Rowden assumes new role as Senate majority leader – News – The Mexico Ledger – Mexico, MO


JEFFERSON CITY — Several legislators shook Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden’s hand and congratulated him as he walked the halls of the Senate side of the Capitol Building, sometimes with his 5-year-old son Willem in tow.

One man referred to Rowden as “His Majesty,” but the senator from Columbia said he didn’t want to let his new position go to his head on his first day.

“I’m glad it’s over,” he said at the end of the afternoon.

As the 100th Missouri General Assembly began Wednesday, Rowden, R-Columbia, became majority leader in only his third year as a state senator.

He said he did not expect to rise in the ranks so quickly.

“I’ve learned to take things as they come as opposed to trying to force things,” Rowden said. “That view of the world has served me pretty well, and that’s what happened here. It just kind of worked.”

He also attributed his fast and apparently unprecedented ascent to term limits.

“There’s a big freshman class, so that just kind of elevates everybody a little bit quicker,” he said.

 

Rowden is the first Boone County legislator in half a century to be in such a high position in the state legislature.

Processing that information, Rowden said, “That sounds scary.”

The last lawmaker from Columbia to hold the same post, Sen. A. Basey Vanlandingham, a Democrat, did not reach it until 1969 as he began his third term in the Senate. Senators may only serve two terms under the current constitutional limits.

He sees opportunities in the challenge of his new role, he said, and he is excited to get to work.

“It gives me the chance to really have an impact on the things I came here to do, so that’s a neat opportunity and one I don’t take lightly,” Rowden said.

A hot topic on the first day of the session was Amendment 1, a campaign finance reform and anti-gerrymandering initiative that Missouri voters approved in November with more than 60 percent of the vote. NPR reported Tuesday that Republican state legislators might present a constitutional amendment to undo or alter Amendment 1 and could even put it up for a statewide vote later this year or in 2020.

Rowden and Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, addressed the amendment also known as “Clean Missouri” in a press conference.

Rowden said Amendment 1 was “very poorly written,” specifically the limits on gifts from lobbyists and the requirement that all legislative records be open to the Missouri Sunshine Law. He said it politicizes the office of the state auditor and “gives one person license to gerrymander.”

Schatz said state Republicans do not intend to reverse the will of the people.

“There are some changes that may need to occur in order to really give the voters what they actually wanted and what they thought they were voting for,” Schatz said.

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said in a press conference that House Democrats will address any challenges to Amendment 1 as they come. The Democratic caucus aims to “uphold the will of the people” after several progressive ballot initiatives passed in November’s election, Quade said.

The leaders of both chambers gave speeches after being sworn in. House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, did not make any specific policy proposals in his speech after becoming speaker. He instead named several areas where he expects legislative work. He emphasized economic growth and business-friendly legislation, balancing the state budget and improving higher education. The House must also act to help Missourians with opioid addictions and “provide opportunities to those in a broken criminal justice system,” Haahr said.

In an interview, Haahr said he believes in taking challenges as they come and providing general outlines of what the Republican caucus wants to achieve instead of prioritizing specific pieces of legislation.

Schatz also did not mention specific proposals in his speech, but he said in his and Rowden’s press conference that he does not believe right-to-work will make a comeback in the Senate this year. Schatz also said the legislature could look at potential new revenue streams for infrastructure after the failure of Proposition D, which would have increased the motor fuel tax by 10 cents per gallon by 2022.

The University of Missouri wants lawmakers to provide $50 million to share funding of the Translational Precision Medicine Complex, which would allow researchers from various disciplines to work on medical treatments designed to match the needs of individual patients. Rowden said the legislature probably cannot secure the funding this year, but enough House and Senate leaders are likely to stay in their positions for a few years, which makes the legislature more likely to get the $50 million in the next few years.

Rowden also said his position as majority leader provides additional leverage to fund what he called “a tremendously important project.”

The House members from Boone County each told the Tribune their goals for the legislative session:

State Rep. Martha Stevens, D-Columbia, said she plans to refile a bill to decriminalize needle exchange programs for opioid users and another bill that would cap interest rates on payday loans at 36 percent. She also plans to file a new bill that would allow Missourians to vote anytime in the six weeks prior to an election without having to provide a documented excuse.

 

State Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, continues to be the ranking Democratic member of the House Budget Committee. He said lessening student debt is still a high priority for him, and he has filed a bill that would create a state work-study program. The bill passed the House with bipartisan support last year but did not come up for a vote in the Senate before the session ended.
State Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland, pre-filed a bill that would extend the deadline for the state’s DNA Profiling Analysis Fund to receive court fees for another 10 years. She said she anticipates working on the budget this year and also will continue to advocate for funding Missouri Task Force 1.
State Rep. Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport, pre-filed a bill that would prohibit school districts from starting the school year more than 10 days before Labor Day. He said education associations are opposed but that Columbia teachers have given him “a lot of positive feedback.” He also plans to filed a bill that would prohibit the Missouri Department of Transportation from removing property owners’ yard signs unless they are a safety hazard.
State Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch, R-Hallsville, said her top priority is jobs, particularly for veterans and public safety. “I will continue to champion for education at all levels,” Reisch said.

 

 



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