Legislature OKs expanded powers for some county commissions

Saturday, May 17, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- With just two minutes to spare, lawmakers gave final approval Friday to legislation that would greatly expand the ordinance-writing authority of the Cape Girardeau County Commission and a handful of others around the state.

The 102-47 House vote on the ordinance measure made it the last bill of the 2003 legislative session sent to the governor before the mandatory 6 p.m. adjournment deadline. The Senate had endorsed the bill 30-0 about 40 minutes earlier.

The proposal would allow the county commissions in first-, second- and fourth-class counties to enact ordinances so long as they aren't prohibited by or conflict with state law. Within municipal boundaries, city ordinances would also trump any county action.

In addition to Cape Girardeau County, the other Southeast Missouri counties affected by the law are New Madrid and St. Francois.

However, the power wouldn't extend to third-class counties, which account for the bulk of the state's 114 counties.

The original House version sought ordinance authority for all counties, but that effort encountered stiff Senate opposition.

"Some senators just flat out refused to let these counties have those powers," said state Rep. Todd Smith, R-Sedalia. "They thought they would go nuts."

Compromise on size

Smith, the bill's sponsor, agreed to limit the scope to larger counties as a compromise. (Fourth-class status is actually a subgroup of second-class status.)

The Missouri Association of Counties pushed the bill, saying that counties lack the ability to deal with many problems locally and routinely have to ask state legislators to enact laws addressing local concerns. Cape Girardeau County Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones, the association's president, lobbied hard for the measure.

Senate Minority Floor Leader Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, supported the bill but wanted to make clear what the legislature would be doing by passing it.

"We are giving counties the authority to pass ordinance after ordinance," Jacob said. "We are putting in another layer of government."

Only five of Southeast Missouri's 16 representatives and senators opposed the bill. All represent third-class counties. They are Republican state Reps. Otto Bean of Holcomb, Gayle Kingery of Poplar Bluff and Peter Myers of Sikeston and Democratic state Reps. J.C. Kuessner of Eminence and Denny Merideth of Caruthersville.

The bill is HB 267.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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