Missouri Legislature convening with new faces in many places

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The Missouri General Assembly was to begin its historic 100th edition on Wednesday with new faces in many places after scandals, resignations and term limits that forced out many of the officials who were guiding the state just one year ago.

Republicans will continue to run the show, albeit with new leaders.

Rep. Elijah Haahr and Sen. Dave Schatz were expected to be elected by colleagues to take over the top positions in the House and Senate after their predecessors were prohibited by term limits from seeking re-election.

They will be working with Republican Gov. Mike Parson, who last year at this time was lieutenant governor. Parson took over as chief executive June 1 when Republican Gov. Eric Greitens resigned while facing potential impeachment over allegations of sexual and political misconduct.

Since then, Parson has appointed former state Sen. Mike Kehoe as lieutenant governor, former state Treasurer Eric Schmitt to take over as attorney general following Josh Hawley's election to the U.S. Senate, and state Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick to take over as treasurer.

More than one-third of the House and Senate members also will be new, replacing incumbents who either could not or chose not to run again.

Parson has said he wants to focus on workforce development and infrastructure. But that latter goal will be complicated by the fact that voters in November rejected a proposed gas tax hike that would have raised hundreds of millions of dollars for roads and bridges.

The governor and incoming legislative leaders also have said they would like to revise a voter-approved constitutional amendment that changes Missouri's criteria and procedures for redrawing state legislative districts after the 2020 census. The new formula is expected to boost Democrats' chances of winning seats. Any changes would have to be referred back to voters in the form of another constitutional amendment.

Missouri lawmakers will be crafting a budget amid more uncertainty than usual, as the state simultaneously deals with the effects of federal and state income tax changes while also considering changes to state sales tax collections. Parson and legislative budget leaders are forecasting modest 1.7 percent growth for the current budget that ends June 30, although revenues through the first half of the fiscal year were down 2.9 percent. They are projecting an additional 2 percent growth for the 2020 budget that they will prepare this session.

Lawmakers are expected to consider changing state sales tax laws to require out-of-state vendors to collect taxes on items sold to Missouri residents — something made easier to accomplish by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year.

Other issues likely to draw debate include the adoption of a statewide prescription drug database intended to cut down on opioid abuse and the legalization of sports betting.

Lawmakers plan to participate in a rare joint session of the House and Senate on their first day of work in order to take a group photo commemorating the start of the 100th General Assembly. The Legislature's terms are numbered in two-year increments, and Missouri is approaching the 200th anniversary of gaining statehood in 1821.


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