Holden shows strong form in annual budget address

Sunday, January 19, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Gov. Bob Holden's first State of the State address two years ago had all the components of a campaign speech -- long on broad goals but short on a specific agenda.

But with Missouri mired in what some have called the state's worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, Holden delivered a much different speech last week.

With a detailed plan for filling a $1 billion hole in the next state budget, Holden provided what some observers felt was his best example of leadership to date.

Though not agreeing with everything the governor had to say, even House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-Warson Woods, gave the Democrat credit for laying out "a bold plan for this legislative session."

In addition to explaining his budget, Holden outlined proposals to improve the state foster-care system, which has been vilified for continuing failures in recent months, and to protect senior citizens from abuse in nursing homes.

He also talked about steps to stimulate Missouri's faltering economy, though Republicans were disappointed his 50-minute address included no mention of pro-business legislation dear to their hearts such as workers' compensation reform and shielding companies from "frivolous" lawsuits.

Despite making clear his overall agenda, a number of questions about the specifics remain, including what is the "Plan B" should the GOP-controlled Legislature not heed his call for new taxes.

Most of those questions went unasked at the governor's post-State of the State news conference, which traditionally has lasted for the better part of an hour. After fielding inquiries for a mere 10 minutes, Holden abruptly turned around and left the room.

With a $19.2 billion state budget proposal, that came to about $1.9 billion per minute.

Rule change changed

The new GOP majority in the House of Representatives promised new chamber rules aimed at streamlining the legislative process. One major proposed change, however, was dropped when the rules were formally adopted last week.

That rule would have required amendments to legislation to be submitted to House leaders in advance instead of on the fly while a bill is being debated. The change was intended to cut down on poorly drafted or obstructionist amendments.

However, the massive freshman class was concerned the restriction would prove a disadvantage since its members haven't yet become skilled at working the process.

"Our 90 new freshmen had their say on that one," Hanaway said. "They thought it might make it more difficult for them on the floor."

'Aye' ... I mean 'nay'

It will be more difficult for members to change their votes under a rule the House did adopt.

Traditionally, members who voted one way -- or not at all -- could change or register their vote days later, so long as their action didn't change the outcome. There will now be much less leeway.

Unlike in the Senate, where no changes are allowed once the vote is tallied, representatives can still alter how they are recorded. However, they must do it before the House adjourns for the day.

If they want to change the record later, they must sign an affidavit under penalty of perjury that they were in the chamber the day the vote took place.

Southeast clout

Southeast Missouri lawmakers will have a significant say on issues such as agriculture, education and criminal law as chairmen of legislative committees.

State Rep. Peter Myers, R-Sikeston, was named chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. Myers was an assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the Reagan administration.

State Sen. Bill Foster, R-Poplar Bluff, will step down as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee to lead the Senate Education Committee. Foster will continue to serve on the agriculture panel.

State Rep. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, will chair the House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee.

State Rep. Lanie Black, R-Charleston, will lead the Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Committee, which reviews the budgets of those two departments.

House Majority Floor Leader Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, takes charge of two panels -- rules and ethics. Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, also heads a pair of committees -- administration and gubernatorial appointments.

True veterans

Thanks to term limits, most House veterans -- if they can be called that -- had no more than six years of service under their belts prior to the current legislative session.

However, the chamber still has five members to whom the term can accurately be applied. Those true veterans served in the House prior to voter enactment of term limits in 1992 -- time that doesn't count toward the eight-year per chamber cap --and later returned.

The dean of the House, state Rep. Merrill Townley, R-Chamois, begins his 19th year. He served from 1983 to 1995, sat out a term and returned in 1997.

Next senior is state Rep. Tom Villa, D-St. Louis, who enters his 13th year. Villa was in the House from 1975 to 1985, spending the final four years of his first stint as majority leader. He came back in 2001.

Two members are in their 11th years -- Minority Floor Leader Mark Abel, D-Festus, and state Rep. Todd Smith, R-Sedalia. Abel returned in 1999 after previously serving from 1985 to 1991. Smith's original tenure spanned from 1985 to 1995. He is a "freshman" on his second go-round.

Another pseudo-freshman is state Rep. Bob Johnson, R-Lee's Summit. While only in his fifth lifetime year in the House, Johnson starts his 20th in the General Assembly.

Johnson was in the House from 1975 until 1979, when he moved to the Senate. He spent 15 years in the upper chamber.

With his party holding a comfortable 90-seat majority, Johnson said his second tour of duty begins much differently than the first.

"The last time I was in the House, we had 45 Republican members," Johnson said. "When it came to legislation, the other side never even talked to us."

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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