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Kansas City Rep. Mark Sharp recently was named the sole Democrat to lead a committee in the heavily Republican Missouri House of Representatives. Sharp chairs the Special Committee on Urban Issues after serving on the committee during the last three legislative sessions.
The Beacon spoke with Sharp to hear more about the committee’s work and his legislative priorities for Kansas City in 2023. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: How did you achieve the chairmanship on the Special Committee on Urban Issues?
A: Republican leadership, they make all the appointments for chair positions. There weren’t really any big conversations that led up to this. Over the past three years, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of being very intentional about working with not only members of the Democratic caucus but with the Republican caucus as well. And I think that’s what ultimately led to me being the chair of urban issues, just simply based on the fact that I’ve demonstrated the ability to find compromise where we can and work well with all members of the body.
Q: How do you approach working across the aisle?
A: You can’t meet members across the aisle on every issue. So I think the biggest thing for me is to find legislation where you can work with each other. There’s going to be too many disagreements on certain issues where common ground won’t be able to be found. Issues like abortion and trans athletes — in Missouri those are the things that Republicans and Democrats probably just can’t do.
There’s plenty of other issues, I think, that Republicans and Democrats can work together on. And I think we’ve actually made a point to really try to identify what those issues are, whether it’s public safety, or education-related bills, juvenile prisons are some of the things that come to mind. Obviously, anything that will have a huge or positive economic impact on the state, our cities, are issues that we can always typically agree on. That’s really where I stay is trying to work on that low-hanging fruit as far as legislation.
Q: How does a special committee work? Typically, what kind of legislation comes through the committee?
A: Before I was chair of the committee, I was a member of the committee for my first three years in the legislature.
My first year we heard legislation from then-representative now-Sen. Barbara Washington on tax credits for urban farms. This legislation has since passed.
Typically, we’ll hear what’s referred to as the “CROWN act” in that committee. That legislation really speaks to a lot of Black and brown girls, how they wear their hair at school, or places that would sometimes have hurt girls as far as how you’re allowed to wear your hair. And I’m surprised this bill hasn’t passed. It’s passed through the House several times.
In the past, we’ve had consent bills go through there, like my Negro Leagues license plate bill went through urban issues. I’ve had a bill that has gone through urban issues that would have made February officially Black History Month in Missouri, Native American Heritage Month for November. So those are just examples, over the past three or four years, typically they are issues that would really impact the urban core.
One bill that hadn’t come to that committee before was a bill that myself and Rep. Chris Brown, who is a Republican from Clay County, filed together, which removes the salary cap for the police chief in the Kansas City Police Department and other positions in the police department, and also the age restriction for the police chief to be under 60 years old.
So that’s a bill that’s been referred to urban issues (this session). I believe the reason the speaker of the House, Dean Plocher, referred that bill to urban issues is because the mayor of Kansas City was coming down to Jefferson City to testify in support. And it was a significant priority for the city. So, I think that’s why that bill went to that committee instead of maybe the crime prevention committee that has almost 30 people sitting on it. I think that was reasonable.
Unfortunately, as the chair, I can’t refer all of the bills that I’d want to refer. So I have to try and work with the speaker of the House in making sure that we’re getting to hear the most appropriate bills that we can.
Q: What are other issues that you want to try and bolster that are specific to our region?
A: Well, I think my biggest influence will not come from my position and unfortunately, I only can hear the bills that are referred to the committee. So there’s no guarantee that there’ll be any bills that impact Kansas City. Sometimes, like I said, the bills that come to urban issues — they’re just not as policy-related.
Sometimes they’re just naming bills, days, weeks, months. Sometimes it doesn’t always have the biggest impact.
But I do think, for me personally, I think the biggest thing that I can do for the city of Kansas City is try to help promote and support initiatives that are going to set us up for success as it relates to the NFL draft, the 2026 World Cup and being a North American host city, and really trying to use my position to try and reduce violent crime.
Q: Anything else you’re hoping to accomplish this session?
A: As treasurer of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus and a member of the executive board, I can say that a priority for the Black Caucus is to make sure that the CROWN act does get passed. Because we realize all the bills that we have, as members of the superminority, we’re not always going to have the most substantive bills coming up for debate because we just can’t.
Another issue that we’re working on as the Black Caucus is to be recognized as an official caucus of the House. Currently, there’s only two caucuses that are officially recognized by the state legislature, that’s the Republican caucus and the Democratic caucus. So we are trying to change that. The decision comes from the speaker of the House and the chief clerk. So I think before we can have some of the biggest policy priorities, we have to first be recognized. I can’t believe that hasn’t been taken care of. So we’re really dealing with some issues from that perspective that should have been handled years ago.