St. Louis Arch and redesigned entrance

The Arch as seen from a helicopter over the Mississippi River in St. Louis on Tuesday, June 5, 2018. Photo by David Carson, Content Exchange

JEFFERSON CITY — The mayor of St. Louis, an economic development leader and the top elected official in St. Charles County are headlining a hearing formed to look at issues affecting the St. Louis region.

The panel of members of the Missouri Senate, which is chaired by Sen. Elaine Gannon, R-De Soto, was formed by Senate President Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, earlier this summer to develop legislation that could benefit St. Louis.

Monday marks the first meeting of the committee. They will gather at Lindenwood University at 9 a.m. to hear from Mayor Tishaura O. Jones, St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann and Jason Hall, the CEO of Greater St. Louis.

For now, Gannon said senators are seeking input from the trio to determine what their priorities should be.

“The committee wants to work together to improve the region,” Gannon said. “At the end of the testimony we will determine the biggest issue, whether that is education, crime, health care or something else.”

“This committee wants to learn how to help the St. Louis region. We just want to fact-find at this point,” Gannon said.

Jones spokesman Nick Desideri said the mayor is ready to have a conversation with senators, but it may be critical.

“The state has not always been an active partner,” Desideri said, listing efforts by the Republican Legislature to stop the city from raising the minimum wage, loosen gun laws and adding restriction on abortions as policies that have had a significant effect on St. Louis.

“We are more than ready to have a conversation,” Desideri said.

In a preview of his testimony, Hall said he will focus on growing the region’s economy.

“The St. Louis region and the State of Missouri are facing a choice. Will we become a growing, inclusive global region and state with increasing global competitiveness?” Hall said. “We want to stress that St. Louis is the economic engine for the state and that it is critical for the State of Missouri and the St. Louis business community to work together on policies that invest in and promote inclusive growth and high-quality jobs.”

Crime also has been a major issue in St. Louis after a record-breaking 2020 homicide surge, mirroring rising violent crime rates across the country last year.

Homicides have returned to slightly below pre-pandemic levels in the city so far in 2021. The clearance rate for murders last year was around 30%, about half the national average.

Although the Republican-controlled Missouri Legislature has in recent years made it easier to own and carry guns, they have also attempted to address police issues that are hampering crime fighting in the city.

In 2020, for example, lawmakers approved a plea from St. Louis officials to address concerns about a shortage of police officers in the city by removing the requirement that officers live in the city, which officials argued was a barrier to officer recruitment and retention. Gov. Mike Parson signed the measure into law a year ago.

The committee, which is scheduled to meet four times before the start of the Legislature’s 2022 session, includes Gannon and Republican Sens. Bob Onder of Lake Saint Louis, Denny Hoskins of Warrenton and Andrew Koenig of Manchester. Democrats on the panel include Sens. Karla May and Steve Roberts of St. Louis and Sen. Jill Schupp of Creve Coeur.

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Kurt Erickson • 573-556-6181

@KurtEricksonPD on Twitter

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