JEFFERSON CITY _ Missouri House Republicans are resorting to something that hasn't been done since the 1970s to get their legislation before the Democratic-controlled General Assembly.
Republicans, and a few dissident Democrats, have petitioned two pieces of key legislation _ workers compensation reform and an anti-abortion bill _ out of committee so that House members have a chance to hear them on the House floor.
As of Monday, Republican leaders were circulating petitions for four other bills. House Minority Floor Leader Mark Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, wouldn't specify which ones they were.
Missouri's constitution provides that a bill can be taken out of committee through a petition signed by one-third of the chamber's members.
But in the few times that procedure has been used in past, it's been an exercise in futility.
A bill taken from a committee is put on a special calendar. The Democratic leadership in the House decides when, if ever, the House goes to that calendar of business.
And the Speaker's top aid suggested it might be a while before the leadership would allow a House debate on those bills.
"All of the others (calendars) must be cleared before they get to that one," said Mark Ausmus.
Republicans are threatening a lawsuit if the Democrats don't allow debate on their bills.
"If they don't honor the petition, we'll bring it to the courts," said House Minority Floor Leader Zane Yates, R-Oakville.
And Yates suggested that Republicans would be using the petitioning process more.
"Unless they give us full access to the process without choosing their own agenda, we'll make more use of it," Yates said.
Richardson, the Republican leader, echoed Yates.
"We think these are very important issues of concern to the public and deserve a fair and full debate on the House floor," Richardson said.
Richardson, who is sponsoring the workers compensation legislation, said the Democratic committee chairmen either didn't give the bills a chance to be heard or to be heard fairly.
The chairman of the Workers Compensation Committee, Rep. Matt O'Neill, D-St. Louis, said the reason he hasn't scheduled a hearing for the workers compensation bill has nothing to do with partisanship or an attempt to crush the bill.
"I haven't had enough bills to have a hearing," O'Neill said. He said that once all the sponsors of workers compensation bills file for a hearing, the bill would be heard.
In order to petition a bill out of committee, at least 55 members must sign the petition.
Rep. Ron Keeven, R-St. Louis County, who is sponsoring the anti-abortion bill, said that Republicans are sending the right message by taking the petitioning route.
"At least we're letting the public know we're doing what we can and how things are operating under democratic leadership," Keeven said.
Keeven's anti-abortion bill would require a 24-hour waiting period for women who want abortions. The decision to start the petition came when Keeven said he was given only one day's notice before the bill's hearing.
The anti-abortion bill falls under the House Judiciary Committee's jurisdiction. Committee Chairman Gary Witt, D-Platte City, said that chairmen are supposed to give sponsors 24 hour notice of a hearing, which he did.
"We put out 24 hours notice, more than 24 hours notice," Witt said. "The sponsor was just upset that he wasn't given more time."
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