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One step closer, two steps back: The Senate dance around joinder and venue continues

  

Two major issues holding up the Senate

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – It’s been one week since the last time that the issue of joinder and venue appeared on the Senate floor in its mission to be perfected, and for the third time during the current legislative session, the bill has been laid over.

Whether any progress has been made, it seems, truly depends on who you ask.

“There has been no compromise,” Sen. Scott Sifton said.

That’s not to say that some changes have been made along the way, though. Sifton and Sen. Brian Munzlinger, the legislator carrying SB 564, have continued conversing about prospective changes, with Munzlinger saying he believed they had fixed at least some issues and addressed some of the concerns raised by the opposition in an amendment filed by Sifton last week.

Republicans look to fix ‘bad reputation’ with Munzlinger’s venue and joinder legislation, but bill gets laid over

“We’ve taken probably 85 percent of what you offered in the amendment,” Munzlinger said.

“I’d say you narrowed it down to two or three issues left, but the problem is that those are big, big issues,” Sifton replied.

The Democratic Senator from District 1 has been at the forefront of all negotiation and opposition to the proposed legal reform bill, and in his eyes, it’s clear that this bill cannot go forward until some compromise is found on two issues: at a fundamental level, the two parties cannot agree on in-state joinder, as well as the issue of retroactivity.

Sifton argued that all of the lawsuits who have been waiting to get their trial date would be in jeopardy unless the issue of retroactivity can be addressed.

“If venue or joinder is disputed in their case, and this bill passes, all of those folks are going to get sent back to square one,” he said. “If this bill isn’t procedural, all those transfers happen, if it’s substantive, they don’t.”

“I’ll admit that probably nothing perfect ever gets out of this body,” Munzlinger said.

“There’s a reason we’re stuck, and it’s not from a lack of effort,” he said, crediting Munzlinger for continuing conversations. “We’re just not there. And we’re now at the point where floor action is where we’re at.”

“This is the only recourse left to them,” Sifton said of the side pushing for the venue and joinder legislation as they continued debating on the floor. “The worse this hurts the Senate, the worse it will hurt.”

Members of the opposition say that their counterparts on the other side are not playing ball on the major issues, noting that they’re simply refusing to budge on the two major points of contention.

But Munzlinger noted that in some of his conversations, there have been instances where the opponents have failed to bring forward any compromise or solution, particularly in the matter of in-state joinder. He said he and his staff had taken upon themselves to come up with an answer, in the form of an amendment that would allow an exception in which counties with a population of 75,000 or less to join with another county of 75,000 or less.

That amendment proved to be enough to spark rise from Sens. Rob Schaaf and Maria Chappelle-Nadal, with the latter requiring the Senator from Lewis to supply a list of counties that would fall under that provision.

Schaaf, on the other hand, filed an amendment changing the number from 75,000 to five million, which would then apply to every county in the state, the result basically being the exact same as current law.

After a time, Schaaf and Chappelle-Nadal took ownership of the floor, debating the bill while conversations continued outside the doors. But as the night continued on, the senators continued drawing the lines on the Senate floor, and the filibustering senators began to craft their plan to speak for a set number of minutes per motion until the end of the legislative session.

As for the issue of a retroactive effect from the legislation, Sifton argued that all of the lawsuits who have been waiting to get their trial date would be in jeopardy unless the issue of retroactivity can be addressed.

“If venue or joinder is disputed in their case, and this bill passes, all of those folks are going to get sent back to square one,” he said. “If this bill isn’t procedural, all those transfers happen, if it’s substantive, they don’t.”

Shortly before 10 p.m., a new draft was seen being placed on the desks of the senators, and Sen. Munzlinger rose to withdraw his previous version. After sending forward his new substitute, he asked the bill to be laid over until another day.

Whether any compromise on the issues on in-state joinder and retroactively can be found, at this point, is what the survival of this bill is hinging upon.