Despite rancor, liability bill passes Senate

Chaos and maneuvers from both parties reign before bill passes.
Friday, April 23, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:11 p.m. CDT, Sunday, June 29, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Senate came to what one senior member called the “edge of chaos” Thursday as Democratic floor leader Ken Jacob and Democratic Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell created a two-hour block on a Republican attempt to end a Democratic filibuster. The fight was over a medical liability lawsuit awards bill.

At issue was a Republican motion to move the previous question— a rare procedural move that cuts off debate and forces a vote.

Republicans made their intention to move the previous question clear after four Democrats — led by Jacob of Columbia, — adjourned the Senate against Republican wishes Wednesday.

On Thursday, Jacob moved for a substitute motion as Republicans attempted to move the previous question. Republicans and some Democrats charged Jacob’s attempt was in violation of Senate rules.

However, Maxwell refused to back down from his decision to allow Jacob’s motion. He eventually gave in to a ruling by Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, after the two most senior Senate Democrats spoke out against the situation.

Sen. Wayne Goode, D-St. Louis County, said he disagreed with Maxwell’s decision, and Sen. Jim Mathewson, D-Sedalia, expressed concern about the Senate’s situation.

“We are borderline on having chaos out here and, Mr. President, that’s not in anybody’s best interest and certainly it’s not in the best interest of the people of this state,” he said.

Later Thursday, Maxwell requested that a statement, saying he did not agree with Kinder’s rulings, be printed in the Senate journal.

Neither Jacob nor Kinder criticized Maxwell’s rulings, but both said they disagreed with some of his calls.

Bill passed when previous question was moved

Once Republicans moved the previous question, the medical lawsuit liability bill passed with a 21-13 vote.

Kinder said forcing a vote was necessary to get beyond Democratic stalling and finish other business.

“Now that I’ve seen that we’ve lanced this boil, the first budget bill went in what — eight or nine minutes to third read,” he said, referring to passage of the higher education budget, which occurred shortly afterward.

Sen. Sarah Steelman, R-Rolla, an opponent of the lawsuit liability bill, voted against the previous question motion. She later criticized both parties in the Senate — and the governor — for turning the issue into a political game.

“We have spent this whole time — the entire session — pointing fingers at each other, blaming each other, playing politics with this whole issue and not trying to get the job done,” she said.

Several senators expressed their unhappiness that the situation contributed to the loss of Senate traditions.

“Mr. Speaker — oh, I’m sorry,” said Sen. Jim Mathewson, D-Sedalia, implying the Senate had turned into the House.

Jacob echoed Mathewson’s thoughts. “This Senate, as the senator from Pettis suggested, has evolved into a body like the House,” he said, adding that compromise, generally a strength of the Senate, was not reached on this bill.

But the battle isn’t over yet. The bill goes to Gov. Bob Holden next. Holden vetoed a similar bill last year and has said he will veto this year’s legislation.

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