Common ground caucus: After last week’s Senate tax bill fell apart before making it to a vote, Sen. Tom Holland, a Baldwin City Democrat, announced he was creating a common ground caucus for Republicans and Democrats looking for a joint solution to the state’s issues.
The first meeting of the caucus this week attracted Democrats like Sen. Pat Pettey, from Kansas City, Kan., and conservative Republicans like Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook of Shawnee. The meeting was held in a cramped Capitol conference room.
But it didn’t seem to make much of a difference on the first major vote of the year; Democrats and conservative Republicans were, for the most part, on the opposite sides of a bill filled with large tax increases that narrowly passed the Senate.
The group will meet again next week, Holland said.
“The whole kind of purpose of this was basically (to) try to put together a safe spot ... for nonleadership senators to come together and try and find common ground,” he said.
Budget fix: Almost as soon as the House passed a bill filled with tax increases and sent it to the Senate, lawmakers took on the task of mending 2017’s shortfall of roughly $320 million.
That immediate hole is one the increased taxes won’t fill.
The House approved legislation Friday morning that follows Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposal to borrow money from an investment fund estimated to hold more than $360 million.
Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, a Kansas City, Kan., Democrat, spoke in support of the bill, despite saying it wasn’t a great option. But, as lawmakers have maintained for much of the last month, it was the best of bad options.
“This is not an easy vote to take,” she said.
Who takes Brownback’s spot: There’s still more than a year and a half until Brownback’s successor is chosen, but candidates are already lining up.
Wink Hartman, a Wichita oilman, business owner and Republican donor, has said he’ll run for the Republican nomination.
Ed O’Malley, a former Republican state representative from Roeland Park, also has launched an exploratory campaign.
Other well-known Republicans, like Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Attorney General Derek Schmidt, have not said whether they will run.
The Missouri plan: Conservatives have long derided Missouri’s nonpartisan court plan, and they’ll be closely watching the process of replacing state Supreme Court Judge Richard Teitelman.
The plan gives power to select certain judges to a seven-member commission made up of a judge of the Supreme Court, three citizens appointed by the governor and three attorneys elected by members of the Missouri Bar.
The commission submits three names to fill judicial openings to the governor, who then has 60 days to choose from the list.
Critics say this method gives too much power to trial attorneys, and several efforts over the years have sought to replace it by directly electing judges or allowing governors to select them with Senate approval.
Some Republican lawmakers are quietly concerned the commission will select liberal candidates whom Gov. Eric Greitens will be forced to choose from to replace Teitelman, who died in November.
On Thursday, House Speaker Todd Richardson, a Poplar Bluff Republican, said the commission’s choice could determine whether lawmakers need to make a change.
“How the commission approaches this will be very instructive about how people look at that process going forward,” he said.
Hair braiding regulations: To be a licensed hair braider in Missouri, you have to complete 1,500 hours of hands-on training and pay thousands in fees.
Republican lawmakers have homed in on this fact as they seek to undo what they see as burdensome regulations on businesses. And Thursday, a bill lifting restrictions on hair braiders passed the Missouri House 137-10.
The legislation would require hair braiders to register with the State Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners, pay a small fee and take a test about sanitation.
“It’s funny we even have to discuss hair braiding,” said Rep. Shamed Dogan, a St. Louis County Republican who sponsored the bill. “But it’s necessary because the state is spending resources going after people for simply trying to earn a living braiding hair.”
Governor on Facebook: This week, Greitens spent 15 minutes answering preselected questions via Facebook, discussing topics ranging from tougher regulations on labor unions to his penchant for public workout sessions.
Greitens’ communications strategy has largely been focused on social media, such as making major announcements on Facebook and Twitter. Since taking office Jan. 9, Greitens has largely avoided the press. He doesn’t take questions, and his spokesman rarely replies to media inquiries.
The last time Greitens held an open press conference with statehouse reporters was in late October.
The big news out of Greitens’ Facebook Q&A on Wednesday: his support of a prescription drug monitoring program. Missouri is the only state without one, as some Republican lawmakers have blocked it for years over privacy concerns.
“This is an incredibly important issue,” Greitens said. “We can get this done.”