Missouri lawmakers wrapping up first half of session

Coming up on the halfway point of the 2023 legislative session, Missouri lawmakers have passed a single bill.

But that may change as legislators work to advance their bills before leaving for spring break.

"I think next week will obviously be a productive week, an exciting week," Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden said. "Long days, presumably."

HB 14, the supplemental budget bill containing a pay raise for state employees, is the only bill Gov. Mike Parson has signed into law this session. Lawmakers will adjourn for a week of spring break Thursday, not returning until Monday, March 20.

Several pieces of legislation have been approved by a single chamber and not the other. Lawmakers typically send a bulk of bills across the finish line during the second half of the session.

The Senate has perfected 35 bills and sent them across the building to the House, while the House has perfected and sent 20 bills to the Senate. Since January, members of the Senate have filed 723 bills and 64 resolutions and members of the House have filed 1,416 bills and 125 resolutions. The deadline to file non-appropriation bills was March 1.

Rowden, R-Columbia, told reporters Thursday the Senate is making progress on a number of bills, including those addressing transgender issues, tax reform and postpartum care for new mothers.

"Just the normal flow of business -- what you'd expect for a week or couple weeks before spring break," he said.

Senate Majority Floor Leader Cindy O'Laughlin, a Shelbina Republican, said she's happy with where the Senate is at.

O'Laughlin said senators are having a lot of conversations about tax policies and transgender issues, among others.

"I'm satisfied with how things are going," she said. "I think everybody's working well together. We occasionally run into a little snag, but we manage to get past that, and that's not unusual considering we have 34 people all with a different idea of what's right and how to go about it."

Senate Minority Floor Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said last week was a productive one for Democrats as well.

The minority party helped advance a bipartisan bill establishing film tax credits and saw action on a bill providing tax exemptions to feminine products and diapers. Rizzo said Democrats will continue to fight for gun safety measures as well.

Sen. Tracy McCreery, D-St. Louis, said she's concerned a few senators will "torpedo legislation that the vast majority of the Senate, and quite frankly the state, wants to see happen."

McCreery was one of four senators, two Democrats and two Republicans, who voted against advancing a bill extending postpartum care for new mothers after language was added to prevent women from accessing Medicaid after getting an abortion out of state.

"Over the past several years, the House has been the chamber that actually can be the adults in the building and get things cleaned and get things functioning," said McCreery, who served in the House last session. "I have great hope that my colleagues in the Missouri House in both parties can figure out a way to get this done."

O'Laughlin said she's expecting the Senate to debate transgender bills this week, but not sports betting or initiative petition reform, two priorities for Republican lawmakers this session.

Bills before the Senate seek to prevent transgender athletes from competing on school sports teams that align with their gender identity and ban gender-affirming health care for minors.

O'Laughlin said she wants to take care of the bills "in one shot."

"We just want to make sure that we're listening to everyone in the chamber and we're taking into account different views and taking a path that everyone can live with," she said.

A bill on gender-affirming care for minors was the source of Republican infighting in the upper chamber last week. Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, held the Senate floor Tuesday morning in retaliation for O'Laughlin adjourning the chamber shortly after his bill came up for debate.

Moon said he was asked to lay his bill over but repeatedly rejected the idea. O'Laughlin said she wanted time for senators to continue negotiating the bill, adding she thinks it could pass with more negotiation.

Rowden told Moon his actions were disrespectful to the rest of the majority caucus and the power they gave O'Laughlin to lead the floor.

O'Laughlin told reporters Thursday that Moon "wasn't crazy" about delaying debate on his bill, "but, ultimately, we worked that out."

The rift recalled scenes from the Senate's past two sessions, when Republican infighting stalled progress on a number of issues considered to be party priorities. The upper chamber adjourned a day early last session as a result.

The conservative caucus, which stonewalled the rest of its party on numerous issues, has since disbanded and O'Laughlin has made it her priority to steer her caucus clear of intra-party disputes.

By negotiating compromises with Republicans, Rizzo said Democrats are also trying to not grind the chamber to a halt.

"We'll see where that leaves us next week or after spring break," he said.