Tumultuous final days mark end of legislative session

One thing all veteran state legislative watchers agree on when talking about the last days of the 2015 legislative session: they’ve never seen anything like it.

Filibusters, shut downs, scandal, power transfers, the final week of the Missouri legislative session condensed at least a year’s worth of intrigue into five days.

Warnings of what was to come actually started the Friday before the start of the final week. Senate Democrats, opponents of Right to Work legislation on the Senate calendar, began slowing down debates on other legislation, trying to run down the legislative clock on Right to Work.

But upon adjournment on Friday, Senate Floor Leader, Sen. Ron Richard (R-Joplin) said the first bill his chamber would go to on during the final week of the legislative session would be the Right to Work bill, House Bill 116.

After a Senate committee okayed the bill for final debate on Monday evening, the Senate began its debate on HB 116 on Tuesday morning. For more than eight hours, Senate Democrats filibustered the bill. Early in the evening, Republicans exercised a rarely-used motion in the Senate to cut off debate and bring the Right to Work bill to a vote. By a 21-13 margin, the bill passed the Senate, moving back to the House which passed the legislation on to the Governor on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, back in the Senate, Democrats, viewing the motion to cut off debate as circumventing their right to stop legislation, began serious stall tactics designed to stop all business before the body. For two days, usually two of the busiest days of a state legislative session, the Senate did no business. With no legislation moving in the Senate, the House spent most of its Wednesday and Thursday in limbo as well.

But House Republicans were dealing with their own issues. On Wednesday, the Kansas City Star published a story about Speaker of the House Rep. John Diehl (R-Town and Country) exchanging sexually flirtatious text messages with a college freshman House intern. After a day and night of meetings, Diehl apologized to his caucus, but said he would stay on as Speaker.

The pressure on Diehl to resign amped-up on Thursday when a couple of Republican House members, including Rep. Mark Parkinson (R-St. Charles), drafted letters asking the Speaker to resign. By early afternoon, Diehl stepped down not only from his post as Speaker, but also from his seat in the House.

State Representative Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) speaks on the House floor earlier this legislative session. (Photo courtesy Missouri House, Tim Bommel
State Representative Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) speaks on the House floor earlier this legislative session. (Photo courtesy Missouri House, Tim Bommel)

Republicans acted quickly to replace Diehl, nominating House Floor Leader, Rep. Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) for the position of Speaker. On Friday, the House elected Richardson Speaker with a voice vote.

Friday also marked the return of the Senate. When business before the body stopped, the Senate was set to debate a bill that would activate taxes used to draw down federal funds that pay the bulk of the state’s Medicaid program. Senate Democrats filibustered to begin the day on the last day of session, but eventually allowed the Federal Reimbursement Allowance extension bill to go to a vote and it was adopted.

Then, in an unusual move, the Senate adjourned shortly after 3:00 on the last day of session, leaving the House to finish the people’s work on many legislative issues.

The session will adjourn at 6 p.m. today under the Constitution.