High Drama in Missouri Capitol

This last week of the 2015 session saw Speaker of the House John Diehl abruptly resign and the Missouri Senate come to a tense standstill after a bruising debate over right-to- work legislation. These political battles led to collateral damage, with the failure to pass numerous pieces of legislation, including a bill (HB 190) that would have required annual health and safety inspections of abortion clinics.

The drama began Tuesday night when Senate leaders employed a rarely used tactic to end debate and pass the right-to-work legislation. The Senate prides itself on having free and full debate and negotiating over bills in a bipartisan fashion. Moving the “previous question” to force a vote is a last resort, the “nuclear option” according to some because of its potential to end cooperation between the two parties.

After Tuesday’s vote on right-to-work, Senate business came to a screeching halt. The only bill that passed the rest of week was legislation to ensure that several billion dollars in state and federal funds would continue to be available to support the existing Medicaid program for the elderly, disabled and poor. After passing the Medicaid bill just after 3 p.m. on Friday, the Senate adjourned, even though the body could have kept working until the mandatory 6 p.m.deadline.

Meanwhile, the House had its own drama to contend with. On Wednesday the Kansas City Star reported that House Speaker John Diehl had exchanged sexually charged text messages with a college freshman who was serving as a legislative intern. On Thursday the Speaker apologized and announced he would be resigning from both the Speakership and his House seat. Later that night a Republican Caucus nominated Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) to be the new Speaker and the full House approved that move on Friday morning.

The Diehl scandal coupled with the lack of cooperation from the Senate left the House with little to do but pass a few bills by stripping off House amendments and agreeing to versions already approved by the Senate. Fortunately, the state budget for fiscal year 2016 had been passed the previous week. It includes several major MCC priorities – over $2 million in funding for alternatives to abortion services and over $13 million in funding for the Show-Me-Healthy Babies, a new program to ensure poor expectant mothers can access quality pre-natal care.

 

Posted: May 15, 2015

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