Our Opinion: Empower commission to oversee Capitol gallery

Let’s not rush — no pun intended — into anything.

In reaction to the Missouri House speaker’s plan to honor conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, House Democrats are proposing formal criteria and bipartisan oversight.

Our concern is duplication. We believe Capitol alterations deserve to be assigned to an existing body — the Missouri State Capitol Commission.

Some background is helpful.

The Hall of Famous Missourians is an area within the Capitol that features busts and biographies of famous Missourians. Historically, selections have been made exclusively by the House speaker. Financing comes from private, not public, sources.

Limbaugh recently came under fire for characterizations of a female law student who joined the national debate about President Obama’s proposal to require health insurers to cover contraception.

In connection with the Limbaugh controversy, a news story pointed out Limbaugh was among the Hall of Famous Missourians nominees selected by Republican House Speaker Steve Tilley to be honored later this year.

Tilley said he made the selection and ordered the bust to be made three months ago, long before the current controversy involving Limbaugh.

After publication of the story, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and Democratic lawmakers expressed concerns about the unilateral selection process.

On Thursday, House Democrats proposed selections to the hall must be supported by at least three of the top four legislative leaders — the House speaker, Senate president pro tem and both chambers’ minority leaders.

Restrictions on frequency and eligibility also were advanced.

We are concerned the proposal creates yet another layer of bureaucracy that duplicates responsibilities that should be assigned to an existing 11-member bipartisan group.

Similar to the Democrats’ proposal, the Missouri State Capitol Commission (MSCC), under the Office of Administration, includes majority and minority members from both the House and Senate.

It also includes residents who “have knowledge and background regarding the history of the state, (and) of the seat of state government and the Capitol.”

The Official State Manual outlines the group’s mission. It reads: “The purpose of the MSCC is to assure the future preservation and integrity of the Capitol and to preserve its historical significance. The commission evaluates and recommends courses of action on the restoration and preservation of the Capitol and the history of the Capitol, as well as evaluates and recommends courses of action to ensure accessibility to the Capitol.”

Because of its stature and visibility within our Capitol, we believe selection to the Hall of Famous Missourians deserves to be a group, rather than individual, decision.

And we believe the Missouri State Capitol Commission should be authorized to make, or at least approve, those selections.

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