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Brendan Cullerton's Blog in 2013
The art of the filibuster

Posted 03/11/2013:  I came into the Capitol building Monday thinking about a possible story on the filibuster.

Last week, Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY,  filibustered for 13 hours about the current federal drone policy to bring it to the countries attention. This made me wonder what the impact of the filibuster is in Missouri.

Be careful what you wish for.

Missouri Democrats were unhappy with the lack of negotiations by Republican lawmakers on a measure that would prevent unions from deducting dues from employee paychecks.

Sen. Brown, R-Rolla, is the sponsor of the bill that has heavy Republican and virtually no Democratic support.

The overall message of the Democrats was that the overall goal of the bill is not to help employees have more freedom. They said the bill is primarily about crippling unions because Republicans think unions give more political contributions to Democrats.

However, senate Republicans have enough of a majority to pass bills with literally zero Democratic support.

"I was happy with the way things were going on Thursday, but now I feel like we're back to square one," Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Jefferson County, said.

After he said this, McKenna kept talking--for about an hour.This was the only defense against the massive Republican majority if there would be no compromise.

He did talk about the importance of paying union dues and the overall benefit of unions for blue-collar workers, but then he started bringing other Democrats into the mix. Some of his conversation with Dem. Gina Walsh, D-St. Louis County, involved how his swollen McKenna's elbow is, their childrens' birthdays and even popcorn.

Dem. Maria Chappelle-Nadal then tried to note a lack of quorum. Enough senators had grown tired of what at that point was about an hour-long filibuster that there were no longer enough Senators to vote on the matter. As soon as the lack of quorum was noted, three Republican Senators promptly returned to the chamber--political games at their finest.

Now the Democrats had to keep up the filibuster if they wanted to delay a vote on the issue.

McKenna out talked his own schedule, however; he needed to pass the filibuster on to Sen. Scott Sifton, D-St. Louis County, in order to "take a conference call."

Sifton proceeded to debate some of the bill's key issues with Brown on some key issues of the bill.

Sifton asked Brown why employees would pay their dues at all if they didn't have to. Brown said that employees would still pay dues, but he wants it to be a choice.

"I want employees to have control over where their money goes," Brown said.

Brown eventually said he was done talking to Sifton, "If this was just a filibuster."

This took Sifton, a freshman Senator (possibly getting stuck with the Filibuster duties for this reason), of guard. He then asked Jolie Justice if this was even allowed. When she told him it was, he started talking to Justice for a while about Senate procedure.

Sifton then let Justice and Walsh take the floor. Walsh, now a real fixture of the filibuster, started talking to Sen. Kiki Curls, D-Jackson County, about how they were both disappointed with the breakdown of negotiations with the bill, and about how the bill unfairly treats unions. The topic then turned to how much they missed childhood games like "jacks" and "double dutch." By the time the chat turned back to their children, the filibuster had gone on for about three and a half hours.

To spare you all the boredom of other non-political topics, I will fast-forward to the end of the 8-hour filibuster. The Democrats got what they wanted--sort of. The Democrats conceded that employers could still deduct dues from pay checks, but only with annual written consent of employee's. The Republicans conceded a portion of the bill that would have allowed employees to choose a political candidate to send their dues to (Democrats were quick to say that would be illegal under current law any way.)

In the end, Brown admitted that the bill could still be greatly changed by the house, and that he thinks  Gov. Jay Nixon would probably veto the bill if it makes it to its desk. The Republicans do have a super majority, and might just have enough in both houses to override a veto, but there is another possibility.

All that time could have been used to compromise on a bill that will never become law.

Just making a point
Posted 02/24/2013:  This legislative session has seen several state lawmakers sponsoring legislation that aims at making a point more than actually doing anything. A lot of these laws are based around hot topics in federal law, especially ones that state lawmakers disagree with opinions of members of the federal government.

A good example is the multitude of gun bills Missouri lawmakers are sponsoring. While the president has called for a ban on military-style assault weapons and tighter background checks for potential gun owners, state bills lean the opposite direction.

Sen Brian Nieves, R-Washington, is sponsoring a bill that would make enforcing certain federal gun laws a class A misdemeanor. The bill declares the federal gun acts of 1934 and 1968 invalid. The bill really declares that Missouri has the right to disregard federal laws it deems infringe on the second amendment right to bear arms. Even if the law actually gets somewhere in the statehouse, there would be a legal challenge about the supremacy of the federal government.

Another statement made by lawmakers is a bill from Sen John Lamping, R-St. Louis County, that asks the federal government to give more reimbursement to hospitals for uninsured patients.

Lamping said he doesn't think Missouri will expand Medicaid to 133 percent like the federal government wants it to do. Instead, he wants the federal government to change the Affordable Care Act. Missouri Hospital Association spokesman Dave Dillon said this is unlikely, and that the payments Lamping is asking for would only account for about one-fourth of the funds hospitals agreed to lose under the deal, hoping they would receive greater funding from expanded Medicaid payments.

So the bill is calling out the federal government for putting the state in a difficult situation and does nothing else.

Another example of Missouri lawmakers proposing symbolic legislation is a bill from Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, that used to require gun education for first graders and active-shooter training for teachers. Brown agreed to an amendment that changed the bill to giving schools the option of enforcing these rules. The language was changed to saying schools "may" do these things, instead of saying they "shall" do them.

After Brown agreed to the amendment on the senate floor,  Sen Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, questioned whether the bill really does anything now immediately after Brown said he accepted the amendment.

"Do we need the bill?" Parson asked. "If you say "may"... can they not do that now?"

Brown said he hoped the bill would "encourage schools to adopt the changes", but now the bill is more symbolic than actually doing anything. 

A bill from Mike Leara, R-St. Louis, declares making bills that infringe upon gun rights a class D felony.

Leara has actually admitted this bill was intended to make a point.

While there is a valid argument that bills like this establish principles and enhance the democratic process, it could also be argued that they are a waste of people's time and taxpayer dollars.

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