SMSU name change ripe for House vote

Republicans face pressure to pass a bill without changes to avoid a return to the Senate.
Tuesday, March 1, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:50 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

[Note: this story has been modified since its original posting to correct errors.]

JEFFERSON CITY — House lawmakers are poised to vote on a bill renaming Southwest Missouri State University.

A vote on the measure, which would dub the school Missouri State University, could come today when the time scheduled for debate is set to expire.

Passage of the bill, HB 285, would deliver the name change to the desk of Gov. Matt Blunt, who has made no secret of his desire to finalize it as soon as possible. The Republican majority in the House is under pressure to vote it through without any amendments. Any change would require that the bill be sent back to the Senate, where Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, staged an all-night filibuster in February.

Graham’s stalling tactic was ultimately unsuccessful, halting at 6:30 a.m. after he was called off by University of Missouri System President Elson Floyd. Graham did win several concessions, including language that clearly states the change does not entitle SMSU to more money and prohibits it from seeking the same land-grant and research designations as UM system schools. The bill that passed the Senate also bars the Springfield school from awarding graduate degrees in several fields already covered by the system, such as medicine, architecture and law.

Besides granting SMSU the title of Missouri State, the bill would rename Missouri Western State College and Harris-Stowe State College as universities. It would also drop the word “Joplin” from Missouri Southern State-Joplin.

Columbia’s two Democratic representatives, Jeff Harris and Judy Baker, tried to sidetrack the bill Monday by joining other Democrats in proposing a series of amendments.

Baker suggested turning the issue over to the voters in the form of a ballot measure. Harris argued in favor of requiring Blunt to restore the funds he ordered withheld from state universities last week before the change could be made. Both failed to win approval.

While several Republicans rose to voice concerns about the bill, none offered any improvements.

Earlier in the day, Rep. Mark Wright, R-Springfield, filed an alternative bill to the one before the House.

Wright’s bill, HB 655, would legally prevent any school from receiving a funding increase of a higher percentage than the average of the increases given to all other state schools. He said the cap would appease the fears of those who think a new name for SMSU could lead to a higher demand for funding in the future.

Despite his concerns about the wording of the current bill, Wright said he would not present the measures as an amendment.

“If it’s amended on the floor, then it goes back to the Senate, and we don’t want to do that,” he said.

Should the issue return to his chamber, Graham did not rule out the possibility of another filibuster.

“If Wright thinks this bill can be improved upon he should offer (his ideas) as amendments,” Graham said. “You’d think Rep. Wright would want to get it right.”

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