Republicans entered the final week of the 2019 legislative session determined to roll back a new redistricting process enacted by voters last year.
But a procedural hiccup on Monday complicated their plan, and with time running out before adjournment, it has put GOP repeal effort in jeopardy.
“No, it’s not dead yet,” said Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia. “Somebody threw a little dirt on it. But I wouldn’t say it’s dead.”
Democrats had already vowed to use the filibuster to block legislation that would put a question on the 2020 ballot repealing Clean Missouri, a wide-ranging initiative petition approved last year that revised how legislative districts are drawn after the Census.
Republicans knew they were likely going to have to turn to a sporadically-used procedural maneuver to break the filibuster. They expected to also employ the device – known as “moving the previous question,” or PQ – on a second bill enacting some of the nation’s toughest restrictions on abortion.
But before the Clean Missouri repeal could be brought up for debate in the Senate, it needed approval of the Senate Fiscal Oversight Committee.
The seven-member committee – five Republicans and two Democrats – was supposed to be an easy hurdle to clear.
But two Republican Senators didn’t show up for the meeting.
A third, who was recording a Facebook Live with Gov. Mike Parson about a proposed expansion of a General Motors facility in St. Charles County, tried to leave his vote with the committee chairman but was not permitted to do so under Senate rules.
So on a 2-to-2 party-line vote, the bill was defeated.
“I think it’s dead,” said Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, a St. Louis Democrat and one of the two “no” votes on the committee. “And I’m pretty happy about that.”
Senate Republicans aren’t quite ready to give up.
“We are figuring our way around that,” said Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Franklin County.
Procedural wheels on both sides are going into overdrive. Senate rules allow 18 members pull a bill out of committee, and Republicans hold 25 seats in the chamber.
But Democrats could stage a filibuster of that vote. If Republicans use the PQ, Democrats would retaliate by resorting to other maneuvers designed to stall legislative action and mire the Senate in gridlock.
If Republicans do cut off debate, it’s unclear whether Senate rules would allow the GOP to bring the Clean Missouri repeal immediately up for a vote, complicating their efforts to get that bill and the abortion measure approved before 6 p.m. Friday, when the constitution requires the legislature adjourn for the year.
The rules also allow for 12 Senators to sign a “discharge petition” that would pull the bill out of committee without debate. But it’s unclear if that method can be used for a bill that was voted down. And some Republicans have expressed concern about setting a precedent of allowing a small faction of Senators to pull bills from committee.
Alternatively, one of the two Democrats who voted against the bill in committee could make a motion to reconsider the vote. But Rowden isn’t holding his breath.
“Yeah, that doesn’t seem very likely,” he said.
The entire saga plays out while conservative Republicans continue to stall all action in the Senate to block Gov. Mike Parson’s economic development agenda.
The conservative filibuster started Monday and has already stretched into Tuesday afternoon.
Sen. John Rizzo, a Kansas City Democrat who was the other “no” vote on the committee, said he’s not ready to celebrate the bill’s death.
“I’ve seen bills in much worse shape rise from the dead in the session’s final days,” he said. “But that committee vote was definitely a big blow.”