Jan 11, 2022 3:45 PM

Missouri lawmakers need to start session at faster pace than normal

Posted Jan 11, 2022 3:45 PM
Missouri Capitol/Photo courtesy of the Missouri House Communications Office
Missouri Capitol/Photo courtesy of the Missouri House Communications Office

By BRENT MARTIN

St. Joseph Post

This Missouri legislative session in Jefferson City will have to move a bit faster than normal at the beginning.

St. Joseph State Rep. Bill Falkner of St. Joseph says legislators will need to agree to redistricting maps and not just the Congressional districts. Falkner says the state representative and senate districts need to be re-drawn according to the Census numbers as well.

“That’s going to have to get done, because in February you’ve got to start signing up to run and some of these districts are going to be changing and so you’re going to have to need to know what those districts are going to be,” Falkner tells KFEQ/St. Joseph Post.

Rep. Brenda Shields of St. Joseph suggests Missouri is running a bit behind on redistricting.

“Most states were called into special session by their governors to address it before they began session the first of January,” Shields tells KFEQ/St. Joseph Post. “So, that will be, I think, our number one top priority along with the supplemental budget. We have a lot of federal dollars that we need to appropriate. We need to appropriate them quickly.”

The General Assembly will redraw the lines for the state’s Congressional Districts in accordance with the latest Census numbers. Missouri has eight Congressional seats and most at the state Capitol in Jefferson City expect the legislature to settle on a map that maintains the status quo:  six safe Republican seats and two safe Democratic seats.

An Independent Bipartisan Citizens Commission will redraw the lines for state representative and state senate seats.

Financial matters also need to be decided early in the session.

Congress approved certain educational funding in the American Rescue Plan.

Shields says the education funding must be appropriated, like the rest of the federal COVID relief funds, by the end of March. Shields says the legislature must spend that money wisely.

“My hope and desire is that we spend this money on capital improvements, things that will make long-term changes to the state of Missouri in which we can see the benefits for years to come,” Shields says.

Shields, a member of the House Budget Committee, says a spending plan for the federal funds must be approved by the House by the end of this month so it gets to the Senate in February.

State Sen. Dan Hegeman of Cosby, the Senate Appropriations Committee chair, says even as the legislature faces some early deadlines on key funding measures, legislators also face the task of implementing Medicaid expansion as approved by voters.

“And the Medicaid expansion will be a topic of continued discussion,” Hegeman says.

This is 2022, an election year.

Local lawmakers worry politics could interfere with the work of the House and Senate at the state Capitol.

Rep. Dean Van Schoiack of Savannah says the legislature will simply have to put up with politics this year.

“We’ve got state reps running for state senate. We’ve got a state rep running for Congress,” Van Schoiack points out during an interview with KFEQ/St. Joseph Post. “They’re going to be pushing things and making a lot of speeches. So, yes, we’re going to have a busy session this year.”

Van Schoiack wants the legislature to clean up state election laws and re-write the voter photo ID bill in line with the Missouri State Supreme Court ruling on the issue.

Falkner hopes the work of the legislature will continue even as some lawmakers look to advance their political careers.

“Hopefully, they’re not going to use the session as a platform and we’ll continue to work on what’s best for the state of Missouri,” Falkner says.