Preserving the Traditions of the Senate

Throughout my time in the Missouri Senate, I have come to appreciate the many traditions of the General Assembly’s upper chamber. It is a place where free and fair debate allows senators to voice their opinions on any issue, for as long as they like. While the chamber’s unwritten rules may frustrate some, these are the traditions that have served this body for centuries. This past week, my colleagues and I took the unique step of strengthening one of those traditions in our Senate rules.

The filibuster is a tool that allows a senator or a group of senators to stand and talk on an issue for as long as they like. If they want to stand and discuss an issue for 12 hours or more, they can — it’s their right as a senator. This legislative tool isn’t unique to our state — most state senates have a version — and history even tells us it has been used since the first session of the U.S. Senate in 1789. Though a filibuster can be used to slow progress on an individual bill or an order of business within the Senate, our rules do provide us with a tool to break a filibuster. Referred to as a “Previous Question” motion, this rarely-used legislative tool allows a majority of the Senate to break a filibuster and bring the item in question to an immediate vote. Many in the Senate, myself included, view this as the nuclear option, because it often represents a public declaration that free debate has failed and neither side of an issue is capable of reaching a productive conclusion. The use of the “Previous Question” motion always leads to a breakdown in Senate business and stalls not one, but many important bills on our legislative agenda.

In order to continue to encourage free and fair debate in the Missouri Senate, my colleagues and I made a change in our own rules that will make it harder to use a “Previous Question” motion to end a filibuster. At a time when the current administration in Washington, D.C. and its allies in Congress are calling on the U.S. Senate to ban the use of the filibuster, we in Missouri are embracing it as an important aspect of one of our state’s most-treasured institutions. Some have claimed this rule change will make it harder to pass pro-life or Second Amendment issues, and I believe that cannot be further from the truth. In 2019, the Missouri Senate passed one of the strongest pro-life measures in the history of our country — without having to use the “Previous Question” motion. How did we do it? We worked with the opponents of the legislation, listened to their concerns and reached a conclusion that allowed the measure to come to a vote. And in doing so, kept the Senate functioning and passed several other important legislative priorities.

I was proud of my colleagues this week for passing this important rule change and safeguarding one of the cornerstones of the Missouri Senate — free and fair debate. At a time when those in Washington, D.C., are urging the U.S. Senate to head in a different direction and stifle the speech of its members, we are protecting our traditions and encouraging open and honest discussion on the critical issues facing our state. While it might seem crazy to think, one day, we may need to invoke our own filibuster and stand up to protect liberty and defend life.

It is an honor to serve our community in the Missouri Senate. If you have any other questions or concerns about your state government, please do not hesitate to contact my office at (573) 751-3678 or by email at dave.schatz@senate.mo.gov — we are honored to serve you.

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