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Area lawmakers satisfied with legislative session despite failu

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Area lawmakers left the state Capitol proclaiming satisfaction with the 2006 legislative session despite failing to secure passage of much of their personal agendas.

Several of the legislators took solace in the knowledge that ideas included in bills they sponsored became part of measures that did reach Gov. Matt Blunt's desk.

House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, didn't have an ambitious personal agenda of bills filed and those he did propose failed to make it to Blunt's desk.

His highest-profile bill would have given extra food stamps to senior citizens and given tax breaks to people donating to food banks. Jetton wasn't available for comment, but House communications director Todd Abrajano said Jetton will try again.

"He cared about the legislation, but trading his legislation for guarantees on other leaders' legislation is not something he is going to do," Abrajano said.

Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, began the year with an ambitious program, hoping to enact a series of pro-life bills that culminated in an attempt to ban all abortions. Those proposals were assigned to committees and died quietly.

And Crowell wanted to pass a bill giving protections to journalists using anonymous sources, but ran into stiff opposition in a Senate committee .That bill also died.

'Just one cog'

Crowell was philosophical about those defeats. "I am just one cog in the machinery," he said. "Unfortunately, I couldn't convince enough of my colleagues in the Senate and the House to go along with my brilliant reforms."

In all, Crowell introduced 29 bills and won passage of three. The most important legislation Crowell sponsored and passed is a measure that would bar state financing agencies from repeating a project such as Southeast Missouri State University's River Campus.

The university issued bonds through the Missouri Development Finance Board to pay its share of the construction costs and has been seeking state funding to pay the debt. If Blunt signs the measure, any institution seeking to float bonds in the future could not do so unless the project has been approved by a legislative resolution.

While most of his bills were stymied, Crowell said other items made the session a success. He noted that the Cape Girardeau Career and Technical Center will get $750,000 for capital improvements and the Parkview State School will receive $100,000 for a handicap-accessible playground.

And he's happy with other legislation passed this year, including changes in the rules governing the taking of property for economic development purposes and increased spending on local schools. The two-year term of the legislature, taken as a whole, is a strong record, he said.

"State government is well on the way to being healed from the mismanagement of past executives," Crowell said.

The most successful area lawmaker in getting an agenda enacted was Rep. Scott Lipke, R-Jackson, who won passage of four of the 20 bills he sponsored. And he would have passed almost his entire agenda, he said, if politics hadn't interfered on the final day.

Lipke is sponsor of the crackdown on sex crimes against minors known as "Jessica's Law." The bill would, among other provisions, increase the prison term to 30 years for sex crimes against children under 12 and deny bail pending appeal to anyone convicted of a sex crime against children.

"I am happy and thrilled we were able to get a version of Jessica's Law passed to protect our children from sexual offenders and sexual predators," Lipke said.

Lipke also sponsored a constitutional amendment that will be on the ballot later this year to deny pensions to any public official convicted of a felony or who is removed from office for official misconduct. The proposal also makes it more difficult for lawmakers to reject proposals for raising their own pay from the Missouri Citizens' Commission on the Compensation for Elected Officials.

Lawmakers have been reluctant to approve the raises, which means that judges and statewide elected officials are also denied raises. "Legislators don't want to vote for their own pay raises," Lipke said.

Action slowed

A bill to deal with numerous areas of criminal law failed on the last day when the Missouri Senate slowed action to a crawl over the way the politically charged bill mandating voters to have state-issued identification, Lipke said.

Lipke had taken the opportunity provided by a two-page Senate bill to write a 110-page omnibus bill that died awaiting a final Senate vote. "I had all my criminal agenda in there and a lot of other things, too," he said.

The legislative agenda for Rep. Nathan Cooper, R-Cape Girardeau, included several of the sessions' major topics, many of which passed on bills that did not have his name attached.

Introducing numerous bills, 27 in all, made it easier to attach those ideas to other bills during debate, Cooper said. When an amendment is proposed, he said, "other members look to the committee chairman to see if it has been heard in committee. If it has not, it is not seen as a friendly amendment and it is more difficult to get these on the bill."

Failed MOHELA plan

Cooper said his biggest disappointment is the failure of lawmakers to agree on a spending plan for money generated by the sale of assets by the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, or MOHELA. Blunt wants to have MOHELA go forward with the sale and distribute money directly to state colleges and universities, bypassing the legislative appropriation process.

Cooper said he supports that plan. "I am confident the governor will undertake that responsibility and do so on his own," he said.

Only one area lawmaker passed every bill he introduced. Rep. Billy Pat Wright, R-Dexter, introduced one bill, and it awaits Blunt's signature. The bill eliminates the requirement for background checks when a retired teacher works as a substitute or part-time teacher during the year following retirement.

The bill stems from discussions with school district officials worried about the lack of substitute teachers, Wright said. Under the current rules, Wright said, a teacher can "leave on a Friday after retiring and, if they want to come right back and substitute, have to be fingerprinted and undergo a background check."

Wright said he's not trying to flood the House with bills to pass. "My philosophy is, the first term you are here you should not try to introduce too much."

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126


Southeast Missouri lawmakers filed numerous bills this session but will see only a few reach Gov. Matt Blunt's desk with their name as sponsor. The totals for area lawmakers are:

Rep. Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill:

Bills sponsored: 4

Bills passed: 0

Rep. Scott Lipke, R-Jackson:

Bills sponsored: 20

Bills passed: 4

Major legislation passed: Increased penalties for sex offenders.

Rep. Nathan Cooper, R-Cape Girardeau:

Bills sponsored: 27

Bills passed: 2

Major legislation passed: Allows appointment of special deputy coroners or medical examiners in the event of a natural disaster.

Rep. Billy Pat Wright, R-Dexter

Bills sponsored: 1

Bills passed: 1

Major legislation: Retired teachers who work as substitutes or part-time do not need to submit to background checks during the first year after their retirement.

Rep. Peter Myers, R-Sikeston

Bills sponsored: 10

Bills passed: 0

Rep. Lanie Black, R-Charleston

Bills sponsored: 8

Bills passed: 0

Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau

Bills sponsored: 29

Bills passed: 3

Major legislation passed: Bars the Missouri Development Finance Board and other state financing agencies from issuing bonds for projects when the legislature hasn't set aside money to pay the debt.

-- Rudi Keller


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