© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Missouri Senate feud continues with condemnation of Conservative Caucus

Sen. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, surrounded by Senate colleagues, speaks to the press during a news conference on March 9.
Rudi Keller
Missouri Independent
Sen. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, surrounded by Senate colleagues, speaks during a news conference criticizing the Conservative Caucus on Wednesday.

A bipartisan majority of Missouri state senators sharply criticized the Conservative Caucus on Wednesday, accusing their colleagues of blocking legislation to serve their own interests.

In a press conference outside their chamber, 12 Republicans and nine Democrats from the 34-member Senate spoke against the Conservative Caucus.

“We have sat by helpless as bipartisan legislation like helping new moms, guarding victims of sexual abuse and protecting children in cases of child abuse or neglect have been hijacked and purposefully tanked by a select few,” Sen. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, said.

Members of the caucus, which usually includes seven senators, said they are doing what they think is best for the conservative interests of the state and its residents.

The press conference blasting the caucus came the day after Rehder’s bill supporting sexual assault survivors’ rights did not get a first-round vote because of an amendment from Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, a caucus member.

Brattin’s amendment would penalize schools that provide “obscene material” to students.

“This amendment has to do with protecting our young minds,” Brattin said during debate Tuesday night.

Democratic senators protested the amendment, saying it could lead to the censorship of literature, such as Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” which was recently temporarily removed from libraries in the Wentzville School District.

In speaking to Brattin on the Senate floor, Rehder asked him to take back his amendment, saying if attached it would kill her bill. Brattin refused, and Rehder pulled the bill for now. Brattin said the question was why Democrats wouldn’t vote for the bill if the amendment was attached.

Rehder disagreed.

“If you want to change this into a Democrat-Republican issue, then that again is part of this problem in this chamber,” Rehder said.

In speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday, caucus member Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, condemned members for not taking further action on Brattin’s amendment and for the press conference criticizing the caucus.

“Because everything that’s taken place from last night to the show horsing press conference this morning was all done for drama,” Eigel said.

The caucus has been accused of blocking other legislation by adding partisan amendments to largely bipartisan bills. Another example is a bill that would expand Medicaid coverage for new mothers in the state.

Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, who cosponsored both bills, said the actions of the caucus are driven by politics and not policy.

“This very conservative caucus is using these tools to undermine some of our colleagues who are really trying to do good work and put forward good policy in the chamber,” Schupp said.

Several members of the Conservative Caucus are running for congressional seats or other offices. In addition to adding partisan amendments to bills, members of the caucus have consistently filibustered and used other delaying tactics this session. Sen. Mike Moon read in the Senate for hours after he was stripped of his committee memberships because he wore overalls in the chamber, under his suit jacket.

Another point of contention is the stalled congressional redistricting map. Conservative caucus members have been staunch supporters of a 7-1 majority Republican map instead of the 6-2 map passed by the House weeks ago.

Schupp said she thinks the caucus members have set themselves apart from the rest of the body and that in turn is creating more cooperation with everyone else despite the current gridlock.

“Yes, there are still issues that are going to divide us, even those of us with the best intentions of working together, but the way that they are doing this has actually forced us to move together,” she said.

Follow Sarah Kellogg on Twitter: @sarahkkellogg

Galen Bacharier of the Springfield News-Leader contributed to this report. 

Sarah Kellogg has been the Missouri Statehouse and politics reporter for St. Louis Public Radio since 2021.