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GM Incentives Approved As Senate Turns Attention To Abortion

Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, speaks on the Senate floor Tuesday about his economic development legislation. The Senate passed Hough's bill after a 28 hour filibuster.
File photo I Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, speaks on the Senate floor Tuesday about his economic development legislation. The Senate passed Hough's bill after a 28 hour filibuster.

A nearly 28-hour filibuster of what is usually a simple procedural step ended Tuesday night with a big win for Missouri Gov. Mike Parson.

Over the objection of a group of six Republicans, the state Senate approved a major economic development package that extended a tax credit for General Motors, which is considering a $750 million expansion of its plant in Wentzville. Also included is a program to fund training for adults in “high-need” jobs, and a deal-closing fund that allows for up-front tax breaks to companies considering expansion.

The Senate had been held up since 2:30 p.m. Monday when the Conservative Caucus — Eric Burlison, R-Battlefield, Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, Andrew Koenig, R-St. Louis County, Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina and Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis — launched a filibuster over what they called misguided economic policies.

In the end, the likelihood that continuing the filibuster would scuttle another priority for many of those senators — new restrictions on abortion in the state — led the six to sit down.

“The clock ticks on,” Onder said. “And we got to a point where we had to look at the fact that our desire to protect human life was leveraged against us.”

Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz said the GOP senators who brought the Senate to a standstill “made it very clear they were opposed to this bill — and they put up a strong opposition.” 

Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, presides over the Missouri Senate on May 14, 2019.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio / St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio
Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, presides over the Missouri Senate on May 14, 2019.

“But at the end of the day, I think the important thing to them is to make sure we get a pro-life vote done,” said Schatz, R-Sullivan. “And unfortunately, this bill was in front of that. In order to dispose of that, at some point in time, the decision has to be made to get to that bill.”

All six Conservative Caucus members, along with Ed Emery, R-Lamar and Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, voted no.

Parson called the passage of the incentives “a complete victory for Missourians and jobs in every corner of the state." He had pressed senators to pass Sen. Lincoln Hough’s legislation during a press conference earlier on Tuesday.

“We are sending a powerful message to the nation that we are ready to compete with every state for more jobs,” he said.

Democrats are likely to launch their own filibuster of the abortion bill, which, among other things, includes language that bans abortion after a heartbeat or brain activity is detected — possibly around eight weeks. It would also ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned, with the exception of medical emergencies.

But Republicans are likely to be much more willing to use procedural moves to shut off debate against the minority party than they were against their own party.

Schatz said his caucus has been talking with his Democratic colleagues — and added that there may be a compromise to end a likely filibuster.

“I just think that’s a position that we as conservative Republicans ran on: ultimately, hopefully putting an end to abortion in our state,” Schatz said. “Anytime we can do that and pass one of the strongest positions in the country, that’s the side we’re going to be on.”

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, said her caucus is ready for a fight.

“This is a bill that is going to devastate women throughout the state of Missouri,” Nasheed said. “I don’t believe that the Republicans should be dictating when or how a woman should protect her reproductive health.”

CAFO bill goes to Parson

As the Senate neared the 24-hour mark of the filibuster, the House sent Parson a measure that eliminates the authority of county commissioners or health boards to put tighter limits on large livestock farms known as CAFOs.

Most of the regulations around CAFOs — or concentrated animal feeding operations — are set at the state or federal level. But 20 counties in the state had put their own regulations in effect as well.

The legislation blocks those counties from enforcing those regulations and prohibits others from passing new ones. That gives farmers needed consistency, said Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill.

“Missouri is based on ag,” Haffner said. It penetrates literally into every county within this state, and we’ve got to do what we can to foster that growth.”

Opponents called the measure an attack on local control that will lead to more water and soil pollution. Others, like Doug Clemens, D-St. Ann, questioned the need to eliminate the local regulations since CAFOs are profitable even in the counties that have them.

“They’re not going anywhere. So why do we want to give something to these guys?” Clemens said. “Local communities should also be able to say what is right or wrong for them.”

House Republicans defeated amendments that would have allowed county-level votes on new restrictions and put additional limits on foreign ownership of farmland. Any changes would have required a vote in the Senate.

Parson, a cattle farmer himself, is expected to sign the bill.

“Today’s final vote is another BIG win for Missouri farm and ranch families,” the governor said in a statement. “This is an important step forward in our ability to tackle the challenges of a growing food demand and ensures we keep more food production right here in Missouri, strengthening Missouri's #1 industry – agriculture.”

The idea of eliminating county-level regulations on CAFOs is not new. Former Attorney General Chris Koster proposed the idea a dozen years ago when he was a Republican state senator. He continued to push for the idea even after he switched parties in 2007.

Emissions testing

Missouri lawmakers are trying to come up with a plan to fix Missouri's bridges.
Credit File photo I Carolina Hidalgo I St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri lawmakers voted to end emission tests requirements for the St. Louis region.

Also passing out of the Senate is a measure eliminating the required vehicle emissions tests, starting in 2020.

“I think the emissions testing probably affects some of the more economically challenged people in the communities that I represent and in the St. Louis region, because of how difficult it is on them to make sure they can achieve that emissions test,” said Schatz, who handled the legislation in the Senate.

Schatz said he’ll talk with Parson about the bill, since he added “there could be some ramifications to potential federal funds being in jeopardy. I’m certain we will have continued conversations on that issue.”

The measure also requires the state Department of Revenue to revoke the driver’s license of anyone whose poor driving leads to a worker being struck in a designated and marked work zone. Drivers who lose their licenses under this measure can get them back by passing the written and driving portions of the driver’s exam, or by petitioning the local court.

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Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.
Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.