JEFFERSON CITY — Senate Republicans canceled plans Thursday to debate the governor’s proposal to sell the state’s higher education loan authority. Meanwhile, the state auditor filed a lawsuit against the loan agency to force it to provide documents regarding closed meetings by the board.
It was unclear whether the delay of action on MOHELA was due to Republicans’ inability to get enough votes to stop a filibuster, or if backroom negotiations with Democrats were continuing.
State Auditor Susan Montee’s office filed the suit in Cole County after MOHELA’s board refused to open records pertaining to legal matters and attorney-client relations Wednesday.
A MOHELA news release states the board initially refused to open the records citing legal protections, which prompted the state auditor’s office to serve the loan authority with a subpoena.
Montee’s office sent out its own news release Thursday stating the documents are “necessary for the completion of a thorough and accurate audit.”
Despite the pending litigation against the loan authority, Republican leaders said they plan to force a vote on the proposed MOHELA sale some time next week.
“We’re at the point where it’s time to decide and just let the members vote and whatever happens, so be it,” Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, said.
The bill was brought before the Senate on March 14 and was filibustered by Democrats for fourteen hours. The next day, both parties met to discuss Democrats’ concerns but were unable to reach a compromise.
“There was lots of discussion, hours and hours and days of discussion, and some progress has been made,” Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, said.
“It’s at a point now where we can’t wait any longer,” Senate Democratic Leader Maida Coleman said. “We could have come to a better resolution if talks had started fifteen months ago (when the governor first proposed the sale).”
Bringing up the bill without addressing Democrats’ concerns could hinder the Republicans’ plans for a vote and lead to another filibuster.
Republicans could shut off the debate by requesting a vote on the bill.
This type of vote usually falls along party lines, said Sen. Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence.
“If they (force a vote), they better have all the votes they need, because they won’t get any from the Democrats,” he continued.
A majority of the Senate must approve the call for a vote before it can be taken. This requires 18 votes, and Republicans hold 21 seats in the Senate.
Nodler, the bill’s sponsor, said he is confident he has more than enough votes.
Coleman disagreed and said, “I don’t believe Republicans have 100 percent Republican support.”
Coleman said forcing a vote draws a line between the two parties, which can make it difficult to get bipartisan support. That’s particularly true for legislation that may come up in the last four weeks of the session, she said.
Bipartisanship on the bill has been stressed previously by both parties as the higher education loan sale faced a series of changes including restricting the type of research allowed in new science buildings and taking some universities, including the state’s flagship university in Columbia, off the funding list.
Following the March filibuster led by Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, the University of Missouri-Columbia lost $56 million in funding from the plan in a move Republicans and Democrats said was in retribution for his actions in the filibuster. Shoemyer said this makes him think hard about arguing over the bill.
“If I start talking, does the $30,000 going to my district go to another guy for his vote?” Shoemyer said Republican Floor Leader Charlie Shields said Republicans have been patient with Democrats’ objections with the bill, but that patience may be wearing thin and that they plan to resume discussion Monday.
“The Republicans in the Senate are showing extreme patience for the Democratic Caucus in trying to work our way through this, but at some point that patience will probably run out,” Shields said.