By CHRIS BLANK
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - House Democrats are proposing formal criteria and a requirement for bipartisan approval before people are inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians - a reaction to Democrats' criticism of the selection of Rush Limbaugh for the honor.
The proposed new requirements, released Thursday to The Associated Press, would require that selections for the Hall of Famous Missourians be supported by at least three of the top four legislative leaders. Inductions would need three votes from among the House speaker, Senate president pro tem and both chambers' minority leaders. The number of new selections also would be capped at two people every two years. Currently, inductees are chosen by the speaker of the Missouri House.
Inductees would need to have been born in Missouri or lived and worked in the state for a significant part of their lives. Excellence in art, literature, science, government, politics, sports, commerce, religion, entertainment and military affairs would qualify someone for the honor.
Attention on the Hall of Famous Missourians erupted last week after House Speaker Steven Tilley said he had decided to honor Limbaugh, calling the conservative talk show host among the world's best known radio personalities. Democrats have objected and specifically cited Limbaugh's recent comments describing a female law student involved in the national debate about insurance for contraception as a "slut" and "prostitute."
Inductees into the Hall of Famous Missourians have their busts displayed in the state Capitol. Several dozen people have been chosen by Missouri House speakers through the years. They include President Harry Truman, Walt Disney, George Washington Carver, St. Louis Cardinals baseball player Stan Musial and journalist Walter Cronkite. The busts are paid for using private donations.
Late Negro Leagues baseball player Buck O'Neil was inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians during a ceremony this year. Tilley also has said he plans to select Dred Scott, a slave who sued unsuccessfully for his freedom in the famous court case.
The proposed legislation dealing with the Hall of Famous Missourians is the most recent action Democrats have taken. Forty-eight Democrats already sent Tilley a letter, calling Limbaugh unworthy of the honor because of a "controversial career" and urging the speaker to reconsider.
Last week, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon expressed concerns about the process used in the inductions after House Democrats asked the governor's administration to block Limbaugh's bust from appearing in the Capitol.
House Minority Leader Mike Talboy said Thursday that the selection of Limbaugh has brought new controversy to the honor. He said House Democrats would seek to add the requirements as an amendment to legislation before lawmakers' mid-May adjournment.
"It is now clear that a formal process is needed in state law for inducting future members, rather than leaving it to the whims of a single person," said Talboy, D-Kansas City.
Tilley, a Republican, has defended the selection of Limbaugh and noted that others in the Hall of Famous Missourians also have made controversial statements. He said he decided to honor Limbaugh about three months ago.
The selection also has been endorsed by the top state Senate Republican. Tilley, Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer and Limbaugh all are from southeastern Missouri.
Hall of Famous Missourians: http://www.house.mo.gov/famous.aspx