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Lawmakers File Record Number of Bills

March 21, 2002
By: Robert Sandler
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - They may be leaving, but they're not giving up.

Despite the budget mess that is bogging down the legislative process and term limits that will send nearly half of Missouri's lawmakers home, legislators have blown past the record for the number of bills introduced in one session.

Through the close of business on Thursday, the House bill room reported that 1,875 bills had been filed. House members can keep filing bills through Friday, but the Senate deadline already passed.

Last year, the legislature dealt with 1,700 bills. The old record was set in 2000, when 1,717 bills were introduced.

The overabundance of legislation comes despite term limits that will knock out 85 of the state's 197 lawmakers, keeping them from pursuing these ideas next year, in addition to this year's budget crisis that threatens to derail any idea that costs money.

Rep. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, said most bills won't even have a chance to pass.

"Any bill that has a significant fiscal note has already been deemed dead because of the budget problems," he said. "But I think there are a lot of people who view this as their last chance to make a statement on something they think would be good public policy. And the most thoughtful way in which they do that is by filing a bill."

Many lawmakers file bills that they know won't get to a vote, Bartle said.

"The hope for many of these members is that they put all their ideas out there and that some day, somebody will take up their bill and run with it."

Sen. Morris Westfall, R-Halfway, is among the Senate members with the most bills filed. When one of his bills was up for debate in a committee meeting he said, "I never would have introduced that bill if it wasn't for term limits." He later dismissed the remark as an off-hand joke, but did not dispute the idea.

"It's easier to file a bill that you don't support when you're term-limited," he said.

In the past, Westfall has led the fight against raising taxes for transportation. But this year, he has changed his tune, and is advocating sending the issue to the voters. But he doesn't credit his new position to term limits.

"I don't really credit it. I can't say it hasn't made it easier, but I'd like to think I'd do the right thing regardless. And to me, the right thing is to put it on the ballot and let the people decide."

Even on other issues, Westfall said he doesn't see term limits as affecting how lawmakers conduct business.

"I really don't see a nickel's worth of effect of term limits," Westfall said. "There may be some people that are introducing bills because it's their last chance, but nobody's made that statement to me."

Term limits make this the last House session for Rep. Craig Hosmer, D-Springfield. But he said that has not changed what he sees as his duty as a lawmaker.

"I think your main job up here is if you think things need to be changed, you offer legislation to help make those changes," Hosmer said.

Contrast that philosophy with that of Rep. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, who introduced her first bill of the session just last week.

"There just isn't any glaring thing that has been brought to me that needs correction," she said. "I would think that with about 2,000 bills filed, we have them all pretty much covered."

Hosmer is among the leaders in bills filed, with more than 40. He said he has been introducing bills that failed in the past and that he wants to see the House pass this year.

"The problem is there are only two Democrats (in the state House who represent) the entire 7th Congressional district, so I end up inheriting a lot of legislation," Hosmer said. The other Democrat in that area is House Speaker Jim Kreider, D-Nixa. That means they work together on a variety of issues, Hosmer said.

"It's also a lot of things that come up after spending 12 years in the legislature," Hosmer said.

He offers many bills every session, and he has a pretty good success rate, he said.

Ridgeway typically doesn't sponsor many bills, largely because Democratic leadership refuses to let them come to a vote, she said. But certain issues still draw her attention. And on those issues, she said she doesn't dare file a bill under her own name. She uses what she calls "stealth tactics" to see her issues brought to the forefront.

"I've either gotten other people to file things I'm interested in, or they're already filed because they're leftovers from last year," she said. "If I'm interested in a bill, pretty much no one on the Democratic side is going to know about it. I don't care who gets the credit, I just want to see it done."

Term limits also will keep Ridgeway from seeking another term in the House. Even though this will be her last term, she said she is still committed to her duties as a legislator.

"I don't sense any difference in what I'm doing this year over what I was doing last year," she said. "I get a lot of things done that I want done. As long as you don't care who gets the credit, you can pass legislation that you're interested in."

Bartle echoed Ridgeway's comments.

"By throwing the ideas out there, you hope that somebody else will pick up on it and carry the torch," Bartle said. "There just aren't many Republican bills that make it to the floor of the House."