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Democrats adjourn Senate, anger Republicans

April 21, 2004
By: Sara Bondioli
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - With Republican senators out of the chamber during floor debate Wednesday, four Democrats snatched control and adjourned for the day to prevent debate on a bill to limit liability lawsuit awards.

The move angered Republicans -- and some Democrats -- who said it violated Senate customs and traditions. Sen. Wayne Goode, D-St. Louis County, was one of those offended by the move.

"It's perhaps the greatest breach of trust I have seen in the Senate in the 42 years I have been in the General Assembly," he said.

Goode said the call for adjournment is a sign of the move toward more partisanship in the state Senate -- something he believes Missourians don't want.

While Democrats were able to exercise power with the call for adjournment today, the minority party may have a more difficult time getting its voice heard in the remaining 3 1/2 weeks of the session.

Republicans said they are more likely to use a procedural move to shut off debate and force an immediate vote on a bill. Traditionally this is not done in the Senate, happening only a handful of times in its history.

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, said Republicans will move to shut off debate for a vote as often as is needed.

"The majority will respond, as any majority would, to move the agenda -- and that will now happen with dispatch," he said.

Senate Minority Leader Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, said he gave Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, a note saying to move to adjourn if all Republicans left the chamber at any point. Jacob said he suggested the call for adjournment in order to delay the lawsuit legislation. Jacob said only so many bills can be passed in the remaining days of the session. He said he dislikes a number of the Republican bills, including lawsuit liability, which would limit the amount juries could award to individuals for pain and suffering.

"To me, the more of that legislation that doesn't pass, the better off the people of this state will be," he said.

Kinder said his party was partly to blame for giving Democrats the opportunity to adjourn. As often happens, many senators were out of the chamber to eat lunch or meet with others. Kinder was just outside the chamber listening to debate and arrived in the chamber moments after adjournment.

Kinder said the Senate will probably meet Friday -- and possibly over the weekend -- to make up for the loss of today, but he said he is not concerned about its ability to complete the budget on time. The constitutional deadline for the legislature's completion of the budget is May 7.