Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Lobbyist Money Help
By Mark D. Hughes
«RM75»«FC»COL14.MDH - It Takes Two to Tango in the Missouri General Assembly
The idiom "it takes two to tango" dates to a popular song recorded by Pearl Bailey in 1952. But in the more arcane arena of law and policy, the concept of two-to-tango goes at least as far back as the 13th century with the formation of England's House of Lords and House of Commons.
In crafting a government representing equal men free from the titles or royalty, the framers of the U.S. Constitution seized on the two-legislative-chambers model to brilliantly give each state equal representation in the U.S. Senate and population-based representation in the House of Representatives.
All but one state has the two-chambered system, although both chambers are apportioned on the basis of population. Nebraska is the only state with just one chamber.
Regardless, it takes two to tango in the legislative branch of government. This has has been demonstrated repeatedly in the past. In the early '90s, a major healthcare bill the government had developed with the House speaker was charging full speed ahead in a legislature widely dominated by Democrats.
But the measure, the Carnahan-Griffin Health Care Act, slowed considerably when it hit the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, which was chaired by state Sen. J.B. "Jet" Banks, D-St. Louis. After much pleading, wheedling and compromising, the bill emerged from the committee... as the Banks-Carnahan-Griffin Health Care Act.
Yet, the concept of two-to-tango is much deeper than just names in the legislative chambers. For any bill to pass, the bill must be agreed-to in identical form by both the Senate and House. No exceptions.
After last year's debacle in which the speaker of the Missouri House resigned during the final week of the session after inappropriate text messages to an intern became public -- and later a Senate Democrat resigned under a similar cloud -- the new House speaker declared ethics reform a priority.
A bundle of ethics bills, including measures that would require increased conflict-of-interest reports, faster disclosures of lawmaker junkets and establish a one-year cooling-off period before lawmakers could become lobbyists, screamed through a House committee in record time.
Things slowed a bit as the bills hit the floor, but the House did send them to the Senate earlier than most advancing bills.
In the Senate, the ethics measure cleared committee and moved to the floor, where the Senate stripped out the one-year moratorium between legislative service and becoming a lobbyist.
The Senate version would prohibit lawmakers for soliciting jobs as lobbyists while they are in office. And, there's a moratorium for those who quit office earlier -- they have to wait a year after their term would have expired before they could become lobbyists.
One Senator noted that nothing in the legislation addressed the scandals that triggered the push for ethics reform.
That same week, another representative resigned after being asked to do so by the House speaker. Details are murky, but allusions were made by the speaker to issues stemming from last year's resignations by lawmakers.
The House has the authority to determine the qualifications of its members within the parameters, such as residency and minimum age set out in law.
The speaker can ask anyone to resign for any reasons. But one House member -- even the speaker -- doesn't have the authority to overturn the will of the voters in a legislative district. Because the representative in question here resigned, at least one ethical sidebar was avoided.
Now both chambers have acted -- differently -- on legislation to close the revolving door between lawmakers and lobbyists. To pass, differences must be worked out in a conference committee of both senators and representatives.
And, both chambers must still, in the wake of another resignation under a cloud of impropriety, agree to identical versions of a bill before it can be truly agreed to and finally passed.
The idiom "it takes two to tango" can be a metaphor for many things -- including how a bill gets passed in the Missouri General Assembly.
[After a career in journalism, Mark Hughes became a top, non-partisan policy analyst for Missouri government including the state Senate, state Treasurer's Office and the utility-regulating PSC. He has been an observer and analyst of state government since the administration of Gov. Kit Bond.]
Missouri Digital News is produced by Missouri Digital News, Inc. -- a non profit organization of current and former journalists.