This is from the desk of our Legislative Director, Mike Wood.
I found it very interesting that during a week where the Missouri House of Representatives approved a bill dealing with bullying in schools (House Bill 2051) that leaders in the House did some bullying of their own.
I am referencing the tactics used to gather enough votes to pass House Bill 1526 (reduction in force laws). The House leadership took two different roll call votes on this bill over a two days. The first vote on Wednesday was to perfect the bill. The voting board was open for an extended period. If the board had closed a minute or two after it opened, the bill would have failed. Instead of having the embarrassment of a priority bill for the leadership fail, they kept the voting board open until enough members were bullied into changing votes against the bill into votes for the bill.
Watching this was just amazing. Supporters of the bill would surround the desk of a member that was voting no. Many fingers were pointed and harsh words exchanged before the members changed their votes in order to get the supporters of the bill to leave them alone. Often several minutes passed before the member would change his or her vote.
What is disappointing about this is that members were actually voting how their constituents wanted them to vote, and then were bullied out of that vote in order to keep the peace with their leadership.
When the bill came up for a second vote on Thursday, the same disgusting procedure took place. I watched as some members that did not support the bill voted no, and almost ran out of the chamber so as not to have to endure the pressure. It was interesting to watch this play out. You could see the group supporting the bill surround individual members, when the voting board indicated that member had just voted no. If you wanted a few moments, after the supporting group surrounded the member, looked at the board again, you could see the individual member switch their vote to yes. Then the gang of supporter would move on to their next target, another member who dared to vote no.
Many members who stood up to the leadership came out of the chamber and said things like, “I guess that vote killed any chance of me being a committee chair,” or “they came to me six or seven different times asking me to switch my vote.” In the end, there were many members who stood up to the bullying tactics employed by the House Leadership, but not enough.
Many of the members who decided to vote with their leadership and not with their constituents back at home will have a difficult time explaining this vote. They will make up different excuses such as, “this bill is not perfect, but it is better than it was” and “it does not matter how I voted, the bill will die in the senate.” Those are not good excuses for leaving behind the wishes of the people that you represent.
I wonder if the supporters of this bill feel good about themselves. They passed a bill, only after bullying a dozen or so colleagues into voting for something that they did not really want to vote for.
It was a sad couple of days in the Missouri House of Representatives. This type of behavior would be unacceptable in our schools and why the legislature is passing bills to strengthen our anti-bullying policies in schools.