Republican leaders streamline operations in House and Senate

Sunday, January 12, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- In the General Assembly, the committee is the front line of the legislative process.

After a bill is filed, it is assigned to a committee where it gets its first public airing. The handful of lawmakers serving on the committee decide whether the bill is worthy of being forwarded on to the full House or Senate for further debate.

A criticism in recent years, however, has been that their are too many committees, particularly in the larger House. To address that complaint, the number of panels is being scaled back.

The House is expected on Monday to enact new chamber rules that will eliminate 11 standing committees for a total of 31. The Senate last week cut four committees to leave it with 17.

Functions of previous committees that handled similar issues were consolidated. For example, the House previously had separate panels handling elementary and secondary education and higher education. Those panels will be replaced with a single education committee.

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, said the number of panels had steadily grown over the years as legislative leaders created more chairmanships to reward legislative supporters. Though he will have fewer plum assignments to hand out, Kinder said the changes will improve the process.

"By streamlining there will be fewer conflicts for senators with more than one committee meeting at the same time," Kinder said.

House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-Warson Woods, said the new committee structure will allow the 90 freshmen representatives to become specialists on a few issues instead of generalists on many.

New names as well

With Republicans in control of both chambers for the first time since 1948, several committees were renamed to reflect the philosophical shift in the legislature.

No longer is there a Labor Committee in either chamber. In the House, labor-related bills will be handled by either the Job Creation and Economic Development Committee or the Workplace Development and Workplace Safety Committee. Replacing the labor panel in the Senate is the Small Business, Insurance and Industrial Relations Committee.

Kinder said he isn't trying to send a political message to organized labor, a key Democratic constituency, or anyone else with the name changes, just taking a more expanded focus.

"Labor is a subset of the larger issue of industrial relations," Kinder said.

However, Hanaway is trying to convey a message.

"The changes are meant to tell people what we are doing and that we are changing priorities with the changing times," Hanaway said.

New rules

In addition to the committee changes, House Republicans have also proposed new rules that will govern how business is conducted on the chamber floor.

One will require that all proposed amendments to bills be submitted by the morning a particular piece of legislation is scheduled for debate. Traditionally, amendments have been drafted and introduced on the spur of the moment.

Also, the rule that requires a 24-hour waiting period between votes on the same bill will no longer be waived on the session's last day.

On the final day, lawmakers find dozens of encyclopedia-sized bills on their desks and have to vote without carefully reading the legislation. House Majority Floor Leader Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said that has too often resulted in bad laws.

Crowell said the new rules will smooth the process without hampering it.

"I don't see a wholesale change to the manner and scope of how we run the House," Crowell said.

Staff changes

When a new House speaker comes on board, it usually results in heavy turnover in top chamber staff positions -- especially when there is a shift in party control.

On Wednesday morning, before Republicans formally took over, Ted Wedel resigned as House chief clerk and took a job as Democratic Gov. Bob Holden's top lobbyist. Steven Davis, Hanaway's former chief of staff when she was minority leader, replaced Wedel.

However, another top House staffer -- communications director Jim Gardner -- was forced out and didn't take the news well. Gardner grew up in Puxico, Mo., and was a former journalist with several news outlets in Southeast Missouri. He also managed campaigns for several Democratic candidates before going to work for the state.

Gardner said Hanaway told him late Friday that his services were no longer required.

"No real justification was offered other than a vague, amorphous reference to 'time for a change,' which seemed nothing more than a thin facade used to disguise the real issue -- that of settling political scores and to create job openings for friends and cronies," Gardner said. "It seems she wants to personally contribute to Missouri's rising unemployment rate."

Quote of the week

"Mommy, you're a very good girl," Lucy Hanaway said when told Wednesday her mother would be sworn in as House speaker.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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