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Amid claims of dishonesty, Senate unanimously reconsiders omnibus bill after finding ‘hidden’ language from House

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The upper chamber made the unusual move of voting to reconsider a previous Senate bill that had been truly agreed to and finally passed (TAFP’d) earlier Thursday. 

After SB 782 — an omnibus transportation bill from Sen. Justin Brown — had been passed, Sen. Denny Hoskins found language in a House amendment that would have been detrimental to the Grain Belt project — as well as other electric co-ops, senators said. 

“We expect a level of integrity and mutual trust between the chambers,” Hoskins, a Republican, said from the Senate floor shortly after the body reconvened around 10 p.m. “When shenanigans like this are exposed, trust is eroded.” 

Senators unanimously voted to reconsider the bill before adjourning for the night. The legislative session comes to a close Friday at 6 p.m. — in less than 24 hours. 

The language in question was buried in a House amendment from freshman Republican Rep. Greg Sharpe. While the gist of the amendment dealt with derelict and abandoned aircraft, the final provision of the four-page amendment sought to allow county commissions or county historical societies to deem property as “historic farm property” if it “has been used for agricultural or horticultural purposes.” 

The amendment refers to a specific subsection in state statute that says certain property taken is entitled to compensation for the fair market value plus the heritage value (tacked at 50 percent of the fair market value). Property covered under Sharpe’s amendment would be subjected to the same compensation. 

This could not only make the Grain Belt project untenable, Sen. Bill Eigel said, but would have the “enormous unintended consequence” of potentially affecting “every co-op, municipality, and city.” 

The amendment read: 

“Any county historical society, or county commission in a county without a historical society, may designate certain real property as historic farm property if such property has been used for agricultural or horticultural purposes and the historical society or county commission deems the property historically significant or significant to agriculture. The provisions of subdivision (3) of section 523.039 shall apply to any property designated as a historic farm property under the provisions of this section. The county historical society, or county commission in a county without a historical society, may develop an application and approval process for historic farm property designations and may offer appropriate signage for historic farm property owners to display on their property or for counties to display along their roads and highways…”

Sens. Scott Sifton and Ed Emery also decried the House maneuver from the floor. Sifton, who is in his final term as a state senator, implored the body to be more cognizant of what the House sends to the upper chamber in the future. 

“What has happened here should terrify every member of this chamber,” the Democratic senator said. 

To add more intrigue to the night’s debacle: Paper copies of the bill’s summary given to senators earlier Thursday had “don’t dig deep” handwritten near Sharpe’s amendment. 

Emery admonished Sharpe by name on the Senate floor, saying legislators should give a closer look to provisions he proposes in the future. 

“The House has always, and will always, stand for the private property rights of Missouri families. I am disgusted at the unprecedented lengths the Senate took to protect out of state special interests attempting to steal Missouri farmland for private gain,” House Speaker Elijah Haahr told The Missouri Times.

Eminent domain language aimed at halting the Grain Belt wind energy project has caused a kerfuffle in the General Assembly and has failed to successfully make it through both bodies in recent years — including this one. 

“On behalf of the 350,000+ [Missouri] electric consumers, thank you [Missouri Senate] for your careful deliberation & reconsideration of SB 782. Killing the [Grain Belt Express] would have deprived Missourians of lower utility costs, jobs, & enhanced rural broadband,” Missouri Public Utility Alliance said in a tweet. 

Following the legislative katzenjammer, calls for the legislative session to end began to roll in. 

“For the sake of good governance, we should not have witnessed what we did this last week in Jefferson City,” Sara Baker, policy director of the ACLU of Missouri, said. “Hundreds of pages of legislation, full of mistakes and missing public input, is not what Missourians deserved. Especially in the light of the current crisis, they deserved a government that recognized its obligation to be transparent to the people they serve and a government that prioritized their health. What we saw instead was an effort to undermine fundamental rights and legislative shenanigans. We must do better.” 

Last week, a bipartisan coalition of Missouri groups warned the legislature against passing omnibus bills. The group said: “Omnibus bills open the door for single-subject lawsuits under Hammerschmidt. Passing bills unrelated to the budget or the COVID-19 virus without the scrutiny of sunshine taints the legislative process and public trust in the institution. That’s why passing the budget and narrow pandemic legislation must be the priority before the end of session on May 15.”

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