Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry members got a chance to hear from leaders in the Missouri Legislature about priorities for the upcoming legislative session during the Missouri Chamber’s annual Capitol Insight event in Jefferson City.
The event was a chance for Missouri Chamber members to connect with fellow business leaders and with lawmakers about how to advocate for issues they want to see addressed by the General Assembly in 2023.
Missouri Chamber President and CEO Dan Mehan told the group that one of the Missouri Chamber’s top priorities this session would be public safety.
“We’ve been hearing from our members that public safety issues are a definite impediment to economic development, so we’re going to work to address that,” Mehan said. “Negative national attention on Missouri’s crime rates stalls economic growth as it hinders the recruitment of talent and business investment.”
The afternoon began with a “face-off” between Democratic strategist Jack Cardetti of Tightline Public Affairs and Republican strategist Jonathan Ratliff of Palm Strategic Group discussing how election results in 2022 will shape the 2023 legislative landscape at the state capitol.
“There is an old saying that all politics is local, but quite frankly, that no longer exists,” Cardetti said. “Many people already know how they’re going to vote based on just if someone has a D or an R next to their name.”
“We now have very competitive House races in Missouri, which has set up some opportunities for Democrats, but I think greater opportunities for Republicans,” Ratliff said.
Republican and Democrat members of the House Budget Committee and Senate Appropriations Committee discussed their approaches to managing Missouri’s budget and competing interests.
The lawmakers said child care funding, which has been found to have huge implications on the state’s workforce, will be a priority in 2023.
“Before the pandemic we had 4,000 child care facilities, and during the pandemic we lost 1,200 of those,” said Rep. Brenda Shields (R-St. Joseph). “We don’t think about the impact of that on our economy. By not having enough child care facilities, people can’t work, and that has had a $1.3 billion impact on our economy.”
“I anticipate us being able to do transformative things thanks to our stabilizing the budget,” said Sen. Brian Williams (D-St. Louis). “Not just feel-good things, but things to move the state forward. I’m going to be looking at opportunities to raise teacher pay and improve public safety.”
On the day of this event, Andrew Bailey was sworn in as the new Attorney General of Missouri. Only a few hours after his swearing-in ceremony, Bailey came to Capitol Insight to share his vision on how to deal with the public safety issues that businesses feel need to be addressed.
“Safer streets equal prosperous communities, and nothing stops a bullet like a job,” Bailey told the group. “We need to hold violent criminals accountable for their actions, and they need to be taken off the streets and incarcerated.
“For non-violent criminals, we need to be getting them into treatment courts, but we need to use those courts responsibly,” Bailey added. “Probation should not be prison on the installment plan where we give persons second, third and even fourth chances. Probation and treatment courts need to be an investment in individuals whom we have confidence will receive the benefit of that rehabilitative treatment.”
The final panel of the afternoon included leaders from both parties in the House and Senate talking about potential challenges for the upcoming session.
Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin (R-Macon) is the first female to serve as majority floor leader in the state Senate. When talking about dysfunction in the Senate last year, O’Laughlin laughed, “That’s probably why I have this job. I tell people I was everyone’s last choice, and I just held on until I won.”
To avoid dysfunction this session, O’Laughlin said, “You need to set the tone early and let people know how the process is going to work. They need to believe you’re going to listen to what their concerns or priorities are.”
Representative Crystal Quade (D-Springfield) will be serving her third term as minority floor leader in the state House. She said she’s excited to see the potential for members from both parties coming together to work on issues.
“It’s the first time since I’ve been a House member that I feel both sides have a relationship where we deeply respect each other,” Quade said.
To close the afternoon, the inaugural Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry Legislative Staff Leadership Award was given to Pat Thomas. She currently serves as the chief of staff for Sen. Lincoln Hough (R-Springfield).
“Legislators and lobbyists alike come to her for advice,” Mehan said upon giving Thomas her award.
“While I appreciate this incredible gesture, it’s not what drives me every day,” Thomas said. “It’s the work behind the scenes that I’m most proud of. I’ve always prided myself on the willingness to help anyone, no matter the issue, no matter the hurdle or no matter the challenge.”