This is the traditional time to assess how the General Assembly is doing and is likely to do this year. Spring break for lawmakers always produces proclamations from the majority party that things are going well and proclamations from the minority party that the legislature has failed to do its job.
Both sides are right. And they’ll be right in May, too.
The heady enthusiasm of January has worn off and the slogging through a muddy legislative battlefield is in full slog. Some trench warfare has developed. Some verbal bombs have burst in the air. It’s about eight weeks before adjournment (seven when the legislature returns on Tuesday). Eight loooonnnnnng weeks.
The rush to pass meaningful ethics laws has lost momentum. Photo Voter ID and the latest efforts to make a legal medical procedure too difficult to obtain are a game in process. The state budget and its accompanying intimidation, sandbagging, and sniping festival still has a lot of innings to play.
The majority leader of the Senate says people are working together, “for the most part.” Ah, but that other part promises to enliven these last seven weeks. Seven weeks is a long time to slow a slog to a crawl but nothing is unexpected in the General Assembly these days.
It’s a campaign year so don’t look for anything significant in the field of campaign reform to happen. It’s a campaign year so do look for the majority party to do all it can to satisfy its base so it can keep its supermajority. Look for the minority party to try to appeal to its base by stopping the majority from appealing to its base. The pressure to satisfy both sides only increases from here on.
Every session creates interesting bed fellows and this one has just created one. In this case, it’s one special interest trying to find a comfortable place under the covers for itself.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce, which has fought efforts to pass laws banning businesses from firing people because they are gay, is now opposed to a proposed constitutional amendment protecting those of its members who don’t want to sell things to gay people—because the amendment would be bad for business. What an interesting conundrum for the majority party: Do you side with the state’s biggest business organization that traditionally favors your party or do you side with the evangelical voting bloc that has embraced your party? It’s the House’s problem now.
And the legislative dance floor has the potential for some other interesting moves in the last seven weeks. Perhaps some will be humming Chubby Checker’s great hit as they twist their way around the issue of transportation funding. One idea would keep the Highway Patrol from using gas tax money to enforce laws on the highways by having the patrol’s funding come out of general tax collections which already are inadequate for numerous programs and services, most glaringly education, and which some legislators want to reduce even further with tax cuts.
This long-time observer always had the feeling that the legislature should leave when Daylight Savings Time arrives. Being cooped up at the Capitol while the days are dark and cold is okay. But, oh man! When there’s warm temperatures and daylight and the session drones on and on for seven more weeks—that’s cruel and unusual punishment.
But we know how it will turn out. The majority party will proclaim this a great session. The minority party will maintain it was a disaster.
And then they’ll go home for a longer break.