Members of the 2023 Missouri legislature are back in Jefferson City for the spring session. The Beacon compiled a guide on how to follow along with this legislative session. (File photo)

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Members of the 2023 Missouri legislature are in Jefferson City to begin the spring legislative session. Much of the work happens behind closed doors, but floor debates, bill hearings and other legislative happenings are easy to tune into online. 

Lawmakers meet from January to May, with an occasional extra session if the governor decides a topic is a priority. Last summer, Republican Gov. Mike Parson called legislators to Jefferson City for a special session to address Parson’s desired tax cut. 

Lawmakers in Missouri tend to save debate for the most hotly contested topics until the final weeks. But throughout the winter and spring, bill hearings, floor debates and more are available on the Missouri House and Senate websites. Each legislative body has its own webpage, which can make tracking certain bills a bit complicated. 

To help our readers understand how to best track the legislature and get involved in the legislative process, The Beacon has prepared a guide to follow Missouri’s lawmakers from home. 

How do I follow along with the Missouri legislature on social media? 

There can be a lot of moving parts when it comes to how the legislature functions. Luckily, plenty of folks are tasked with closely following the actions of the General Assembly. 

Lawmakers, staffers, journalists and lobbyists frequently use Twitter and the #moleg hashtag to comment or update followers on real-time happenings from the Capitol. If you’re interested in a specific area, such as health care or education, journalists who cover those topics closely will often post live updates from important hearings or floor debates. 

Like many other states, lobbyists have a vested interest in passing legislation on certain topics, and you can often count on them for updates on certain topics. 

How do I know who is a lobbyist?

The Missouri Ethics Commission requires lobbyists to register before they can take on clients or promote causes.

Currently, 723 lobbyists are listed as active on the MEC website. You can search by lobbyist name, their status (active or inactive), the type of lobbying they do (executive, legislative or judicial branch lobbying) or the company they represent. 

You can also see close to real-time activity for status changes for a certain lobbyist. For example, those who are interested can search among the “lobbyist/principal activity” tab to track changes to which people are the primary (or principal) lobbyists for a certain corporation, field or interest group. 

When does the legislature meet?

The legislature is in session from early January to mid-May. The last day for the 2023 session is May 12. Lawmakers are technically part-time employees, and they have certain constitutional deadlines to meet when it comes to things like sending the budget or legislation to the governor’s desk. 

Usually, both bodies will have lighter schedules on Monday mornings, but Monday afternoons through Friday morning are packed with hearings, meetings and floor debate. Hearings can start for lawmakers as early as 8 a.m., and debate on the floor of the House or Senate can extend well into the evening or even into the next morning, especially in the final weeks of the legislative session. 

You can view the sessionwide schedules for the House and Senate online. Generally, the House website does a decent job of keeping you apprised of what is happening in the Senate. The Senate website contains little information about the happenings of the House. 

How do I find out who my lawmakers are and how to contact them?

You can look up your legislators by entering your address on openstates.org. If you already know the names of your lawmakers, you can use the respective House and Senate directories to find office locations, phone numbers and names of staff members. The Beacon’s latest guide to the Kansas City-area delegation gives more details.

How do I know which bills have been filed in the 2023 Missouri legislature? 

Any legislator can file bills. On both the House and Senate bill indexes, you can search by keyword or the specific bill number.  For example, if you are following topics in education, you can search keywords like “teacher pay” or “open enrollment” to find bills that pertain to that subject.

In the Senate, you can navigate to the “legislation” tab, and then to “topical index,” where bills are organized by subject. 

Alternatively, you can view a bill list that allows you to peruse every bill filed so far in each chamber. 

In the House, bills are further separated as they make progress throughout the legislative session. For example, bills that have initial approval by one body have their own section, as do House bills that have been sent to, approved by or vetoed by the governor. 

How do I check the status of a bill in the 2023 Missouri legislature?

Once a bill is introduced in the House or Senate, it gets its own landing page on the respective website. As a bill moves through the legislative process, the newest actions taken on the bill will be listed on the bill’s page. 

In the House, a bill tracker is featured at the top of each bill’s landing page to  show where it is in the legislative process.

You toggle among the “co-sponsors,” “actions” or “hearings” tabs to see the latest updates on what is happening with the specific bill. 

On the side of the bill page, under the “bill text” and “bill summary” tabs, you can click the hyperlink to be directed to the bill’s full text or summary. As the session continues, things like amendments made to a bill, the fiscal note prepared to analyze the cost of the bill, or certain votes will be featured on the right side of the bill landing page as well. 

On the House website, under the “legislation” tab, you can check the status of all House bills by navigating to the left side of the webpage. Bills are split up very specifically by where they are in the legislative process, and this is another way to track the progress of legislation. 

