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Weekslong deadlock in Missouri Senate ends as lawmakers advance bill curbing voter power

The Missouri State Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024, in Jefferson City. Senate Republican leadership has clashed with members of the Missouri Freedom Caucus holding up business.
Eric Lee
St. Louis Public Radio
The Missouri State Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024, in Jefferson City. Senate Republican leadership has clashed with members of the Missouri Freedom Caucus holding up business.

Senate members of the far-right Missouri Freedom Caucus had vowed to block the governor's appointments until the legislature approved a resolution making it harder for voters to amend the state constitution.

After an almost two-week stalemate between Senate Republican leadership and the Missouri Freedom Caucus and a roughly 16-hour filibuster that started Monday afternoon, the Senate on Tuesday approved a slate of appointments by Gov. Mike Parson.

The approval of the appointments came just before senators on a committee advanced a resolution that makes it harder to amend Missouri’s constitution.

The appointments had been held up by Senate members of the Freedom Caucus, who vowed to block their approval until the Senate passed the constitution resolution.

Those appointments included Robert Knodell and Paula Nickelson as the permanent directors of the departments of Social Services and Health and Senior Services, respectively.

Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, called the strategy by Freedom Caucus members the “biggest show of bad faith” he had ever seen in his life.

However, Rowden sent hundreds of bills to committees last week, including multiple resolutions on the constitutional initiative petition process. The resolutions were heard Monday, and one of them passed out of committee on Tuesday. It still must be voted on by the full Senate, the Missouri House and ultimately state residents.

That resolution makes multiple changes to the constitutional initiative petition process and goes beyond just raising the voter threshold.

Under the resolution, which underwent several changes from Monday into Tuesday, a proposed constitutional amendment would not only require a majority of votes cast statewide to pass, it would need a majority of state House districts to approve it.

The resolution also allows only the General Assembly the ability to enact laws enforcing provisions in the constitution related to the initiative petition process.

On Tuesday morning, before the approval of the appointees, Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, said he was excited about the substitution resolution on initiative petitions the Senate committee was going to pass.

Another person who spoke before the motion to approve the appointees was Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove.

Moon, who kicked off the filibuster Monday afternoon and held it for hours alone, objected to the appointment of former Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, to the Highways and Transportation Commission.

Moon disagreed with Hegeman’s decision in 2021 to not override a veto issued by Parson on a tax dispute between the state Department of Revenue and some businesses.

“I saw this as an opportunity to leverage my authority to protect an innocent resident of Missouri who was harmed,” Moon said.

Opposing rallies held in the Capitol

Senate members were not the only ones discussing making it harder to amend the constitution on Tuesday.

Two separate rallies were held in the Capitol, with the groups taking opposite positions on initiative petition reform.

The first rally of the day, which included representatives of the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, Abortion Action Missouri and the Missouri NAACP, focused on combating the proposed changes to the initiative petition process.

“These efforts to attack the initiative petition process and upend majority rule in Missouri are nothing but retaliation against the millions of Missourians and Missouri voters who took their freedom and their futures into their own hands,” said Kennedy Moore of Abortion Action Missouri. “They knocked doors, they collected signatures, and they voted in favor of medical marijuana, ethics reform and Medicaid expansion. We will do the same to end Missouri's total abortion ban.”

The more than 120 people in attendance were also there to meet lawmakers and lobby for their causes.

A second rally took place on the second floor in support of the Missouri Freedom Caucus and its legislative priorities, including making it harder to amend the constitution.

More than 200 people who packed into one section of the second floor heard speeches from members of the caucus, including Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, who praised the crowd.

“Because of your support and what you did in order to support us, by calling out our leadership here in the Senate and saying, ‘Hey, what you're doing is not right and initiative petition reform is a priority, we can't wait to the last day of session,’ we had a hearing on initial conditions yesterday, because of you,” Hoskins said.

Copyright 2024 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Sarah Kellogg is St. Louis Public Radio’s Statehouse and Politics Reporter, taking on the position in August 2021. Sarah is from the St. Louis area and even served as a newsroom intern for St. Louis Public Radio back in 2015.
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