JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — It’s the first week in months Missouri lawmakers aren’t working inside the statehouse. After sending dozens of bills to the governor’s desk, there’s still a laundry list of priorities that didn’t make it across the finish line.
The word to describe the end of session: “chaotic,” according to Senate Majority Leader Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina.
In past years, infighting between Republicans stalled movement in the Senate. This year, legislation and debate was moving forward until the final days when business started slowing down, halting some priorities.
“The Democratic caucus benefits a lot when there is a lot of infighting within the Republican super majority,” House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said Friday after the General Assembly adjourned for the year.
“If just goes back to show that the super majority in Missouri is not working, it’s not functioning and we’re not doing what’s best for its citizens.”
Normally, Democrats filibuster in hopes of derailing legislation, but recently, it’s Republican filibustering against Republicans.
“Chapter 4,” Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, said Friday morning when picking up his book on Ronald Reagan to read on the Senate floor. “Because we have spent an entire session, except for a few exceptions, passing bills that will not change the trajectory of this state.”
In the final hours of session last week, infighting hinder debate on many topics, like making it harder for Missouri voters to amend the constitution through the initiative petition (IP) process.
“IP dying was a good thing for us. We would have probably filibustered if it came back anyways,” Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said.
“The fact that we didn’t pass it this year puts more pressure on us next year,” Senate President Caleb Rowden said Friday.
Republicans said it was a priority to increase the threshold needed to change the constitution. Initiative petition is how Missouri voters approved to legalize recreational and medical marijuana and expand Medicaid.
House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, said he expects a question regarding abortion on the ballot next year and believes it would pass with the current threshold of a simple majority, more votes for than against.
“Every day that crosses my mind, every day there is something across my desk to try and more that along,” Plocher said. “If the Senate fails to take action on IP reform, I think the Senate should be held accountable for allowing abortion to return to Missouri.”
A big topic sports fans are disappointed didn’t make across the finish line is allowing those 21 and older to place a wager on your favorite professional and college sports team.
“That deal did not happen because maybe one or two or three people want slot machines in gas stations,” Rowden said. “That’s it. It sounds ridiculous; it sounds foolish. I’m kind of embarrassed to even say it out loud.”
Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, has been known for holding up sports betting in the upper chamber because he wants to regulate video lottery terminals (VLTs). Without marrying the two topics together, Hoskins said he doesn’t see a path forward to legalize sports betting, which is why it died again this year in the Senate.
“It’s a fight between video lottery terminals and casinos,” Rizzo said. “We really need some more adults in the room I guess. Everyone has to come to the table and figure it out. It’s ridiculous. I think someone that lives in the Kansas City area that sees Kansas thriving with sports betting, it’s embarrassing we can’t get it done.”
One of the governor’s priorities that didn’t make it to his desk are childcare tax credits for businesses, providers, and families. The Missouri Chamber of Commerce previously said the state’s economy lost out of $1.3 billion last year because of a lack of childcare.
“We had such an opportunity this year with the governor coming and asking for things with the business community, with families and workers, to work together and invest in our state,” Quade said. “We have a childcare crisis in our state and everyone is begging for help and instead of addressing that, [Republicans] are focused on terrorizing trans families.”
House Leadership pointed fingers at the upper chamber for leaving legislation on the table at the end of session.
“I’m sad that some senators use things as hostages,” Plocher said. “I think they are kind of terrorists.”
Another issue left hanging – addressing foreign ownership of farmland. House and Senate Republicans could not agree on how much land a foreign entity or government should be allowed to own in Missouri.
“We want to protect Missouri farmland, we want to protect our crops, we want to have secure food, there’s a way to do it, we believe. It just wasn’t able to get across the line this year,” Plocher said.
Even though the effort to restrict foreign ownership of farmland fell short, it is likely to be a big priority next year before election season.
“Foreign ownership of land, that should have been a layup, right?” Rizzo said. “These guys run around here all the time on TV and Twitter and Facebook talking about how much they hate China, but they can’t make a three-foot putt.”
GOP members did remain unified to kill a Democrat priority of tightening the state’s gun laws. Provisions were filed and offered through amendments to allow for red-flag laws and prohibit minors from purchasing semi-automatic firearms.
“You keep seeing these videos it seems like every weekend, of kids walking the streets of St. Louis and there’s nothing our law enforcement officers can do until it’s unfortunately too late,” Sen. Steven Roberts, D-St. Louis, said. “It’s like putting up a stop sign in an intersection if you’ve already had three kids run over. We were asking for the bare minimum.”
The General Assembly was unable to approve an education reform package this session, a win for Democrats because some legislation targeted critical race theory and a “Parents’ Bill of Rights.” Senate Leadership says this will be a priority next year.
While lawmakers were able to pass a large crime bill, provisions allowing the governor to appoint a special prosecutor if a jurisdiction has a certain number of homicide cases based on population and putting the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department back under state control were stripped out.
This happened after St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner made a deal with Rizzo and Rowden that if she resigned, the legislation regarding the special prosecutor would be removed.
“The assumption is, we’re going to have to see some needle moving from the new chief or we will take a look at it,” Rowden said.
“I would say as we approach next year, the special prosecutor probably takes a backseat for the time being because we’re going to have someone new in that role, so I think the state control probably will be a big issue.”
Gov. Mike Parson’s office said it will start reviewing legislation sent to his desk this week.