Dispute over transgender care bill brings factional fights to the surface in Missouri Senate

Sen. Mike Moon drew the ire of leadership as he disrupted the opening of Tuesday’s session to complain about floor tactics

By: and - March 1, 2023 5:55 am

Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, speaks on the Senate floor on Feb. 27, 2023 (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

An episode of GOP infighting in the Missouri Senate this week may be a squall that melts in the spring sunshine or the first flurry of a storm that once again immobilizes the chamber.

On Tuesday, Sen. Mike Moon used a parliamentary maneuver to take control of the floor to vent frustration over the short time he was given to seek passage of his bill banning gender transition treatments for minors. Moon, R-Ash Grove, aimed his fire at Senate Majority Leader Cindy O’Laughlin of Shelbina, who adjourned the Senate on Monday evening about five minutes after his bill came up for debate.

To gain time to vent his frustration, Moon offered an amendment to the daily journal stating that O’Laughlin was “improperly granted” time to speak on a personal subject and used the time to cut off debate by adjourning.

“It’s not something that I expected in the Senate, because I had made no deal,” Moon said as he explained why he wanted the amendment. “I was asked to lay over a bill and I said no. In fact, I think I said it more than once.”

That brought Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden to his feet in O’Laughlin’s defense. 

“You disrespected the floor leader yesterday,” said Rowden, R-Columbia, “and I’m going to make sure the world knows about it.”

An amendment to the journal stalls all business of the day, because approval of the record of the previous day is always the first action. Moon tied up the Senate for about half an hour, with his amendment eventually set aside because he was not in the chamber when it was time for him to put it to a vote.

The scene was reminiscent of GOP factional disputes that tied up the chamber during the 2021 and 2022 sessions. A group of six lawmakers, styling themselves the conservative caucus, fought with the rest of the Republican majority on numerous issues.

The dysfunction became so bad that last May, the Senate adjourned a day early. After candidates aligned with the caucus won several primaries in August, the conservative caucus disbanded.

And as she took office, O’Laughlin said her main goal for the year was to avoid infighting so GOP priorities could advance.

She’s been successful for the most part. But last week Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, stalled action in retaliation for his bill on sports wagering dying in committee.

As Moon’s bill came up on Monday, O’Laughlin and other Republicans who support many of the provisions were negotiating with Democrats to find language that could pass. When Moon refused to set his bill on the informal calendar so those negotiations could bear fruit, she shut the chamber down for the day.

O’Laughlin told the Senate that she had asked Moon several times to give those negotiations room to work.

“I am confident this bill, if we debated all night tonight, would not pass,” O’Laughlin said. “In an effort to bring this up at a time that it will pass, I am forced to move to adjourn.”

Senate Majority Leader Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, interrupts Sen. Mike Moon and calls a “point of personal privelege” to adjourn Monday’s session (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

In an interview Tuesday, O’Laughlin said she expects the bill to pass but it needs time. Moon, she said, did not want to allow that time.

A key leader of the former conservative caucus, Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, said after Monday’s floor session that he trusted that O’Laughlin was working in good faith to obtain a compromise.

“As I understand it, the logistics are really narrowed down to what’s the right time to move that piece of legislation because it is going to be a heavy lift,” Eigel said. “We know there’s a lot of opposition amongst our minority colleagues. So she’s just trying to walk that careful tightrope.”

Moon’s bill would deny gender-transition treatments of any kind for people under 18. Physicians who provide such treatments could lose their licenses.

To get it past Democratic opposition, some of the provisions would have to be softened and others removed. The Senate’s only openly gay member, Sen. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, is determined to make the bill as weak as possible but said he’s realistic that the Republican majority could shut him down if it wished.

“Usually our job here, as a super minority party, is to take a very bad bill and turn it into a bad bill,” Razer said. “I’m trying to take a disastrous bill and turn it into a very bad bill. Yeah, that’s what I’m trying to negotiate.”

He’s willing to let a bill pass that people can live with, Razer said.

“Those of you that want to go home and brag that you kicked a transgender kid in the face and say it, but these kids can still have a life and families don’t have to move,” he said. 

Moon didn’t want to allow those negotiations, Razer said. And Moon blocked O’Laughlin’s plan to keep legislation moving.  

“It’s her job to lead the floor,” Razer said. “And he kind of defied her. So she’s mad.”

As he sparred verbally with Rowden on Tuesday afternoon, Moon said he was told an hour before his bill came up that he was expected to set it aside to make time for negotiations.

That is why he refused, he said.

“I am expected to just swallow and sit down and say, ‘do what you will,’” Moon said.

During debate, Rowden told Moon his defiance was disrespectful of the responsibility the majority caucus gave to O’Laughlin.

Moon, Rowden said, thinks “that your position and that your view of things, even if it isn’t shared by a majority of this chamber, is more important than everyone else’s.”

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget and the legislature. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, he spent 22 of his 32 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics for the Columbia Daily Tribune, where he won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.

Annelise Hanshaw
Annelise Hanshaw

Annelise Hanshaw writes about education — a beat she has covered on both the West and East Coast while working for daily newspapers in Santa Barbara, California, and Greenwich, Connecticut. A born-and-raised Missourian, she is proud to be back in her home state.