JEFFERSON CITY — A divisive and often contentious legislative session came to an end Friday after lawmakers passed bills tackling redistricting, a state budget with a historic influx of funds and numerous other measures. In the final hours, legislators passed bills on hospital visitation, prison nurseries and election administration.

Over the past 4½ months, the chambers were often characterized by sharp debate and stagnation, followed by flurries of activity.

“I don’t remember a session ... where I felt so emotionally drained, physically drained, trying to figure out a way out of the maze,” said Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, after the Senate quit a day early.

The Senate adjourned Thursday night after passing a new congressional map, following months of stalemate. The final map, which splits Boone County between the Third and Fourth districts, had gained House approval last week; it’s now headed to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk.

In a statement, Parson said his office has already started the review process for the map, and will be prepared to take action once the bill reaches him May 18. Election officials will have to scramble to have absentee ballots ready for the Aug. 2 primary election.

The House continued to pass legislation on Friday, including a bill that allows patients in hospitals and nursing homes to have at least two visitors, who could be friends or family members. The legislation was created as a response to restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic that barred individuals from visiting loved ones due to safety concerns.

An older version of the bill had faced opposition from House Democrats because it did not give hospitals and nursing homes enough autonomy to make their own visitation policies. But after compromises were made, it passed with a bipartisan vote of 129-0. The Senate also passed it unanimously.

Nikki Strong, of the Missouri Health Care Association, said nursing homes had worried that the original proposal could put them in conflict with federal regulations.

“We’re happy to have something in place that will hopefully allow us to stay open,” Strong said.

Also on the final day, the House passed a bipartisan bill to create a nursery in a wing of a female prison, which would accommodate infants born to women who are incarcerated. The measure allows infants to stay with their mothers for 18 months. It passed by a vote of 144-1. Bill sponsor Rep. Bruce DeGroot, R-Chesterfield, said this is the kind of legislation that makes a difference for Missourians.

“This is why I’m here. This is why you guys are all here. We’re doing good for families, for babies, for moms, for us,” DeGroot said.

On elections, Rep. John Simmons, R-Krakow, sponsored a bill that would create a strict photo identification requirement, allow the secretary of state to audit voter rolls and ban private donations to election authorities. After amendments, the bill essentially became a sweeping overhaul of state elections law.

“I would say that is probably the biggest disappointment of this legislative session for us was that bill passing the finish line,” said House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield. She called the bill “disastrous.”

Democrats were able to score a win in the Senate by adding two weeks of early voting, a deal that kept the minority party from filibustering the measure. Back in the House, it got final approval with a vote of 97-47.

Because of Senate discord, the legislature passed fewer bills than usual — 62, including the budget bills. But some were giant omnibus measures.

An education bill, originally proposed by Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, blossomed into a measure to promote literacy, address lead in schools’ drinking water, require written permission from parents for the use of corporal punishment, adjust how school districts investigate claims of abuse, remove requirements for adult high schools to provide on-site child care and establish a Holocaust education commission.

On Friday, the House passed and sent to the governor a bill that would, among other measures, name the Jefferson City bridge over the Missouri River the “Senator Roy Blunt Bridge.” The bill included a long list of new names and holidays, including creating School Bus Drivers’ Appreciation Day, Historically Black College and University Week, and Victims of Coronavirus Memorial Week. It will also update the name of the state’s dinosaur and designate archery as the official state sport.

Among the most consequential bill packages passed this year was a state budget totaling $49 billion, as Missouri is flooded with federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, and higher-than-expected revenue collection.

Lawmakers passed the budget this session after months of negotiations and compromise, and at times tension among lawmakers and Parson’s administration. It includes historic levels of education funding, funds for Medicaid expansion and a deluge of personal priorities for various legislators.

Among its many provisions, the budget will raise minimum teacher pay in the state from $25,000 per year to $38,000, fully fund school transportation for the first time in decades, and reinstate funds for Career Ladder, a program which gives raises to experienced teachers. In the higher education sector, the Access Missouri, A+ and Bright Flight scholarships each received full funding, and money was also allocated for a 5.5% increase for state universities’ core budgets.

MU’s NextGen Precision Health, the university’s health care research initiative, received $104.5 million in federal funds.

Just before the May 6 budget deadline, legislators also allocated $500 million to a tax rebate for those in Missouri who pay income taxes but make less than $150,000 annually. The rebate has been criticized as misleading, as it promises up to $500 to Missouri residents, when it will likely give much less.

Even with the record-breaking size of the budget, some projects did not end up with funding, like the Rock Island Trail, which had been opposed by some landowners and the Missouri Farm Bureau.

Other bills the legislature passed this session include adjustments to eminent domain, a tax break to lure the FIFA World Cup to Kansas City and a bill prohibiting COVID vaccine status from being a factor in organ donation.

The eminent domain bill had been sparked by the Grain Belt Express, a high-voltage transmission line project that will run 800 miles between Kansas and Indiana, including across Missouri.

The legislature approved a bill sponsored by Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill, to modify provisions for utility companies to use eminent domain, the process by which private land is acquired to serve certain public needs, including roads, schools and utilities.

