Update: GOP majority pushes business agenda

Update: Wednesday, Jan. 5 at 6:25 p.m.:

State lawmakers returned to the Capitol Wednesday for the 2011 legislative session.

The legislature this year has new leadership and a lot of new people. The republican majority is stronger, but under more pressure from the conservative right.

Almost half of the members of the Missouri House entered the chamber for the first time, including both representatives from Jefferson City. Mike Bernskoetter is representing District 113 and Jason Jay Barnes is representing District 114.

Secretary of State Robin Carnahan urged newcomers not to forget the voters who elected them to office.

They've entrusted you to work for them," Carnahan stressed.

Newly-elected Speaker Steven Tilley honored the opening-day tradition of adopting a bi-partisan tone.

"We're not always gonna agree, not even within our own party, but we must agree to not let partisanship get in the way of good ideas," Tilley said.

Republicans hold 106 House seats, just 3 shy of a veto-proof majority.

"House Democrats will do our best to make sure we hold the majority accountable," said Minority Floor Leader, Rep. Mike Talboy.

However, the GOP could feel less pressure from the democrats than from the tea party movement, which rallied in the Capitol rotunda. Speakers criticized the republican concentration of power through moves like naming the new speaker a year before the new legislature is elected.

"That is something that empowers leadership in the House, former representative Ed Emory said. It takes power out of your hands. I think it's something that has been a mistake."

Tilley spoke of the need to lead by example, which has already lead to plans to cut staff and pay in the House.

"This year, we will prove to the citizens of this state that government can and will tighten their belts," Tilley said.

He also promised to grease the skids for the people who create jobs in Missouri.

"Therefore, our plan calls for a moratorium on any regulation, fee, or new tax for small businesses.

Wednesday night lawmakers will celebrate with a formal ball.

House Speaker Steven Tilley has already named the committee members and says legislative work will begin on Monday, which is much faster than normal.

Update: Wednesday, Jan. 5 at 12:20 p.m.:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The Missouri Legislature has convened its 2011 session with lots of new faces and its largest Republican majority in decades.

The legislative session began at noon Wednesday. Almost half of the 163 House members are new and about one-third of the senators -- the result of term limits and Republican gains in the November elections.

Republicans hold a 106-57 majority over Democrats in the House and a 26-7 majority in the Senate with one vacancy.

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon says their first order of business should be simply learning to get along.

The state budget and economy figure to be at the top of the to-do list. Missouri faces an estimated $500 million budget gap next year. Republican leaders plan to push a pro-business agenda.

Original Story: Missouri's 2011 legislative session kick-offs Wednesday.The economy is expected to be a major focus of the session. Republicans plan to use their historic majorities in the Legislature to push several pro-business measures because of the soft economy. Those proposals could include tax cuts, a moratorium on regulations affecting businesses and stronger defenses against lawsuits.Missouri is facing a $500 million budget deficit.Incoming House Speaker Steven Tilley says the best way to fix the budget is to get people working. Tilley says making Missouri more business-friendly spurs job creation and economic development.

Lawmakers also face debates over tax credits and such ideas as requiring prescriptions for over-the-counter cold medicines used in making methamphetamine.

A coalition of business groups outlined its legislative priorities Tuesday. The business officials say the proposals will promote economic development and help create jobs without costing the state money.

The group is asking the incoming Legislature for more protection against lawsuits, changes in workers' compensation laws and an end to increases in the minimum wage tied to inflation.

Businesses also are seeking to freeze the amount of corporate franchise taxes they pay, and to change the bonds used to pay for unemployment insurance.