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Senate adopts rules change allowing senators to abstain from votes


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Senate adopted new rules Tuesday allowing for senators to skip a vote if there is a conflict of interest.

The rules change, put forth by Sen. Jason Holsman, was officially adopted by a simple majority roll call vote: 21-10.

Before, if a senator wished not to vote, he or she would need to have approval from the whole body without an objection. While it’s not a common practice, there have been instances where senators have felt the need to abstain from a vote due to the nature of a bill or a job outside the General Assembly, said Holsman.

“Fundamentally, it should be solely at the discretion of the senator to decide whether to recuse themselves if it’s in their interest or not in their interest [to vote], and by requiring leave of the Senate, you’re basically abdicating your decision-making of recusal to the chamber at large,” Holsman told The Missouri Times.

“[There are] any number of issues you could come up with where the Senate would potentially put you in a real tight box if it doesn’t allow you to recuse yourself and requires you to take a vote you feel would be a conflict of interest for yourself,” he added.

Specifically, Holsman noted the impact term limits could have on a vote, especially if two lawmakers on opposite sides of the aisle are running for the same position, and one could try to “catch” the other with a vote.

“Now that hasn’t been the case, and you’d like to believe the Senate would treat each other with respect, but this rule change ensures the decision to recuse is entirely up to the senator and not the Senate at large,” he said. “It really empowers each senator to decide what is a conflict of interest.”

A licensed realtor, Holsman said his decision to change the Senate rules stemmed from his need to recuse himself from a vote pertaining to a bill about real estate earlier this year. When he mentioned he didn’t agree with the rule that required him to get permission to abstain from a vote, he was told to “change it.”

So on Tuesday, he did.