Capitol Perspectives: A possible partisan legislative food fight

December 31, 2021 5:55 am

Missouri State Capitol building in Jefferson City (Getty Images).

Missouri’s election year legislative session begins with many of the bills filed raising partisan disputes.

Proposed limits on COVID-19 restrictions are a major focus.

Well more than two dozen bills were pre-filed to restrict COVID-19 mandates.

Some would block mandating a test, mask or proof of vaccination.

One measure even would make any employer, including a government agency, liable for “physical, mental, or emotional injury” from a required vaccination.

Adding to the partisan complexity of this debate are two statewide Republican officials seeking office in 2022 who have threatened school officials if they impose mask or vaccination requirements — Attorney General Eric Schmitt and State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick.

One complexity to this debate could be if the exploding infection rate of omicron impacts businesses and causes schools to suspend in-class sessions.

Redistricting Missouri’s eight congressional districts will be another partisan issue presenting the Republican-controlled legislature with the possible opportunity to flip a Democratic district to Republican.

Another partisan major issue will be Medicaid expansion which Missouri voters approved in 2020.

The Republican-controlled legislature’s refusal to appropriate state funds for expansion led the Republican governor to drop plans for expansion which the federal Medicaid office estimates would cover 275,000 Missourians.

In 2022, state lawmakers will face two complications involving their refusal to fund expansion.

First, a unanimous decision Missouri’s Supreme Court held Medicaid expansion was a constitutional mandate the state had to implement regardless of any appropriation.

Beyond that, failure of the state to implement expansion would cost the state more than an estimated $1 billion in extra federal funds that Missouri government would get from expansion, according to the Missouri Budget Project.

That would cover several years of the estimated state funding of $130 million per year for the expansion.

One fascinating question for 2022 will be the degree to which some of these issues split the legislature’s Republican majority.

It was Republican Gov. Mike Parson who recommended funding for Medicaid expansion that his Republican colleagues rejected.

Another major indication of the split arose when conservative Republican Senators stood up to their Senate Appropriations chair to ban Planned Parenthood from federal Medicaid dollars — an action critics warned would jeopardize Missouri’s entire Medicaid program.

It forced the governor to call a special session to avoid a budget-breaking shortfall in Medicaid funds.

A more recent indication of a Senate GOP split for the 2022 session was a Missouri Independent story of my colleague Rudi Keller that Republican leaders excluded members of the Senate Conservative Caucus from a Senate GOP meeting.

Another potential Republican divide involves, of all things, a tax increase.

In the prior legislative session, Missouri’s legislature passed a motor fuel tax increase signed by the Republican governor, Parson.

Although sponsored by the Senate’s top GOP leader, Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Franklin County, Senate Republicans evenly split on the issue, requiring Democratic support for Senate passage.

For 2022, bills have been pre-filed by Republicans in both chambers to repeal that motor fuel tax increase.

It will be interesting to see whether in an election year an anti-tax stance has more traction with Republican legislators than the position of their governor and top Senate leader.

The annual partisan debate about abortion has a new twist with a bill taking the Texas approach to give private citizens the power to sue abortion providers.

Another partisan issue will be restricting what public schools can teach.

Bills have been filed that would ban teaching “divisive topics” involving race and other issues.

But on the other side is a bill filed by Rep. Marlene Terry, D-St. Louis, that would require schools to teach Native American history as well as the “murder, enslavement, and mutilation of indigenous persons by Columbus.”

Schools also would be required to teach “that twelve million indigenous Native Americans died as a result of the holocaust inflicted upon them by the European military invasion and colonization of the lands that became the present-day territory of the United States”

Ironically, the bill number, HB 1776, is the same as the year of the Declaration of Independence.

I cannot remember a legislative session starting off with so many emotional conflicting partisan issues.

It should make for a fascinating and entertaining session.

Correction: The Democratic lawmaker who filed legislation requiring schools teach Native American history is Rep. Marlene Terry. 

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Phill Brooks
Phill Brooks

Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.