Senator Mike Cunningham

The halls of the State Capitol were deserted this past week. It’s spring break in the Missouri General Assembly. Before anyone jumps to conclusions, let me assure you that spring break does not mean the same thing for legislators as it does for college students. Most lawmakers spend the recess in their districts, catching up on chores they’ve neglected and meeting with constituents.

Like a lot of you, I appreciated a break in the weather that allowed me to finally do some work around my farm. But I also continued to work as a legislator. I traveled throughout the district, visiting county courthouses and calling on local officials to hear what’s on their minds and update them on the legislative session.

There’s a lot of ground to cover. The 33rd Senatorial District includes eight south-central Missouri counties and encompasses more than 6,375 square miles. It spans 175 miles, from west of Marshfield all the way to Doniphan and beyond. The northern-most point, near Licking, is nearly 80 miles from the southern boundary, at the Arkansas line. 

Officially, Missouri General Assembly convenes for just five months each year, from early January through May. State lawmakers are in office year-round, though, and we’re always on call. Whether I’m speaking to a Rotary meeting or picking up tractor parts in town, folks know that I’m a legislator and they’re not shy about pressing me on issues that concern them.

Sometimes people ask why the Legislature doesn’t get more done, or why it always seems that everything gets pushed to the end of session. The simple answer is that passing laws is a process and it doesn’t happen overnight, though sometimes we do have overnight sessions. In fact, we’ve had one all-nighter already this year.

There have been more than 570 bills and resolutions introduced in the Missouri Senate in 2019. The House of Representatives has generated more than 1,500 bills. Before any of those bills are debated in the Senate chamber, the ideas are presented to a committee. Each bill sponsor has the opportunity to explain his or her legislation and advocate for its passage. Then it’s the public’s turn.

Some of the witnesses that appear before committees are professional lobbyists. Others work for state agencies or not-for-profit organizations. But many of the people who testify are Missouri citizens who will be directly affected by what we do in Jefferson City. I appreciate the people who take time off from work and drive to Jefferson City to voice their opinions. I always try to show them the respect they deserve.

The work of moving bills through committees will continue when we return from recess, but more of our attention will now focus on the state budget. We began the session with the governor’s budget recommendations and now we are seeing the budget the House of Representatives has produced. We’ll be digging into those numbers in detail between now and May 10, the last day for floor action on appropriations bills.

So far, the Senate has sent 35 bills and resolutions to the House of Representatives, while 68 pieces of legislation have come to the Senate from the House. Only one bill has passed both bodies – a bill naming a section of highway in St. Louis County in honor of a former legislator.

The spring recess represents the calm before the storm for legislators and their staffs. We all know what’s coming. There will be more floor debates and longer hours in both legislative chambers as we pass bills and send them on to the governor’s desk. If history is any guide, the two legislative bodies will agree on about 100 pieces of legislation by the time we adjourn on May 17.

I’ve enjoyed traveling the district and meeting with constituents during recess, but the break is over. It’s time to get back to work passing bills.

As always, I appreciate it when groups from around Missouri and from our community back home come to visit me at the Capitol. If you would like to arrange a time to come and visit me in Jefferson City, or if you ever have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact my Capitol office at (573) 751-1882.