JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri lawmakers are days away from spring break, but before members head out of town, there’s still a big list of priorities waiting to be addressed.
Spring break marks the halfway point in the legislative session. Back in January, members on both sides of the aisle said they were optimistic compared to last year, but things like legalizing sports betting, investing in childcare and education and initiative petition reform still haven’t made it to the governor’s desk.
In this final week before break, the House is expected to debate open enrollment, a priority for Republican Leadership. Across the building in the Senate, Senate Majority Floor Leader Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, said members should be prepared to discuss legislation aimed at the transgender community.
“We’re working on some politics that address the transgender issues that we’ve talked about now for more than a year,” O’Laughlin said. “We’re working closely with the Democratic caucus on that and I think we can find a path forward.”
This means the Senate could debate legislation that would ban gender-affirming care for minors or prohibiting transgender women from competing on female sports teams. When asked what specifically the upper chamber would be discussing, O’Laughlin said the goal was to make it one piece of legislation.
“We would like to take care of it in one shot, how we go about doing that, we haven’t made those decisions yet,” O’Laughlin said Thursday. “We want to make sure we’re listening to everyone in the chamber, and we’re taking into account everyone’s differing views and a path that everyone can live with.”
But the topic and the debate doesn’t concern just one party.
“I think there are certain Republicans that are also trying to be somewhat sensitive to people who would be affected by it,” Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said. “It’s going to be extremely difficult for us. It’s just something they want badly and are willing to do a lot of extreme options on.”
On the other side of the building in the House, members are expected to debate school choice.
“Of course, education reform is something we want to address,” House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, “I think education reform goes to crime. If you’re providing a good education for children, you’re less likely to have crime.”
Across the aisle, Democrats are concerned that allowing students to go to school outside their district means the state does not support the education system.
“Our teachers and our schools will gain their help if we are properly funded,” Rep. Marlene Terry, D-St. Louis, said. “They should spend their time throwing their efforts into support education and issues and teachers and not trying to shift students around from school to school.”
The Senate already passed an education reform bill this session that would create a “Parents’ Bill of Rights”, limiting how race is discussed and establishing a transparency portal for the public to view what a district is teaching. That bill has yet to be heard in a House committee.
As for sports betting and initiative petition reform, O’Laughlin said there won’t be any debate in the Senate before spring break.
Earlier this year, the House passed legislation to increase the number of votes it takes to pass a referendum. Currently, it only takes a simple majority, meaning more votes for than against. Under the measure approved, voters would have the final say on if an initiative petition on the ballot should receive at least 60% approval to pass. The legislation has been heard and passed out of a Senate committee and is waiting to be debated on the floor.
Once lawmakers return, it will be full steam ahead to get a budget done and to the governor by May 5. Next fiscal year’s spending plan is expected to be the largest in state history.