GOP leaders, Democrats agree to make it harder to stop a filibuster in Missouri Senate

At the start of week two of the legislative session, the divide among Senate Republicans continues to widen

By: - January 11, 2022 6:35 am

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

Republican leaders in the Missouri Senate took a step Monday night towards healing lingering tension with the chamber’s Democratic minority. But in doing so, they also likely exacerbated the festering intra-party divide that has plagued Senate Republicans for most of the last year. 

On a 22-11 vote, all 10 Senate Democrats and 12 of the chamber’s 24 Republicans agreed to a rule change designed to make it more difficult to end a filibuster

The change, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, was pitched as a way to rebuild trust among senators and ensure negotiation on bills happens in good faith. 

“It’s a positive step in the right direction to getting back to work for the people of the state of Missouri,” Rizzo said after the rule change was approved. 

The Senate’s seven-member conservative caucus decried the rule change as a betrayal. They argued Monday that they were led to believe by GOP leadership that Rizzo’s proposed rule change was dead on arrival.

“We literally just caucused and you said we wouldn’t even entertain this idea,” said Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville and a member of the conservative caucus. “I can’t believe this.” 

The filibuster is regularly used in the Missouri Senate to slow down — and occasionally kill — legislation. A senator or group of senators can block a bill from coming up for a vote as long as they are willing to hold the floor. 

Unlike the U.S. Senate, a filibuster in Missouri requires senators to talk — sometimes for hours and hours

The tactic is used routinely throughout the legislative session by both Republicans and Democrats, though it is most often deployed by Democrats who have been in the Senate minority for more than a decade. 

Ending a filibuster involves a rarely-used maneuver known as “calling the previous question.” Before Monday, that maneuver required five senators to sign a petition calling for a previous question vote. If 18 senators agree, debate on legislation is cut off and an immediate vote on the underlying bill takes place. 

Under Rizzo’s proposal, it now requires at least 10 senators to sign a petition to force a vote.

Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, supported the change as long as Rizzo agreed to drop his other proposal that would have required a supermajority of 23 votes to officially end debate on a bill. 

Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis and a member of the conservative caucus, tweeted Monday night that the GOP supermajority “just acquiesced to Democrat demands,” calling the rule change “insanity.” 

During Monday night’s debate, Onder repeatedly noted the state’s largest anti-abortion organization, Missouri Right to Life, opposed the change. The group circulated a memo laying out its concern with the plan, concluding that it was “truly perplexing why a Republican majority would even consider changing the rules to make it more difficult to come to a vote in the Missouri Senate on any issue.”

Monday’s kerfuffle over Senate rules is only the latest dust up between the conservative caucus and GOP leadership that has at times left the impression that the state has three political parties.

The bad blood persisted throughout the 2021 legislative session before ultimately upending the session’s final day over a bill extending a Medicaid provider taxes vital to funding the state’s share of the program.

Tension spilled over into a special session called last summer and eventually into the annual veto session in the fall, with Onder accusing GOP leadership of “subverting the democratic process with cheap parliamentary tricks” and Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden saying the conservative caucus was turning the Senate into a “clown show.” 

At least one Republican publicly called for a change in Senate leadership.

The divide erupted again last month after Rowden convened a meeting of Senate Republicans that excluded the conservative caucus.

When lawmakers returned to Jefferson City for the 2022 legislative session last week, Republican Sen. Denny Hoskins of Warrensburg lambasted GOP leadership for “a lack of integrity, honor and honesty.”

On Monday, Onder said he felt the rule change was being forced on the chamber without discussion in the GOP caucus. 

“If we cannot have an open and honest debate in our caucus,” Onder said, “I just don’t see how the senate can function.”

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Jason Hancock
Jason Hancock

Jason Hancock has spent two decades covering politics and policy for news organizations across the Midwest, with most of that time focused on the Missouri statehouse as a reporter for The Kansas City Star. A three-time National Headliner Award winner, he helped launch The Missouri Independent in October 2020.