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Legislative session begins with partisan warfare

January 07, 2004
By: Sara Bondioli
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Words of bipartisanship and compromise quickly gave way to criticism and demands on the opening day of Missouri's 2004 legislative session.

In her opening remarks, House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-St. Louis County, offered her hand to the governor in apology and cooperation.

"Last year, I stood here and in a confontational tone told the governor a list of things he better not do," she said. "Amazingly, he chose not to take all my advice. This year ... I have no advice for you, but I am extending a hand. Let's leave last year's fights to last year."

But she continued by criticizing the governor's veto of a number of issues from last year and highlighting them as her priorities for this session.

The same approach was taken in the opening speech by Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau. He spoke of bipartisan cooperation before criticizing the governor's proposed budget from last year.

"It would be nice if on every issue we could hold hands and get in a circle around the campfire and sing kumbaya, but sometimes that is not possible," Kinder said following the day's session.

The absence of harmony in the Senate started when Senate Democratic Floor Leader Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, raised an objection to adopting the Senate rules at the start of the session.

At a post-session news conference, House Democratic Floor Leader Rick Johnson, D-High Ridge, criticized Republicans for abandoning crucial and difficult budget decisions last year. Johnson said his party intends to work with the Republicans, but he will "respond appropriately" to issues that incite him.

"We will not sacrifice the best interests of the state of Missouri -- working families and small businesses -- on the altar of bipartisanship," he said.

The Republicans' main priorities for the session include limits on lawsuit damage awards and foster care -- prominent issues from last year that were vetoed by the governor. Hanaway expressed hope that the legislature and the governor will compromise on the issues to turn them into law this year.

The budget situation is also similar to last year. As the session opened, the legislature and governor still disagreed on how much money the state has to spend. Republican leaders remain opposed to tax increases while there is no indication that the governor is backing off his call for tax increases of hundreds of millions of dollars.

However, Hanaway said the focus of the session would be on issues besides the budget. She argued that the budget proposed by the governor last year and that which was signed into law had a difference of only 1.1 percent.

"Missourians really do care what happens with that other 98.9 percent," she said. "That's what we're going to focus on."