Government & Politics

Missouri legislature heads toward adjournment focused on abortion and redistricting

Planned Parenthood disputes Missouri’s new medication abortion law

Both sides of the abortion issue are awaiting a ruling on whether Missouri can continue to enforce a new law that places tighter regulations on medication-induced abortion.
Up Next
Both sides of the abortion issue are awaiting a ruling on whether Missouri can continue to enforce a new law that places tighter regulations on medication-induced abortion.

Missouri lawmakers will adjourn for the year at 6 p.m. Friday, but not before a potentially chaotic final week in which they will consider enacting some of the nation’s toughest abortion restrictions and overturning a redistricting plan approved by voters last year.

To do so, Senate Republicans will have to fend off a promised filibuster from Democrats. They also face a challenge from a feisty conservative caucus on their own side of the aisle, which has spent the entire session blocking key pieces of Gov. Mike Parson’s legislative agenda. They show no signs of wavering.

For Parson, the next five days will largely determine the success of his first session as governor, and could set the stage for his administration’s effectiveness moving into the 2020 election year. All will come down to whether legislative allies can drag his new economic development plans across the finish line.

The combustible situation will come to a conclusion, one way or another, in the next five days.

“I honestly don’t know what to expect,” said Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City.

Conservative revolt?

The six-member Senate Conservative Caucus will likely be center stage for much of the drama, as they have been since the session began in January.

They have blocked legislation to end Missouri’s distinction as the only state without a prescription drug monitoring program, arguing that the system compromises the privacy of patients. The House, in turn, has stalled some of their bills.

In response, the conservative senators mutinied against leadership.

One of the caucus members, Sen. Denny Hoskins, a Warrensburg Republican, staged a filibuster where he read Memorial Day speeches for hours last Monday and Tuesday.

“The House is holding legislation hostage for political gamesmanship,” Hoskins said.

Those same conservative Senators also stand in the way of Parson’s plans to enact new economic development programs. These include a $10 million scholarship fund for adults who want to retrain for high-demand jobs and a fast-tracked system for issuing tax credits to expanding businesses.

They’ve characterized the governor’s bills as corporate welfare, and have refused to let them advance unless the Senate also agrees to pass an expansion of charter schools or private school vouchers.

The standoff ran into a twist last week in the form of an announcement by Parson: that General Motors is considering an expansion of its St. Charles County production facility in exchange for the right incentive package.

The Missouri House passed an incentive package that included all of the Parson’s priority bills Thursday night.

Senate Conservative Caucus members, especially those whose districts lay near the plant, cried foul.

“I’m really disappointed the GM deal has been used to also enact some bad policies, some policies that I have opposed and I don’t think the House would have passed some of those policies if the GM deal wasn’t dangled out,” said Sen. Bob Onder, a Republican whose district includes the GM plant.

Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-St. Louis County, accused Parson of trying to use the GM news to force his agenda through the Senate.

“But I’m not feeling any pressure from it,” Koenig said. “I’m against corporate giveaways as a principle.”

He promised the bill would run into a filibuster when it reached the Senate, and said the path forward was a dramatically pared down bill.

“If they just did the tax credits (for GM), I’d probably sit down on it and let it pass,” Koenig said.

‘Filibuster shoes’

If they can dispense with the intra-party squabbles, Republicans will turn their attention to Democratic intransigence on a pair of issues they’ve been circling all session.

The first is a bill that would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, as early as eight weeks, and outlaw the procedure nearly entirely if Roe v Wade were to be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Life matters,” said Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Callaway County. “We don’t kill the rapist, but we give the baby the death sentence that is the result of that rape. I just can’t stand the thought of it.”

Opponents say many women don’t even know they are pregnant at eight weeks, which means the measure will make it nearly impossible for them to get an abortion in Missouri, effectively forcing them to carry a baby to term.

“The government shouldn’t be making these decisions,” Arthur said. “I trust women to make responsible decisions based on her faith, her family and her relationship with her doctor.”

