Missouri legislature leaves major GOP goals undone after passing record spending, congressional map
The Missouri legislature ended the 2022 session meeting both of its mandated duties by passing a $49 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year and a map that redraws the state’s congressional districts.
Achieving both was not always a guarantee, with the Senate passing a second House-approved map with only one day to spare.
In addition to those must-accomplish tasks, the legislature passed a sweeping elections bill that requires voters to show photo identification, a measure that uses state money to address a funding disparity with charter schools and another to create a sexual assault survivors bill of rights.
The budget, which is the largest in state history, was met with ire by some conservative Republicans. But House Speaker Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, defended it.
“Some of these items are bipartisan items that I think wouldn't be a problem for me to go home and say, ‘Yes, I increased spending in this area.’ And I think most of my constituents and our constituents would say, ‘Well, that makes a lot of sense to us,’” Vescovo said.
But again in 2022, the Republican-majority body found itself unable to pull some of its priorities across the finish line. For the second year in a row, the Senate finished its session before the House. Last year, it happened a few hours before the 6 p.m. Friday deadline. This year, senators left town nearly 24 hours early.
Vescovo said Senate leadership provided no warning about the early departure.
A lot of the tension in the Senate this session stemmed from the congressional redistricting map and led to a monthslong delay in action after the House passed its first version in January.
Vescovo said the redistricting process took up a lot of time and effort in the House that could have been spent on other priorities like modifying the ballot initiative petition process or passing restrictions on how schools can teach about racism, which did not make it past the finish line this year.
"It has taken focus off of the priorities that we really want to see achieved, in addition to the redistricting process,” Vescovo said.
House Democrats celebrated their own successes, touting the budget as a major area of achievement.
“I'm proud to say that the House Democrats, just on our amendments and the things we were working on alone, had over $105 million in the budget, which is record-breaking for the minority party,” House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said.
But one of the other main themes of the session, Quade said, was dysfunction not only in the Senate, but also the House, with the legislature becoming less productive over the years.
“In today's Missouri Republican Party, the goal is not to enact policies to help Missourians, it's to stay in power,” Quade said.
While House Democrats also acknowledged the defeat of Republican-backed priorities that did not have bipartisan support, they called the passage of a sweeping elections bill that includes the requirement of a photo ID in order to vote the biggest disappointment of the session.
House takes care of business
Although the Senate’s hasty departure from Jefferson City required procedural maneuvering, the House on Friday was able to send 20 pieces of legislation — 18 bills and two resolutions — to Gov. Mike Parson before adjourning.
A top priority of the Republican caucus was a measure known as the “No Patient Left Alone Act,” a response to pandemic-related prohibitions on hospital and nursing home visits that meant many patients died alone.
“Seclusion kills,” said Rep. Brian Seitz, R-Branson.
Under the act, health care facilities would have to allow at least six hours a day of in-person visitation for what is called a “compassionate care” visit to meet the physical and mental needs of the patient. At least two visitors would be allowed in the room at a time.
Rep. Mitch Boggs, R-LaRussell, told his colleagues he believed his mother would have survived a hospital stay during the pandemic had his sister been able to be in the room as a designated compassionate caregiver.
“This bill is here to protect our mothers and fathers, our sons and daughters, our husbands and wives,” he said. “We should leave no patient alone, ever.”
Health care facilities are allowed to ban visitation entirely for up to 45 days in a 12-month period. However, a single suspension of visits cannot last for more than a week.
The measure passed without opposition, although a number of Democrats voted present.
Lawmakers also adopted a measure Friday requiring the Department of Corrections to set up a nursery in at least one of the women’s prisons by 2025.
The program would be open to women who give birth while they are behind bars but are expected to be released in 18 months or sooner. The mother cannot have been convicted of a dangerous felony such as arson, kidnapping or murder, or of sexual offenses against a minor. Corrections officials would determine eligibility for the program.
“This is why I’m here,” said Rep. Bruce DeGroot, R-Chesterfield. “We are doing good for families, for babies, for moms. This is what my mom cares about.”
Democrats found themselves voting against legislation on Friday making it easier to remove racially restrictive covenants from property deeds, because of language that prevents local governments from instituting eviction moratoriums. It still passed, 94-43. St. Louis and St. Louis and Jackson counties put such moratoriums in place during the coronavirus pandemic.
Lawmakers also voted to make Juneteenth a state holiday. Celebrated on June 19, the day marks when news of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached slaves in Galveston, Texas, which at the time was an isolated area.
Vescovo says farewell
Friday’s session marked the final day of Vescovo’s career in the state House.
“I have lived the American Dream,” he told his colleagues just minutes before the House adjourned. “In America, you can fail and get back up and do it all over again. I won my first primary by eight votes, and now I get to give the final speech of the day. That’s the dream.”
Vescovo urged his colleagues to continue to focus on the state’s children.
“I need you to know that we are never going to do away with some of our state’s problems if we don’t address our children,” he said.
Majority floor leader Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, will be the speaker in the 2023 session. He told reporters Friday he hoped relationships between the House and Senate would improve a bit.
“What goes on in the other side of the building is something I can’t control,” Plocher said. “I have an open-door policy with all 34 senators over there, and I look forward to working with them in the years ahead.”
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