JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri lawmakers traveled back to Jefferson City Thursday to file legislation for the upcoming session that starts in January.
The word both Republicans and Democrats used when asked how they feel about the upcoming session was “optimistic.” On the first day of prefiling, hundreds of bills were filed. According to bill summaries, Missourians can expect the General Assembly to discuss guns, sports betting, education, and topics related to abortion.
“Prefiling day is like the Super Bowl of the legislature in some ways,” said Crystal Quade, House Minority Leader, D-Springfield. “There are a lot of benefits to filing on opening day. You get the lower bill number and there is some excitement around trying to be one of the first people to file a specific issue.”
Prefiling is when legislators file their bills, they hope will become law in the upcoming session. It’s like preparing for the big game. One of the bills filed is a reaction to the St. Louis school shooting last month that claimed two lives.
“It prohibits teenagers from buying semi-automatic and automatic weapons,” said Rep. David Tyson Smith, D-Columbia.
Smith is the sponsor of the legislation. He said the bill focuses on guns and who can buy and sell them.
“A youth can possess a firearm, they just can’t go in there [into the store] individually and purchase one,” Smith said. “If a father or mother purchases a gun for their child, they can give the gun to the child to use for hunting.”
House Bill 208 would make it a class A misdemeanor for anyone under 20 years of age to buy a semi-automatic or automatic firearm. It also would be a class A misdemeanor for someone to sell or lease a firearm to someone under 20.
“Teenagers are shooting up schools, and they are doing it in Missouri and around the country,” Smith said. “Uvalde was really the turning point for me when I saw that. I think it’s time, it’s common sense.”
It was a tragic scene in October as dozens of students and teacher ran from the Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis as police say a gunman opened fire. Police say 19-year-old Orlando Harris used an AR-15 style rifle, shooting and killing 16-year-old Alexandria Bell and 61-year-old PE teacher Jean Kuczka.
“I’m not trying to take everyone’s guns away, I’m not trying to keep kids from hunting,” Smith said. “I’m not one of these people who hates guns or hates the Second Amendment, but let’s do something that makes sense.”
Across the aisle, freshman Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, is looking at school choice as a top priority this session.
“Giving parents the ability to decide what is the best education for those kids and having those dollars follow their child wherever they decide is the right place to send their kid,” Coleman said.
Coleman also was part of the Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act, which allowed the Show-Me State to become the first in the nation to make abortion illegal, following the overturning of Roe V. Wade and the signature of the attorney general. When asked if there are any other steps she would take this year regarding abortion, she said she doesn’t plan on it.
“We’ve eliminated legal abortion in the State of Missouri except for the life of the mother, and I consider that work to be done at this point,” Coleman said. “I’m focusing this session on things that are going to help working families.”
Other Republicans like Rep. Brian Seitz, R-Branson, want to tighten abortion laws in the state. He prefiled legislation to give rights to an unborn child.
“To see that infant in the womb to be declared all the rights and privileges of any other Missouri citizen,” Seitz said. “At conception, that person would be given the rights of any other Missouri citizen.”
Seitz, who prefiled 14 bills Thursday, filed legislation that would criminalize someone for trafficking abortion-inducing drugs.
“I just want to provide protections for that infant in the womb,” Seitz said. “I think abortion-right advocates would like to see through initiative petition, abortion on-demand return to Missouri, and we want to stop that.”
Some might remember many called the Senate dysfunctional last year. New Senate Assistant Minority Floor Leader Doug Beck, D-St. Louis, hopes last year’s roadblocks are in the rearview mirror.
“Some of those issues are off the table and some of those folks are gone,” Beck said. “I don’t think anybody really knows how this session is going to go.”
Beck filed 17 bills himself Thursday, and he says his main priority is offering tax incentives to bring more businesses to Missouri within the film and music industry.
“Trying to bring that industry back to Missouri because it’s frustrating to watch these shows on TV and see that they weren’t even shot here,” Beck said.
Another important piece of legislation to him, giving tax credits to grocery stores for opening or remodeling that are located in food deserts.
“Everybody should have access to fresh fruits and vegetables and good food, that way they don’t have to go to a liquor store or a gas station to get these things,” Beck said. “I’ve talked to legislators who have to drive 25 minutes to get milk, and it’s a gas station, and they will pay an exorbitant price for that.”
Lawmakers also agree that other main focuses include sports betting and changes to the initiative petition process, making it harder to put things on the ballot like Amendment 3, which just a few weeks ago, voters approved to legalize recreational marijuana.
The legislative session starts Jan. 4. To read the prefiled legislation, click here.