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House poised to vote on SMS name change

February 28, 2005
By: Ben Welsh
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - House lawmakers are poised to vote on a bill renaming Southwest Missouri State University.

A vote on the measure, which would dub the school Missouri State University, could come tomorrow when the time scheduled for debate is set to expire.

Passage of the bill, HB 285, would deliver the name change to the desk of Gov. Matt Blunt, who has made no secret of his desire to finalize it as soon as possible. The Republican majority in the House is under pressure to vote it through without any amendments. Any change would require the bill be sent back to the Senate, where Columbia Sen. Chuck Graham staged an all-night filibuster last month.

Graham's stalling technique was ultimately unsuccessful, halting at 6:30 a.m. after he was called off by University of Missouri President Elson Floyd. Graham did win several concessions, including language that clearly stats the change does not entitle Southwest to more money and prohibits it from seeking the same land-grant and research designations as Missouri. The bill which passed the Senate also bars the Springfield school from awarding graduate degrees in several fields already covered by Missouri, like medicine, architecture and law.

Besides granting the title of Missouri State, the bill would rename Missouri Western State College and Harris-Stowe State College as universities. It would also drop the "Joplin" from Missouri Southern State-Joplin.

Columbia's two Democratic representatives, Jeff Harris and Judy Baker, tried to sidetrack the bill Monday by joining other Democrats in proposing a series of amendments.

Baker suggested turning the issue over to the voters in the form of a ballot measure. Harris argued in favor of requiring Blunt to restore the funds he ordered withheld from state colleges last week before the change could be made. Both failed to win approval.

While several Republicans rose to voice concerns about the bill, none offered any improvements.

Earlier in the day, Rep. Mark Wright (R-Springfield) filed an alternative bill to the one before the House.

Wright's bill, HB 655, would legally prevent any school from receiving a funding increase of a higher percentage than the average of the increases given to all other state schools. He said the cap would appease the fears of those who think a new name for Southwest could lead to a higher demand for funding in the future.

Despite his concerns about the wording of the current bill, Wright said he would not present the measures as an amendment.

"If it's amended on the floor, then it goes back to the Senate and we don't want to do that," he said.

Should the issue return to his chamber, Graham did not rule out the possibility of another filibuster.

"If Wright thinks this bill can be improved upon he should offer [his ideas] as amendments," Graham said. "You'd think Rep. Wright would want to get it right."