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OUR OPINION Shorter legislative sessions: More efficient or insufficient?

OUR OPINION Shorter legislative sessions: More efficient or insufficient?

January 31st, 2012 by The News Tribune in News

mong ideas to reduce the costs of state government is the reduction of state government.

The Legislature has become a particular target, with proposals to reduce the number of state representatives and, again this year, to reduce the length of the legislative session.

Lawmakers now convene in regular session from early January until mid-May, specifically the first Friday following the second Monday in May.

A proposed constitutional amendment in the Senate would end the session in late March, beginning in 2015.

If approved by lawmakers, the change to the state Constitution would require voter approval.

Such a vote would hardly mark the first time voters have altered the duration of the session.

The session was held every other year until voters in 1970 amended the Constitution to hold annual sessions ending June 15 in odd-numbered years and April 30 in evennumbered years.

A subsequent amendment, approved by voters in 1988, produced the existing uniform duration of regular, annual sessions.

Supporters say the proposal to end sessions in March would save an estimated $400,000 annually in per diem, mileage and support staff.

In addition to reduced cost, the concept will appeal to Missourians who equate shorter sessions with smaller government.

Counter arguments are shorter sessions will reduce legislative oversight of executive agencies and budget issues, as well as lawmakers' ability to advance legislation of interest to constituents.

The critical issue is whether a shorter session would benefit Missourians.

Legislative sessions are not always models of efficiency. Self-serving proposals, petty paybacks and grandstanding are known to occur.

But the process also requires painstaking effort, much of it behind the scenes. Committees host public hearings, hear testimony and discuss proposals. Bills are read, amended and debated. Arguments are advanced, conferees gather and compromises are achieved.

A shortened session would require greater efficiency. But will it allow sufficient time to hear interested parties, thoroughly scrutinize proposals and approve useful legislation?

On this issue, more time is needed to gather more information.