5 questions that Missouri lawmakers will answer in this final week of the legislature
The Missouri legislature’s 2022 session has shifted wildly between periods of productivity and gridlock.
Lawmakers were able to find agreement on spending an unprecedented amount of state and federal money — including finding a compromise for a tax credit that could give single Missourians $500 or $1,000 to married couples. And matters that were expected to be contentious during the budgetary process, such as funding Medicaid expansion, turned out to be nonissues.
But legislators have struggled mightily to bring most discernible policy goals across the finish line. And that legislative black hole is thanks in great part to an impasse over congressional redistricting, which sucked up copious amounts of Senate floor time.
“There has been relatively little substantive legislation this session,” said Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis. “Over a thousand bills get filed every year. The vast majority is not going to make it across the finish line. And as a Republican that believes in smaller government, I’m not so sure it’s always a bad thing that some of the legislation doesn’t make it.”
Whether 2022 falls into the “productive” or “not productive” category could depend on what happens in the last five days starting Monday.
Can Senate Republicans get along with each other?
One of the biggest storylines of the 2022 session has been the acrimony among Senate Republicans. It’s a schism that’s gotten increasingly personal over policy disagreement.
Onder, one of the members of the Conservative Caucus, said much of the dispute centers around disagreements over an initial proposal to redraw Missouri’s eight congressional districts. Most of the legislature wanted a map with six Republican seats and two Democratic ones. Onder and others wanted to go after Kansas City Democratic Congressman Emanuel Cleaver’s 5th District — and place most or all of St. Charles County in one congressional district.
“I hope going forward we can work together better,” Onder said. “You don’t run over members of the Missouri Senate, especially with something as important as redistricting.”
Whether big-ticket items dealing with redistricting, abortion, education policy or LGBTQ issues make it to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk could depend on whether those tensions can subside enough for at least a week.
“I think we are the perpetual optimism folks in the building,” Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, said last week. “You have to be a little bit in this business, because if you let all the little nuances things that happen along the way get you down — by the stage of the game when you only have six days left of session you probably don’t have a lot of hope left.”
Will the legislature or the courts redraw congressional districts?
Missouri is an extreme straggler when it comes to redrawing its congressional districts. There’s a lot of reasons why the process has been bogged down, from where to put military bases to whether to spare or doom Cleaver’s re-election hopes.
Those skirmishes pale in comparison to the larger battle over what to do with the 2nd District.
In essence, there’s been a struggle about whether to keep the district purely suburban — or to mix suburbs and rural areas together to try to make the seat more out of reach for Democrats. The latest attempt seems to split the difference by including Franklin and part of Warren County along with parts of St. Louis and St. Charles counties.
If the legislature can’t come to some sort of agreement, then it will be likely up to federal courts to come up with a map. And that would make the 2nd District more competitive, especially since a “least changed” map would mean the district is split somewhat evenly between the two parties.
Can lawmakers place ‘no right to abortion’ amendment on the ballot?
Thanks in part to a law passed in 2019, Missouri will ban basically all abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned — something that looks increasingly likely if a draft of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion comes to pass later this year.
But Sam Lee, director for Campaign Life Missouri, wants voters to decide this year whether to approve an amendment specifically stating “that nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion, or to require the funding of abortion by taxpayers or by any other means.”
Lee said if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, he expects abortion rights proponents to file a lawsuit to prevent the state’s “trigger law” from going into effect. He said if voters approve a constitutional amendment this year, it will provide additional protections against having that law and other abortion restrictions from being struck down.
“If [the judicial branch] finds a right to an abortion in the state constitution, then all other provisions could be struck down,” Lee said. “I mean we’re talking about parental consent. We’re talking about waiting periods and things like that.”
Lee said he’s not sure if there’s enough time for the legislature to pass such a measure, especially since it will likely encounter a Democratic filibuster.
How will Democrats factor into the final week of session?
One of the more unpredictable variables about legislative sessions is how the Democratic minority factors into the outcome.
Evidence of this came last year, when House Democrats, typically the least powerful legislative group in the Capitol, accomplished some policy priorities — while Senate Democrats, who use the filibuster to exert leverage, got stuck in a meltdown that coincided with an early adjournment.
With a number of contested measures around the initiative petition process, transgender participation in sports and abortion policy not settled yet, Senate Democrats could try to run out the clock by talking. And while their ability to stop things is much more limited, House Democrats could try to attach some of their priorities on so-called “omnibus” bills.
“I’m hoping that this last week is fruitful and we actually get to some things that matter,” said Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, D-St. Louis.
Will there be any last-second surprises?
The last week of session is never really a sure thing when it comes to what issue may dominate legislators’ attention.
For instance: In 2008, legislative activity came to a halt over an obscure matter known as the “Village Law” that would have allowed property owners to escape local planning and zoning ordinances. And last year, an effort to create a runoff system for statewide and congressional races captivated the Senate for a brief time before it died.
Will something unexpected pop up without warning and engross the legislature into hours of debate and negotiations? Or will the unfinished business that’s taken up most of the legislature’s time dominate the last five days?
The answer to those questions could determine whether the 2022 session is remembered as a success or a flop.
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum
Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahkkellogg