- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 4, 2017

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri lawmakers on Wednesday opened their first session in history with Republican control of the governor’s office and supermajorities in both chambers, and House Speaker Todd Richardson said his party plans to make the most of it.

He outlined plans to pass right-to-work legislation to bar mandatory union fees, ban lobbyist gifts, pass regulations for ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft and ditch what he described as “unnecessary government regulations that stifle innovation and job creation.”

“During this session we are going to deal with big issues, issues that have the power to transform our state,” Richardson said in the House chamber.

Republicans last controlled the Missouri House, Senate and governor’s mansion under Gov. Matt Blunt, who held office from 2005-2009. Outgoing Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s election brought an end to that.

After eight years of being checked by Nixon, Republicans now have an ally in GOP Gov.-elect Eric Greitens, at least on top issues such as right to work. He takes office on Jan. 9.

Greitens and Richardson also want to pass measures that Nixon had resisted to restrict liability lawsuits against businesses. Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard also has said he supports those proposals, although he did not discuss policy details during a Senate speech Wednesday.

Richardson also called for more access to charter and virtual education, as well as education savings accounts that in other states have been used to pay for private or public K-12 school expenses.

He said a ban on lobbyist gifts to elected officials will be the first bill to pass the House.

Despite being walloped during the 2016 elections, Democrats were not silent Wednesday.

In an upset to what’s typically a sleepy day in the Legislature, outgoing Democratic Secretary of State Jason Kander after gaveling in the House warned Republican lawmakers not to go too far with photo-identification requirements for voters.

“I feel a responsibility to tell you that even though you have the power to take away the right to vote from the citizens of Missouri, that you shouldn’t,” Kander said.

Republican Rep. Allen Andrews called Kander’s speech a “slap in the face” to the democratic process.

House leaders later that day opted not to take up a planned resolution to express “sincere appreciation and deep gratitude” to Kander. Democratic Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty called it “a touch petty.”

Missouri voters in November amended the state Constitution to allow for photo voter-ID requirements, triggering a law passed by Republican lawmakers earlier last year. That means starting in June, voters must show government-issued photo identification at the polls.

The state must pay for photo identification for those without it, and voters who sign an affidavit saying they don’t have proper ID can cast a regular ballot.

Kander’s Republican successor, Jay Ashcroft, supports voter identification and takes office Jan. 9.

McCann Beatty also used the start of session to call for action to address concerns that gained traction following the 2014 fatal shooting of black 18-year-old Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer.

“The unrest in Ferguson was more than two years ago, and this Legislature has done nothing to understand why it occurred and little to address the underlying issues to ensure that it doesn’t happen again,” she said on the House floor.

Speaking to reporters later Wednesday, she cited the lack of traction in past sessions for bills on police body cameras and police training.

Richardson said he disagrees that there’s been little progress, but said “more needs to be done.”

“Whether you’re talking about in rural southeast Missouri or you’re talking about in Ferguson where you don’t have the kind of education system and the economic opportunities that we should have in this state, this caucus and this majority is going to be fiercely committed to trying to create those kinds of opportunities,” he said.

The session lasts roughly five months and ends in mid-May.


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