Missouri lawmakers are headed into the last week of the 2020 legislative session Monday, with leadership saying they’d like to keep it “uneventful.”
Typically, the final days of session mimics that of a college student cramming for finals. It’s reserved for some of the bigger and more controversial pieces of legislation, but the coronavirus halted much of the lawmaking process.
Passing an online sales tax, legalizing sports gambling and changing gun laws were top priorities when the Legislature convened in January, but they'll need to be saved for next year, when legislators have more time to work out the details.
Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said he’s being mindful of what bills he calls for debate and votes because he wants to limit time on the floor.
“Obviously we’ve used the leverage of keeping people on the floor for long periods of time to help work our way through substantive, tough issues,” said Rowden. “Part of what I recognized as a change that needed to happen was just to be more intentional about that communication with our caucus and the minority caucus.”
The age of some lawmakers makes them more susceptible to catching the virus, and others have underlying health concerns. Rowden said this is not an appropriate time to push controversial legislation.
“I’m not going to use the global pandemic as a reason to push forward something that we know is a tough lift or something that’s overly partisan,” said Rowden. “If we can find consensus, great.”
Rowden says he’s planning to “dot some I’s and cross some T’s” next week, but did not provide any details on specific pieces of legislation.
House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, has some concerns about the upcoming week. As large, omnibus bills move through the House, she said she’s not sure what to expect.
“We’ll be watching the Rules Committees closely, frankly to just see what is moving and trying to pull apart these omnibus bills so we are ready for whatever comes,” Quade said.
Due to the virus, staffing at the Capitol has been kept to a minimum, and members of the general public have been staying away. Though it’s not uncommon to see larger bills move through the Legislature at the end of session, Quade said this year is “drastically different.”
“The Capitol building is not very welcoming to the public right now,” said Quade. “The first week we still had a stay-at-home order, and, even up until [Friday], we are seeing very few people in the building and just not a lot of people vetting these bills.”
State Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, said he’s having a hard time reading through these bills that are quickly growing to thousands of pages, and he’s not the only one.
“I feel confident in saying you could ask any member, especially those carrying the bills, ‘What is in your bill?’ and they could not tell you without a massive tracking document that they’re reading,” said Kendrick. “There is just so much going on, and it makes voting no on these bills very easy.”
House Speaker Elijah Haahr said it was likely his chamber would vote on legislation to create a statewide prescription drug monitoring program. The measure currently needs one more vote before it is sent to the governor. There is also the chance that House members will take a vote on a bill that would send an alternative proposal to so-called Clean Missouri on redistricting to voters.