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Missouri governor gets most of his agenda

May 18, 2019
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FILE - In this Jan. 16, 2019, file photo, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson delivers his State of the State address in Jefferson City, Mo. Missouri's Republican-led Legislature has passed a sweeping bill to ban abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy, and Republican Gov. Parson is expected to sign it. The House approved the measure Friday May 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson laid out a relatively simple agenda when he began his first legislative session as the state’s chief executive. Infrastructure and workforce development, he called it in his State of the State speech.

When the session ended Friday, Parson had pretty much accomplished his goals.

Lawmakers delivered him a bridge bonding measure, though not exactly as he had originally proposed. They also sent him a wide-ranging bill authorizing new tax incentives for businesses and a new scholarship program to help people finish their college degrees.

The budget included funding for both initiatives, albeit not precisely as Parson had requested.

The Republican-led Legislature also sent Parson one of the nation’s most restrictive anti-abortion bills — part of his goal of “promoting a culture of life” that he increasingly emphasized as the session neared an end.

Republican and Democratic leaders alike agreed that Parson — who had been the lieutenant governor just one year ago — had a largely successful session after taking over for scandal-plagued Republican Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned last June while facing potential impeachment.

“The best I can tell, he batted 1,000,” said Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, a Republican from Columbia. “I think it was a good year for him.”

Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh concurred, even though she said she agreed with Parson on only about half of his agenda.

“He had a good session,” said Walsh, a Democrat from St. Louis County. “He got a lot of what he wanted.”

Parson, who served previously in both the House and Senate, entered the year with a bit of an advantage.

Many lawmakers knew him, had worked with him in the past and were eager for a change after an often-caustic relationship with Greitens, who had publicly ridiculed some lawmakers both before and after taking office in January 2017. Greitens resigned while the House was meeting in a special session to consider whether to try to impeach him for alleged campaign finance violations and sexual misconduct related to an extramarital affair.

Parson also aided his cause by primarily focusing on two areas that can attract bipartisan support — jobs and roads.

“They were things that weren’t without controversy and weren’t without some push back but were things generally that I think both sides of the aisle were able to latch on to,” Rowden said.

Parson’s strongest resistance came from a group of fellow Republicans, who banded together to create a conservative caucus. They opposed his bridge bonding plan for racking up debt and denounced Parson’s economic development package for creating what they called a “slush fund” to dispense state tax dollars to businesses before they have followed through on promises to expand and create jobs.

In response to reluctance among some Republicans in both the House and Senate, Parson’s bonding package was pared back from $351 million to be repaid over 15 years to $301 million to be repaid over seven years. It will take effect only if Missouri also receives a federal grant to replace an Interstate 70 bridge over the Missouri River west of Columbia.

The six Republicans comprising the Senate’s Conservative Caucus also held up Parson’s economic development bill for 27 hours through an all-night filibuster. But they ultimately sat down without much to show for it, deciding they didn’t want to impede the passage of the anti-abortion legislation that they deemed their No. 1 priority. That bill will ban abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy, except for cases of medical emergencies, and enact a stairstep of other abortion bans at 14, 18, or 20 weeks should one of the earlier-term restrictions get struck down in court.

“Ultimately the governor was able to achieve his goal,” said Republican Sen. Bob Onder, of Lake Saint Louis. But “I think we improved it and saved the taxpayers quite a bit of money.”

Republican House Speaker Elijah Haahr, of Springfield, proclaimed that Parson “had a great session” and “got a lot of his priorities across the line.”

Greitens also had seen some priorities pass — including tax cuts — even though former House Speaker Todd Richardson appointed a special committee to investigate Greitens.

In that regard, Parson’s biggest accomplishment may have been simply getting along with lawmakers and returning the Capitol to a place where debates focused on policies instead of alleged improprieties.

“Obviously I wasn’t the speaker last year, but my understanding is that the relationship I have with the current governor is somewhat different than what the last speaker had with the last governor, so for that I’m extraordinarily appreciative,” Haahr said.

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Associated Press writer Summer Ballentine contributed to this report.

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