Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
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By Phill Brooks
«RM75»«FC»«MDBO»COL087.PRB - Legislative Leaders and Term Limits«MDNM»
One of the trends in Missouri's legislature from term limits has been the growing power of legislative leaders.
It's the exact opposite that had been suggested by some term-limit supporters -- that kicking out long-time legislators also would remove leaders who had held dominating power for years.
But the resulting large blocks of lawmakers with limited understanding of government history or the legislative process has virtually necessitated increased power in their leaders to avoid chaos.
Many legislators lack an historical perspective needed to understand the background of legislation. It takes years to develop the skill to quickly scan an amendment and understand what it does.
To address that problem, House rules now prohibit offering an amendment to a bill in the middle of a House debate.
Instead, the amendment must be filed at least one day early to give members time to read and study it.
This year, the House adopted rules creating a set of super committees of more senior members to review the recommendations of the lower-level committees.
Those first-level committees are even banned from offering full substitutes for a bill.
I'm still unsure whether this new approach has worked or has just added a new level of legislative bureaucracy.
But it definitely has diminished the influence of freshman lawmakers.
Another change has been the near absolute power legislative leaders have been granted to decide which bills get debated in the chamber and which will die.
Before term limits, bills had be taken up in the order in which they were reported out of committee -- a list of bills called a calendar.
That gave even a freshman the opportunity to get early chamber consideration if the lawmaker had the skills to win early committee approval for a bill.
The calendar also empowered committee chairs to decide which bills in their subject areas were debated first in the chamber.
Now, however, the House pays no attention to the order of bills on the calendar. The House majority leader picks what will be debated.
In the Senate, the rules still recognize calendar order, but members routinely agree to put their bills aside with almost no resistance.
In the closing weeks of this year's session, nearly 100 bills awaiting debate were laid aside at the leadership's request.
Those bills can be brought up later at the discretion of the leadership. But far more were "laid over" than there will be time to consider.
In earlier years, a sponsor agreeing to put a bill aside sometimes would insist on a promise to return to the bill.
But in the era of term limits, there's no assurance of such an agreement. "There are no guarantees in this room," was the response from the Senate's majority leader when one bill sponsor asked for a promise to return to his bill if he laid it aside.
To be fair, in the old days not every senator used the power of calendar order for high-principled public policy. Maybe it would be the promise for a prime committee assignment in the next year, a bigger budget to remodel the legislator's office or a reserved parking spot in the Capitol basement.
There is another component to this story.
One of the factors contributing to expanded legislative power involves the failure of legislators to work out compromises before a bill is brought up for chamber debate.
Those private discussions and agreements avoided hours of wasted debate time in the Senate.
But now with so many bills awaiting debate for which agreements have not been reached, it almost requires giving legislatve leaders power to pick and choose which bills are brought up for debate.
Otherwise, it could become a legislative quagmire.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.]
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