Missouri Legislature enters final day of session in turmoil
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Republicans began 2015 with some of their largest legislative majorities in state history and a renewed hope for putting a conservative stamp on state government.
They entered the final hours of their legislative session Friday in turmoil, with the House speaker resigning amid scandal and the Senate stalled by Democrats angry about the way the GOP had forced the passage of a bill limiting union powers.
“Obviously, it’s been a tumultuous end of the session,” said House Majority Leader Todd Richardson, of Poplar Bluff, who was expected to be elected Friday morning to the chamber’s top position of speaker.
Richardson will be replacing House Speaker John Diehl, a Republican from suburban St. Louis, who is resigning after acknowledging that he exchanged sexually suggestive text messages with a college freshman who was a Capitol intern.
Legislators face a 6 p.m. CDT deadline to pass legislation this year.
But the House did no work Thursday, because of all the chaos.
The Senate has done little work all week.
Minority party Democrats have prevented votes on virtually everything in the Senate after Republicans employed a rarely used procedural motion to shut off debate Tuesday evening and force a vote on a right-to-work bill. The House then gave the measure final approval Wednesday, sending it to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who is likely to veto it.
The bill would bar workplace contracts that impose mandatory union fees on all employees, even those who are not union members. Democrats, who strongly oppose it, were particularly upset about the strong-armed way Republicans passed it. So they have blocked even mundane Senate votes.
“The defiance that we are engaged in is a consequence of the tyranny of the majority,” said state Sen. Jason Holsman, a Democrat from Kansas City.
Richardson said he expects the House to get back to work Friday, after Diehl’s resignation is finalized. But there are only a limited number of bills the House could send to the governor without the Senate also voting on them.
Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard and Minority Leader Joe Keaveny were meeting to see whether they could work out a truce that would allow votes on some bills.
The most prominent measure hanging in the balance would reauthorize $3.6 billion of annual taxes on medical providers that are due to expire Sept. 30. An extension is necessary to avoid punching a large hole in Missouri’s $9.4 billion Medicaid health care program for low-income residents.
If the reauthorization fails Friday, some legislators suggested that a special session would be needed to try again to pass the bill.
Also lingering is a bill that would revise Missouri’s law on the use of deadly force by police — one of the measures pushed in response to the fatal shooting last August of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer. The death of the black 18-year-old, and the subsequent grand jury decision not to charge the white officer, led to large-scale protests, rioting, arson and looting in the predominantly black St. Louis suburb.
Missouri’s current law justifies deadly force when an officer believes a suspect has committed or attempted a felony, is escaping with a deadly weapon or poses a serious threat of danger to others. Legislators are proposing to align it with a 1985 U.S. Supreme Court decision, which says deadly force used against a fleeing suspect is unconstitutional unless the officer has cause to think that person poses a serious threat.
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