House Speaker Todd Richardson kicked off the 2017 legislative session Wednesday vowing to peal away government regulations on business while increasing them on labor unions.
Companies like the vehicle-for-hire firm Uber should be allowed to “function in a free market,” Richardson said, and workers shouldn’t be forced to join a union when they accept a job.
Richardson, a Poplar Bluff Republican, said during his opening-day address that two House committees will examine the state’s regulation and licensing requirements to craft legislation “to relieve the regulatory burden on businesses in our state.”
And Richardson said he’ll refer a right-to-work bill to committee on Thursday, the first day allowed under House rules. In right-to-work states, such as Kansas, employees in unionized workplaces need not pay unions for the cost of being represented.
“I would ask the chairwoman of the economic development committee to get (right-to-work) legislation to the (House) floor as soon as possible,” he said.
The 2017 session is the first in eight years where Republicans hold legislative majorities and the governor’s mansion, raising expectations that a laundry list of GOP priorities that have been thwarted over the years by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon will sail smoothly to the desk of the new governor, Republican Eric Greitens.
“But with this greater power comes even greater responsibility — a responsibility to make the legislative process deliberative,” Richardson said. “That means we must respect the voices and viewpoints of every Missourian, as represented by each and every one of you.”
Richardson also focused on education in his Wednesday address, an issue that has befuddled lawmakers for years and divided both parties.
Despite coming up short year after year in the past, Richardson vowed to push wide-ranging education legislation.
“During this session, we will work to increase access to high-performing charter schools. We will work to expand course offerings through virtual education. And we will work to make education savings accounts available to parents and students most in need,” he said.
Ethics reform continues to be a priority of GOP leadership, Richardson said.
“I said at the end of last session the House will pass a ban on lobbyists providing gifts to elected officials, and we will fulfill this commitment,” he said. “A gift ban will be the first bill out of this House.”
House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, a Kansas City Democrat, said despite the fact that Republicans hold a 117-46 advantage in the House, her party will work to protect public education, worker rights and the integrity of Missouri’s judicial system.
“Change may be coming, but not all change is positive,” McCann Beatty said. “Eliminating legal protections for workers is change Missouri can do without. Siphoning scarce resources from our local public schools is change Missouri can do without. Further tilting the scales of justice in favor of the powerful is change Missouri can do without.”
Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh, a St. Louis County Democrat, struck a more conciliatory tone.
“Standing together on common ground, we can work for the common good and avoid the partisan gridlock that too often plagues Washington, D.C.,” Walsh said. “This new year brings new opportunities for bipartisan cooperation that moves Missouri forward and puts people before politics.”
Before Richardson was able to deliver his speech, he was upstaged by outgoing Secretary of State Jason Kander, a Kansas City Democrat.
Kander was there to oversee the swearing in of lawmakers. But he decided to break with tradition and gave a speech chastising Republicans for approving a requirement last year that Missourians provide a photo ID in order to vote.
Kander noted that there’s never been a case of voter fraud in Missouri that a voter ID law would have thwarted. The only thing these types of laws do, Kander said, is make it harder for certain eligible voters to cast a ballot.
“You can protect the integrity of elections without stopping anyone from voting,” Kander said.
In an interview with The Star after delivering his speech, Kander said he felt it was his duty as the state’s chief elections officer to “stand up for voters.”
House Republicans took umbrage with Kander’s decision to deliver a speech slamming the legislative majority over voter ID.
“That was a slap in the face to the democratic process,” state Rep. Allen Andrews, a Worth County Republican, said of Kander’s speech.
The House had planned to approve a resolution thanking Kander for his years of service, since he’s leaving office next week. But in response to Kander’s speech, the resolution was abandoned without a vote.