Republicans came into the 2017 legislative session controlling massive majorities in both the House and Senate and the governor’s mansion.
Accomplishing their legislative goals looked like it would be so easy.
Four months later, Republican in-fighting, Democratic intransigence and a budget showdown between House and Senate leaders definitely mucked up the legislative process — and even killed some noteworthy GOP priorities.
But when the Missouri General Assembly adjourned for the year at 6 p.m. Friday, the Republican supermajority could point to a litany of legislative wins.
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Here’s a look at some of the winners and losers:
Missouri House leadership
Compared to the dysfunction that gripped the Missouri Senate most of the year, the usually raucous House seemed to operate with Swiss-watch precision.
A lion’s share of the credit goes to House Speaker Todd Richardson and House Majority Leader Mike Cierpiot. They helped right the ship after former Speaker John Diehl’s relationship with a House intern forced him from office in 2015, and during their second full session as a leadership team, guided a laundry list of long-sought (and highly contentious) GOP priorities across the finish line.
Capping off the year, the House successfully overcame the opposition of Senate leaders and fully funded K-12 public schools for the first time.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry
No other group can point to as many legislative victories this year as the Missouri chamber.
After decades of failed attempts to enact a “right-to-work” law in Missouri, lawmakers approved the bill with lightning speed and the governor signed it less than a month into the session.
A bevy of bills aimed at making Missouri’s courtrooms more business-friendly also found their way to the governor’s desk, most notably a controversial proposal making it much harder for workers to sue a former employer for discrimination. Lawmakers also made chamber-endorsed changes to the state’s workers compensation system.
They didn’t win on everything — their education agenda fizzled, and efforts to bolster transportation funding never got off the ground. But all in all, the chamber was the big winner of 2017.
Sen. Rob Schaaf
At first blush, it would seem Schaaf had a rough year.
His top legislative priorities — meaningful ethics reform and blocking efforts to turn more of Missouri’s Medicaid program over to private managed-care companies — floundered.
He was inundated with calls after the governor’s nonprofit ran attack ads that gave out his personal cellphone number.
Yet more than any other legislator, the St. Joseph Republican dominated debate throughout the 2017 session. Along with a bipartisan group of senators, he seized control of Senate proceedings to force GOP leadership to allow discussion of the issues he thought were vitally important.
It’s unlikely the Senate would have paid any attention to ethics this year, or the governor’s reliance on so-called dark money, if not for Schaaf. His use of procedural maneuvers also killed a swath of bills he opposed.
His tactics certainly didn’t win him many friends. But it’s fair to say he exerted his influence on the session as much or more than any other lawmaker.
Sen. Ryan Silvey
He had nearly constant run-ins with his party’s leadership. But in the end, Silvey managed to shepherd significant legislation through the process.
The Kansas City Republican’s top priority was a bill putting Missouri in compliance with the federal Real ID law. He got the bill approved despite vehement opposition from some conservative senators, thus assuring Missourians will be able to use a driver’s license to board commercial airplanes and enter federal buildings.
He was part of a bipartisan group that pushed to fully fund the state’s K-12 public schools for the first time, bucking his party’s leadership. He also helped craft a funding mechanism to prevent 8,000 disabled and elderly Missourians from losing in-home and nursing home care.
And when it looked like the Senate was going to eliminate a tax on rental cars that Kansas City relies on to pay off bonds used to build the Sprint Center, Silvey joined with Democratic Sen. Jason Holsman to beat back the proposal.
Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard
For much of the session, the Joplin Republican seemed to be under siege.
Rumors swirled throughout the session that a group of senators, frustrated with what they thought was a heavy-handed style, were plotting a coup to remove him from leadership.
And Richard could do little to thwart a group of his fellow Republicans from essentially seizing control of the Senate for weeks, forcing him to allow debate on ethics reform legislation that included a ban on dark money.
He also lost a fight with members of his own party during deliberations on the state’s budget, when 10 GOP senators joined with Democrats to ignore the wishes of leadership and pump $45 million into K-12 public schools.
But most notably, Richard was forced to reckon with allegations of corruption, with several lawmakers accusing him of pushing legislation to benefit one of Missouri’s most prolific campaign donors.
It took less than two weeks for the Missouri House to overwhelmingly approve a ban on lobbyist gifts to elected officials. Four months later, that bill is still sitting in Senate committee.
Ethics reform’s biggest champion during the 2016 campaign, Gov. Eric Greitens, quickly squandered his credibility on the issue — first by refusing to disclose details on how much corporations and lobbyist spent to bankroll his inaugural festivities, then when his advisers formed a nonprofit to raise unlimited amounts of dark money.
A bipartisan group of Senators forced a debate on legislation that would have required Greitens’ nonprofit to disclose its donors, but after several hours of debate the bill’s chances sputtered and died.
To top it all off, shortly before the end of session a federal judge blocked portions of a constitutional amendment Missouri voters passed in November as a way to limit the influence of money in politics.
Coming into the 2017 session, organized labor could see the writing on the wall. Republicans held supermajorities in both the House and Senate, as well as the governor’s mansion. And enacting tougher regulations on unions was their top priority.
Within a month, the governor had signed a right-to-work law allowing employees in unionized workplaces to opt out of paying unions for the cost of being represented.
Two months later, unions were dealt another blow when lawmakers approved a bill banning local governments from giving preferential treatment to union contractors.
Democratic-led filibusters were able to hold off numerous other bills targeting unions, from a repeal of the prevailing wage law to new regulations on public-employee unions. And union leaders hope they can get a referendum on next year’s statewide ballot repealing right to work.
But those silver linings don’t do much to brighten labor’s perspective on the 2017 session.
The elderly and disabled
Senior citizens in Missouri dodged a lot of legislative bullets in 2017. But they were put through the wringer during the legislative session, and didn’t escape unscathed.
Greitens balanced his budget by requiring people to display more severe disabilities to qualify for in-home care or nursing home services. The result would have saved $52 million by kicking 20,000 people off state aid.
The House tried to reverse the cuts by eliminating a tax credit for low-income seniors who rent their home. The Senate balked at the idea, pitching an alternative plan that kept the tax credit in place and used existing state funds to avoid the cut to in-home and nursing home care.
It took a full collapse of the Senate on the session’s final day to convince the House to go with the Senate’s position.
Yet while in-home and nursing home funding was saved, roughly 60,000 older Missourians in July will lose state aid to help them pay for prescription drugs.