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Parson laments failure of transgender sports bill, ban on critical race theory; also leery of tax rebate plan, earmarks

Gridlock in the Missouri Senate doomed issues that the GOP should have used its supermajority to accomplish, Gov. Mike Parson said Wednesday, pointing specifically at legislation targeting transgender students and aiming to ban critical race theory in schools.

In an interview with KFTKs Mark Reardon, Parson lamented that the legislature spent so much time and effort this year trying to strike a compromise on congressional redistricting. Especially, he said, when the end product wasn’t that much different from what was on the table when the session began in January. 

“It really hurt a lot of other issues that I really felt like should have been things we should have got past as Republicans and conservatives in this session,” he said. “I’m a little disappointed they didn’t get across the finish line.”

Proposals like banning transgender students participating on sports teams that match their gender identity or prohibiting curriculum that featured critical race theory should have been easy to pass, Parson said. 

“It’s just frustrating when you can’t get stuff like that on my desk,” Parson said Wednesday. 

The Missouri State High School Activities Association already has a policy in place outlining requirements for transgender students participating in sports. And Missouri’s commissioner of education has testified that the vast majority of Missouri’s K-12 schools don’t teach the concept of critical race theory. A survey conducted by Parson’s education department last year found nearly all school districts who responded didn’t feature critical race theory in curriculum.

During the five months the General Assembly was in session, both issues were debated numerous times. Versions of the proposals cleared the House but languished in the Senate in the face of GOP infighting and Democratic opposition. 

Despite his critique of the legislature’s productivity, Parson didn’t mention either issue in his annual State of the State address in January and never made a public push for them during the legislative session.

He also steadfastly rejected calls from lawmakers last year to convene a special session focused on redistricting.

Members of the Senate conservative caucus regularly used procedural maneuvers to gum up the chamber — most notably to stop a proposed redistricting bill that failed to gerrymander a Democratic congressional seat in Kansas City. Shortly before the Senate adjourned for the year, the caucus gave up its fight and let a map come up for a vote that preserved the current partisan makeup of Missouri’s congressional delegation. 

Parson signed that map Wednesday. 

Sen. Bob Onder, a Lake St. Louis Republican and member of the conservative caucus, said during an end-of-session press conference that lawmakers underperformed by not making a full-throated effort on transgender sports and critical race theory. 

“From the standpoint of the Republican caucus,” Onder said, “I think we could have done a lot better.”

Parson also laid out problems he has with a $500 million tax rebate plan that Republicans included in the state budget. 

The program will send up to $500 to individual income tax filers and up to $1,000 to married couples filing a combined return. To be eligible, filers must have an income less than $150,000 a year for individuals and $300,000 for married couples.

“Well, you know, if a guy makes $160,000 and is paying his fair share of the taxes,” Parson said, “why would he be excluded from this? I mean, that’s like, the stuff we don’t do.”

Instead, Parson said lawmakers should have used the state’s unprecedented budget surplus to cut the income tax rate. He also hinted that some of the projects lawmakers got into the budget for their district that are paid for with federal stimulus money could be on the chopping block when he makes his decisions on vetoes next month. 

“We’re going to be very careful with that or try to be very careful as we go through the budget process here,” Parson said. “That federal money, we need to make sure we’re investing in long term projects. I just don’t want to see it to be a one and done type program or a new program or, you know, there’s a lot of earmarks out there for a lot of things that everybody’s districts, but at the end of the day, we got to really look and see what’s best for the entire state, and how we invest that wisely.”

This article by Jason Hancock is published by permission of The Missouri Independent.

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