- Associated Press - Saturday, March 26, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - The Missouri legislative session is just past its midway point, with a number of the GOP’s top priorities yet to reach a final vote and disagreements between Senate Democrats and Republicans likely to cause more setbacks.

Democrats who are still upset over Republicans’ use of a rare procedural move to break a 37-hour filibuster over a religious objections measure earlier this month delayed even the most mundane tasks in the two weeks leading up to lawmakers’ spring break.

But despite Democrats’ rebellion, Republican legislative leaders are confident their work will get done between Monday and the end of the session - May 13 - passing priorities like changes to state ethics laws and requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls.

“Fractured or not, we’re still 23,” Republican Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard said, referencing the 23 Republicans in the now-32-member Senate. “We’re still going to move on our business as the majority party.”

Democratic senators have already staged three filibusters, including the failed one over the religious objections measure, which would create protections for businesses that object on religious grounds to providing goods or services for same-sex marriages. Democrats and gay-rights advocacy groups say such measures, which have passed in other states, sanction discrimination.

“As long as you don’t have great expectations, they’ve probably gotten about as much done as you might expect,” University of Missouri-Columbia political scientist Peverill Squire said. He predicted certain issues in the Senate “may not be able to get done very easily or smoothly” because of remaining tensions.

Democrats have slammed House-sponsored voter ID legislation, for example, as potentially keeping registered voters who don’t have the proper photo identification from voting. Senate Minority Leader Joe Keaveny has said those are likely candidates for another Democratic filibuster in the Senate.

The House, however, has sped through changes to state ethics laws, which were motivated by the resignations last year of two former lawmakers accused of inappropriate behavior toward interns. A proposed ban on lobbyist gifts to lawmakers is awaiting Senate approval, and House members and senators are hashing out differences over a measure to end the revolving door of lawmakers becoming lobbyists immediately after leaving office.

“I started the session off with a call for substantive, meaningful ethics reform,” GOP House Speaker Todd Richardson said. “I’m happy we’re making progress in that direction, and we’ve got more progress to do.”

Several bills related to abortion also still are pending and will likely see Democratic pushback in both chambers, including a ban on the donation of tissue from aborted fetuses and a proposed requirement that both parents must be notified for someone under 18 to receive an abortion, with some exceptions.

Other top issues lawmakers say will be addressed in the remainder of the session include the proposed $27 billion state budget and ways to pay to fix roads and bridges that have fallen into disrepair.

The religious objections measure still needs approval from the House in order to be put in front of voters. Richardson backs it, and Republicans have more than enough votes to pass it with a simple majority that’s needed. Constitutional amendments don’t need approval from Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who opposes the measure.

“If the Senate continues to be a little slower paced than normal, then we’ll adjust our strategy and deal with it then,” Richardson said. “But there’s plenty of time left in the session for things to get across the finish line.”

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Associated Press writer Adam Aton contributed to this report.

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