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Room to deal? Plocher, Schatz face logjam of legislation as session nears its end

  

With just a couple weeks of session left, there wasn’t a great list of accomplishments for the first session of the 101st General Assembly. The leading item of a pretty paltry list was a bill regarding foster children

Meanwhile, the Senate had seemingly stalled over issues like education reform, gambling, and nominations to the University of Missouri’s Board of Curators. And in the House, Senate priorities such as increasing the gas tax or implementing a statewide PDMP log jammed in committees while rumors flew that the lower chamber would hold hostage legislation from Republican senators who supported fully funding Medicaid. 

As is the case most years, when session hit the two weeks left marker things began to happen. After the Senate, passed a House priority of the legislation assisting families adopting or fostering children. Then, the Senate took the House position on not expanding Medicaid. After that, the Senate again took the House position on Rep. Phil Christofanelli’s legislation establishing the education savings account program, taking up and passing the lower chamber’s bill without any amendments after only 15 minutes of what would be better described as a discussion, not a debate. 

“The General Assembly rose to the occasion to deliver for students who are in need across our state, and I look forward to seeing this program implemented to make a real difference in the lives of kids in our state,” Christofanelli told The Missouri Times. 

For weeks, there were running jokes about the volume of sometimes unsubstantial guns and abortion legislation flowing from the House. Now, in a matter of a few days, folks are asking the question: Will the Senate be more than a speed bump to the House’s agenda in the closing hours? 

However, there are some signs of life in that agenda. Sen. Holly Rehder’s PDMP legislation — an issue she has championed during her tenure in what used to be described as the lower chamber — finally made it out of the House Fiscal Review Committee and is sitting on the lower chamber’s calendar. 

Rehder, who spent seven years in the House before moving to the other side of the Capitol, said Friday she felt as though “everyone is together again at this point.” 

Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, too, saw some movement with a priority of his with the logjam lifting as his gas tax bill finally made it out of the House Rules-Legislative Oversight Committee chaired by Christofanelli in a 7-4 vote the day after ESAs passed. Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer’s COVID liability legislation still sits in that committee with plans to exec it during the final week.

Sen. Caleb Rowden said he was “optimistic” heading into the final week of session, calling the relationship between the two chambers “fine” during a Friday afternoon press conference. It would seem things went from icy to “fine” is an accurate description of the back-and-forth. However, for the Senate, many will be watching to see if they get anything for their accommodations. 

Rowden said that he expects the Second Amendment Preservation Act (SAPA) and gas tax to come up in the last week. It would seem highly unlikely that the massive gun rights proposal could come to a vote in the Senate unless Democrats just allow the Republicans to drive a wedge between them and law enforcement — or possibly even PQ the legislation. 

Were the Senate to PQ SAPA, many would have to say the upper chamber played only a supporting role to the house this session. 

However, one issue that has seemingly languished is the rollback of local governments’ power to issue crippling health orders. It’s an issue most all Republicans support but has been bottled up for weeks. 

Another vital issue that the Senate has worked on was Sen. Lincoln Hough’s bill to establish the Voluntary Firefighter Cancer Benefits Pool to provide assistance to firefighters who develop cancer. If there really is a back-and-forth between the chambers, look for that bill to move in the last week. 

Staff and those close to Schatz and House Floor Leader Dean Plocher say there’s a great opportunity to pass far more proposals than normal in a legislative session during the final week.

“It is evident from the peaks and valleys of this legislative session the House will be in good hands with Plocher as speaker. He is a big picture legislator whose agenda is driven by commonsense conservative public policy that helps Missouri’s working families,” one Republican operative said. “He knows how to build relationships, and members know they can count on Dean to hear them out. Those who have worked with him know his only motivation is to do the right things for his members which is increasingly rare in politics.” 

But, of course, there’s also the potential for a meltdown resulting in a few 2 p.m. tee times this week.