Senate passes St. Louis City-County merger resolution despite conservatives’ effort to block vote

   

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Senate adopted a nonbinding resolution opposing a statewide vote or legislative mandate on a potential merger of St. Louis City and County without adopting a position on the plan.

The resolution, championed by Minority Floor Leader Gina Walsh, passed 26-5 after Senate conservatives, led by Sen. Bill Eigel, delayed the vote for more than an hour.

State Sen. Gina Walsh

Eigel objected to the resolution being brought to the floor on the Thursday before Easter and argued it deserved more time for debate. He also said he “deserved” more notice that the resolution would be brought up this morning.

“It’s extraordinary to me how inappropriate it would be to vote on something of this magnitude. I understand it’s a non-binding resolution, but it’s a very controversial topic,” Eigel said, adding he was only informed it would be addressed about 15 minutes before the Senate went into session. “It’s clear to me the urgency once again … of Holy Thursday is sufficient for the body to not really want to go into the merits of whether or not this is something that should come to a vote and whether or not we should vote.”

“I think this is the wrong way to be doing business. I hope in the future we’ll have more of a heads up as a courtesy to all of us that legislation of this nature will come before the body so we can adequately prepare for it, and I’d really like to stop seeing holidays like Holy Thursday be used as a weapon against members of this assembly,” he said.

Romine agreed, saying the Senate was “taking advantage” of a typically short legislative day.

Walsh later told reporters she was “a little surprised” by Thursday’s holdup since the resolution had been on the calendar for more than a month, and Eigel hadn’t expressed any concerns with her before.

Earlier Thursday, the St. Louis County NAACP publicly came out in support of a proposed merger. John Gaskin III, the chapter’s president, contended it would facilitate criminal justice reform and be beneficial to lower-income and African-American families.

State Sen. Bill Eigel

“We need to reform our criminal justice system, and this plan would do that. We need a more accountable police force, and this plan would do that,” Gaskin said in a statement. “The status quo isn’t working for the African-American community, but uniting St. Louis County and City will spark the type of change we need around here.”

Several lawmakers in both chambers of the General Assembly have pushed for proposals that would allow citizens impacted by a potential merger to have a greater say in the process. Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, for example, introduced a resolution stating if a constitutional amendment changes the form of government for at least one county, that change could only go into effect if a majority of voters in each affected area votes in favor of the change.

“If there is going to be a statewide vote on consolidating city and county governments, I want those residents to be the deciding factor,” Nasheed, who represents part of St. Louis city, has said. “We cannot allow the state to impose its will on the City of St. Louis against our wishes.”

She also defended Walsh’s resolution from the Senate floor Thursday. “At the end of the day, the city and the county will be the deciding factor,” she said.

Those in favor of the merger — specifically Better Together’s proposal — argue for a constitutional amendment to create a new “metropolitan city” combining St. Louis City, County and all 88 county municipalities under a unified government.

Lawmakers push for a local vote on St. Louis City-County merger