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New Missouri House Speaker outlines 2019 priorities

(Missourinet) The new Missouri House Speaker says while the Show-Me State has the lowest unemployment in decades, it does not mean that lawmakers can rest.

State Rep. Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, was formally elected Speaker by the full House during Wednesday’s opening session in Jefferson City. Haahr says the Legislature will create what he calls “bold solutions” for challenges faced by every Missourian.

“At the heart of our efforts is one of economic growth. Our message that Missouri is open for business cannot be just lip service coming from this building (the Capitol). The policies we pass must focus on cultivating employers and not controlling their businesses,” Haahr tells the House.

Republicans will control the chamber 116-47 in 2019, which Haahr notes is one of the largest majorities in state history.

Speaker Haahr’s call for criminal justice reform gets a thumbs-up from House Democratic leaders. During his address, Haahr received bipartisan applause when he mentioned “a broken criminal justice system.”

“We must provide opportunity to those in a broken criminal justice system. Last year the House unanimously passed reforms to our sentencing laws and we will again lead on those reforms,” says Haahr.

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, tells Capitol reporters that Democrats have been talking about criminal justice reform for decades. Missouri Legislative Black Caucus Chairman Steven Roberts, D-St. Louis, also praises Haahr’s comments.

While Republicans have a supermajority-plus, Haahr says he’ll always listen to ideas from Democrats. Haahr describes the House as a “family with a common cause: to make Missouri a better place.”

“We won’t always agree on the policies. But, we always will agree on the goals of safer neighborhoods for our families, better education for our children and a stronger economy for Missouri,” Haahr says.

The Missouri House and Senate convene on January 9, 2019 for a joint session to commemorate the 100th General Assembly (photo courtesy of Tim Bommel at House Communications)

Quade tells Missourinet she has a “great working relationship” with Speaker Haahr, noting they have neighboring districts. She adds she and the Speaker have had preliminary discussions about funding for community colleges and for Missouri State University in Springfield, which is in her district.

Haahr also focused on conservative policies during his address, saying that “gone are the old ways of thinking that public money alone can end our problems.” He tells the House that Missouri has passed a balanced budget without raising taxes for 15 years that “that will not change on our watch.”

He also says lawmakers will fully fund the school foundation formula and says the House will “continue to lead the charge” to confront Missouri’s opioid epidemic.

Judge Jack Goodman, a former Mount Vernon state senator, administered the oath of office to Haahr on Wednesday.

Leader Quade says a top goal for House Democrats is to protect taxpayers from a mistake made by the Missouri Department of Revenue last year, which she says resulted in inaccurate withholdings from Missourians’ paychecks. Quade has filed a bill that would grant taxpayers who owe less than $200 an additional two months to pay, without incurring penalties or interest charges.

This is the historic 100th General Assembly. The House and Senate also convened a rare joint session on Wednesday, to take a photograph in the House chamber. 152 of the 163 state representatives and all 34 state senators were in the photo, along with Lieutenant Governor Mike Kehoe (R).

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