JEFFERSON CITY _ Although they're still the minority party in Missouri's legislature, Republican issues have dominated the first few weeks of this year's legislative agenda.
GOP-sponsored bills _ such as welfare reform, worker's compensation and health care reform _ are among the first bills to be heard by legislative committees this year.
The order in which legislation comes before committee is chosen by committee chairmen _ all of whom are Democrats. The sooner legislation is heard, the better the chances for bill's passage in the legislature.
Normally, Republican bills rarely see the light of day in the House.
But this year, with Republicans holding more House seats than they have in decades, things are different.
House Assistant Minority Leader Zane Yates, R-Oakville, said that putting Republican legislation first on many committees' agendas was House Speaker Bob Griffin's attempt to make it look like Democrats are giving Republicans better treatment.
And, according to Democratic lawmakers, Griffin did instruct them to be more nonpartisan when picking what bills come before committees.
``The Speaker has told the chairmen not to pass over bills just because they're Republican bills,'' said Assistant Democratic Floor Leader Wayne Crump.
Crump said that since there are more Republicans in the General Assembly than there have been for years, Democrats have been instructed to give them more time.
And that's what House Social Services Committee Chairman Bill Boucher said he did when he scheduled just two GOP-sponsored bills for his committee's first hearing of the year.
One was the GOP plan to restrict welfare and the other would deny government services to illegal aliens.
``I realize that people on both sides of the aisle have legitimate concerns or legitimate bills and should have equal access,'' said Boucher, D-Kansas City.
But Boucher said that the Republican bills were heard first because they were turned in to him first. It was, he said, nothing political.
Despite the better treatment, not every Republican thinks it means all that much.
GOP leader Yates called it nothing more than an illusion.
``To this date they haven't put any bills out of committees,'' Yates said. ``I've heard Democrats say they don't want Republican legislation to make it past committees.''