At age 15, I had to quit school to help take care of my family. I didn’t want to quit school, but it was necessary for my mother and little sister. Soon thereafter, within months, I was married and pregnant. My dreams of returning to school were no longer in reach.
Eventually, I determined to get my GED. I found a local center with computers I could use to log into classes and continue my education. I studied when I could, stealing away over lunch breaks or during a short window of free time after my work shift. It was difficult, but I got it done. I got my GED and went on to earn a college degree as time and finances allowed.
By some estimates, there are more than 500,000 adult Missourians who never earned a high school diploma or equivalent. With a high school education being the bare minimum qualification for many jobs, and with our workforce shortage, it’s critically important that we help these adults complete their education. Not everyone is successful taking classes online, however. Fortunately, there is another option.
People are also reading…
In 2017, the Missouri General Assembly passed legislation authorizing adult high schools in Missouri. Under this law, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) could supervise up to four adult high schools, which would be operated by nonprofit organizations. The four schools were to be located in St. Louis, Springfield, Columbia and Poplar Bluff, though satellite campuses were also allowed. The schools would coordinate with community and business leaders to determine how best to meet workforce development needs while addressing the individual graduation requirements of students. Child care services would be provided onsite, and coursework could be provided through a mix of in-person and online classes, though the majority of classes would have to be in person. Upon completion of their studies, students receive an actual high school diploma, not a GED.
The program has been incredibly successful, with more than 700 Missourians earning a diploma at one of the four adult high schools. I personally know a young woman who earned her degree at the Poplar Bluff school and have seen the impact it’s had on her life.
This year, I have sponsored legislation to expand the program. Senate Bill 199 would authorize one more adult high school, which would serve students in the Kansas City area. The bill also transfers supervision of the program to the Department of Social Services (DSS), which has always supplied the funding. This week, I presented SB 199 to the General Laws Committee. We had a good hearing, with every witness testifying in support. My hope is we can get the bill moved out of committee quickly and onto the Senate floor for perfection.
In other legislative news, Senate Bill 127 is now before the House of Representatives. I originally sponsored this bill as a way of recognizing a beloved business and community leader from the Southeast Missouri region. Don Welge owned a private label food company in Chester, Ill., which is right across the Mississippi River from Perryville. A tireless champion for the region, Don was especially influential in the decision to replace the aging Highway 51 Bridge that connects the two states. My legislation was one half of a bi-state effort to dedicate “The Don Welge Memorial Bridge” in his honor. Similar legislation is currently moving through the Illinois General Assembly.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the Legislature, it’s that lawmakers love a highway-naming bill. There’s no shortage of notable people in Missouri who deserve recognition, and legislators are always on the lookout for a bill they can amend to honor local citizens. It looks like SB 127 is that bill this year.
In its current form, the bill includes more than 20 provisions, each establishing a memorial highway, bridge or historic district. There’s some really great people recognized in the bill, everything from military heroes, to law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty to MoDOT employees who died while working on the state’s highways. Other Missourians inspiring special designations include a former legislator, an educator, a community founder and even a 6-year-old child who bravely battled cancer. The bill also establishes the “Stars and Stripes Historic Region of Missouri” in recognition of the legendary military news organization that began in Bloomfield. The historic region encompasses two dozen Southeast Missouri counties, including Bollinger, Madison, Perry, Reynolds and Scott. It’s a great bill, and I’m proud to have a part in moving it forward. I’m confident we’ll get it to the governor’s desk before the end of session.
When Debate Fails
Are you ready for some “inside baseball” discussion about the political process? I hope so, because I feel I need to explain what’s going on in Jefferson City, and why we haven’t been able to bring an issue that’s important to me, and a lot of Missourians, to a vote. This week, I’d like to tell you about the Senate filibuster. Specifically, I want to talk about what’s keeping us from passing Senate Bill 49.
Also known as the “Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act,” or SAFE for short, SB 49 would prevent doctors from providing gender transition procedures, such as puberty blockers, hormone treatments or surgery to minor children struggling with gender dysphoria. If adults want to undergo gender transition procedures, that’s their business, but I don’t believe doctors should be trying to change children’s gender. This view is widely shared by my colleagues in the majority party of the Missouri Senate. In fact, I imagine a vote on SB 49 would follow strict party lines, with all of the members of the majority voting in favor.
So, if the majority holds a 24-10 advantage in the Senate, why don’t we cast our votes and pass the bill? The answer is the filibuster, and what it takes to end one.
For those not familiar with Senate procedures, a filibuster occurs when legislators block a vote by talking. You see, one of the ways the Senate differs from the House of Representatives is its tradition of free and open debate. In fact, it’s engraved on the wall of the Senate chamber: “Free and fair discussion is the firmest friend of truth.”
The House of Representatives imposes time limits on debate. The Senate does not. In the Senate, we cannot vote on a bill until every senator has said all they want to say. That is a part of the legislative rules we have to abide by.
Unlike the U.S. Senate, where members can just declare a filibuster and go home, Missouri senators actually have to stand and talk. They don’t have to talk about the bill, but they do have to talk. And talk. And talk. That’s what happened this week. Senate Bill 49 was brought up for perfection in the chamber and opponents of the bill started talking. They talked for the better part of two days and showed no sign of letting up. Closed-door negotiations aimed at reaching a compromise and ending the filibuster were going nowhere. As determined as we were/are to pass this bill, the minority party is equally determined to stop it. So, we are currently at an impasse.
To be clear, it is possible to end a filibuster through a parliamentary procedure known as a “PQ.” The name comes from the motion to “call the previous question.” When this motion prevails, discussion ends and a vote is taken. It happens all the time in the House of Representatives, but it’s extremely rare in the Senate. This is my third year in the Senate, and in that time a PQ has happened exactly never. Not once. It’s been described as the nuclear option. The reason it is a “nuclear option” is because once it happens, all bets are off. Nothing else is going to pass because the party that got PQ’d will filibuster every bill, and every motion, that comes up afterward. Each bill has many motions before it is complete. Filibustering every single motion effectively shuts down the Senate.
That’s a problem, especially at this point in the legislative session. We’ve reached the half-way mark in the 2023 session. When we come back March 20, we’ll begin turning our attention to the budget. We’ve also got quite a few issues we need to address yet – our distressed and overwhelmed foster care system, crime and further tax relief among them – but passing the budget is our main responsibility. In fact, according to the Missouri Constitution, the Legislature is only required to do one thing, and that’s pass a balanced budget. If we blow up the Senate now with a PQ, there’s a good chance we won’t be able to pass the budget.
Prior to this week, the Senate was working really well. The squabbling within the majority party seen in previous years has eased, and we’ve actually been working well with the minority party. I hope we can build on that good will and find a way to pass the SAFE Act, along with my Senate Bill 39, the “Save Women’s Sports Act,” without resorting to a PQ. If that doesn’t happen, I know the majority party is committed to passing legislation to protect kids, no matter the cost. If it takes blowing up the Senate to do it, we will. We just don’t want to do that unless and until there’s no other choice.
I always appreciate hearing your comments, opinions and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-2459. You may write me at Holly Thompson Rehder, Missouri Senate, State Capitol, Rm 433, Jefferson City, MO 65101, send an email to Holly.Rehder@senate.mo.gov or visit www.senate.mo.gov/Rehder.