The 2017 legislative session is on the verge of collapse.
Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a University City Democrat, began a filibuster shortly before 1 p.m. She has vowed to stop all Senate proceedings until 6 p.m., when the General Assemblly is constitutionally obligated to adjourn for the year.
The filibuster, which could kill a host of bills still up for consideration, is in retaliation for the House voting down a bill that would have allowed for the buyout of homes near the West Lake Landfill, a radioactive waste site just northwest of St. Louis. The House defeated the measure 79-65.
The bill has been Chappelle-Nadal’s most intense legislative priority. The landfill stores radioactive waste left over from the Manhattan Project, and neighbors have long complained that exposure to the landfill causes asthma, cancer and other chronic illnesses.
The version that passed out of the Senate would have allocated $1 million to a fund that would be used to buy out contaminated homes near the site.
“What we’re left with is people living in a smoldering nightmare,” said Rep. Mark Mattheisen, a Maryland Heights Republican who carried the bill on the House side.
The House version would have sold Jay Nixon State Park, located in the Ozark foothills, and allocated the funds from the sale to the buyout of the homes in West Lake.
Rep. Crystal Quade, a Springfield Democrat, voted against receiving funding through park sales.
“The health care of Missourians should not be tied on whether or not we do something that has to do with parks,” Quade said.
Rep. Justin Hill, a St. Charles Republican, pleaded with the body to pass the bill, sharing personal stories about his wife, who grew up near the radioactive site.
“My wife was diagnosed with her first cancer two months ago. She is 36 years old,” Hill said. “She is always going to have to worry about cancer her whole life.”
Others raised concerns that the legislature was not qualified to make decisions based on science that they do not understand.
“We don’t know the level of danger,” said Rep. Jay Barnes, a Jefferson City Republican. “We, non-scientists, who have read no studies are declaring homes to be uninhabitable if a certain amount of this element is in the ground.”
Chappelle-Nadal has threatened to derail the legislative session for weeks if the House doesn’t pass her buyout bill. She’s argued that a General Assembly that “claims to be pro-life” is turning its back on those suffering near the landfill.
“My question is where is their humanity?” Chappelle-Nadal told The Star last week. “Do they have humanity inside of them?”
If she continues to filibuster, GOP leaders may consider turning to a procedural maneuver to cut off floor debate and force votes on legislation. But they would likely have to do it multiple times on multiple bills, as Chappelle-Nadal shows little sign of giving up.