With just three weeks left in the 2019 Missouri legislative session, Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, says there is still time to get key pieces of legislation to the governor’s desk, but the clock is ticking.
In addition to approving the state budget passed by the House in recent weeks, bills concerning internet sales taxes, transportation funding, Gov. Mike Parson’s $300 million bonding plan, federal reimbursement allowances, abortion and prescription drug monitoring are still on the table.
“At 6 o’clock on May 17, it’s all over,” Schatz said. “If we can get a few more things done it can turn into a very good session. We will all be ready for a little rest.”
Schatz added he has enjoyed his role in Senate leadership this session, although it has been different from his past legislative experiences of juggling several bills at the same time.
“It has been a learning process,” he said. “We solve problems in regular life and it’s no different here. I’ve tried to put the right people in the room to negotiate.”
As part of his duties as the highest ranking senator, Schatz has limited the number of bills he is handling personally this session.
Of his few bills, his most significant task is persuading House members to embrace a $301 million bonding plan to repair 215 bridges throughout the state.
The plan passed by the Senate last week was a modification of Gov. Parson’s plan unveiled earlier this year, which included a visit to Franklin County.
Schatz said the linchpin to the proposal is the state of Missouri receiving an Infrastructure for Rebuilding of America (Infra) Grant from the federal government.
The plan calls for the state to pay $50 million up front to fix 35 bridges and the state would then borrow $250 million for the remainder.
Of local note, Schatz also will be handling House Bill 499 originally proposed by fellow Franklin County legislator State Rep. Aaron Griesheimer, R-Washington.
After being passed by the House in late March, the Senate Transportation Committee approved HB 499 by a unanimous 5-0 vote to put the bill on the Senate calendar for a full body vote perhaps next week.
The bill requires automatic driver’s license revocation when a driver strikes a highway worker in a construction or work zone or a first responder in an emergency zone.
Griesheimer has voiced some concerns over a caucus of five senators who may become roadblocks for the bill.
“I’m not sure what those individuals would have concerns with,” Schatz said. “It’s a continual battle for leverage and I’m sure it is something we can take care of. It will just have to go through the process.”
In March, Schatz took on the issue of gaming machines and filed legislation that would regulate them in the state.
“We can probably get that amended to a House bill,” he said. “There is still a little time left.”
He says there are 665 retail locations in the state of Missouri operating illegal gaming machines, which have cost the Missouri Lottery Commission $3.2 million in sales in the past six months.
The new machines are called Video Lottery Terminals, often referred to as VLTs.
“Recently, these machines were legalized in Illinois, and now they are spreading to our state despite the fact that Missouri law has not been changed to allow VLTs,” Schatz said. “These are games of chance with cash payouts that clearly seem illegal to me, but the companies pushing VLTs call them ‘gray machines’ instead of what they really are and that is ‘black market.’ ”
Schatz added he does not agree with the term “gray machines.”
“These are illegal machines and should be treated that way,” he said. “Not only are these machines illegal, but they weaken the Missouri Lottery, which helps fund public education in our state. I think it is time our state takes action and enforces the law.”
Currently, the Missouri Gaming Commission (MGC) does not regulate the machines and any reports are referred to the Missouri Highway Patrol Division of Drug and Crime Patrol, which may or may not conduct investigations and hand the findings on to local prosecuting attorneys.