On Nov 7, nine people woke up with a new title: Missouri senator-elect. As they join the ranks of the Missouri Senate, these men and women will each represent about 175,000 people. Together, 34 citizen-legislators will make decisions that affect the lives of more than 6 million Missourians.
It’s an awesome responsibility and one that comes on quickly. Barely 60 days separate election night from oath of office. How does one prepare to become a Missouri senator?
Fortunately, new lawmakers have help getting acclimated. In the weeks before the General Assembly convenes on Jan. 9, senators-elect and their staffs learn from a cadre of past and present legislators and Senate staff members with years of experience. The Missouri Senate’s new member and staff orientation is an intense and information-packed primer on the ways of the state’s upper legislative chamber.
“Nothing in life prepares a person for the job of state senator,” said Secretary of the Senate Adriane Crouse. “Every two years, we host this new member orientation to help bring new senators up to speed. We pack a lot in, and we hope that when we’re done, senators feel a bit better prepared to go to work.”
Of the nine newly elected senators this term, four have no prior experience in the General Assembly. Five others previously served in the Missouri House of Representatives, but may not be thoroughly versed in Senate procedures. Another former House member joined the Senate through a special election after the close of the 2018 session.
Two day-long sessions help bring these newcomers up to speed. The orientation addresses everything from the basics of managing an office to the complexities of lawmaking. As with any new job, there are routine details involving phones, computers, parking, accounting procedures and human resources paperwork. Much like the first day of school, senators-elect find their new desks and pose for pictures. Those mundane matters are quickly overshadowed by the intricacies of the legislative process.
During their orientation, the newly elected senators receive a crash course on the legislative process. How does a bill become law? What are the responsibilities of the various committees? Are there rules, written or unwritten, governing how a senator behaves and interacts with his or her fellow lawmakers?
These and many other topics are crammed into the fast-paced orientation that includes presentations by Capitol employees and Senate leaders, including the president pro tem, as well as majority and minority party floor leaders.
Clearly, there is much to learn.
The secretary of the Senate outlines the mechanism of filing bills and presenting them in printed form. The director of Senate Research describes the work his staff of lawyers and subject experts must complete before a bill is ready for consideration. The state budget and the appropriations process are explained. Attendees are briefed by the director of the Missouri Ethics Commission, and an FBI agent speaks about laws governing interaction with special interest groups.
“These legislative veterans bring a wealth of experience to the discussion,” said Sen.-elect Eric Burlison, R-Battlefield. “They are able to convey their love and respect for the Missouri Senate and instill that same pride and sense of honor to the new members. It’s a great way of passing on the culture of the Senate to myself and my new colleagues.”
The education continues even after the start of the legislative session. In mid-January, senators will convene for a mock session so new members can practice legislative procedures on the Senate floor.
While no training can cover everything a citizen legislator will encounter, the new member and staff orientation conducted by the Missouri Senate goes a long way toward ensuring a smooth start to the legislative session. Thanks to this effort, newly elected senators will enter the marble columned chamber of the Missouri Senate better prepared to take on the critical task of representing their constituents.
The First Regular Session of the 100th General Assembly of the State of Missouri convenes at noon on Jan. 9. For more information about the Missouri Senate, log onto www.senate.mo.gov.