The Missouri Senate ground to a halt Thursday as Democrats retaliated against Republicans for using a procedural maneuver earlier in the week to shut down a 39-hour filibuster.
Democrats spent the week trying to kill a bill that would amend the state’s constitution to allow certain businesses and organizations to refuse services to same-sex couples based on religious beliefs. Early Wednesday, Republicans cut off debate, ended the filibuster and forced a vote on the bill.
The Senate got back to work Thursday morning, and it was supposed to give final passage to the proposed constitutional amendment and send it to the House. Instead, Democrats followed through on a promise to gum up proceedings through parliamentary chicanery.
As of 6 p.m., their efforts continued.
They refused to allow a waiver of the reading of the Senate Journal, a recap of the previous day’s events, forcing the Senate secretary to spend the early part of the day reading the journal aloud.
After the journal was read, Senate Minority Leader Joe Keaveny, a St. Louis Democrat, began filing amendments to it, trying to include various instances that Democrats say were violations of Senate rules.
For example, several Democrats were trying to speak early Wednesday morning but were not recognized by Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, a Joplin Republican. Senate rules require the president to recognize any senator seeking to speak.
Keaveny also wanted the journal to reflect that Sen. Bob Onder, a St. Charles Republican, requested the Missouri Highway Patrol to find a pair of Democratic senators who had left the Capitol to shower during the filibuster.
Onder said the request was tongue in cheek, which drew an angry response from Sen. Bob Dixon, a Springfield Republican.
“I heard it. I saw it. I heard it both times,” Dixon said. “I actually observed the doormen trying to figure out how to contact the Highway Patrol. Don’t sit here on this floor and try to tell me that it was tongue in cheek. I’m disgusted with the slope and speed with which this place is disintegrating.”
Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Kansas City Republican, said that he served in the Missouri House, where debate is routinely cut off and the minority party is often shut out of proceedings.
“When I got elected to the Senate, I was led to believe this was a different place,” Silvey said. “I was led to believe senators are autonomous. There is no top-down leadership in the Senate, and no offense to you, Mr. President, but you do not tell me how to vote. You did not elect me.”
Republicans defeated each of Keaveny’s amendments, but debate on the journal stretched out over seven hours.
Democrats used similar tactics last year during the final week of the legislative session after Republicans cut off debate to pass a right-to-work bill. Their efforts effectively shut down the Senate for the final three days of the session.
Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a University City Democrat, said Republicans ignored the rules and traditions of the Senate when they cut off debate and refused to allow senators to speak. She vowed to keep up the efforts to block Senate proceedings when lawmakers return to work Monday.
“I recognize that we are in the superminority, but we have to have respect for each and every member and the people we represent,” she said.
With two months left before the General Assembly adjourns May 13, if Democrats derail proceedings, they could kill all remaining legislation. That includes the budget, which was approved by the House on Thursday.