Delay on gay marriage ban may be political maneuver

Sunday, April 25, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- At the outset of the this year's legislative session, a proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriages seemed to be a slam dunk for quick passage by the Missouri Legislature.

Republicans, who control both legislative chambers, made the proposal a top priority, and the Senate passed its version 26-6 on March 1.

The House of Representatives followed suit in granting first-round approval of its own measure several weeks later. While a second vote typically follows within days of preliminary passage, the House sat on the proposal until Thursday, when it was sent to the Senate on a 132-23 vote.

Although just three weeks remain in the session, plenty of time remains for lawmakers to grant final approval to one of the measures. But considering the overwhelming support, the delay has been puzzling.

One possible explanation is that Republican leaders are biding their time to ensure the measure is decided by Missouri voters in November rather than August.

Amendments to the Missouri Constitution require voter ratification and by default go on the next November general election ballot after approval by the legislature. However, the governor has the constitutional option of setting a sooner election date.

The measure would define marriage as being only between a man and a woman, strengthening an existing state law to that effect.

Since social conservatives -- a key Republican constituency -- are expected to turn out in droves should the question go on the ballot, the shrewd political move for Democratic Gov. Bob Holden would be to set the measure to coincide with the Aug. 3 party primaries.

Although the legislative session will conclude May 14, the official adjournment date is May 30. During the interim, the presiding officers of the House and Senate fulfill the ministerial function of signing bills passed during the final days of the session so they can be formally forwarded to the governor for his consideration.

If House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-Warson Woods, and Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, wait until after May 25 to sign the gay marriage proposal, the deadline for placing it on the August ballot will have passed.

If the question is decided in November, a strong turnout by conservatives could give Republicans an advantage in head-to-head contests with Democrats for governor, other statewide offices and legislative seats.

Property takings bill diluted

Tighter restrictions on the ability of local governments to use the power of eminent domain have been dropped from a bill intended to crack down on abuses of the authority.

Eminent domain allows governments to seize property needed for a public purpose, such as road construction. However, some local officials use the power to take property from a private owner in order to give it to another private party, usually for commercial development.

While he believes the free market should govern in such situations, state Rep. Merrill Townley, R-Chamois, said such restrictions encountered too much opposition, forcing him to remove them from legislation the House debated last week.

"We saw right away that was way more than we could get our arms around," Townley said.

The remaining provisions of Townley's bill would provide unwilling sellers with more due process in eminent domain proceedings.

Mr. Speaker

Among Capitol old-timers who remember the dictatorial days of former House Speaker Bob Griffin, one of the worst insults you can throw at someone who isn't actually serving in the post is to call them "Mr. Speaker."

At the close of a contentious debate on tort reform Thursday in which Democratic Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell, the Senate's presiding officer, and Republican leaders clashed heatedly over the interpretation of chamber rules, state Sen. Jim Mathewson made a "Mr. Speaker" crack that brought audible gasps from those present.

After Maxwell took umbrage at the apparent comparison to Griffin's iron-fisted rule, Mathewson, D-Sedalia, quickly apologized, explaining that he intended make a point that the whole Senate on that day had devolved to become less respectful of decorum like the House. Mathewson added that he had no gripes with Maxwell's handling of the situation.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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