Lawmakers introduce election reform bills in both houses

Sunday, January 20, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A special Senate committee recommended reforms to Missouri elections laws last week that attempt to address problems reported during the 2000 general elections.

The proposals include instituting provisional voting procedures, granting the secretary of state subpoena power to investigate election irregularities and authorizing the attorney general to prosecute voter fraud.

Election reform legislation has been introduced in both the Senate and House of Representatives. State Sen. Anita Yeckel, R-St. Louis County, is handling the Senate bill.

"I believe our recommendations provide solutions to the major problems that took place in the recent elections," Yeckel said.

Allegations of fraud were reported in St. Louis during the 2000 cycle, and the Florida recount debacle in that year's presidential race also brought to light problems in Missouri.

The Senate panel held hearings around the state this fall, including one in Cape Girar-deau, to gather input from the public and local elections officials on how improvements could be made.

Provisional voting was one change suggested by Cape Girardeau County Clerk Rodney Miller during the hearings. The procedure would allow persons whose voter registration is questioned to cast ballots. Such ballots would be set aside pending verification of each person's legal registration. Ballots determined to be illegally cast would be discarded.

GOP priorities

Election reform is among the legislative priorities outlined by House Republicans last week. Other GOP goals include dividing gambling revenue evenly among local schools on a per-pupil basis and reforming property tax assessment procedures.

The latter issue encompasses freezing property taxes for low-income senior citizens, banning so-called "drive-by" inspections of property, capping assessment increases and putting the burden of proof on county assessors in tax appeals.

House Minority Floor Leader Catherine Hanaway of Warson Woods was critical of Democratic leadership for not promising the full House would debate these matters. House Speaker Jim Kreider of Nixa said the chamber's first priority is to fully fund the formula that distributes state aid to local school districts and will pursue other topics only when that job is done.

Elderly protection

Kreider and state Rep. Craig Hosmer, D-Springfield, last week announced their proposed Protection of the Elderly Act.

The bill would consolidate existing elder abuse statutes into a single chapter of law, as well as provide for more cooperation between various state and local agencies that investigate abuse allegations. It would also raise training standards for nursing home workers.

"By taking these proactive steps, I believe we can effectively make abuse of our senior citizens a rare occurrence in Missouri," Hosmer said.

This will be Hosmer's third time sponsoring the bill. On both previous occasions it cleared the House but died in the Senate.

Embryo discrimination

The controversial issues of gender discrimination and government involvement in human reproduction unite under a bill introduced by state Rep. Mike Reid, R-Hazelwood.

Reid proposes banning the gender-based selection of fertilized human embryos for implantation.

"Is it permissible for parents to decide on the gender of their child?" Reid asked. "What are the societal implications if we allow people to make those decisions?"

Reid said he believes his bill is the first of its kind in the nation, but needed because advances in genetic and reproductive technology are outpacing ethical and legal guidelines.

Out of the House

On just the third workday of the 2001 legislative session, a second St. Louis Democrat resigned from the House.

State Rep. Maida Coleman, a special election candidate for a vacant Senate seat, stepped down Monday so Gov. Bob Holden could call another special election as soon as possible to name her replacement.

Because St. Louis is heavily Democratic, Coleman is a virtual lock to win the Feb. 5 election to replace state Sen. Paula Carter, D-St. Louis. Carter died of cancer in November.

Coleman is a Sikeston native.

Her departure leaves three House vacancies, all last held by St. Louis city Democrats. The openings will be filled after elections on March 5 and March 26. In the meantime, House Democrats will have 84 votes, just two more than needed to pass legislation.

State Rep. Louis Ford resigned on the second day of session to pave the way for his son to replace him. Harry Kennedy left the House in December after winning a Senate seat.

Doctor of the Day

Dr. Reno Cova Jr. of Cape Girardeau served as the General Assembly's Doctor of the Day on Wednesday.

Cova, a neurosurgery specialist, currently practices in general care at MedStop One in Cape Girardeau.

The Doctor of the Day program is sponsored by the Missouri State Medical Association. Physicians from around the state volunteer to serve. Although largely ceremonial, the doctor is expected to respond to medical emergencies.

This was Cova's fourth stint as Doctor of the Day. Cova's last visit to the Capitol came at the end of a legislative session when many lawmakers were run down and feeling poor.

"This time I brought a sack of medicine for those who might get sick, and nobody needed anything," Cova said.

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