Missouri lawmakers hit the halfway point of the 2013 legislative session last week, leaving Jefferson City on Thursday for a "spring break" vacation.
The General Assembly will return March 25 to continue work after passing nearly 1,500 bills and resolutions thus far in the session.
"The Senate Republicans this year wanted to set a path to move major policy initiates to help get people working in the state of Missouri, to spur employment, to increase personal incomes and to grow our economy in a way that we would be a leader in our region and the nation," Senate President Pro Tem. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said in a meeting with reporters Thursday. "I'm happy to say that we were able to move forward on nine major priority bills before spring break."
Last Wednesday, the two newest pieces of legislation were approved by the General Assembly. Senate Bill 10, sponsored by Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, will establish a new tax credit program for amateur sports events brought to Missouri. It was approved by the House and will now go to Gov. Jay Nixon's desk with overwhelming bipartisan support in both chambers. If passed, it would give tax incentives to organizers bringing events like college championships and Olympic trials to Missouri.
Senate Bill 20, also passed on Wednesday by both chambers, would renew a handful of tax credit programs for food pantries and other charitable causes. The credits it would reinstate expired in August 2011 and would be extended through 2019 if signed by Nixon.
"It's been a productive couple of months," Dempsey said. "I believe it's a good start."
Republican leaders in the House agreed with Dempsey.
"I am extremely pleased with the progress we've made at this point as we've reached the halfway point of session," House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, said at the press conference. "I think that is because the House and Senate have been largely united in all of our priorities, in all of our goals, and most importantly, in working together as one functioning General Assembly."
However, opponents on the other side of the aisle argued that the General Assembly has fallen short in its goals so far this session.
"We have not so far had any legislation dealing with job creation," Rep. Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, said at the House Democratic Caucus press conference. "Instead what we've seen is infringement on voter rights, we've seen suppression of wages for the middle class, and undermining workers' rights. But more importantly, the one thing we labeled as our priority as well as the priority for business community as well as the health care community, I've seen no advancement on health care expansion."
The House approved a measure last week that would give health care providers the right to refuse to provide care if it violates their religious principles. In his State of the State address in January, Nixon called for the expansion of health care, including Medicaid.
"Strengthening Medicaid will strengthen our economy," Nixon said in the speech. "Without question, it's the smart thing to do."
According to Nixon, an expanded Medicaid program would bring a total of $5.7 billion to Missouri in the next three years and would make health care available to 300,000 additional Missourians.