Few days are left for approval of bills in legislature

Sunday, May 9, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- As the 2004 legislative session enters its final week, just 116 of the more than 1,800 bills filed in the last four-plus months have been sent to Democratic Gov. Bob Holden for his consideration. Of those 116 bills, 92 cleared the legislature on Thursday and Friday.

Dr. Rick Althaus, a political science professor at Southeast Missouri State University, said the system is purposely designed to make enacting new laws difficult in order to put a brake on government.

"The main idea is to make sure government didn't do anything that didn't have broad consensus in society," Althaus said.

By the time the closing bell rings at 6 p.m. Friday, 200-plus bills could be sitting on the governor's desk, using recent legislative productivity as a guide.

High-profile bills still awaiting final action by the Republican-led legislature include omnibus bills related to education standards and transportation regulations, foster-care reform, the governor's job creation plan and a proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution defining marriage as being between one man and one woman.

State Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, said he has been assured the Senate will pass his version of the same-sex marriage ban, which has already cleared the House.

"Every senator I've talked to about it says there won't be any problems; they're going to get it done," Engler said.

If approved by both chambers, it would go on either the August or November ballots, as determined by Holden, for a ratification vote.

Apparently in trouble is a bill sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, to sell $372.5 million in bonds for capital improvements at public higher education institutions, including Southeast Missouri State University. The Senate has given the measure first-round approval but a second vote is needed to send it to the House, where Speaker Catherine Hanaway is pessimistic about its future.

"It would be difficult to pass it in the House," said Hanaway, R-Warson Woods. "I don't know that the votes are there on either side of the aisle."

Dead issue

Already dead is the year's top Republican priority -- so-called tort reform. The bill, which Holden vetoed last month, sought to overhaul Missouri's civil justice system by limiting where lawsuits could be filed and lowering caps on financial damages for pain and suffering awards in medical malpractice cases, among other provisions. Holden said the measure would have tilted the scales of justice in favor of corporate defendants without solving the real problem of rising medical malpractice insurance rates for doctors.

Although Hanaway initially vowed the House would attempt to override the veto before adjourning for the year, she said Friday that she was unsure the effort would take place as supporters are well short of mustering the two-thirds majority needed to overrule the governor.

A companion bill that would limit the rates by which insurance companies could raise malpractice premiums is poised for final votes by each chamber. However, passage could mean nothing due to an unusual provision.

"It's tied to a bill that's already been vetoed -- the tort bill," said Senate Minority Floor Leader Ken Jacob, D-Columbia. "I can't imagine what they're thinking."

The insurance bill specifies that it won't take effect unless the tort proposal becomes law. Republicans included the provision as incentive for Holden to sign the latter measure.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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