JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – For the third year in a row, Rep. Holly Rehder’s Narcotics Control Act was passed out of the House Monday evening 102-54.
Rehder’s bill notably needed Democratic support. Only two Democrats voted against the measure, but 52 Republicans, almost half of the caucus, voted against the measure. Fifty-eight Republicans voted for the bill. Sophomore Republicans voted against the measure 14-13 with two absentees, though freshman Republicans voted heavily in favor 19-6, illustrating a significant divide in the caucus.
The Sikeston legislator said that she has attempted to work with legislators from both parties on the legislation, but was happy early in the session when many freshman Democrats asked her how they could help on her bill. Rehder also said she supports a measure by Rep. Cora Faith Walker, D-St. Louis, to allow medication assisted treatment for participants in a drug court.
“Rep. [Fred] Wessels and I have been working on this since the session started and so he’s been a huge part of this,” she said. “We have worked hard for several years now to explain this is not a partisan issue. We are all affected by this.”
Wessels, a Democrat, had his bill merged into Rehder’s in committee.
For the left side of the aisle, the decision was not a difficult one, even though. Rehder’s other most notable legislative effort this session was carrying her own and Sen. Dan Brown’s right-to-work bill – legislation opposed by nearly every Democrat. Minority Floor Leader Gail McCann Beatty said that was “easier said than done” to not play politics with the legislation.
“At the end of the day and what the priorities are, we have attempted to negotiate on some other things,” Beatty said. “But I think that this was something that we weren’t really willing to risk. We’ve been fighting to get it too long.
“It’s good policy and that’s why you see bipartisan support for it.”
Republicans split in final floor debate
Now, the bill faces the considerable hurdle of Sen. Rob Schaaf in the Senate, who has stated he will again block her version of the prescription drug monitoring act (PDMP) legislation from reaching the governor’s desk.
Rehder’s version of the bill would allow doctors to inspect the records of someone they suspect could be buying prescription opiates. Schaaf’s own bill would instead use a computer algorithm to alert doctors of who has purchased opiates from multiple locations, a method he says better protects privacy.
Rehder rejected the reasoning behind Schaaf’s bill, saying the human quality of a doctor allowed for better intervention before a patient became an addict.
“We want our physicians to be able to identify this on the front end so they don’t get to heroin, so they don’t go that far,” Rehder said. “We want to be able to start getting this at the root cause and that’s the initial addiction to these opiates.”
Much of the debate occurred Thursday during the perfection process, but representatives spent a bit over an hour discussing the bill.
The bill met opposition largely from members of the informal Freedom Caucus, a collection of Republicans who fear the effects of such legislation on the privacy of Missouri citizens. Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Union, noted the bill would only force the illegal drug trade under ground. Rep. Keith Frederick concurred with that opinion, citing cases in New York where addicts unable to access drugs like oxycodone or hydrocodone turned to harder street drugs.
“In our effort to control prescription drugs we may force people to use heroin and fentanyl and we may actually increase the death rate,” Frederick said.
Wessel acknowledged the bill wasn’t perfect, but that it was important.
“It’s not a silver bullet, but it’s an integral part in this war against opiate addiction,” Wessels said.
Rehder’s bill now moves over to the Senate. She said will speak with Sen. Dave Schatz, the handler of the legislation in the upper chamber, about the process through the house. Schatz has a similar bill on the Senate calendar, and Rehder is optimistic the bill will finally pass this year.
“My hope is Senate leadership will just allow the filibuster to go… We have the votes, if we can get it to a vote.”