JEFFERSON CITY - Democratic Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell has taken on the role of peacekeeper between Republicans and Democrats as the leaders of both parties continue to negotiate an agreement to share control of the virtually tied state Senate.
With the resignation of three senators elected to higher office, the Senate will be 16-15 when the legislature convenes on Jan. 3. Republicans will hold the one-seat majority until special elections take place on Jan. 24.
If no seats change parties, the Senate will then be tied 17-17, with Maxwell casting tie-breaking votes.
Maxwell, who presides over the Senate during the legislative session, said members of both parties have assured him they will reach a power-sharing agreement by the start of the session.
But if the parties cannot come to an agreement, Maxwell said he is researching how he could use his role as President of the Senate to determine how it will be run until the special elections take place in January.
"I'm not trying to go in and insert myself, if it's not necessary," he said. "I think it's in their best interests to work it out themselves."
But Maxwell did say he was "prepared to use the authority given to me in the state constitution and state statutes" to determine rules and procedures that "allow the Senate to move" -- a move he said would be in the "citizens' best interests" if the parties cannot reach an agreement by noon on Jan. 3.
According to the state constitution, the lieutenant governor has the authority to "debate all questions" and "cast the deciding vote on equal division in the senate and on joint vote of both houses."
Maxwell said he expects to be "well-prepared and well-versed in the law" at the beginning of the session.
Both parties have spent weeks negotiating, meeting, and participating in conference calls with party leaders. No final agreement has been reached yet, although several options are on the table.
In a Nov. 28 letter to Democratic President Pro Tem Sen. Edward Quick, Republican President Pro Tem Sen. Peter Kinder proposed equal membership on committees and co-committee chairs--a system that would stay in place regardless of what happens in the special elections.
Kinder could not be reached for comment.
Last week, Kinder also offered to hold a full meeting of the Senate to discuss power-sharing options with all Senate members of both parties.
Quick, though, said will not negotiate through letters and that he will not respond to either the letter or the offer for a full Senate meeting, adding that he does not expect the full meeting to happen.
He did say that the parties are still negotiating and that "everybody's congenial."
He added that the Democrats are also considering co-committee chairs and equal party membership on committees.
"I have all the faith in the world that we will come to an agreement before the session starts," Quick said.
In the meantime, Maxwell said his office will investigate how other states have handled similar situations when one house in the legislature has been tied.
"I'm visiting with legislators in other states to see what they've done," he said. "It's important to see what's gone right and what's gone wrong in other states."
He mentioned Indiana and the U.S. Senate--tied 50-50--as examples.