In the Senate you can navigate the “legislation” tab, where you’ll see updates for all Senate bills under the “bill status reports” link and be able to track where in the legislative process they are.  

The bill landing page has all of the same information in the Senate as the House, but is organized a bit differently. The page presents you with a summary of the bill, but you can go to the top of the page to toggle among the full bill text, actions taken on the bill or information from the bill’s hearing in a committee. 

How do I know when a committee is acting on a certain bill and how do I submit testimony?

Most of the major House and Senate committees meet weekly to discuss legislation and take testimony from the public, lobbyists or others. Committee meetings usually take place from the early morning to midafternoon. 

Up-to-date information is available on the House and Senate websites, including where in the Capitol the meetings will take place and what bills will be discussed that day. 

A caution: Day-to-day schedules are subject to change, and meetings often get rescheduled at the last minute, depending on other business in the Capitol. Check the hearings pages on the House and Senate websites for the latest information. 

You can navigate to the hearings tab on the House webpage to submit witness testimony online for a certain bill as well. 

The Missouri Senate requires members of the public to create an account to submit testimony ahead of a hearing. You can use your profile to register to testify for upcoming committee hearings. Only in-person testimony at Senate hearings is saved to committee minutes. 

How do I watch hearings or floor debate from home?

Audio and video for House hearings and floor debate are available online, with the exception of one committee room. In the Senate, only audio is available for floor debate and hearings. 

In the House, a video archive of hearings from the year (and years prior) as well as House floor debate for every day is saved online. The Senate provides an audio archive of floor debate, but doesn’t offer the same for hearings. 

How do I read testimony on a bill or see how a certain member voted?

Navigate to the specific bill page and go to the “actions’ tab on either the House or Senate pages. 

Every action taken on the bill will appear with a short description of what happened with the legislation. 

To see how a member voted, look for the words “passed” and/or “finally passed” and click the associated hyperlink under the tab “Jrn pg,” which will take you to either the House or Senate journal for that day. The journal records official votes on legislation from every member, but can be a long document. Use the computer’s search feature to type in the bill number you’re looking for, and jump to the recorded vote. 

To see who testified for or against a bill, navigate to the bill’s webpage on the Senate or House websites. In the House, witness forms will appear on the right side of the page, along with other information like the bill’s fiscal note or records of amendments made. 

In the Senate, you’ll navigate to the bill’s page and click the “committee minutes” link at the top, which will show records of the bill’s hearings in committee. Under that tab, click “bill witnesses” to see who showed up to testify for or against the bill. 

What happens during conference committee meetings, and how do I watch?

Conference committees are created in the Missouri legislature when certain bills are in the final stages of approval. They are seen as a more efficient way to move a bill forward than amending legislation on the House or Senate floor.  

Five members each from the House and Senate are designated to be a part of the conference committee, where they can agree on changes to a bill. 

After changes are made, members take the suggestions back to their respective bodies for potential votes. If the changes are rejected, the bill will return to the conference committee. 

This is often when substantial changes to a bill happen. Conference committee meetings are usually livestreamed on the House media feed. 

For the most reliable information on the changes made in conference committees, it’s best to tune into the hearing, as the process of changing a bill is not always recorded — just the final result. Under typical lawmaking circumstances, amendments or other changes would need a recorded vote in order for the bill to proceed. Those small changes aren’t necessarily recorded in a journal when they’re made in a conference committee. 

Where do I find research on policy topics?

The Missouri Joint Committee on Legislative Research is headed by legislators but uses staffers in a research and oversight division to complete nonpartisan legislative research, policy analysis, bill drafting or fiscal notes to determine the cost of a piece of legislation. 

The committee is composed of members from both the House and Senate, but is split into two smaller groups, the research and oversight divisions. Each entity is staffed by nonlegislators. The committee also operates the legislative reference library, which keeps records of more specific documents and journals from both chambers. 

The oversight division is responsible for preparing fiscal notes, evaluating and writing status reports for state programs at the request of legislators, or completing reviews and reports for provisions in state law poised to “sunset,” or phase out of becoming law. 

Who can I contact if I have questions about the 2023 Missouri legislature?

The Missouri Legislative Library is available for questions about legislative happenings. It can be contacted by phone at 573-751- 4633 or leg.library@senate.mo.gov

The Joint Committee on Legislative Research and its staffers are also available for contact. The site has an online directory that shows staffers and the topics they cover, along with their email addresses and phone numbers. 

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MEG CUNNINGHAM is The Beacon’s Missouri Statehouse reporter. Previously, Meg worked as a national politics reporter for ABC News in Washington, D.C., where she covered campaigns and elections. Meg is...