By John Payne
The last week of the legislative session in Missouri is always chaotic. Typically, each chamber is voting on dozens of bills every day, frantically rushing to turn those bills into law before they are statutorily required to adjourn.
That was not the case this year, however. First, on Tuesday, the state Senate took up controversial Right to Work legislation. Democrats attempted to filibuster the bill, but Republicans cut off debate and forced a vote by employing a parliamentary procedure known as "moving the previous question" or simply "PQ."
The Republicans succeeded in passing that bill, but Democrats responded by grinding the Senate to a halt for the next three days. Typically, scores of bills would be passed in those last days, but, this year after the PQ, the Senate passed only one bill, which was necessary to receive $3.5 billion in federal matching funds for Medicaid.
Nevertheless, on the other side of the Capitol in the House, legislation was moving smoothly --- until Wednesday morning. That is when the Kansas City Star broke a story about Speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives John Diehl (R - Town and Country) engaging in a romantic relationship with a 19-year-old Capitol intern, documented in a series of text messages.
At that point, Diehl retreated to his office, and the ordinary operations of the House ceased. The next day, Thursday, May 14, Diehl announced that he was resigning as speaker and representative, and the Republican caucus voted for Majority Leader Todd Richardson (R - Poplar Bluff) to replace him. By Friday morning, the House was voting on legislation again, but we lost nearly two full days of the session to the scandal.
Jefferson City's transformation into a scene out of imperial Rome this past week denied votes to many worthy pieces of legislation. That unfortunately includes HB 830 to legalize industrial hemp and SB 386 to expand the CBD-oil program. Both bills had already been passed in the chamber in which they originated and were on the calendar to be voted upon in the other chamber.
There is, of course, no way to know for certain how those votes would have gone, but I strongly believe both bills would have passed. Instead, they ended up as collateral damage of the most chaotic end of a legislative session in recent memory.
We succeeded this session in moving cannabis reform to a centrist position among our heavily Republican legislature. Given the number of different bills on different facets of cannabis policy that were discussed, legislators spent more time considering the subject than almost any other.
The session ended poorly, and there is no avoiding that fact, but that is the result of partisan dysfunction and unrelated scandal --- not a lack of support for our bills. We will return next session even stronger and in position to continue widening the scope of cannabis law reform in Missouri.
In the meantime, we will turn our full attention to the initiative petition over the summer and fall. We are in the process of finding and assembling the team of campaign professionals and coalition partners who will help us pass the broadest possible initiative on Election Day 2016, and we will keep you updated on that process over the coming weeks and months.
Although the legislative session may have ended, our battle for justice has not; it has merely shifted fronts!