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Fast Track workforce bill stalls in Senate over ESA fight

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A House bill creating grant programs for adults seeking further education related to high-demand jobs stalled in the Senate Tuesday after conservatives — decrying a perceived lack of compromise among their colleagues — launched into a filibuster.

Immediately, Sen. Andrew Koenig vowed to “reciprocate” a March Republican-led filibuster launched against his bill establishing a tax credit scholarship. Then, Sens. Gary Romine and Doug Libla largely held court, blocking the education savings accounts (ESAs) legislation to continue in the Senate.

State Sen. Gary Romine

“The reality is HB 225 will not pass without ESAs on it,” Koenig said, as he attempted to add ESAs to the bill with the backing of the Conservative Caucus. He lambasted fellow senators for being unwilling to compromise with his ESA legislation and promised to “reciprocate” in the form of a filibuster against the Romine-handled bill Tuesday afternoon.

Sen. Denny Hoskins, a member of the Conservative Caucus, said the six-member group was prepared to fight along with Koenig to attach ESAs to the Fast Track bill as both are education grant programs.

“It’s something Sen. Koenig has spent a lot of time and energy and effort [on]. He’s been open to compromise; his door has always been open,” Hoskins told The Missouri Times. “However, sometimes I feel like Sen. Koenig has gotten the runaround, and so we definitely want to see ESAs on this Fast Track bill.”

Libla, however, dismissed concerns of a lack of compromise among Republicans in the Senate.

“There’s just some bills, there’s no middle ground to be found sometimes, and that’s just the way it is in the Senate. We’re deliberate,” Libla told The Missouri Times. “The next thing you should be concerned about is: the person that you may have a problem with their particular bill that day, may be on your side the next day. Everybody just needs to see people have different philosophies on how we get the state managed.”

Libla chalked up to the Tuesday kerfuffle as a “last-ditch effort to try to get ESA [programs] on this bill.”

State Sen. Andrew Koenig

“The ESAs, they’ve already been on the floor, and we’ve already talked about it, and the reasons why some of us can’t support it,” he said.

Conservatives were at loggerheads with other Republicans and Democrats in the Senate during a nearly four hour debate before the bill was placed on the informal calendar.

HB 225, sponsored by Rep. Kathy Swan and handled by Romine in the Senate, would establish the Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant program for Missourians — who are at least 25 years old — seeking additional education in high-demand jobs. It’s a priority for Gov. Mike Parson’s administration.

“Fast Track creates an opportunity by meeting workforce needs, improving our economy, and benefiting Missourians in all regions of our state,” Swan previously said.

Koenig’s stonewalling came just hours after the Senate ended a 12-hour overnight filibuster of legislation blocking local governments from creating rules for agricultural operations stricter than those already imposed at the state level. The Senate ultimately perfected the CAFO bill Tuesday around 7:30 a.m.

Romine objected to Koenig’s coup and the addition of the ESA language to the bill, maintaining the tax credit scholarships “abdicates our responsibility in education” as lawmakers.

“It is our responsibility as legislators to make sure every dollar in education is used as efficiently as possible,” Romine said. “For any of those dollars to go anywhere else would abdicate our responsibility. The Fast Track bill should stand on its own.”

Democratic Sen. Jill Schupp, a Democrat, joined Libla and Romine in opposing the ESA amendment. She said the wording was “misleading in the way it’s crafted” and the program “goes around the Constitution.”

But the Conservative Caucus — of which Koenig is a part — stood behind the senator from the 15th district. Sen. Bob Onder voiced his displeasure for the Fast Track bill and maintained parents should have more choices when it comes to education for children. He also likened the fight on the floor to “Groundhog Day,” saying senators have often been told to work out differences regarding bills on the floor, but then it’s shut down.

Hoskins said there are “concerns” on Fast Track and would like for it include a sunset clause as well as narrow just what professions would be included in the program. Those conservatives would want to see jobs included that are related to: computer sciences, construction trades, mechanic and repair technologies, health professions, and engineering.

Aside from Koenig, Hoskins, and Onder, members of the Conservative Caucus include Sens. Eric Burlison, Bill Eigel, and Cindy O’Laughlin.