First Regular Session of the 98th General Assembly Concludes
Friday, at 6pm, the First Regular Session of the 98th General Assembly drew to a close. Now that session is over the Governor will begin to take action on bills. The legislature will reconvene for a veto session on September 16 and may be called back for a special session before that.
House Speaker Resigns, New Speaker Elected
Wednesday morning, news broke accusing the Speaker of the House, John Diehl, of sending inappropriate text messages to a college freshman who had been interning in the House. After both initially denied the claims, the Speaker issued an apology Wednesday evening, saying he took responsibility for his actions. Thursday, the House never went in to session and at around 2pm the Speaker announced he would be resigning both his post as Speaker and his position as State Representative, effective as soon as the House elected a successor.
The Republican Caucus met on Thursday evening to select his replacement, and unanimously voted for Majority Floor Leader Todd Richardson to assume the position. He was confirmed Friday morning, by a unanimous voice vote of the entire House, even getting the unusual distinction of Minority Leader Jacob Hummel speaking in support of Richardson’s election. After giving a very short speech, the new Speaker moved the body to their usual business, saying it was time to get back to work. Richardson was already considered a shoo-in to be Diehl’s successor in 2017. He will have to be elected again in 2017, but his ascension now makes him likely a three-year Speaker. Assuming he serves the full three years, Richardson will be the first Speaker to serve more than two years since the term-limit era began.
Right to Work Passes
One of the state’s most divisive issues, Right to Work, brought the Senate to a grinding halt this week. After the House passed HB 116 in mid-February, there had been speculation about how the Senate would respond. On Tuesday, the Senate took up HB 116, adding an amendment to include paycheck protection, meaning the bill would have to return to the House before it was Truly Agreed and Finally Passed. Eight hours were spent debating the bill before resorting to the rarely used Previous Question motion. Unlike the House, this move is rare in the Senate because it ends Senators’ ability to filibuster – a sacred tradition in the Senate.
Democrats attempted to stop the bill’s passage by offering substitute motions, and attempts to adjourn the Senate immediately. After also two hours of procedural motions, the bill as passed by a vote of 21-13 with four Republican Senators (Dempsey, Romine, Silvey, and Wieland) joining the Democrats in opposition. The bill was returned to the House and taken up for final passage on Wednesday, with 21 Republicans voting against it. The bill was declared Truly Agreed and Finally Passed and was sent to the Governor, who had made his veto intentions very clear.
As the votes were cast this week, the bill was passed without a veto-proof majority in either chamber. The legislature would need to pick up 17 votes in the House and 2 votes in the Senate to override the Governor’s pending veto. While some votes could potentially change in the House to override, the loss of a Republican seat this week and doubt about the Senate’s ability to override makes it unlikely this will become law. Additionally, the Senate Democrat Caucus retaliated by preventing the Republicans from completing passage of every other bill, but one, during the session’s final week – a time when the majority of bills pass each year. The Senate, which usually works in a flurry of activity until the constitutional deadline of 6pm, adjourned today almost three hours early. The statement in the Senate, coupled with the scandal in the House and their subsequent leadership change, has made for possibly the least productive final week of session in state history.
No Solution for Transportation Funding Crisis
None of the legislative proposals to raise enough funds to match all of the available federal dollars were able to clear the Senate, once again, leaving Missouri’s transportation funding in a state of crisis. Even though this is a vital and immediate issue, it is doubtful that the Governor will call a special session to address this issue.
Even though the session had hurdles to overcome, the legislature was able to pass several essential pieces of legislation. Some of the marquee issues that were adopted were municipal court reform, student transfers, tort reform, and authorization of tax increment financing for both the redevelopment of the old Chrysler assembly plant in Fenton and the potential retention of the National Geospatial Agency on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River. The Governor has already signed tort reform, but the other three issues still await his action. While he is likely to sign the municipal court reform bill, SB 5, and the tax increment-financing bill, HB 514, there is a likelihood that he will veto the student transfer bill – which he did last year.