As Missouri's legislative session nears its end, conservative lawmakers are holding up key bills
With just a day left before the Missouri legislative clock runs out, some of the bills left unfinished include one to legalize sports betting, another to create an open enrollment system for public schools, and a ballot item to raise the threshold to amend the Missouri Constitution.
Missouri legislators are limping into the final hours of the 2023 legislative session, thanks in part to a slowdown in the Senate from more conservative lawmakers.
It brings into question whether there’s enough time for the legislature to pass major priorities that still need to get through either the House or Senate before the end of session at 6 p.m. Friday.
For the past several days, the Senate has become largely unproductive after a number of conservative senators delayed uncontroversial bills. Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, in particular has sharply questioned his colleagues on a number of topics and often drained time off the legislative clock by reading a book promoting the anti-vaccine movement.
Moon was not in Jefferson City last week because a family member was ill. And, among other things, he was upset that legislation that extends Medicaid coverage for new mothers didn’t include language barring people who received an abortion from getting the benefit.
“And some things happened that I learned later that I am appalled by,” Moon said Monday. “We allowed some things to go through. And since I wasn’t here, I didn’t have a say in it. But now, I want to have a little bit of a say.”
Some of the bills that are left undone as of Thursday afternoon include:
- A ballot item raising the threshold to amend the Missouri Constitution from a simple majority to 57 percent
- Expansive education legislation that would create an open enrollment system allowing students to transfer between public school districts under certain circumstances
- Legislation that would curtail the foreign ownership of farmland
- Sports betting
During debate over legislation on Wednesday, Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, expressed doubts that lawmakers would be able to come to a consensus on hot-button issues before time runs out.
“So hoping that things are going to pass or reach a fruitful conclusion on the last day, this Friday, is incredibly and extremely high risk,” said Eigel, noting that the Senate adjourned early in 2021 and 2022. “Hoping that things will pass or move on the second to last day is also very risky. Because we are in the highest part of the chaotic actions of this building.”
One of the issues for Republicans who want to approve any legislative item that elicits any controversy is that Senate Democrats could hold the floor and prevent a vote.
The open enrollment legislation, for instance, barely received enough votes to pass the House. And Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, noted late last week that Republicans aren’t enthused with that proposal either.
“I think we’re all hearing from our school districts that this is not going to be helpful,” Arthur said. “I also think Republicans are not unified on the issue of education. Not even unified on the issue of choice.”
Sen Brian Williams, D-University City, said his caucus would be on guard against legislation that he says would harm Missourians.
“They went to the extreme on every issue you can think of: reproductive health rights and derailing working families having a wage,” Williams said. “And we've seen that folks have to go to the ballot to be able to do things that ultimately move Missourians quality of life forward. So I don't put anything past these people. And we'll continue to defend everything we possibly can to keep them from going into law.”
Senate passes legislation to help wrongfully convicted people
One of the bills that did end up passing Thursday was wide-ranging public safety legislation that expands restitution for those wrongfully convicted.
Currently, the only people who can receive money from the state after being wrongfully convicted are those exonerated through DNA evidence. Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer’s bill would extend that to people who are declared actually innocent based on a statute allowing prosecutors to overturn cases.
This issue gained more attention this year after Lamar Johnson was released from prison after a judge vacated his murder conviction. But even though he was in prison for nearly 30 years, he wasn’t eligible to get money from the state.
The language could apply to people like Johnson under certain circumstances.
Luetkemeyer’s bill also includes language giving organizations seeking to expunge people’s criminal records better access to information. It also provides enhanced penalties for people who knowingly distribute a substance that’s laced with fentanyl.
Luetkemeyer’s bill now heads to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk.
The bill also includes language giving organizations seeking to expunge people’s criminal records better access to information. And it provides enhanced penalties for anyone who knowingly distributes a substance that’s laced with fentanyl.
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