JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Two days into the 2022 legislative session and Missouri senators on both sides of the aisle say there’s a lack of trust among members.
Lawmakers are on a deadline for redrawing the state’s congressional map and allocating billions of dollars. While the Missouri House is prepared to work some Fridays in order to get these big items across the finish line, the Senate is working to rebuild trust.
“You know, if the first two days are any indication, we don’t need to be together anymore then we need to be,” Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowen, R-Columbia, told reporters Thursday.
Tensions from previous sessions are still high among senators.
“Senators from both sides of the aisle, have used the phrase, ‘erosion of trust’ and in many variations of that and I think that’s really the case,” Sen. Bob Onder, R- Lake St. Louis, said. “If we cannot trust each other in this body again, this process is just not going to work and it should for the people of the state.”
No matter their political party, the start of the 2022 session in the Senate is about rebuilding confidence and faith in one another.
“Unfortunately, the Missouri Senate remains fractured itself,” Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said. “I am hopefully, I think we can fix the body and get it back on track. It’s not an easy fix or a quick fix, but it’s possible.”
Senate President Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, said it’s a goal of his to put the Senate back together in order to get things done for Missourians.
“So hopefully we get back the personalities, obviously, the first thing coming out of the gate, we’re airing out some dirty laundry at this point in time,” Schatz said. “There’s a point and a place for that, too, and sometimes it’s not on the Senate floor.
Even with the lack of trust, senators still have priorities.
“In education, we are 49th in the country for funding, it’s absurd,” Rizzo said. “We have $2.5 billion in reserves right now. Let’s make a statement.”
Spending federal money is a top concern on both sides of the aisle.
“Just making sure that the dollars that are coming our way from the federal government are spent wisely,” Rowden said.
Before legislation is passed, members said they want trust.
“Right now, I think we are in a Senate where to assume there are two parties is probably jumping the shark right now,” Rizzo said. “I think we felt like that was broken last year and I think the Conservative caucus feels the same way and I can’t emphasize how important it is in this building to have a hand-shake agreement with somebody.”
On Wednesday, Conservative caucus member Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, questioned Rowden on the Senate floor about a “super-secret special caucus meeting” where he said not all members were invited.
“There were some folks in our caucus who expressed interest in a desire to get in a room and have a conversation they felt like wasn’t going to be used against them was really what it boils down to,” Rowden told reporters Thursday. “The Senate, from my perspective, it’s not special right now. It’s not what it was 20 years ago, and we should strive to make it that way again.”
Both the House and the Senate are adjourned until Monday afternoon. Next week, the House has committee meetings to discuss redistricting and the supplemental budget.
When asked if Senators would have to work on Fridays during the session this year, Rowden said it’s not off the table.
“I don’t want to work on Fridays in January if we don’t have to but if we get to a point that we’re hitting a wall in redistricting and getting close to filing opening or something like that, we’re going to have to get it done,” Rowden said. “So, in that scenario, it’s a Friday, Saturday and Sunday proposition if it has to be just because you have to get that stuff done.”
Schatz said some staff members are out for COVID, but so far, no Senators are absent because of the virus.
“Obviously is it a concern, absolutely,” Schatz said. “The Missouri Senate is going to be open; we’re going to work, we’re going to find a way to navigate through this, this COVID, whatever this spike is.
House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said Wednesday she had two members of her caucus absent on the first day because of the virus. When asked, House Speaker Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, did not know how many members were missing on his side of the aisle.