Missouri Senate leaves town early as GOP disagrees on transgender-care bill

Senate leaders have not found a compromise, but some Republicans are ready to push through a ban on gender-affirming care

By: - March 9, 2023 8:11 am

Senate Majority Leader Cindy O'Laughlin, R-Shelbina, adjourns Missouri's Senate Wednesday after two days of Democrat-led filibuster (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

The Missouri Senate’s spring break came a day early this year after Majority Leader Cindy O’Laughlin adjourned the chamber following two days of a Democrat-led filibuster of a bill banning gender-affirming care for minors.

As some departed for a now-extended break, strategizing continued in senators’ offices into the evening over the bill.

Sponsored by Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, legislation dubbed “Missouri Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Actseeks to ban certain procedures, such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy, for transgender Missourians under the age of 18. 

Similar bills have been filed by other senators and members of Missouri’s House.

Kansas City Democrat Sen. Greg Razer, the Senate’s only openly gay member, told The Independent negotiations took place throughout the two-day filibuster, but a deal has not been reached that would convince Democrats to let the bill come up for a vote.

State Sen. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, speaks at a rally held by LGBTQ advocacy organization PROMO early February on the steps of the Missouri Capitol. “We may lose the battle, but we will win the war,” he said (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

“There’s been ideas tossed back and forth, and some are better than others,” Razer said. “That’s what happens when you’re trying to find a compromise.”

Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, gave a similar assessment of the negotiations.

“Sometimes we walk away angry. Sometimes we get to a better place. It’s always a back and forth,” he said. “It’s not an unusual negotiation by any means, but it’s just an issue that the Republican Party has made hyperbolic.”

Meanwhile, a faction of Republican senators are hoping to return directly to Moon’s bill at the end of break.

“The commitment is there that we need to get this issue done,” Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, said after the Senate adjourned for spring break Wednesday night

Last week, Eigel told The Independent he expected the bill to pass by spring break and felt confident in having enough Republican votes. But Wednesday night, he and other Republicans close to the bill’s sponsor huddled to strategize about a way forward. 

Eigel wouldn’t comment on any anticipated swing votes.

“We’ve been talking about a bunch of different ways to move forward,” he said. “But obviously we haven’t found the right mechanism because our standard that we want to see is a ban on transgender surgeries and hormone therapies for anybody under the age of 18.”

An amendment proposing a ban on gender-affirming surgeries for transgender minors that would have removed provisions related to cross-sex hormones and puberty blockers was uploaded to the Senate website Tuesday during the first day of the filibuster. The document was uploaded in place of an amendment by Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, offered on the floor that only tweaked one word of the bill.

Neither Razer nor Eigel knew who had written the surprise amendment. Razer said those negotiating have not discussed stripping back the bill to only ban surgeries.

A bookmarked copy of “Race, Rights and Redemption: The Derrick Bell Lectures on the Law and Critical Race Theory” and another book sits on the desk of Sen. Barbara Washington, D-Kansas City, following hours of Democrat-led filibuster Wednesday (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

“I don’t know where that came from. All I can tell you is I’m for a full ban on any of the therapies and the surgeries,” Eigel said.

Razer said he is consulting with doctors as he looks at potential compromises.

 “Of the 34 of us [senators], zero are medical doctors,” he said. “Why am I making medical decisions for children? I’m not a doctor.”

In a Facebook post Wednesday night, O’Laughlin wrote that a partial agreement was on the table banning surgeries on minors, limiting transgender students from participating in school sports and enhanced counseling requirements for minors seeking treatments.

The sticking point, she wrote, was banning hormone treatment.

Conservative caucus returns

Following the Senate’s adjournment, Moon’s office called for a press conference. 

Senators associated with the disbanded conservative caucus joined him, but Moon called off questions after he realized Senate leaders were not also speaking to the press as they typically do when the chamber adjourns for the week.

Moon and the others, including Eigel and Republican Sen.  Jill Carter of Granby, then met in the office of Warrensburg Republican Sen. Denny Hoskins. Brattin and Sen. Ben Brown, R-Washington, were part of the group.

The same faction also convened after the first time Moon’s bill was set aside by O’Laughlin Feb. 27. Moon took control of the floor in frustration the following day in retaliation for O’Laughlin’s move. 

Hoskins held the Senate earlier this session after a Senate committee voted down a bill of his that sought to legalize sports betting and video lottery games.

GOP infighting has slowed the Missouri Senate the past two years. This years’ retaliatory filibusters were the first indication of renewed dysfunction.

When asked if the conservative caucus was back in action, Rizzo, Razer and O’Laughlin had nearly identical answers. 

“Was it ever gone?” O’Laughlin said.

“Every senator on the Republican side has a lot of conservative beliefs, so we’re better off as one whole group and working together,” she said. “I think that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Eigel wouldn’t directly address whether Moon’s bill reunited the conservative caucus.

“There’s a lot of desire within the Republican caucus to move conservative legislation,” he said. “I’m not really getting caught up in those kinds of labels at this point, but I can tell you there’s a lot of interest in getting this bill passed as soon as possible.”

O’Laughlin said she is not worried about fellow Republicans’ vocal disappointment.

After hours on the Senate floor Wednesday, Sen. Doug Beck, D-Affton, and Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, watch the floor leader adjourn (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

“It’s inevitable in my position that there’s going to be decisions that not everyone likes,” she said. “It’s my job to take into consideration everyone. How do we best get done the big items that we need to get done?”

She previously promised Moon time on the floor for the bill after he began to filibuster earlier this session. But she did not make any assurances on how the party may vote on his legislation, she told The Independent late February.

Eigel said he was surprised at O’Laughlin’s adjournment Wednesday.

Rizzo also said he didn’t know O’Laughlin was going to adjourn to spring break early.

“We had had an idea that [Republicans] were going to move in one direction or the other, but we didn’t have any finality until she actually made the motion,” he said.

Earlier Wednesday, Hoskins floated the idea of cutting off debate and ending the filibuster by using a procedural move called a previous question motion, or “PQ.” The tactic is considered the nuclear option in the Senate and is rarely used, as it typically forces the minority party to retaliate by shutting down Senate business.

“The only recourse we have is to consider moving for the previous question,” his tweet says.

Razer said a “PQ” would be like a “bomb going off on the Senate floor.”

In her Facebook post Wednesday night, O’Laughlin said she was not interested in using the PQ.

“The use of the nuclear option can effectively end any productivity and we still have big issues to resolve before this year’s session ends,” she wrote. “We will come back to this issue on March 20 when we convene after spring break. It is our intention to pass protections for women and children.”

This story has been updated. 


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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.