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GM workforce development bill survives Senate conservatives’ marathon filibuster

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Gov. Mike Parson and Senate leadership waited out a nearly 30-hour filibuster waged by conservatives to pass a workforce development bill Tuesday evening — positioning the Senate to take up anti-abortion legislation before the session ends.

Following the marathon filibuster, the Senate truly agreed to and finally passed SB 68, in a 25-8 vote, establishing the Missouri One Start Program with incentives spurred by a potential $1 billion investment from General Motors in its Wentzville plant and the inclusion of a controversial Fast Track grant program and closing fund.

As Sen. Lincoln Hough moved for the third reading of his SB 68, he said it was a “clear signal to rest of country that Missouri wants to grow its workforce and the state’s economy.”

State Sen. Lincoln Hough

“The single best asset that the state of Missouri has, the single best tool we can utilize, are the people we represent. SB 68 does just that,” Hough, a Republican, said.

“This is a big step in the right direction for a comprehensive economic and workforce development package that meets the needs of major employers and small businesses in the state,” Hough told The Missouri Times after the vote, adding the package was a collaborative effort among his colleagues.

The approval of the journal is an otherwise mundane activity in the General Assembly, but during the last week of the session, it took the Senate two days to approve it with conservatives waging war against the amended SB 68.

Working in shifts, the Conservative Caucus led a 28-hour filibuster — the longest of this legislative session by far — decrying the amended bill and “corporate welfare.” But by Tuesday evening, Sen. Bill Eigel said his colleagues had a choice to make: forge ahead with the filibuster or ensure the body had enough time to take up an anti-abortion bill before the session is over.

“It’s time to turn our discussion and it’s time to turn our attention for the time we have left to protecting human life,” Eigel said just before 6 p.m. Tuesday.

“It’s almost unprecedented in the last week of session to have six senators of the majority party who would be forced to spend about [28] hours in debate to oppose misguided economic polices that are quite offensive,” Sen. Bob Onder, a Conservative Caucus member, said. “This bill was used … as a way to piggyback other ill-advised programs. We had a better option.” 

State Sen. Bill Eigel

During the earlier hours of the filibuster Monday, the House passed a scaled-back version of an incentive package that didn’t include Fast Track or a closing fund. The conservative senators urged the Senate to take up that legislation — as opposed to SB 68 — and promised a favorable and quick vote. However, GM officials were not on board with the scaled-back plan, sources have said.

Kicking off the filibuster early Monday afternoon, Eigel said, “Where SB 68 falls short is the fact that they have added things to SB 68 which clearly, in my mind, are not necessary for the overall GM deal.”

“SB 68 says the government knows what’s best for you,” Eigel said, arguing the former Soviet Union “went broke” because it believed “the government knew better than the people” at the time. “SB 68 is a step along that direction.”

As members of the Conservative Caucus held court on the Senate floor, some read books: Sen. Andrew Koenig read a few chapters of “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” by Tuesday morning; Sen. Denny Hoskins read from “The Case for Trump,” a book he picked up at a local bookstore earlier this week; Sen. Eric Burlison read from “In Search of Self-Governance.”

Several quorum calls occurred throughout the night — but Sen. Jamilah Nasheed noticeably wasn’t behind most of them. The Democrat said on Twitter she didn’t have the “energy” because she is fasting for Ramadan.

Parson had made the workforce development initiative a priority for his administration and called on senators to hold a vote earlier Tuesday.

“I believe the people in this state agree with it, and I believe they deserve a vote — up or down — on this issue,” Parson said. “I know people don’t like it, and they disagree with it. … But for people to have the right to vote on this issue, up or down, and I think that’s important.”

Parson praised the vote Tuesday evening as a “complete victory for Missourians and jobs in every corner of the state.”

Susan Klein, the executive director of Missouri Right to Life, also praised the body for moving on to take up a sweeping abortion bill this week.

“Expediting the GM bill in order to ensure there was enough time to properly debate and ensure passage of the most important pro-life legislation in Missouri history is a testament to the commitment of every senator in the process, and the pro-life community is grateful for their commitment to protecting the sanctity of human life,” Klein said in a statement to The Missouri Times.

Eigel had kicked off the floor filibuster by calling for some give and take: “This is the week for compromise. This is the week where, if folks aren’t willing to compromise, we’ll be disappointed by the results of this week.”