By John Celock
Missouri’s new governor used his first State of the State address to outline a business and law enforcement friendly agenda.
Gov. Eric Greitens (R) told lawmakers on Tuesday that he wants to see a right to work law sent to his desk quickly as part of his economic agenda. Greitens, who took office earlier this month, also outlined plans for regulatory reform, new education plans and proposals to provide increased safety for law enforcement officers.
“The people have sent us a message: We must do everything in our power to put people back to work in good, high-paying jobs,” he said. “That’s why we must join 27 other states and sign right to work.”
The Republican-controlled state House of Representatives passed a right to work proposal this week, sending the bill to the GOP-controlled state Senate, which is expected to pass it. Lawmakers have previously passed right to work bills only to see them vetoed by former Gov. Jay Nixon (D). The Legislature had not been able to muster the votes to override Nixon’s vetoes. The right to work issue, which would allow non-union members to opt out of paying a union service fee if they work in a job covered by a union negotiated contract, played an important role in last year’s election between Greitens and Democrat Chris Koster.
Koster also called for litigation reform in the state, saying that Missouri’s laws have made it easier for lawsuits in the state and that has prevented business from moving into the state. He said this would include strengthening the state’s expert witness guidelines to put them in compliance with the federal government and 30 other states. He also called for the repeal of the state’s Davis-Bacon Act, which requires that public works contracts pay the prevailing wage for an area.
Greitens used the speech to also call for regulatory reform, including announcing his plans to freeze all new state regulations, while having his cabinet and staff review existing state regulations. He said the current regulatory system has hurt business growth in the state, citing the regulations needed to braid hair professionally in Missouri.
“Missouri’s government mandates 1,500 hours of expensive training for a hair braiding license. That’s 30 hours per week of training for almost a full year, to braid hair,” Greitens said. “We need to end frivolous regulations like these so that our people can start their own businesses and create jobs.”
He noted that in the last 17 years, the state government issued 40,000 pages of regulations. The time period noted by Greitens covers the administrations of Nixon and former Govs. Matt Blunt (R), Bob Holden (D), Roger Wilson (D) and Mel Carnahan (D). Greitens, who is holding his first public office, said the regulations are hurting small businesses statewide.
“But there’s a hidden cost, too. All of this regulation takes the joy out of running a business, running a farm, starting something new,” he said. “Farmers want to farm—not be lawyers and accountants. Business people want to build great things—not fill out endless paperwork.”
Greitens, a retired Navy SEAL, also saluted the state’s employees, National Guard members and law enforcement officers in the speech. He said that he wants to make it easier to pay and promote state employees, a plan similar to other Republican governors in the country.
Greitens said that he wants to make it easier for law enforcement to do their jobs and to recruit new law enforcement. He said that recruitment and retention of law enforcement officers has been complicated by the protests in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson in 2014 and other cities around the country, following police shootings of unarmed individuals.
“And it’s not just in the cities. When you talk to sheriffs, chiefs of police, and front line officers around the state, they’ll tell you it’s getting harder to do police work,” he said. “They’ll tell you about what the FBI has identified: the Ferguson effect. They’ll tell you that it’s harder to recruit people to become police officers, and the officers who are on the job feel less empowered to proactively police.”
Greitens called for a new Blue Alert system to find those who assault law enforcement officers along with tougher state laws regarding assault on law enforcement. He also called for equipping law enforcement in Missouri with tasers and body armor.
Greitens also called for new educational programs for those exiting prison in order to get them job skills and new jobs. He said that he wants to partner with non-profits and the faith community in order to reduce recidivism amongst those exiting prison. He said he also wants to reform the state’s prison system in order to provide job training and to reduce recidivism.
Calling his agenda “strong and bold,” Greitens said that he wants to see lawmakers get to work quickly.
“We have an opportunity to have a truly historic legislative session,” he said. “Let’s heed the voice of the people and let’s take Missouri in a new direction.”