Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Lobbyist Money Help
By Phill Brooks
«RM75»«FC»«MDBO»COL156.PRB - Expanding the Legislature's Footprint«MDNM»
A Senate passed plan to spend $75 million of borrowed money for the Capitol complex has caused me to think about the history of legislative expansion in Missouri's statehouse.
A large part of that bond issue money would fix serious deterioration of Missouri's historic Capitol building that has been neglected for decades.
But a lot of the money would used to create new space for the legislature.
Nearly half -- $35 million -- would help pave the way for the legislature to take over the Transportation Department building that stands next to the Capitol.
The extra space would be for a part-time legislature that meets less than half of the year. And even when they are in session, they usually meet only part of the week.
Last year, they met just 71 days with another couple of days in the fall for the veto session. Some of those sessions are held simply to meet procedural requirements. No votes are taken, so few members show up.
When I first began covering the statehouse, legislative offices were pretty small and simple. Many lawmakers did not secretaries. In fact, minority-party Republicans were jammed into rooms where they had to share a single large table.
In 1983, the legislature seized a major expanse of space in the Capitol to provide a separate, private office for every lawmaker.
To get the extra space, the legislature kicked out many of the support staff for some statewide-elected officials.
So much of the Capitol has been taken over by the legislature that the building seems like an empty tomb when the General Assembly is not in session.
At times, your footsteps seem to echo in the silent, empty hallways.
The atmosphere of a nearly vacant building between legislative sessions has gotten even worse in the era of legislative term limits.
Before term limits, legislators spent extensive time in interim committee sessions laying the groundwork for legislation on complicated state problems.
But now, the work of interim committees has almost gone away. I sense that among some of the term-limited lawmakers there simply is less interest to be in Jefferson City in the summer and fall.
So why is there a need for even more space for Missouri lawmakers?
One factor involves access for the physically disabled.
Even with that 1983 expansion, a second floor had to be constructed in the House offices with high ceilings for each member to have a private office.
But there was no way to include elevators for the "double-decked floors" -- making those second floor offices inaccessible for the physically disabled.
Another explanation for more space I've heard from several is that term limits has led to a need for more staff to help the less-experienced legislators understand bills and draft amendments.
But that's only part of the story for increased demands for space.
The legislature now requires a detailed estimate of the costs of every bill introduced -- no matter how little the cost or unlikely the chances of passage.
That is a far more staff-intensive approach than in prior years when cost estimates were limited to bills that would cost government more than $50,000 and had cleared preliminary chamber approval.
Another growing space demand has been the increasing number of publicity staff for the legislature to generate an almost daily stream of releases, pictures and video.
Once, there had been only a few public relations staffers for the General Assembly. But now, in addition to more communications staff for the legislature, Senate Republicans have their own PR staffer as do House Democrats. Of course, they too need their own offices in the Capitol.
Some of the need for expanded public communications operations arises from the advent of the Internet and the need to fill the legislature's websites.
This history suggests some less expensive solutions to addressing the space problem that I'll write about in my next column.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.]
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