The bill that was passed will apply prospectively and thus, not affect Grain Belt, but Haffner said it “fixes a lot of problems” with the state’s eminent domain system.

A bill proposed by Rizzo will exempt ticket sales for the 2026 FIFA World Cup from sales tax, if the tournament is held in Kansas City. The measure passed Thursday.

“Kansas City would be an amazing place to host FIFA World Cup games in 2026 and we need to do everything we can to bring this $695 million economic win to Missouri,” Rizzo said.

Rep. Ben Baker, R-Neosho, proposed the bill on organ donation. It stipulates that no hospital, physician, procurement organization, or other person can consider COVID-19 vaccination as a factor for a potential organ donor or recipient, except in the case of lung transplants.

Several hot-button issues never made it to Parson.

Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, and Sen. Elaine Gannon, R-De Soto, tried to extend postpartum coverage by Medicaid from 60 days to a full year. Their bill stalled in the Senate.

Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, proposed a constitutional amendment that would have made coverage for working-age adults on Medicaid in Missouri subject to General Assembly funding each year. The resolution had the potential to gut Missouri’s Medicaid expansion, approved by voters via ballot initiative in 2020. It never made it to the Senate floor for a vote.

There were also a slew of proposals aimed at making it harder for citizens to amend the constitution. Republican-sponsored proposals such as HJR 79, sponsored by Rep. Mike Henderson, R-Bonne Terre, would make the vote and signature requirements for the initiative petition process more stringent. The measure was filibustered by Democrats until it was set aside.

Multiple bills attempted to legalize sports wagering this session. Rep. Dan Houx, R-Warrensburg, had his bill pass the House but fail in the Senate due to opposition to the low tax rates by Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, who was pushing his own sports wagering bill.

Another provision, named “Blair’s Law” after a child killed by a stray bullet in 2011, was aimed at curbing “celebratory gunfire.” It would have made it illegal to fire a gun into or within the limits of a municipality. The bill received bipartisan support and passed the House with a 131-0 vote, but never made it out of a Senate committee.

The bill’s sponsor Rep. Rodger Reedy, R-Windsor, said: “I am so disappointed. I feel so disappointed for this mother who has gone through this for so many years, but I am going to come back and I’m going to work on it again next year.”

Many legislative priorities also followed national trends, with bills proposed on transgender athletes and abortion. These bills became charged issues in Jefferson City as they have in other states.

For instance, Rep. Peggy McGaugh, R-Carrollton, sponsored a massive omnibus bill to reform elections. An amendment allowing school districts to ban transgender girls from girls’ sports was added in the House, and the bill passed the chamber before dying in the Senate.

Both chambers circulated legislation to ban transgender student athletes from participating on the sports team aligning with their gender identity.

Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, introduced such a bill in the Senate, but when it came up for a vote, Moon could not establish a quorum. Without enough senators in the chamber, Senate leadership opted to adjourn.

He later tried to attach the measure to an unrelated bill sponsored by Sen. Barbara Washington, D-Kansas City, establishing “HBCU Week.” Washington called the move “more political than purposeful,” and the Senate voted down Moon’s amendment.

Numerous bills also attempted to further restrict abortion in Missouri, but none passed. For example, Rep. Hannah Kelly, R-Mountain Grove, proposed a new provision in the constitution to ensure nothing in the document is ever construed to secure or protect the right to abortion, or require abortion funding by taxpayers.

Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland, introduced a bill to require doctors to provide life-saving care for infants who are born alive during abortions. The provision was attached to an omnibus abortion policy bill, which passed the House but never made it past a Senate committee.

A bill to legalize recreational marijuana use, sponsored by Rep. Ron Hicks, R-Defiance, ran out of steam, despite advancing out of a House committee.

Hope for legalization remains, however, in the initiative petition route. Legal Missouri 2022 announced it has collected more than 325,000 signatures, more than double the bare minimum needed. If enough of those signatures are validated, the organization’s proposal, which also calls for automatic expungement of marijuana-related criminal charges, would appear before voters in November.

House and Senate leaders acknowledged many legislative priorities were not accomplished this year.

But on Thursday night, Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said he felt good about what the body had gotten done.

Speaker of the House Rob Vescovo, R-Arnold, said it was frustrating that the Senate adjourned early, rather than vote on the many House bills that could have gained approval.

“I was disappointed,” Vescovo said. “I think all of my colleagues are disappointed they adjourned. But let’s be frank with each other. They haven’t been working in cohesion with each other all session.”

Rowden also took note of the division within the Senate, particularly among Republican senators. He accused many senators of “shifting their focus to their next constituency,” as they gear up to campaign for other offices this fall.

“I don’t know what next year is going to look like,” Rowden said “But I’m willing to work with anyone who is willing to respect their colleagues and who is willing to respect the Senate.”

Quade said the animosity in the Senate is emblematic of a larger pattern in the Capitol.

“I think that it’s easy to say that the dysfunction is solely in the Senate,” she said. “But I think that this, the whole place, is a mess. And we’ve got to bring back some balance.”

Evan Lasseter and Jana Rose Schleis contributed to this report.

Originally published on columbiamissourian.com, part of the TownNews Content Exchange.

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