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Missouri Legislature pushing omnibus bills during pandemic ‘tarnishes’ institution, bipartisan coalition says

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — An eclectic coalition of Missouri groups signed onto an open letter Tuesday decrying the omnibus bills popping up as the legislative session nears its close. 

“The Missouri Legislature returned last week while actively discouraging the public from coming to the Capitol because of COVID-19. In the midst of a health pandemic and economic crisis, lawmakers advanced many bills containing provisions that have nothing to do with the budget or responding to the virus,” the letter said. “Missourians are not operating as if it were business as usual and neither should lawmakers.” 

Leaders from the following groups signed onto the letter: ACLU of Missouri; Americans for Prosperity Missouri; Empower Missouri; Missouri State Conference of the NAACP; United for Missouri; American Association of University Women; Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis; League of Women Voters of Missouri; Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation; Missouri Faith Voices; Missouri First, Inc.; Sierra Club Missouri Chapter; and St. Louis Jewish Voice for Peace. 

Legislative proceedings ground to a halt as Missouri — like the rest of the world — grappled with the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed the lives of nearly 400 people in the state. When lawmakers returned, they vowed to focus on passing the annual budget and other economic measures designed to help the state recover from the effects of the crisis.

Multiple bills have grown to include dozens of other pieces of legislation. In both chambers, lawmakers have questioned whether some offered amendments fall into the scope of the underlying bills. 

On Tuesday, the Missouri House debated SB 600, dubbed a “public safety” bill, and attached a bevy of amendments related to gun possession and crime in general. Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, its sponsor, said SB 600 was originally a 15-page bill related to dangerous felonies. It is now 113 pages. 

“Passing any omnibus bill with a response to the pandemic attached to unrelated matters threatens the ability for that pandemic response to reach people most in need,” the letter 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.”

“As long as voters who sent lawmakers to Jefferson City are unable to be part of a fully open and accessible government — the cornerstone of democracy in the United States — the only legislation that should be considered is the budget and bills directly related to COVID-19. Otherwise, a ‘government by the people’ rings hollow and tarnishes the institution of the Missouri Legislature.” 

The legislative session ends on May 15. 

Read the full letter below. 

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EDITOR’S NOTE: For up-to-date information on coronavirus, check with the CDC and DHSS.