Area legislators file bills to change Cape Girardeau County courthouse statute

Friday, January 28, 2011

State legislators from Cape Girardeau County have filed bills to change a law requiring the county to have courthouses in Jackson and Cape Girardeau.

Earlier this month, Sen. Jason Crowell spoke with county commissioners about the need to change the law from saying the circuit court "shall" hold court in the courthouses in Jackson and Cape Girardeau to "may" hold court. He said he would work in Jefferson City to amend the law, giving commissioners more flexibility when determining the future of the county's aging courthouses.

Commissioner Paul Koeper said it is a matter of having more options at their disposal and giving local officials control over local issues.

"To me, it should be our decision. It gives us the option to have one building or two buildings as we see the need," he said. "It's not a state decision. We're paying for the building, the upkeep. They're not. We should have the flexibility."

Presiding Commissioner Clint Tracy agreed that the law was an issue of local control and economics.

"Basically it's an unfunded mandate," he said.

Like Koeper, he said county money pays for the buildings and their upkeep. The county, not lawmakers in Jefferson City, he said, should determine how the money is spent.

Commissioner Jay Purcell had originally supported acquiring the former federal building in Cape Girardeau as a way to immediately address the courthouse issue. A change in the state law could help commissioners determine whether one courthouse is a better use of taxpayer money, he said.

"This is the start of a process. We couldn't start a dialogue without the laws in place to support it," he said. "The next step is a full analysis of providing county services in a cost-effective way," he said.

Purcell said streamlining government is important. Earlier this month he said a new, centralized courthouse could prevent duplication of services.

County officials are still unsure of the law's origins. Koeper said despite researching the law, he has never been given an answer as to why the law was written to require the county to hold court in the two cities.

"Whoever set it that way at first, why it was done, I can't seem to find out," he said.

Reps. Wayne Wallingford, Donna Lichtenegger, Ellen Brandom, Billy Pat Wright and Steve Hodges introduced House Bill 327, while Crowell filed Senate Bill 186 to change the wording of the statute.

cbartholomew@semissourian.com

243-8600

Pertinent address:

44 N. Lorimier St., Cape Girardeau, MO

100 Court St., Jackson, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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