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Missouri legislators have little to show so far

Thursday, May 7, 2009 | 11:20 a.m. CDT; updated 10:15 p.m. CDT, Thursday, May 7, 2009

Jeff Smith is a senator in the Missouri General Assembly. A previous version of this column listed his title incorrectly.

What have our legislators done since April? A lot and not much.

After my April 8 article concerning the apparent inability of our elected officials in Jefferson City to conduct business, I received a message that Rep. Chris Kelly wanted to speak with me. It seems the Democrat from the 24th District was a bit upset. More miffed.  

“We are doing a lot of work,” was Mr. Kelly’s response. He talked about a lot of negotiations and maneuvering.  So?

As of early May 8, there is little to show. In fact, just 62 bills have been “Truly Agreed To and Finally Passed” of the more than original 1,830 proposed. That is a meager 3.4 percent with seven days left of the 2009 session. (Over 40 of those 62 bills passed in the last week.) Only 1,768 bills to go.

OK, many of the original proposals never made it to the House or Senate floors.  Many never made it out of their respective committees. Too many, as I have said before, are there only to show constituents that the elected official is working. At least, it looks like the legislator is working.

Mr. Kelly is not wholly innocent here. He sponsored or co-sponsored a dozen bills this session including the elimination of income tax (HB 318), a “Transient Guest Tax” for the City of Ashland (is Ashland really big enough to be a “city?”) and co-sponsoring Rep. Rebecca McClanahan’s HB-1185 to establish the “Office of Professional Healthcare Workforce Planning.” Of the 12 bills, none made it to the goal of “Truly Passed.”

What bills have traveled from the Gray Dome to the governor for signature or veto? HB-89 requires vehicles to yield the right-of-way to bicycles and pedestrians in Kansas City. HB-306 requires businesses in the Lake special business district to collect transient guest taxes. How about HB-253, which would permit motorcycles to be able to lower the intensity of their headlamps at a flick of a switch.

The Senate side has not done much better. Two bills from District Four *Sen. Jeff Smith, have made the trip, concerning criminal paternal non-support and establishing paternal responsibilities. (Note – Not “criminal maternal responsibilities.” Like mothers cannot be negligent and not pay their child support to the custodial father.) SB394  from Sen. Luann Ridgeway, D-SD17, allows stores to use the terms “drug store” or “apothecary” even if they are not a drug store or apothecary, as long as it is a historic designation.

And the doings in the Governor’s office? Only two bills, of 12, have been signed and none vetoed.

This is not the fault of any one legislator or political party, but of a system that permits egos, both personal and political, to out-strip necessity.

Sunday’s KMOS “Jeff City Journal” guests were former state Sens. John Scott (D-SD 3) and Franc Flotron (R-SD 7). They agreed that legislation is much more complicated today than when they served (each left the Senate in 1996). So why cumber our legislators with 1800-plus bills?  

The system needs to be streamlined. I have a suggestion: No elected official in the state House or Senate may sponsor more than three bills and co-sponsor three additional bills. That means just over 600 bills would be introduced, and they would be more specific, more meaningful and well thought out. It means those under the Gray Dome might actually get something done. Or maybe not. A change like this does need legislative approval after all.

The citizens of Missouri and our legislators also need to modify the term limit statute. Both former senators agreed that eight years are not long enough to fully understand the “system.” Twelve years would be better. I have seen the problem of term limits in Colorado and could not agree more. No history, no knowledge of “intent” of legislation and no parliamentarian from the “ole guard.” In fact, let’s do away with term limits altogether. There is a better system already in place – the biennial election cycle.

To say our legislators have too much to do in a short four months is an understatement. Limiting the number of proposed bills and taking away term limits might not be the answer, but it is a start.

David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. Besides the Missourian, David is also a featured columnist for MissouriTribune.com and TRCB.com.  He welcomes your comments at ProfDave1011@netscape.net.

 


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