Kinder allows name change bill to run course

Wednesday, February 4, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Supporters of changing the name of Southwest MissouriState Univeristy as a way to boost the school's profile have characterized it as being no big deal in terms of its impact on the state's higher education system.

And alongside other issues the Missouri Legislature will grapple with this year -- education funding, civil litigation reform and revising workers' compensation laws -- rechristening Southwest as simply Missouri State University is comparatively minor.

Yet as of 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Senate had spent 22 hours over four days debating the matter -- an amount of floor time usually expended only on legislation of paramount importance.

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau and the bill's sponsor, said the chamber would stay on the measure "as long as it takes" to overcome the solo filibuster being waged by Senate Minority Floor Leader Ken Jacob, D-Columbia.

"There is not fierce opposition around the state outside of a tiny core of people," Kinder said. "He's getting no help on this filibuster."

Kinder said the bill, which enjoys strong bipartisan support among lawmakers and the backing of Democratic Gov. Bob Holden, is worth the time the Senate is spending on it.

However, this early stage of the legislative session is usually dominated by the committee process with little time dedicated to floor debate.

Since committees can't meet when the Senate is in session, Jacob's filibuster -- and Kinder's decision to let it continue -- means hearings on bills have been canceled and legislation isn't being forwarded to the full chamber for consideration.

State Sen. Bill Foster, R-Poplar Bluff, said important bills before the Senate Education Committee, which he chairs, are being delayed by the time spent on the name change.

"I'm anxious to resolve this and get something productive done," Foster said.

The strategy of Senate GOP leaders, Foster said, is to wear down Jacob and force him to expend political capital on this issue in the hope that once the filibuster is broken, Jacob will be marginalized and less inclined to employ the tactic on more controversial issues.

"I'm not for sure that strategy is going to work," Foster said. "After filibustering this bill, he might filibuster the next 10 bills."

Sending a messageKinder acknowledged he is trying to send the Democratic leader a message.

"There is something to be said for setting the pattern for the session," Kinder said.

The test of wills between Kinder and Jacob, longtime adversaries, is made all the more interesting by the fact that both men are running for lieutenant governor this year.

Jacob has successfully killed the bill in previous years. As it always came before the Senate late in the legislative session when floor time is a precious commodity, Jacob needed to expend little effort to spike the measure.

In the House of Representatives, a majority of members often shuts down debate to force votes. That option is available to the Senate but by tradition rarely employed.

Until invoked last year to halt a filibuster on concealed weapons legislation, it hadn't been successfully used to close Senate debate since 1972. Kinder said he hoped not to call for cloture on his bill but didn't rule it out.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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