Senate sends initiative petition changes back to the House

May 17, 2024



JEFFERSON CITY — Senate Democrats got what they wanted Wednesday, rejecting with bipartisan support, House changes to a resolution that would make it harder to amend the Missouri Constitution.

The 18-13 vote came after a Democratic filibuster that stretched over 50 hours and exposed divisions in the Republican membership in the Senate.

The decision was met with outrage from members of the far-right Freedom Caucus, who wanted to end the Democrats’ filibuster through a rarely used Senate procedure. There were not enough Republican votes to support that effort, even with the party holding 24 of the Senate’s 34 seats.

“We do not have a number of senators who are willing to allow a vote to take place on an underlying motion right now,” the resolution’s sponsor, Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, said on the Senate floor shortly before 5 p.m.

“And if a motion were made using extraordinary measures, I believe that that vote would fail,” she added. “And I think that’s bad for the institution.”

That motion she referred to is known as the previous question. When offered and approved by a majority of senators, it ends all debate on a bill. The procedure hasn’t been used in years in the Senate although the Republican majority in the House frequently uses it.

The resolution — which would require voter approval even if passed by the legislature — would require that constitutional amendments receive a majority of votes in five of Missouri’s eight congressional districts in addition to a statewide majority, which is the current standard.

Democrats oppose the proposed change and filibustered over language in the resolution they said would manipulate voters into supporting the change, such as a requirement that only U.S. citizens vote in Missouri elections, which is already enshrined in the state constitution.

Senate and House Republican leadership have acknowledged that they want to include the language because it sounds important and could help drum up support for the proposed changes to the amendment process. Democrats have termed the language “ballot candy” and began filibustering as soon as the resolution was brought up for consideration Monday afternoon.

Three months ago, Democrats filibustered for 20 hours before Republicans stripped out the “ballot candy” and sent it to the House. Then, the House added it back in and sent it back to the Senate, requiring an additional vote in the Senate.

While Democrats took turns speaking on the floor — allowing no other legislation to be considered — Republicans huddled in several groups seeking to find a way to end the impasse. In the end, not enough Republican senators would support the effort to force a vote on the previous question. So Coleman, who had urged the House to restore the language Democrats opposed, stood up at her desk and made the motion to send the resolution back to the House.

Freedom Caucus member Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonvile, condemned Republicans for allowing Democrats to get what they wanted yet again.

“This Republican Party has no backbone to fight for what is right (and) for life,” Brattin yelled in a crowded chamber prior to the vote.

“I know that people are listening to this online and are fed up with the Republican Party because they have no backbone,” he said, his voice rising. “And they will have the blood of the innocent on their heads. Shame on this party.”

Changing the initiative process has been an expressed priority of Republicans this year. Their hope was to make it more difficult to amend the constitution ahead of an expected November ballot initiative aimed at legalizing abortion in Missouri.

If abortion is legalized in the state of Missouri in the next few years, it will come from the initiative petition process. The reference to “life” in Brattin’s speech clearly referred to that possibility.

Before the critical vote Democrats took to the floor to thank the Republicans who went against a plan to offer the previous question motion.

The 18-13 vote was the minimum amount of support necessary for the resolution to be returned to the House. All Democrats voted for it and every Freedom Caucus member voted against it. The remaining Republican votes were split with nine supporting it versus eight who voted against it.

It’s unclear which way the House will go with the resolution on Thursday. Speaker Dean Plocher, R-St. Louis, has been on the record in support of the version with ballot candy. Floor Leader Jon Patterson, R-Lee’s Summit, was the only Republican to vote against it when the House passed it.

If the House passes the resolution without adding the “ballot candy,” it will go straight to the voters for approval. If the House grants a conference, a committee of senators and representatives would be tasked with coming to a compromise. That compromise would then need majority approval from the Senate and House before heading to voters

Conference committees are generally made up of six Republicans and four Democrats. That would give Democrats a higher ratio of votes than they hold in the General Assembly. The speaker and Senate Pro Tem. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, would appoint conferees. Rowden wouldn’t say who would sit on the committee.

FRA heads to governor’s desk

It took 41 hours for the Senate to pass the extension of the federal reimbursement allowance (FRA) for Medicaid. In the House it took four minutes.

The FRA is a tax on health care centers in Missouri that is reimbursed at a greater amount to assist those centers in caring for patients on government health care. It’s essential to keeping rural health centers open. MU Health was reimbursed about $54 million last fiscal year.

The bill is essential to balancing the state budget but met opposition from the Freedom Caucus. They spent 41 hours filibustering the bill as Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, called it an unnecessary tax on hospitals.

The House had no such theatrics in passing the bill. Leadership on both sides of the aisle briefly spoke on the importance of the bill, then it passed with almost unanimous consent.