Missouri Senate moves at a snail’s pace as 2017 session ticks away

May 4, 2017
Originally published on May 3, 2017 5:39 pm

The Missouri Senate sang, talked about fist fights and criticized each other this week. What they haven't done is pass any bills.

As of Wednesday, just seven working days remain in this year’s legislative session. Plus, the spending plan for the coming fiscal year must be delivered to Gov. Eric Greitens by 6 p.m., Friday, otherwise, they’ll need a special session.

The delays on high-priority bills, including a proposed ban on lobbyist gifts to elected officials from lobbyists and complying with federal ID standards, are mostly due to the Senate’s several filibusters and arguments on the floor over the past few weeks. That included bills being blocked by Republican Sen. Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph — not because he opposed them, but because he objected to a proposal to expand Missouri’s managed care system within the state budget.

Take Tuesday as an example of the slowness: The Senate met for 10 minutes before adjourning. The official word from Senate Republicans was it was meant to give budget negotiators time to meet, but that didn’t happen.

Republican Sen. Bob Dixon of Springfield said one of his constituents had traveled to the Capitol to watch the chamber that day.

“The constituent was so angry and upset, and I didn’t have any answers,” Dixon said. “I just said ‘I’ve never seen anything like it in 15 years.’ I had one individual in the hall tell me he hadn’t seen anything like it in 40 (years).”

The slow pace and disruptions are unexpected because Republicans hold the House, Senate, and governor’s office, according to University of Missouri-St. Louis political science professor Dave Robertson.

“This is (like) families,” he said. “People who are sort of related to each other wind up on the outs and in a feud about something.”

He added that Greitens will likely catch some of the blame if the budget isn’t passed by Friday because his proposed spending plan came three weeks later than normal.

“If people feel that he did not make sure that all the ducks were lined up in a row as he moved forward, then I think he’s going to take some of the responsibility for failure to get a budget done,” Robertson said.

On Wednesday, Dixon and Democratic Senator Kiki Curls of Kansas City made a tongue-in-cheek point about the slow pace and disagreements by singing “Kumbaya,” on the Senate floor.

And Schaaf, in an effort to speed up the process, proposed changing the order of bills so that the chamber could hear 78 of them that he said were mostly not controversial. Democratic Sen. Jamilah Nasheed of St. Louis questioned whether Schaaf’s recommended bill list was a ransom demand to promise not to launch any more filibusters, which he denied.

The Senate managed to pass one measure Wednesday, a nonbinding resolution asking the federal government to work on resolving what happened to 15 Vietnam-era servicemen reported missing in action.

The Missouri House, meanwhile, has been more active but not much faster. The lower chamber spent several hours this week loading up amendments on two bills that will eventually have to go back to the Senate.

If there is a special session, Anne Marie Moy, Senate communications director  said, it would cost roughly $9,000 a day.

“These costs reflect senators’ daily per diem, mileage, and costs of supporting session-only staff,” her statement said.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport

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