State Rep. Aaron Griesheimer, R-Washington, will be heading a new committee in the House of Representatives.
House Speaker Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, selected Griesheimer as chairman of the House Committee on Emerging Issues, which the speaker created. Griesheimer said he is one of only nine of the 50 members of his freshman class elected in 2018 to be selected to chair a committee.
“It’s truly humbling, and, to be honest, it was a complete surprise,” Griesheimer told The Missourian. “I was completely shocked when he called me into his office and announced that I was going to be the new chairman of Emerging Issues.”
The new committee deals with general or miscellaneous issues that aren’t covered by other committees like insurance, education or transportation.
“With Emerging Issues, it’s a very generic topic,” Griesheimer said. “I can imagine we’ll hear bills that relate to all kinds of different topics.”
The only issue bill the committee might hear, as of now, which has a direct impact on Franklin County would involve East Central College and other higher education institutions.
“It just says they can’t track their students while they’re on campus,” Griesheimer said. “That could pertain to Franklin County but nothing directly.”
Griesheimer looks forward to working on any bills Vescovo assigns his committee.
“I anticipate we will do some heavy lifting,” he said. “As of right now, who knows what some of those topics might be? I hope to run a very well-run committee, and, hopefully, it won’t be anything too controversial that we will hear.”
Along with chairing the Emerging Issues Committee, Griesheimer also serves on the Rules, Fiscal Review, Higher Education and Transportation committees.
“Transportation has always been a pique interest of mine, just because it’s connected to economic development,” he said. “In our area, specifically, you can see how the improvement of infrastructure has really helped our economy here in Franklin County.”
Highway 100 improvements, which were followed by the construction of the Phoenix Center shopping area in Washington, is a good example of that philosophy, Griesheimer said. He expects the Transportation Committee’s primary focus this session to be a proposal to increase Missouri’s fuel tax from 17 cents to 27 cents per gallon over five years.
While voters rejected a fuel tax increase in 2018, the new proposal allows for drivers to receive tax rebates after turning their gas receipts into the Department of Revenue.
“That’s kind of an enticement to some, even though your taxes are being raised you can still, if you want, go for a fuel tax rebate,” Griesheimer said.
Griesheimer praised Transportation Committee Chairwoman Becky Ruth.
“She understands the need that we have in this state to improve our roads and bridges,” he said. “MoDOT has one of the highest mileage of roadways that they have to maintain in our country, yet we’re the second lowest state for gas taxes. It just doesn’t match up, so we’re going to have to do something. We’re sympathetic to what the voters (rejected), but we’re always looking at innovative ways to improve our roads and bridges.”
While the House canceled its session for this week because of a handful of members being in quarantine out of COVID-19 concerns, Griesheimer said this week would have been unusual anyway.
“We’ve got 163 members, so we’re always going to have a small percentage of individuals who are going to get it,” he said. “So that was no surprise.”
With Monday’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, work wasn’t expected to start until Tuesday afternoon.
“Well, obviously with the threat of the unrest that could potentially happen in our country with the swearing in of Joe Biden, the FBI had kind of put us on high alert,” Griesheimer said. “So they went ahead and said they weren’t going to call us in on Wednesday, it’s just a technical session, which means we’re not mandatory to be there.”
And this early in the session, the House is usually done for the week by Thursday afternoon, anyway, he said.
“The leadership decided to send everybody home for the week and let everybody rest up,” Griesheimer said. “And we’ll hit it hard next week.”
While Griesheimer has been contacted by constituents frustrated about Missouri reportedly being slow to get out COVID-19 vaccines, he said he talked to a doctor in Washington over the weekend who said it is a different story locally.
“He said we’ve, actually, done a very good job of getting vaccinations out, and we’ve had other areas of the state, actually, come to us needing assistance,” Griesheimer said. “So I was very, very pleased to see that.”
Griesheimer said his father, John Griesheimer, a former state representative and senator, and Franklin County presiding commissioner, is expecting to be vaccinated next week.
“I think our area has done a very good job, despite other areas of our state that are more populated being a little slower getting the vaccination out,” Aaron Griesheimer said.
Griesheimer encouraged anyone with questions about the vaccine to contact his office.
Among the other issues facing the Legislature is a potential wayfair tax on transactions on businesses without a physical presence in the state.
“As COVID really shined a brighter light on online purchases, we are one of only two states that hasn’t established an online sales tax yet,” Griesheimer said. “I think that is one area we are going to have to seriously look at. As we are a state that cares about lowering taxes, at the same time, we still have some bills to pay.”
Education vouchers and savings accounts are another area Griesheimer wants to look at.
“With our education system, our teachers have been hit very hard,” he said. “We’ve had some parents that are frustrated with some of the quarantines that had to happen. They weren’t happy with some of the school boards, I’m not going to mention some of the specific school districts in my district.”