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Time’s abundant, but Missouri Senate leaders question priorities for rest of session

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(The Center Square) – Opinions abound on how many bills will be passed by the Missouri General Assembly, how quickly, and in what order during the remaining four weeks of the 2024 session.

A fundamental responsibility – passing the budget as required by the state constitution – was mentioned during an end-of-the week press conference with Republican, Democrat and Freedom Caucus leaders from the Senate. After that, there was disparity in the prioritization and importance of various bills.

The Missouri Constitution requires the state budget be approved by the General Assembly and sent to the governor the week before adjournment, which is May 17 this year. Republican and Democratic leaders believe the federal reimbursement allowance bill (FRA), which provides $4 billion for the state’s Medicaid system, should be passed as it’s a large portion of the state’s approximately $49 billion budget. However, Freedom Caucus members argue it wasn’t approved three years ago when the General Assembly sent a budget to Republican Gov. Mike Parson. However, Parson called a special session in 2021 to focus solely on getting the bill and its funding passed.

“Four weeks is a long time in the legislature,” Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, said during a press conference of the Freedom Caucus on Thursday. “A lot can happen, a lot of games, a lot of shenanigans. So we’re going to be ready, to be willing to go to war if necessary.”

Some legislation passed and sent to the other chamber might be used in negotiations to prioritize passage of bills. A bill prohibiting state reimbursements to abortion providers was sent to the House last week, which was a priority of the Freedom Caucus. A bill to change how ballot initiatives change the constitution remains.

“I try not to get too much into what they fight over, but obviously there’s a clear problem or disconnect between the House and Senate on what’s going to go first or happen or how they’re going to work through these next few weeks,” said Sen. Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence. “So we’ll do our best and stay tuned, but we’re ready and willing to pass a clean FRA, pass a balanced budget as is our constitutional duty and move on with whatever it is we need to do.”

Senate Republicans expressed optimism when considering the upcoming weeks.

“I still think we have a good amount of bandwidth to be able to accomplish more than maybe folks think we’re going to,” Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said. “I’ve said it as often as I could: I’m willing to work with anybody who respects the Senate and wants to get some stuff done. So hopefully we can find those collaborations and those partnerships in the last few weeks.”

Rizzo, who served as a state representative for seven years and is concluding his eighth year in the Senate, said anything could happen in the final days.

“In my years down here, I’ve seen a bill in the last week of session dead on Tuesday, back on Wednesday, dead on Thursday, and on the governor’s desk on Friday,” Rizzo said. “Everything depends upon the will of the body.”

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