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Tension among Republican senators runs high at the start of legislative session

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The first week of the 2024 Missouri legislative session is now in the rearview mirror, but some senators are still airing grievances about last year.

After only two days of session, the Missouri Senate started out the year where it left off in May, with some Republicans holding the floor to vent their frustrations with leadership. The group calls itself the Freedom Caucus. Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, who leads the caucus, said their mission is to advance the Republican platform.

Despite the new year, the infighting among Senate Republicans remains constant.

“What I’m tired of is I’m tired of campaign conservatives,” Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, said. “You can’t say all these things are priorities and then wait until the last minute of the last week in order to try and get them passed.”

Senate leadership remains hopeful that it will be a successful year.

“I think it’s early enough in this year; obviously, the first couple of days were interesting, but it’s early enough that we still have plenty of opportunities to push forward things that we care about and push forward on things that matter,” Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said. “We’ve got plenty of time.”

For the past three years, a similar group of Republican senators was called the Conservative Caucus, but the members disbanded. Brattin said the goal of the Freedom Caucus is to not be obstructionists.

“We’re tired of setting things up for failure,” Brattin said. “But if we’re forced to really press in on an issue to advance that issue that I’m elected to advance, then we’re going to do whatever means necessary.”

Hoskins, a member of the newly formed caucus, said senators are tired of waiting to debate legislation to change the initiative process and education reform.

“We’ve heard a lot of lip service from Senate leadership in the past about, ‘Hey, these are our priorities,’ but when it comes down to getting these bills passed or getting these bills actually debated on the Senate floor, they have not been an advocate on those,” Hoskins said.

The other side of the aisle said the division is not enjoyable. Instead of the infighting, Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said there are other issues that need more attention.

“The idea that we come down here to watch Republican infighting; it’s beneficial, I guess, if you’re in a super minority like we are here, but it’s also completely the opposite of why we got into public service,” Rizzo said. “People have trouble getting healthcare, people are paying too much for prescription drugs, or a teacher who can’t make ends meet because she’s so underpaid. Those problems are still out there.”

During Thursday’s session, Senate Majority Leader Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, called to adjourn during a heated debate between Hoskins and Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, regarding how Bernskoetter voted on previous legislation.


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“I don’t want to see us devolve into personal attacks or personal positions on something because once that starts, it’s very hard to get back to any kind of positive momentum,” O’Laughlin said.

When asked if she’s concerned about the relationship between members and the future of the session, she said the body will figure it out.

“Well, I mean, we’ve lived through it for the last several years, so I guess we’ll be able to handle it this year,” O’Laughlin said.

By adjourning early, it prevented nearly 100 bills from being referred to committee. Rowden said one of those bills was a large education package. Senate leadership said the hope is to still move that bill forward, as the priority of many Republicans this year is to pass open enrollment, allowing parents to pick where their child goes to school.

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