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Legislative academy would train freshman legislators

February 18, 2003
By: Valerie C. Green
State Capital Bureau
Links: SB 15

JEFFERSON CITY - In a year where more than half of the Missouri legislators are new to their post, a veteran senator has renewed his campaign for a system to educate freshman even faster.

Sen. Doyle Childers, R-Reeds Spring, has passed a bill through the Senate that would create a Legislator Academy for new members between their first and second sessions. The bill awaits a hearing in the House.

"With term limits now in full effect, we need a more effective way to orientate new members," Childers said.

It's the seventh year in a row Childers has sponsored the idea as a Senator. Before that, he'd been trying as a House member.

Concern for legislator training is stronger this year because 90 representatives and 12 senators are in their positions for the first time and some freshman say there are not enough senior members to go around.

It's a concern voiced by lobbyists, government workers and even some legislators themselves.

"We freshman are in the majority," Rep. Vicki Walker, D-Jackson County, said. "There are not enough veterans to go to for help. We can't even pair up with senior members as mentors."

Freshman orientation has typically been held shortly after the November election with two weeks of classes and a tour around the state. Childers's proposal would create an additional 12-week training session in the summer or fall between legislative sessions.

"New legislators have to absorb so much information in their first two weeks, its overwhelming," Childers said. "It will be better to give them more training after their first session."

The new program would allow the freshman to go through the process once so they can ask better questions and focus on the information they know they will need, Childers said.

A senior Democratic member, Rep. Bill Ransdall, D-Waynesville, said the additional training would be a good opportunity for new members.

"When we train them before session we can only tell them what to expect, but once they've gone through it for themselves for the first time, they know the areas where they still need help," Ransdall said.

Childers, who is a former teacher, is receiving opposition from two freshman House members who also have professional educational backgrounds.

Walker said she supports a "legislator's 101" class but does not want to extend the training wheels on members.

"If we are still in training mode, its like we can't be real legislators during our first session," said Walker, who was an educator of political candidates for the Women's Political Caucus before running for office. "The day after we are sworn in, we hit the ground running, we can't wait until after session to be fully trained."

Rep. Edgar Emery, R-Lamar, an educational consultant for businesses, said their was value in additional training, but said he thought it was moving in the wrong direction. He said he would rather simplify the process rather than training legislators on a complex state government.

"This academy would be putting a stamp of approval on a government bureaucracy," Emery said. "Government is too complicated now. We should figure out a way to simplify it down to our level."

A legislative oversight committee that estimates the cost of new programs has reported that the legislative academy will cost anywhere from $8,500 to $66,500 in the first year and between $3,000 and $119,000 in the second year.

But, Childers said the cost is minuscule compared to the value of creating a more effective legislature.

"This will create a more knowledgeable and better legislature," Childers said.