Missouri Legislature at a standstill with just 1 day left

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Posted: May 14, 2015 6:43 PM
Missouri Legislature at a standstill with just 1 day left

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri Legislature came to a standstill Thursday, jeopardizing scores of bills with just one day left in the session, as the Republican House speaker announced his resignation amid a scandal and Senate Democrats blocked all debate because of lingering animosity over a bill limiting union powers.

The Senate quit for the day after less than an hour in session after minority party Democrats made it clear they would continue to filibuster all action as a demonstration of their frustration that Republicans forced a right-to-work bill to passage earlier this week.

The House also suspended its normal work Thursday morning, citing the Senate standstill.

Then Thursday afternoon, House Speaker John Diehl announced he was resigning while acknowledging that he had exchanged sexually suggestive text messages with a college student who was a Capitol intern. The House abruptly quit for the day, without taking up any business. House Republicans planned to meet Thursday night to discuss nominating a new speaker.

"This is a crazy time," said state Rep. Kevin Engler, a Republican from Farmington who is a former Senate majority leader.

Lawmakers face a 6 p.m. CDT Friday deadline to pass bills.

The standstill is jeopardizing numerous measures, including one reauthorizing taxes on health care providers that help fund the Medicaid program. The taxes are due to expire Sept. 30. If the reauthorization bill dies, Missouri could lose about $3.6 billion in revenues, punching a huge hole in the state's $9.4 billion annual Medicaid health care program for low-income residents.

Diehl announced he was quitting both his leadership post and his job as a representative from suburban St. Louis following a report Wednesday by The Kansas City Star detailing what it said was a series of sexually charged text messages between Diehl and a college freshman who had worked as an intern for another House member.

In the Senate, the Capitol standstill began after a Tuesday night move by Senate Republicans, who used a rare procedural motion to shut off debate and force a vote on the right-to work legislation. House Republicans then gave the bill final approval Wednesday, sending it to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who is expected to veto it.

Senate Democrats, who strongly opposed the bill, are particularly upset about the way in which it was passed. So they are preventing votes on all other legislation.

"Once decorum has been cast aside for a single issue, then at that point and time we have no reason to preserve it," said Sen. Jason Holsman, a Democrat from Kansas City.

Added Democratic Sen. Scott Sifton, of St. Louis: "We are here standing up to protect the function of this body, somewhat paradoxically, by impeding it."

Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard and Minority Leader Joe Keaveny were meeting Thursday to see whether they could work out some arrangement to allow votes on legislation Friday.

Richard said he has no plans to use procedural motions to shut off the Democrats' filibuster and force a vote on the bill reauthorizing the taxes for the Medicaid program.

If the Medicaid bill fails, some senators said it might be necessary to meet in a special session to try again to pass it.

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Follow David A. Lieb at: https://twitter.com/DavidALieb .