JEFFERSON CITY • The Missouri Senate on Thursday voted to disapprove of an effort to place a St. Louis city-county merger question on the November 2020 ballot.
The nonbinding resolution, approved on a 26-5 vote, denounces a statewide vote on the merger, but it takes no position on consolidation itself.
The group Better Together has proposed merging St. Louis city and county into one "metropolitan city," dissolving county municipalities and creating one central government and police force.
The possibility of a statewide vote in November 2020 has drawn outcry from St. Louis-area Republicans and Democrats who are worried about local control.
Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, sponsored the resolution denouncing the statewide effort. Most St. Louis-area senators — Democrat and Republican — voted in favor of it. One senator, Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, was absent.
And, one St. Louis-area senator did not did not support the resolution.
Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, in St. Charles County, stalled a vote for more than two hours by filibustering the resolution on the Senate floor with his allies. He ultimately voted "no."
Eigel, who with other members of the Senate Conservative Caucus have repeatedly stalled votes this legislative session, said Senate GOP leadership should not have brought up such a controversial topic on the chamber's last working day before Easter.
"My family's waiting for me. I'm sure your family's waiting for you," Eigel said to another senator. "So it might be better to have this conversation later on in session when we don't have the pressure of the holiday staring us in the face."
Despite Eigel's insistence, not all senators were interested in delaying a vote.
"This is a matter of great importance to my constituents," said Sen. Scott Sifton, D-south St. Louis County. "I am not in a position to try to forestall a vote on this measure today."
Eigel, shortly before 1 p.m., gave up the floor to an ally and could be seen engaged in a heated conversation with Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, who helps control what legislation is brought up for debate. Eigel was later seen arguing with Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane.
"I'm really disappointed in my colleagues for trying to force this through," Eigel said after the vote. "I think this issue deserves a lot more conversation than what it got."
Eigel received a $1,500 donation in 2016 from John McDonnell, the former chairman of McDonnell Douglas Corp. McDonnell wrote a $300,000 check last week to Unite STL, which is the committee formed to help finance the Better Together campaign.
The political action committee Believe In Life and Liberty PAC, or BILL PAC, received $75,000 from St. Louis mega-donor Rex Sinquefield on March 13. Sinquefield is one of Better Together's main supporters.
Eigel said in an interview he has raised funds for the so-called leadership PAC.
Such PACs have proliferated since 2016, when voters enacted limits on how much money donors could contribute directly to candidates, forcing donors to contribute to the outside groups, which spend in support of or in opposition to a candidate.
Eigel said Sinquefield's donation did not influence his vote Thursday, adding he was undecided on Better Together proposal itself.
"Using the urgency of the Easter holiday to pass any legislation is a bad idea," Eigel said in explaining his vote. "When you're not ready to vote on something, as I wasn't, then the default answer is 'no.'"
Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, downplayed the high emotions, saying it's not "abnormal" as the session enters its final weeks.
"It always gets interesting in the last month or so," Rowden said.
Walsh said she was surprised at Eigel's response because he'd not expressed concern about her proposal.
"I'm sorry it upset him, but it is a non-binding resolution," Walsh said.
The issue debated Thursday could be a precursor to further debate on the Better Together proposal — and whether the Legislature should place a question on the November 2020 ballot to compete with Better Together.
One option, sponsored by Rep. Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, says that if a merger passes statewide, voters in the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County would have to approve the merger in a separate referendum for it to take effect.
House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, said Thursday he planned to bring Plocher's resolution to the House floor for debate.
The legislation is Senate Concurrent Resolution 1.