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Columbia Missourian

Legislators pay little heed to special session’s agenda

August 20, 2007 | 11:14 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri’s legislature began its special session Monday with a near empty House and Democrats bickering in the Senate. The House of Representatives held a short, poorly attended technical session Monday for bill introductions and then adjourned within minutes. Senate Democrats spent an hour discussing a list of grievances including the short notice about the special session’s starting schedule.

The governor called for a special session to re-examine a bill he had pushed to provide tax breaks for business expansion and to speed up repairs on Missouri’s bridges.

The governor’s original proposal would give tax breaks to companies which pay more than the county average and pay at least half the cost of employee health care. The legislature had passed the bill earlier this year, but the governor vetoed it citing the large number of other tax breaks lawmakers had added.

In his call for the August special session, the governor included several of those items, including provisions that would legalize ticket scalping for athletic contests, provide tax credits to developers who buy land in low-income areas and increase the tax credits given to film producers.

Some senators questioned if the bill warranted calling for a special session.

“I’m just kind of curious what’s so extraordinary, or emergency, about what’s in here,” said Sen. Joan Bray, D- St. Louis County.

Speaker Pro Tem Mike Gibbons, R-St. Louis County, said he agreed the bill might not seem like an emergency, but in some ways, it is.

“Extraordinary is in the eye of the beholder, and certainly when we’re talking about provisions that may impact jobs that are potentially coming to Missouri, or expansions that may happen or may not happen because of this, this seems certainly as extraordinary as anything else we’ve addressed,” Gibbons said.

Gibbons said the risk related to not resolving the issue now stems from the loss of potential jobs in Missouri’s low-income areas.

The economic development bill’s sponsor, Ron Richards, R-Joplin, said there are up to 6,000 jobs waiting on the bill’s passage, most of which are in St. Louis County.

Richards said he feels confident the revised bill will pass through both chambers quickly.

“Of course, I felt confident when I had this bill before,” he said. “I think you could see a Republican House, Senate and governor who can’t pass an economic development bill two years in a row.”

The House is expected to discuss the bills in committee today and Wednesday with full House debate scheduled for Thursday. The Senate plans to hold off action this week, waiting until it gets something from the House.

Like all but a handful of House members, Columbia Representative Jeff Harris skipped Monday’s session. House leaders had told members that, unlike the Senate, they did not need to attend because no votes would be taken.

“My understanding is they’ll work on it in committee, otherwise the House will vote Thursday,” Harris said.

Monday’s session marked the appearance of Sen. Chris Koster, D- Harrisonville, as a Democrat in the Senate chamber. Koster had announced earlier this summer his intention to switch parties.

Koster sat mainly alone in the chamber, but did attend a Senate Democratic caucus later in the day. Koster has lost all of the committee assignments he had been given as a Republican. The Senate’s Democratic leader, Maida Coleman, said no decision had been made on Koster’s assignments as a Democrat.

Coleman acknowledged the lack of a warm public reception by Democrats.

“He will not be able to take for granted that he is well received by everyone,” Coleman said. “We’re glad he’s here, but he’s going to have to work hard to show us that he’s deserving of our trust.”