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Missouri Senate quickly stalls after returning from 41-hour filibuster

Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, speaks about “political theater” on Friday, May 12, 2023, during the last day of the legislative session in Jefferson City, Mo.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, speaks about “political theater” last year during the last day of the legislative session in Jefferson City.

It took about 10 minutes Monday for the Missouri Senate to devolve into chaos.

Members came to the floor for the first time since they adjourned about 4 a.m. Thursday at the end of a 41-hour filibuster by members of the Missouri Freedom Caucus. As soon as the daily preliminaries of a prayer and other matters were completed, Majority Leader Cindy O’Laughlin said she wanted to go to the order of business where the only item on the agenda was the bill that triggered the filibuster.

After 10 minutes of state Sen. Bill Eigel yelling that the Senate leadership had again broken their word, O’Laughlin grew weary of the obstruction tactics. She refused to answer questions from EIgel, then a few minutes later adjourned for the day.

The chamber was scheduled to reconvene at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

In that way, the Senate lost a day crucial to completing the legislature’s constitutionally mandated job of passing the state budget, which must be finished by 6 p.m. Friday. That deadline has been missed only once, in 1997, and any spending bills not finished by that time must be completed in a special session.

Eigel, of Weldon Spring, is a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor. He was enraged, Eigel told the Senate, because legislation wasn’t coming up in the order he expected.

“This is why I have trust issues,” he said, “because on a regular basis for my eight years, I have been lied to and double crossed at almost every opportunity.”

This year’s session has been marked by the worst factional fighting in memory in the state Senate. Members of the Freedom Caucus – six at that time – opened the session by declaring their intent to stall action until their list of demands were met.

Those demands are unchanged. They have said a ballot measure that would change how constitutional amendments are approved by raising the majority threshold and a bill banning Planned Parenthood from participating in the state Medicaid program.

Three weeks into the session, with little accomplished except lengthy filibusters designed to show how little would be done this year without their cooperation, Eigel and other members of the Freedom Caucus lost their committee chairmanships. Tensions were so high O’Laughlin told editors and publishers in town for a Missouri Press Association event that she was ready to vote to expel Eigel.

Sen. Bill Eigel debates of Majority Floor Leader Cindy O'Laughlin on the floor of the Missouri Senate chambers.
Annelise Hanshaw
Missouri Independent
Missouri State Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, asks Majority Floor Leader Cindy O'Laughlin about the time to review bills and substitutes on the Senate floor last January in Jefferson City.

Eigel is demanding that the Senate business progress in the order he believes was agreed to as part of a deal to end last week’s filibuster. That would put the 17 budget bills first, followed by the medical provider tax bill and a quick Senate vote on the proposal to change the majority threshold.

The budget bills, which are going under heavy revision to make this week’s deadline, wasn’t ready Monday. The eruption came when O’Laughlin tried to move the provider tax bill forward.

From O’Laughlin’s point of view, there was no deal made to end the filibuster, just a threat. The threat was to use the Senate’s rule shutting off debate, known as a previous question, O’Laughlin wrote in a Facebook post.

It must be a written motion with signatures from 10 members. To pass, it requires 18 votes in the 34-member chamber.

“The filibustering Freedom Caucus members were told we had it and if they didn’t sit down we’d use it,” O’Laughlin wrote. “They sat down.”

O’Laughlin was not available after the floor session but wrote in the post that the Senate’s top job was to pass the budget. The provider taxes are essential to balancing the budget so that bill is part of the package, she wrote.

The Freedom Caucus was using the budget deadline as leverage to force the Senate into a debate on the bill changing the majority standards for constitutional amendments before the budget, she wrote.

“This I will not do and is not supported by anyone in the senate other than this little band of chaos causers,” O’Laughlin wrote.

Before the Senate adjourned, Eigel asked Sen. Mike Moon of Ash Grove, a lawmaker sympathetic to but not a member of the Freedom Caucus, to back him up on his version of the reason the filibuster ended.

Moon said he couldn’t do that because he wasn’t part of the final discussions.

He said he thought the provider tax bill was first, followed by the budget and then what is expected to be a lengthy effort by Democrats to kill the changes to how constitutional amendments are approved.

“What comes first, I don’t really have any druthers,” Moon said.

The last time it was on the floor, Democrats filibustered it successfully until every change they demanded was accepted to allow a vote.

The bill returned from the House with every provision Democrats opposed restored.

This story was originally published by The Missouri Independent, part of the States Newsroom.

Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and state legislature as the Deputy Editor at The Missouri Independent.