As right-to-work debate looms, Missouri Senate Democrats embrace their right-to-talk

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — As the Missouri General Assembly heads into its final week, the Senate Republican leader is readying to raise controversial issues like “right-to-work” and photo identification requirements for voters. 

While Senate Democrats are in a super-minority with just nine members in the 34-member body, they do have one strong play: Their right-to-talk.

In the week before their last week of session, it seemed as if there was not a bill about which Democrats did not have scores of questions. They spent hours questioning and, some might say stalling, debate – even on some bills they ultimately supported.

“This time of year, this is when bad things slip into bills,” said Senate Minority Leader Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis. “We do things too fast. Sometimes we need to do things deliberately.”

“We’re on guard now,” he added.

And on guard they were: During a rare Friday debate over Senate Bill 115, a bill that included a number of tax policy changes, Senate Democrats questioned the bill’s sponsor, Republican Will Kraus, repeatedly for more than two hours.

At one point, Kraus expressed his frustration with it – accusing Democrats of attempting to stall the debate. “It’s becoming clear what’s happening,” he said.  It was then that Senate Republicans abruptly went into caucus, where they discussed the “right-to-work” issue and decided to head home for the weekend. For now, the Democrats’ play has worked to stall debate on “right-to-work,” while slowly letting bills move out of the Senate chamber like a drip out of a leaky faucet.

But when legislators return on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard said he is tired of playing nice. He said Friday that he will bring up the “right-to-work” bill before many other bills, including a measure with wide support that would extend Missouri’s Federal Reimbursement Allowance program which provides the state about $3 billion for Medicaid each year.

“There’s priorities on both sides of the aisle. If mine don’t make it, nobody else’s is going to either,” Richard told reporters. “We’re going to do our stuff first, which is my stuff, which is ‘right-to-work.’”

Democrats, one Republican helping to advance “right-to-work” though the legislature said on Friday, have sought to work out a deal with Nixon that would allow them to block the FRA tax (among other bills) during regular session. Keaveny met privately with Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon on Friday.

If the FRA extension is blocked, Nixon could call a special session during which lawmakers could pass it — allowing Democrats cover to block debate on other bills if they are being threatened on “right-to-work” and voter ID. 

Speaking with reporters on Friday, Nixon would not say whether he would call a special session on the FRA extension. 
“I put it in my budget. It’s important to do. We’d have a very significant hole in needed programs,” he said. “It’s something that needs to get done before next Friday.”

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