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Lamping: Legislature should meet less

After flinging their working papers into the air, members of the Missouri House of Representatives watch them float down to the floor on May 13, 2011, as the regular session of the General Assembly adjourned.

After flinging their working papers into the air, members of the Missouri House of Representatives watch them float down to the floor on May 13, 2011, as the regular session of the General Assembly adjourned. Photo by Kelley McCall.

Including the September veto session, Missouri lawmakers spend almost a fourth of every year meeting in Jefferson City.

For the second year, state Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, wants Missourians to vote on a constitutional change that would shorten that time.

“The idea would be, simply, to go from an 18-week session to a 12-week session,” Lamping told the Senate’s Governmental Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee Wednesday afternoon. “When you take the time to look at how so many other states run their general assembly, you get an entire spectrum.

“You get states like Illinois that are in full time — it’s a full-time job. You get states like Texas, where it’s 90 days every two years.”

Since voters changed the Constitution in 1988, Missouri lawmakers meet from early January through the second full week in May — and then reconvene in the second week of September to consider overriding any vetoes the governor made of bills passed during the session.

Lamping’s proposed constitutional amendment would cut out April and May, setting the end of a legislative session at the end of March, and put the veto session in June.

In his third year as a lawmaker, Lamping said a number of different issues prompted his proposal.

“The genesis was my first year down here, when I thought we had a lot of time that was wasted,” he explained.

But freshman Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, wondered how easily lawmakers could write, debate and pass a budget in a 12-week session.

Silvey is a member of the Senate’s Appropriations Committee and a past chair of the House Budget Committee.

“The budget process right now starts back in October and November, with the consensus revenue negotiations (among lawmakers and the governor’s office),” Silvey noted. “Here we are, it’s going to be March at the end of the week, and the House hasn’t even gotten a bill to the floor for (debate) yet.”

Silvey assured Lamping that the budget writers aren’t “being unproductive” with the process.

“We try to do it as quickly as possible,” Silvey explained, “but also vetting all the issues.

“My concern is, that if you shorten that process, you cede more and more power to the (governor).”

Lamping said lawmakers might work five full days a week under his proposal, instead of the current Monday afternoon through mid-day Thursday.

“What (the proposal) would mandate would be a reassessment of how we proceed,” Lamping said.

His proposal also would save some costs, like the daily allowance lawmakers get for room and board in Jefferson City, away from their homes.

Lamping added, if Missouri voters approve his idea, legislative leaders would have to move more quickly to make committee assignments and move bills through the process.

“The idea I had, essentially, had most to do with just being productive,” he said. “Not wasting time, but making the best of the time that you have here.”

No one testified for or against the proposal.

If passed by the House and Senate, Lamping’s proposal would go to Missouri voters in 2014. If passed in that election, it wouldn’t begin until January 2017.

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