JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A Senate panel on Thursday approved a one-year moratorium on paying for out-of-state travel for senators, a move that could save the state about $80,000.
The Republican-controlled Senate Administration Committee voted 3-2 along party lines in favor of the new travel restrictions that went into effect immediately.
Since the panel is responsible for approving out-of-state travel to meetings and events held by groups such as the National Conference of State Legislatures, the decision does not require full Senate approval.
Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, who proposed the measure last week, said the moratorium is just the one step in an ongoing attempt by the chamber to reduce spending as state government grapples with a general budget shortfall.
"We have demonstrated that the belt-tightening begins with us," said Kinder, who acknowledged that the travel savings make up only a small portion of the overall state budget. "I'm looking for more savings in the Senate budget and I'm going through it line by line to save six-figure amounts."
In the past, out-of-state travel was routinely approved by the committee and was paid for out of a Senate contingency fund.
The new rule would not affect in-state travel. It also would not affect senators who pay their own way, who travel out of state at somebody else's expense or who pay for trips out of campaign funds.
The measure was strongly opposed by Democratic Sen. Ken Jacob of Columbia, who said the move was shortsighted because lawmakers who attend conferences pick up ideas that have become law in Missouri.
For example, Jacob said legislation passed last year on homeland security was a direct result of a senator's attendance at a conference.
Jacob also argued that Missouri needs to participate in events sponsored by National Conference of State Legislatures because of its influence in Washington promoting common needs among states. He also said the Legislature pays membership fees. Those fees amount to about $300,000 to legislative organizations.
"We don't live on an island, we live in a nation," Jacob said. "I think we're being penny wise and a pound foolish."
Sen. Ed Quick, D-Liberty, conceded that as term limits kicked in some senators got "carried away" with the number of trips they took. But Quick argued that the committee should be allowed to decide whether a trip is worth the cost of sending a senator.
Sen. Michael Gibbons, a member of the Senate Administration Committee, said the Senate also should consider reviewing its travel policy. That policy allows each senator $3,600 for in-state travel.
"I think you have to decide if there are other ways to achieve as much (savings) as we can," said Gibbons, R-Kirkwood.
The House addressed the travel issue last year when it required that members pay for out-of-state travel from their state-funded office accounts rather than from a House contingency fund.
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