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Missouri GOP feud peaks in fight over sexual assault bill

Missouri State Senate
Posted at 5:14 PM, Mar 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-09 18:14:24-05

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — GOP infighting in the Missouri Senate boiled over Wednesday as one senator called out a faction of fellow Republicans for torpedoing bipartisan bills to help new mothers and sexual assault survivors by tacking on anti-abortion proposals and other contested policies.

Sen. Holly Thompson Rehder told reporters that the all-male Conservative Caucus crossed a line Tuesday after her bill on sexual assault survivors was "hijacked by a few men who wanted to talk about another issue" during floor debate.

"The people they are pushing around now are sexual assault survivors," Thompson Rehder said. "The people they are running over now are the children of this state."

She asked Republican Sen. Rick Brattin, who tried to amend her bill to add legislation to make it a misdemeanor for teachers to give students access to certain books that he described as obscene and pornographic, to back down. He refused.

"This is an extremely important issue, just as yours is," he told Thompson Rehder.

"But it's not more important than mine," she replied.

Other bills that stalled with proposed Conservative Caucus amendments include legislation to increase oversight of help for child abuse survivors. Republican Sen. Mike Moon on Monday tried to amend the measure to include a ban on doctors providing medical treatment to transgender minors to help them transition.

And last week, Republican Sen. Bob Onder attempted to use a bill that would extend Medicaid health care for low-income new mothers for a year after giving birth to also block public funding for Planned Parenthood.

Thompson Rehder asked for those amendments to be withdrawn so the main bills can advance with less opposition.

The fight provides a glimpse into the ongoing feud between the Conservative Caucus and other Republicans, which came to a head this session.

Two Senate bills made it out of the chamber since session began in January, compared to at least 20 House measures now awaiting action in the Senate.

The Senate still has not passed a new plan for congressional district lines based on the 2020 Census because of Republican disagreements and a weeklong filibuster by the Conservative Caucus. Candidate filing for the U.S. House began in February, meaning some political hopefuls are running without knowing the boundaries of the seat they're seeking.

Moon blocked work for about a day last week over a spat with Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, who had stripped him of committee assignments for wearing denim overalls on the Senate floor. He later restored Moon's committee assignments after Moon publicly apologized.

Amid that tension and gridlock, Conservative Caucus members now argue their best shot at advancing the high-profile, hot-button issues they support is to tack the policies on as amendments to other bills.

"What's the chance of your bill passing as a standalone bill?" Onder asked Brattin during debate on his book amendment Tuesday. "Probably slim to none."

But Thompson Rehder said adding those highly contested proposals to bipartisan bills will mean killing both policies.

The tactic also forces GOP senators to choose between giving bipartisan legislation that they support a better shot at passing, and voting in favor of amendments on conservative wedge issues that likely will come up when they campaign for re-election or higher office.

For example, Onder framed debate on Brattin's amendment as a question of whether senators support "protecting our kids from obscenity." Conservative Caucus member Sen. Denny Hoskins said it was about whether senators support allowing pornographic books in schools.

The strategy appears to be grating other Republicans, who have said they largely agree on policy with the Conservative Caucus but dislike their tactics.

"A few senators who can't or won't put in the work to get their own legislation through the process want to attach their hot-button partisan issues to other bills that have in some cases been worked on for months," Rehder said.

Conservative Caucus member Sen. Bill Eigel on Wednesday said "peace makers" were working behind the scenes to ease tensions in the Senate.