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By Phill Brooks
«RM75»«FC»COL221.PRB - Was I Ever Wrong about the Legislative Session
Earlier this year, I wrote how it seemed that the legislature was taking a less chaotic approach for 2016.
In my defense, there were indications of a more orderly process.
But golly, did the final weeks prove me wrong.
The biggest indication was the degree to which the lawmakers approved legislative behemoths that contained piles of topics unrelated to the original purpose of the bill.
Early in the session, the House speaker spoke about wishing to restrain bills to the original topic of the bill, as required by the state Constitution.
But that single-topic dream was abandoned as the legislature entered its final seeks.
For example, a simple little bill to create a council to advise palliative care ended up with issues involving helicopter pads at hospitals, health practitioner licensing, vaccination requirements, prescription eye drops, and a study group on dyslexia along with a number of other health-related issues that had nothing to do with palliative care.
Another bill sent to the governor started as a simple bill dealing with consolidation of county road districts.
The bill lawmakers sent the governor included St. Louis County sales tax distribution, nuisance ordinances in other counties, Revenue Department fee office charges as well as tax breaks for bed-and-breakfast inns and volunteer fire fighters.
The bill even includes a provision to let St. Louis airport passengers walk around the airport with booze in designated areas so long as the container has the bar's logo.
House Speaker Todd Richardson had warned me early in the session that if the Senate refused to act on House-passed bills, the chamber might have to resume bloating up bills with stuff the House already had passed, but was stalled in the Senate.
With the frequent filibusters in the Senate this year, a growing number of single-topic bills passed by the House were stalled in the Senate.
So, the House simply stuck the same bills into other measures sent to the Senate in an effort to force action.
But what about a legislator who supports the idea of road district consolidation as a budget-saving measure, but is not happy about the idea voting to let airline passengers walk around the airport with alcohol?
That's why the framers of Missouri's Constitution prohibited the legislature from passing these kind of bloated bills -- a position upheld by the courts that have struck down bills for covering more than one subject.
But legislative leaders face enormous pressure to find ways around Senate inaction when it endangers House-passed bills. Regardless of which party is in control, I've found a tendency for the quantity of bills passed to be cited as a measure of a legislative session's success.
Yet, I cannot recall a post-session legislative leadership news conference bragging about stopping the flood of special-interest bills pushed by various business and other special interests.
But there is another side to this story.
Maybe we long-term statehouse folks are too obsessed about the process rather than the ultimate legislative product that is produced that serves the public.
After all, is not improving the safety of helicopter landing spots at hospitals good public policy? What about paying more attention to students with dyslexia?
With the jammed lines in airports, maybe it's a legitimate policy issue to let a bar customer carry a drink into a waiting area.
What's more important -- process or product?
That's the question at the heart of a quote attributed to German Leader Otto von Bismark that "laws are like sausages. It's better not to see them being made."
Although a great quote, historians now dispute he ever said it.
Instead, that sentiment is attributed to a quote from lawyer-poet John Godfrey in 1869 that "laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in the proportion as we know how they are made."
Regardless of who first expressed the thought, it poses a question for both citizens and reporters as to what is more important in government -- process or product.
[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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