 years of public service in the state Legislature, we have come together as Republicans and Democrats to move Missouri forward in a prudent, positive manner,” Dempsey said to his colleagues after senators elected him to his second two-year term as pro tem.

But both leaders stressed a pro-business agenda that has met opposition from Democratic legislators and vetoes from the Democratic governor.

“I come to this position as a frank believer in certain principles of government, starting with a preference for individual freedom over the power of the state,” Diehl said.

Dempsey cited the GOP agenda lawmakers had adopted in the past.

“Last year, we enacted a historic tax cut that will keep money in the taxpayers’ pockets and the cash registers of small businesses.”

The two leaders also sounded a similar theme in addressing the issues raised by Ferguson. They called for expanding job opportunities and improving educational services in areas with troubled schools.

“Access to a quality education changes lives,” Dempsey said. “It’s not only a pathway to a career; it’s a path out of poverty and a path to foster long-term prosperity for our state.”

But the two legislative leaders also had a stern message.

“Let me be clear: the criminal acts carried out against local shopkeepers, citizens and police officers by individuals who have hijacked the peaceful protests of concerned citizens have no place in a civil society where all must be subject to the rule of law,” Dempsey said.

In the House, Diehl honored five firefighters who worked during the Ferguson violence.

“Let me make this pledge to all of our public safety personnel and first responders that this body will do its best to get answers to what happened that night. And as speaker, I will do everything in my power to make sure it does not happen again,” Diehl said.

Democrats, including the governor, renewed their calls for expanding Medicaid health care coverage — an issue all but declared dead by several Republicans.

In an address to the House, Democratic Leader Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis County, called for efforts to restore trust in government for all Missourians.

“But trust is difficult when there is widespread perception that the rules are applied on a sliding scale that becomes stricter and more onerous the lower one ranks on the economic system.”