The Missouri Senate remained bogged down in GOP infighting Wednesday night, with conservatives for the third day in a row blocking or slowing legislative action while time ticked down towards Friday adjournment.
Leading the effort was Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, who spent much of Wednesday blocking an uncontroversial hemp bill by reading an anti-vaccine book aloud.
Among a list of bills the conservative senators are demanding, Moon wants the House to approve legislation he sponsored that would increase the tax credit for newborn children. It passed unanimously out of the Senate in March, but several amendments were added in the House, including an income tax cut and corporate tax cut.
But while Moon continued his filibuster, the House adjourned for the night without taking a vote on the bill. An hour later, the Senate stopped as well, recessing until this morning.
Moon's bill originally applied a deduction to any "unborn child," but it was amended to be restricted to children who are already born.
The bill allows taxpayers to claim a $2,400 exemption for each child to whom the taxpayer gave birth that year. That's double the $1,200 exemption which tax filers typically receive yearly for each dependent.
During House hearings, testimony in support included the Missouri Baptist Convention and other anti-abortion groups.
The House added several other tax credits and deductions, including a reduction on corporate income tax. The latest fiscal note estimated the bill would reduce general revenue by over $1.5 billion.
One provision cuts the individual income tax, accelerating a reduction approved last year. Under last year's plan, the top income tax rate was reduced from 5.3 percent to 4.95 percent, with four additional cuts, to 4.5 percent, triggered by future revenue growth.
As part of the changes added to Moon's bill, the top rate would drop to 4.5 percent immediately, at the start of 2024, with additional cuts taking it to 4.05 percent. That would decrease state revenue by about $500 million annually.
Democrats, when this provision was heard in another bill in March, said a tax cut -- coming on top of a tax cut approved in September that has not been fully implemented -- would put the state into a potentially precarious financial position.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, has also expressed reservations about passing another tax cut so soon after lawmakers approved the largest income tax cut in the state's history.
The proposed corporate tax cut would reduce the rate from 4 percent to 2 percent. This provision would reduce revenues by about $355 million annually, with the potential for additional cuts.
If implemented, the corporate tax cut would be the second in less than five years.
The bill also includes a property tax credit for senior citizens, alters motor fuel tax deductions, increases deductions from retirement benefits and repeals the law that requires dog owners to pay a tax.
After two years of Senate gridlock causing the chamber to adjourn early, Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, predicted last week that the 2023 session's final days would be much smoother.
But simmering tension boiled over Monday when Moon blocked all action in retribution for the Senate approving a postpartum Medicaid bill days earlier while he was absent dealing with a family illness.
He returned Tuesday and once again slowed down proceedings. He was assisted at times by other senators who made up the now-defunct conservative caucus, each of whom had a list of bills they wanted approved in order to allow the chamber to function normally.
Moon wanted the House to approve a ban on certain medical procedures for transgender minors, which it did Wednesday morning. But he also wants his tax credit bill, and continued holding the Senate floor into Wednesday evening.
Also assisting Moon on Wednesday was Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, who complained of what he described as a lack of action on conservative priorities during the session. He said it wasn't until Wednesday that legislators passed a priority bill of constituents that had responded to a Twitter poll.
Only a few members remained on the floor as GOP senators discussed a variety of issues, some unrelated to the bills at hand.
The Senate was stuck on a bill that modified a regulation on industrial hemp and had a myriad of agricultural amendments tacked on in the House. The bill didn't matter, though. Moon had expressed his intent to hold up proceedings prior to Wednesday.
Earlier Wednesday, it was Hough who prevented a bill from passing.
The Senate began the day with a bill that would streamline the payments for Missouri K-12 students enrolled in virtual school programs.
Hough proposed an amendment to the bill, which originated in the House, to restrict eligibility only to virtual programs based in the United States. He said it was similar to legislation prohibiting foreign entities from owning Missouri farm land.
After nearly two hours of discussion, the bill was set aside.
The Missouri Independent, www.missouriindependent.com, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization covering state government and its impact on Missourians. The Independent's Rudi Keller and Jason Hancock contributed to this story.