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Missouri's 100th session convenes

State Rep. Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, addresses the 100th assembly from the dais on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, after being elected speaker of the house in Missouri's 100th legislative session at the Jefferson City Capitol. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY — Republicans acknowledged there are other issues they could be addressing this week, but defended Gov. Mike Parson’s decision to call lawmakers back to the Capitol for a special session on used car taxes.

“I think what we’re doing needs to be accomplished and needs to be done,” Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, said Monday. “Are there other things that are important? Absolutely. But I do think that this was appropriate.”

The Republican governor called the weeklong session to address a Missouri Supreme Court ruling in June that bars people from using the combined trade-in value of multiple vehicles to reduce the sales tax they owe on a new car purchase.

While Parson has cast the need to change the law as a way to help “the average person,” the tax break also is used by companies that have fleets of vehicles, including Clayton-based Enterprise Holdings, which is one of the region’s largest companies.

The call was mocked by Democrats, who pointed to hot-button issues like gun violence and a drop in the number of people receiving Medicaid benefits as more important topics for the Legislature to tackle.

“Instead of demonstrating leadership on our most urgent and immediate challenges, the Governor signed the nation’s most extreme law to limit women’s reproductive health choices and he just called legislators back to Jefferson City to — of all things — work out a deal for car dealers while Missourians are suffering from an epidemic of gun violence. His agenda is not an agenda for Missouri families,” the Democratic Party of Missouri said in a statement.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said there needs to be more discussion about gun control before the Republican-controlled House and Senate can take action.

“There’s always room for discussion. I think you have to be careful about trampling on the rights of law-abiding citizens when it comes to these sorts of issues. There are a lot of things happening in St. Louis right now that I think warrant conversation,” Rowden said.

Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, said he believed the car-tax issue was worthy of a special session because of potential costs to consumers. No fiscal analysis of the proposal was available on Monday afternoon, so it was unclear how much reauthorizing the credit could cost the state in revenue.

“The governor’s staff has looked at it and he (Parson) has indicated to us that it reaches that level because the cost might be pretty significant to Missouri consumers and businesses,” Eigel said. “So I’m certainly comfortable following his lead here.”

Although Democrats expressed anger over the special session, lawmakers would already have been in the capital city this week for their annual veto session, which is scheduled for Wednesday.

Lawmakers typically use the week of veto session to raise campaign funds. Between Monday and Friday, more than 80 members of the House and Senate, as well as candidates for open seats in 2020, are scheduled to hold fundraisers, receptions and golf outings.

Parson was not in the Capitol as the session began Monday. He was holding campaign events in Kansas City and St. Louis a day after he announced plans in his hometown of Bolivar to seek a full, four-year term as the top statewide officer.

The governor also is scheduled to be out of the building on Tuesday when the first hearing on the car-tax legislation is expected to be heard.

Parson could meet with St. Louis leaders on Tuesday to discuss ways to address violence in the city.

House Democrats are scheduled to hold a press conference Tuesday to call for action on violence in St. Louis. On Thursday, they also will hold a hearing to highlight a steep drop in the number of people receiving Medicaid benefits.

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