JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Protesters demanding the legislature approve Medicaid expansion have halted debate in the state Senate for about an hour with prayers, chants, and songs from the visitors gallery.
The protesters, organized by faith leaders, had rallied in the rotunda earlier before moving into the gallery at the back of the Senate chamber where they suddenly interrupted debate on the bill requiring public employee union members to give permission for union dues to be withdrawn from their salaries.
Springfield's Rev. Emily Bowen-Marler was there.
"This is the first time I've seen something like this in person," she said.
She and other faith leaders have been advocating for medicaid reform, saying it's a moral issue to make sure people get access to affordable healthcare.
"We have been calling our senators and calling our representatives on a continual basis to get them to talk about Medicaid expansion and nothing is being done about it," she said.
Capitol Police officers eventually began escorting some of the demonstrators out but 23 refused to leave . Police spokesman Mike O’Connell says they were photographed and checked for any outstanding warrants–none had any–and released. O’Connell says the decision on filing charges will be left to the Cole County Prosecutor.
Most Senators left the chamber and went to their offices while the demonstrators demanded the Senate approve expansion of Medicaid. About eight Senators have from the beginning of the session this year vowed to block passage of any expansion bill, maintaining the federal government cannot be trusted to keep its promise to never require the state to pay more than 10 percent of the expansion’s costs, and arguing that acceptance of expansion would only worsen the national debt
The demonstration appeared to be well-orchestrated. A Capitol Police spokesman says organizers had notified leaders of the House and the Senate as well as Capitol Police of their intentions. No demonstration took place in House, however.
Medicaid expansion legislation has shown some movement in the House but with entrenched opposition in the Senate and time running out on the session, the chances for expansion are dim.