Missouri House Democratic Whip Expects Tumultuous Session After Break

Mar 26, 2016

Missouri Rep. John Rizzo (D-Kansas City) said the General Assembly may have a difficult time making progress on significant legislation this session.

Rizzo, the House Minority Whip, joined KCUR 89.3's Statehouse Blend podcast to discuss what to expect after the legislature returns from its spring break next week. He told host Brian Ellison that action in the other chamber—where Senate Republicans broke a Democratic filibuster earlier this month—had the effect of "poisoning" the atmosphere, where Democrats have already begun to slow the flow of business.

"It has changed the way that the Senate goes about what they're doing," said Rizzo. 

The Senate bill, SJR 39, would send to voters a constitutional amendment providing a "religious shield" for businesses and clergy who opt not to participate in same-sex weddings, protecting them from discrimination claims. Supporters say it protects freedom of religion; opponents say it would enshrine discrimination in the state constitution.

Rizzo believes the House will take up the bill, but he is uncertain how the vote will go. He thinks business leaders, who have campaigned hard against the measure, are having an impact on many Republicans--even though they hold a two-thirds majority.

“I hope that my Republican colleagues can see the legislation for what it is and the discriminatory practice of what is going on with it," said Rizzo. "I have to be optimistic sometimes down there, being in the super minority."

 

Despite a possibly obstructed Senate, Rizzo also says he hopes the General Assembly will address two key issues at the top of the Democratic caucus's priority list: Education funding and Medicaid expansion. He said that education is being funded at far less than the foundation formula established by law. Meanwhile, Rizzo said Missouri is losing roughly $2 billion by not expanding Medicaid in the state.

"Two billion dollars, no matter how you slice it, whether you like it or you don't like what it goes for or not, into the economy and the budget would take a lot of the notches out of the belt," said Rizzo. 

Rizzo blamed party polarization in Washington for stalling Medicaid expansion. He said there are Republicans who would vote in favor of expansion if it weren't an election year.

"They're scared to death of actually being on the record as voting for something that President Obama proposed," said Rizzo.

The Missouri General Assembly reconvenes from its spring recess Tuesday.

Subscribe to Statehouse Blend to keep up with the Kansas and Missouri legislatures.

Guests:

  • Rep. John Rizzo(D-Kansas City) , Missouri House of Representatives
  • Jennifer Mann, Former Business Reporter, The Kansas City Star
  • Kyle Palmer, Newscaster, KCUR