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Democrats skip collective bargaining hearing
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Three Democrats appointed to serve on a special Senate committee investigating Gov. Bob Holden's executive order on collective bargaining for state workers boycotted the panel's first meeting Thursday.
While several Democratic senators branded the committee a "witch hunt," state Sen. Danny Staples, D-Eminence, refused to characterize it as such. However, Staples still refused to participate.
"This is not the way I think the Missouri Senate should conduct business, so I don't want any part of this committee," Staples said.
Staples was annoyed that Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, named him and Democratic Sens. Ed Quick of Liberty and Wayne Goode of Normandy to the committee without consulting them in advance. Staples said that was a violation of traditional senatorial courtesy.
Kinder picked the Democratic members after Quick, the Senate minority floor leader, refused to name members from his party. Kinder said Quick's refusal was a violation of Senate tradition.
Opponents to Holden's June 29 order contend the governor usurped legislative authority in granting collective bargaining rights to approximately 30,000 state employees. During the past 30 years, lawmakers have repeatedly rejected legislation granting such rights.
Wrong place, says Staples
Staples said he isn't sure Holden's order is legal but that the special committee isn't best suited to decide that question.
"I think it shall be and should be tested in court," Staples said.
The committee's four Republican members expressed disappointment that their Democratic colleagues didn't show up.
However, the harshest comments were directed at members of Holden's staff, who declined to testify before the committee.
"For some reason they want to play games," said state Sen. John T. Russell, R-Lebanon and committee chairman. "I don't like game playing."
Russell said the committee is considering seeking subpoena power to compel the testimony of Julie Gibson, the governor's chief of staff, and perhaps others. GOP senators had hoped
to question Gibson about a letter written to her by a prominent labor attorney that detailed the contents of Holden's eventual order. The letter was dated three weeks before Holden took office.
Gibson gave her reasons for not attending the hearing in a two-page statement.
"This request is both inappropriate and unprecedented," Gibson said. "Prior to the formulation of this committee, there was a mutual respect between the legislative and executive branches of government regarding the manner in which each branch develops policy. Unfortunately, several Republican legislators are attempting to erode this mutual respect by creating a forum for the sole purpose of investigating legitimate acts by the executive branch."
Gibson also called on GOP lawmakers to respect the constitutional separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government.
Ironically, an attorney who testified before the committee said Holden's order violated the separation of powers.
Grounds for court action
Springfield attorney Donald W. Jones, who specializes in labor and employment law, presented a 43-page report specifying grounds on which the order may be challenged in court.
Jones bolstered Republican arguments that Holden exercised authority belonging solely to the General Assembly in issuing the order. Jones also said several elements of the order conflicted with state statutes.
The subject of collective bargaining came up earlier in the day during debate before the full Senate, which is convened in a special session called by Holden to deal with issues unrelated to his executive. The discussion led to several heated exchanges.
State Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, blasted Kinder for his tactics.
Kinder said that such a drastic shift in state policy demanded a thorough examination of the facts by the Legislature, which was his purpose in creating the committee. Kinder said a court challenge of the order could result from the panel's work.
Quick, who rejected his appointment on the committee, said special session was not the time for this debate in that it was distracting senators from the issues at hand.
"Let's go ahead with our business and then you can have your little witch hunt or whatever you want to call it," Quick said.
The committee is expected to meet again next week.