Proponents have made it no secret that Brett Kavanaugh’s ascent to the Supreme Court last year makes them hopeful the new regulations will not only withstand a legal challenge but could help topple legalized abortion nationwide.

“My intention is to do whatever I can do to see to it that we end the institution of abortion in Missouri,” said Sen. Bill Eigel, R-St. Charles County.

The second priority is legislation to put a question on the 2020 ballot rolling back changes to the redistricting system that voters approved last year as part of the Clean Missouri initiative petition.

The plan, which passed with a vote of 62 percent, was sold as a way to prevent gerrymandering. Democrats pan the GOP repeal effort as a slap in the face to Missouri voters.

“When voters tell us what they want, the Republican Party is just not going to listen,” said House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield.

Republicans contend Clean Missouri was a Democratic power grab. Voters were duped, they contend, by a Trojan Horse proposal that looked like an ethics reform package made up of lobbyist gift limits and strengthened open records laws but really only served a vehicle for a radical new redistricting plan that will threaten the GOP super majority.

“Clean Missouri is a train wreck,” said Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Franklin County.

Both bills have already cleared the Missouri House. Their fate will be decided in the Senate.

Democrats hold only 10 of the Senate’s 34 seats, but they have vowed to do everything they can to block both measures.

“Republicans will have a fight on their hands, you better believe that,” said Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis. “And I have my filibuster shoes — everybody calls ‘em ugly, but when they see me put ‘em on they know the business is serious.”

Going nuclear

If Democrats refuse to back down, Republicans will almost assuredly go nuclear — rolling out a sporadically used tactic called “moving the previous question,” or PQ.

The PQ is a simple majority vote that cuts off all debate and forces a vote on a bill.

If the GOP go that route they would effectively end the legislative session, as Democrats will retaliate by breaking out every procedural maneuver in the book to mire proceedings in gridlock and block any further legislative action.

In session’s past, bad blood from a PQ has even spilled over into the next legislative session, carrying the delay tactics into the new year.

Despite the possible drawbacks, Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said legislative leaders “always have to be prepared to do whatever is necessary to get your priorities done.”

While the 163-member Missouri House uses the PQ multiple times every day, it has only been used in the Missouri Senate 18 times since 1970.

Fourteen of those PQ votes have taken place since Republicans took over the Senate majority in 2001, although lawmakers and statehouse observers say that increase can partially be attributed to a concurrent rise in reliance on the filibuster.

Senators are proud of the quirks of their chamber and protective of their right to unlimited debate. They know that one day they may want to block a bill themselves with the filibuster, so they are hesitant to take the extreme step of shutting debate down.

There’s also a fear that if use of the PQ accelerates, it will become the norm, and the Senate will turn into the House and lose its distinction as the more deliberative chamber.

“Typically, I’d rather find a way to avoid that step,” Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit, said. “We have a tradition in the Senate of slowing things down and talking about them. That’s how the process is supposed to work. We are here to vet legislation.”

So it’s a step that is historically reserved for lightning-rod issues where compromise is deemed impossible, such as abortion, guns and civil rights.

It hasn’t been used in the Senate since 2017.

“A PQ sends a really bad message to freshman senators that instead of having to work together to find a compromise we can live with, you can instead use this destructful, harmful thing and get your way,” Arthur said. “I think it’s bad for the institution and bad for the final legislative product.”

Cierpiot said drama in the session’s final week is nothing new.

“It’s always this way,” he said. “There is a good chance we’ll have some tough moments in the last week. But we’ll get through them.”

Unsurprisingly, Nasheed has promised chaos if Senate Republicans roll out the PQ.

“Oh you’re gonna have fun watching this,” she said. “Yeah we gonna shut it down. We’re tired of Republicans shoving down the throats of Missourians what they deem is morally correct, especially abortion.”

Related stories from Kansas City Star