JEFFERSON CITY - In a surprise move, Gov. Mel Carnahan's early childhood care program became the first major measure to clear the legislature this session.
Proponents of the measure avoided the potentially time-consuming process of ironing out differences between the House and Senate versions when the House unexpectedly adopted and passed the Senate bill Tuesday. The bill cleared the Senate only one day earlier.
Normally, changes made to a major bill by the second chamber are resolved in a committee, sent back and approved by both chambers.
"We thought we had strong support," said Chris Sifford, Carnahan's spokesman. "We knew it was the right move."
Earlier in the day, Carnahan made a unusual appearance in the House chamber, where he huddled with lawmakers.
"Why quibble over small things?" asked Rep. Cindy Ostmann, R-St. Peters. Ostmann said the adopted version more accurately reflects the concerns of her party. "I do believe it's a better deal coming back from the Senate," she said.
Two amendments by Sen. Ken Jacob were among the changes. The Columbia Democrat, wanting to use the same casino revenue that would fund child care for his proposed college scholarship program, provided significant opposition to the bill. Jacob relented after the Senate agreed to fund his scholarship program and to pay for a study of Carnahan's child care program.
The bill passed by a comfortable margin of 94-61. Opposition to the bill came from those who believe the program would burden schools or otherwise argue schools should not be responsible for day care.
"There still is a responsibility of parents to take care of kids," said Rep. John Griesheimer, R-Washington. "The schools should not do this."
Griesheimer also said child care should not be addressed in what is essentially a veterans bill. Surplus gaming money now goes to veterans programs. Under the bill, some of the funds not used by these programs would go to Carnahan's child care program.
"Do we have a veterans bill, or do we have an early childhood care bill?" Griesheimer asked.
The $21 million program would provide care and education for pre-kindergarten children through public schools. Participation for schools would be voluntary.
Passage of the bill is a major coup for Carnahan. Early childhood care has been one of Carnahan's legislative priorities for this session. The bill appeared to be stalled last week in the Senate -- a particular problem because the legislative session ends May 15.
"It's a tremendous relief," Sifford said. "Some things can fall through the cracks."
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