It may have seemed like a mad-dash finish for Missouri’s Republican-majority legislative body, pushing dozens of bills to Gov. Eric Greitens’ desk before the end of the 2017 regular session.
But St. Louis Public Radio veteran political reporter Jo Mannies, who has covered Missouri politics for 40 years, said the end of the session wasn’t that unusual, when compared to previous ones — with a few notable exceptions. Among those exceptions was the lack of debate on issues that are generally popular with social conservatives, including gun rights and abortion restrictions.
This session saw far fewer bills passed than during a typical session, but many were significant ones. Republican leaders are likely to argue that this session was notable for quality over quantity, she said. And many of the issues that didn’t pass, and perhaps some that did, will likely return in 2018, which will be an election year.
Here are highlights of Mannies’ conversation with St. Louis Public Radio reporter and newscaster Wayne Pratt:
What did not come to pass
Mannies points out that there were few things that social conservatives have pushed in recent years, especially abortion regulations. One of the bills that was in front of the legislature would have made Missouri the first in the nation to have a minor’s custodial parent, not a clinic, to notify a non-custodial parent, in writing, before a minor may obtain an abortion.
“Generally speaking, going back the last 10 or 15 years, you would see a major gun bill, abortion bill or both that would attract a lot of controversy in the last week and sometimes influence what other, unrelated bills pass.”
She said that was because of several factors, noting that, in the Senate, “there were some other issues they were trying to get through that were of key importance to Gov. (Eric) Greitens,” like union restrictions. She added that there was “talk early Friday morning among lobbyists” that the abortion regulations bill would come up “as a way to coalesce Republican conservative support, that they’d get people to vote on that and then they’d go on to these other issues, and it’d be a kumbaya moment. Didn’t happen.”
Quantity versus quality
“Many people have been focusing on the fact that actually there were probably a lower number of bills passed this session than any in modern history, including the budget bills, you’re talking just over 70. And, let’s say, last year, for example, it was over 100,” Mannies said.
But Republicans, including Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, have said that it’s about the quality, not the quantity of legislation that made it to Greitens’ desk — including getting right to work passed.
Mannies also noted that it’s not just about passing bills, and that legislators are thinking ahead.
“The whole point is to lay out a political agenda that you can then go to voters and say, ‘Look, we said we were going to do this, this and this and we did it.’ So the average voter, they don’t care how many bills passed, they care what was passed and how it affects their lives," Mannies said. "That’s something that both sides will be promoting … A lot of this is teeing up for the next session, which begins in January 2018, which is an election year, it could be very volatile on the national front. Heaven knows what the climate is going to be like, we’re going to have a very hot U.S. Senate race, and some of this could bleed over into the General Assembly.”
Special session specter
Greitens said Friday after the session ended that he may ask lawmakers to come back and try to pass more bills, though he’ll need to clearly outline which bills he wants them to take up. They can’t come back and do whatever they want, Mannies said.
Plus, it’ll cost the state: “He’s hinting he’s going to call something, but it costs a lot of money, it’s tens of thousands of dollars because they’re having to pay the per diem for every member of the General Assembly, so you’re talking close to 200 people. … It’s not cheap.”