JEFFERSON CITY - The snail's pace in the Missouri Legislature continued Thursday as the House and Senate continued extended debate on two of the session's most important bills.
In the Senate, a proposal imposing penalties on HMOs for not paying their bills was pushed aside after a filibuster. A bit later, the House passed after refusing to shut off debate on a proposal to lower the blood-alcohol level for DWI to .08 -- known as the BAC bill.
The HMO bill, though threatened, is not dead, said House sponsor Tim Harlan, D-Columbia. Harlan said the Senate sponsor Joe Maxwell, D-Mexico, only withdrew the measure to re-negotiate the controversial language.
Blue Cross objected heavily to the proposal. Harlan said the group declined to attend a March meeting the lawmakers held with other HMOs. But now that the bill is on the floor, they have shown up to stop its current form.
The bill also contains a provision allowing doctors, and maybe more, to sue an HMO for withholding necessary treatment. Harlan said there is room to negotiate on that provision and others.
House members bombarded the BAC bill with amendment after amendment for seven hours before finally approving the measure. The majority Democrats, anxious to pass the bill today, sought to end the debate and stage a vote on the measure.
Despite heavy lobbying by the Speaker and members of Gov. Mel Carnahan's staff, the party was not able to hold ranks and the motion to vote failed.
The House version makes the second DWI conviction within five years a felony punishable by a maximum of five years in prison. It also contains language allowing the state to impound a car "owned or operated" by the repeat offender.
Many members objected to this harsh language, saying the provision could punish the family of an offender by taking co-owned cars.
The Senate earlier passed a watered-down version of the bill. If the House eventually approves the measure, major differences must be reconciled before the governor could see the bill on his desk.
The idea behind the bill has a history. In previous sessions, versions of the measure have died in the Senate, largely due to the actions of one man. Last year, Sen. Harold Caskey, D-Butler, held the bill in the committee he chairs preventing it from getting chance on the floor. Ironically, this year he is the Senate sponsor of the bill.
Lawmakers continued through the night private negotiations to salvage both bills. For an update on the debate check www.mdn.org.
Legislators increasingly grumbled about the inaction on legislation. At the start of the day, just 57 bills had been sent to the governor.
Over the last fifteen years, representing the Carnahan and Ashcroft governorships, the average number of bills passed each session was more than 200. This year's current total is by far the lowest.
In other news, the Senate gave approval to language adding to the myriad of special license plates. This time, the Shriners, Gulf War vets and Bronze Star medal winners could be honored.
On that same bill, the Senate added a provision that would allow Missourians to renew their licenses and pay their state taxes over the internet.