JEFFERSON CITY - For the last couple of weeks, you might have thought Missouri has become a unicameral legislature -- since there's been just one state legislative chamber actually passing bills at a rapid pace.
While the Senate has been working as normal, Republicans in Missouri's House are dragging their heels when it comes to the legislative process because they say the Democrats stepped on their toes.
On Feb. 24 the House Democrats shut off debate on a bill about what to do with the tobacco settlement funds. Not one of the 76 House Republicans was allowed to even offer an amendment to the bill.
"We were dealt a bad hand," said House Republican Floor leader Delbert Scott from Lowry City. "It deserved the fullest debate."
Since then Republicans have purposely slowed down the legislative process. Every bill that has reached the House floor, Republicans have extensively questioned and debated.
GOPers even have voted against the routine motion at the start of the day to approve the previous day's journal.
"It's playground activity," said Rep. Gracia Backer, D-New Bloomfield. "It's not what the people want us to do."
House Democratic Floor Leader Wayne Crump, from Potosi, sited examples when Republicans debated whether or not they could insert "a" into a bill, and the difference between the pronunciations of "the."
"There have been times when it was a very obvious slow down," he said.
But Republicans say that they are not stalling, but rather acting as any good government should by closely examining all the bills.
"Some people say it's a stall, but it's not at all," said House Republican Caucus Chairman Chuck Pryor from Versailles. "We're doing the legislative process the way it should be done."
However, Pryor does admit that for a few days after the Democrats shut off debate on the tobacco settlement, Republicans slowed down in the House.
"The first couple of days. we were obviously using stall tactics," Pryor said.
The only way that the Democrats can end the slow down is by calling for a previous question. This procedure ends all debate on a bill. They can use this if at least 82 members vote in favor. Currently the Democrats have just 83 members.
"We just don't have any members to spare," Crump said. "We don't want to use a previous question any more than we have to."
But the Republicans say their extensive scrutiny of every bill will continue until they adjourn in May.
"They've threatened to continue this through the rest of the session," Backer said. "They're making a farce out of the system."
It's more than just in-house politics. With only a few months in a legislative session, a deliberate slow down can kill legislation.
Among the issues facing lawmakers this year is a moratorium on the death penalty, tax cuts, stronger laws against drunken driving and restrictions on telemarketing.