The filibuster is a long-standing tradition in the Missouri Senate, and despite national talk about getting rid of it in Congress — and a long night last week in the Missouri Senate — state senators from both major political parties defended filibusters.
A filibuster is when a legislator makes a long speech to block the passage of legislation. Some filibusters last for a few hours, while others in Missouri Senate history have lasted over multiple days — with some overnight breaks.
Last week's filibuster by state Senate Democrats over a bill regarding asbestos-related lawsuits lasted approximately 19 hours, according to a document from the Missouri Senate Communications office preserved in the State Capitol's Legislative Library — "Known Filibusters in the Missouri Senate since 1970."
Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, said on Thursday it had been a "long week, we'll call it, (with) the first extended overnight filibuster process that we went through."
Democratic senators had also filibustered in January, until after 2 a.m. the following day, to combat proposed changes to the redistricting process set up by the Clean Missouri amendment voters approved in 2018.
The longest filibuster in the history of the Missouri Senate was in 2016, when Democrats filibustered for 39 hours against a Senate joint resolution that proposed, upon voter approval, to prohibit the state from penalizing clergy, religious organizations and other individuals for acting on "a sincere religious belief" and refusing to perform, host, participate in, or sell goods or services for a wedding between two people of the same sex.
The U.S. Supreme Court had determined the summer before that the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires states to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and recognize same-sex marriages between two people who had been married out-of-state.
A vote in a House committee ultimately defeated the Senate joint resolution.
State Republicans have also filibustered — and sometimes, it's even become a bipartisan effort.
In 2018, Democrats and other Republicans joined then-Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, to filibuster a Senate bill that would have changed public utility regulations.
Former Gov. Eric Greitens signed that bill into law on his last day in office before he resigned.
Last year, Republican Conservative Caucus members for more than 27 hours temporarily blocked a Senate bill authorizing financial incentives to help General Motors expand its Wentzville plant.
Gov. Mike Parson ultimately signed that bill into law, and in this year's State of the State Address and his 2021 budget priorities, he touted GM's $1.5 billion investment in Wentzville to build midsize trucks as a win for the state and his administration.
Technically, Conservative Caucus members' effort was not a filibuster, according to the Senate Communications office, because the bill had not yet come up for debate.
The Senate Communications office document details one or more filibusters in 1970, 1999, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2010.
News reports from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch also note other filibusters earlier in the 1990s.
All of those filibusters were conducted by Republicans and Democrats alike, on issues including abortion, tax increases, concealed-carry of firearms, college name changes, right to work and regulation of large animal farm operations.
There's been some recent public impatience about filibusters in Congress.
Last week, the Washington Post published a letter from 70 former U.S. senators — Democrats, Republicans and Independents, including former Democratic Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill — who wrote "Congress is not fulfilling its constitutional duties. Much of the responsibility rests on the Senate. Our concern is that the legislative process is no longer working in the Senate. Several factors may be cited. Rules allowing extended debate, a feature of the Senate that is essential to protecting the rights of minorities, have been abused as the filibuster and cloture have shut down action on the Senate floor."
Cloture is a procedure that shuts down debate and forces a vote.
The senators' letter adds: "Filibusters are now threatened as a matter of course, and are too readily acceded to. Neither in committee nor on the floor do rank-and-file members have reasonable opportunities to advance their positions by voting on legislation."
Whether to end filibusters also became a point of division among Democratic presidential candidates in last week's debate in South Carolina, according to the Associated Press.
Missouri Republican and Democratic state senators at the end of last week downplayed Washington, D.C. talk about ending filibusters, however.
Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, the Senate's majority floor leader, said "I like the process exactly the way it is. I think all the hoopla that happens in D.C. about Senate filibusters, it's so overtly political, it's almost stupid. Here, the process that we saw yesterday is exactly the way it's supposed to be.
"I don't want to make it any easier — even though I'm in the majority and I'm in a position of influence in the majority — I don't want to make it any easier for me to ramrod or do things in any more aggressive manner than I would, because if I can't find consensus on something, then it's probably something we need to save for a rainy day."
Sen. John Rizzo, D-Kansas City, added later "I do feel the same as Sen. Rowden, on filibusters. It's part of the process."
Rizzo said filibusters have become something for Congressional politicians to easily point to as a roadblock, a reason for their legislation not getting passed — "'It's because of the filibuster,' and it becomes a 'bad guy,' and as you saw here the other night, it is part of the process, if you use it properly and correctly, which they clearly don't do in Washington, D.C."
As for whether Missouri Democratic senators might filibuster more than usual this session, Rizzo said it will depend on the bills: "Obviously, if asbestos gets brought back up we will be invoking that maneuver again," though he did not anticipate the bill coming up again this session.
"I don't know that we'll see asbestos (again) — I'm not going to say yes or no," Rowden said.