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Republicans Dominate Legislature

State Capital Bureau

May 12, 1995

JEFFERSON CITY _ Republicans narrowed the Democratic majority in the Missouri legislature last November, and they made their presence from the opening gavel of this year's session.

With help from a few maverick Democrats, House Republicans nearly unseated seven-term House Speaker Bob Griffin. The bigger, more vocal minority later joined with anti-abortion Democrats to bring action in the House to a halt.

"Republicans have had more impact than in 40 years," said House Minority Floor Leader Mark Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff. "Government growth has got to slow. We have slowed the process down and forced more thoughtful reflection."

Legislation contained more Republican amendments and input than ever before, he said, and helped kill a lot of needless bills.

Overall, lawmakers didn't accomplish much in terms of the number of bills passed, Richardson said. But that doesn't mean Republican leaders don't consider the session a success, he said.

Voters added to the GOP ranks last fall because they want less government, Richardson said.

"A lot of bills aren't necessary and don't make life any better," he said. "Only about 25 percent of bills are good. Most only make statute books bigger and the burden on citizens greater."

Although Republican lawmakers enjoyed greater influence this session, they still came up far short of seeing their top priorities become law, GOP leaders said.

Two major Republican objectives _ reforming Missouri's welfare system and workers compensation _ didn't go anywhere.

"Most of the issues we wanted to get accomplished were stifled early," said Senate Minority Floor Leader Franc Flotron, R-St. Louis County. "Again, we are in a defensive mode."

Richardson said Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan used "strong-arm tactics" to kill GOP efforts to enact workers compensation and welfare reform.

Business organizations had sought changes to hold down the cost to business for the workers compensation program which covers workers injured on the job.

A workers compensation bill passed two years ago, and the governor argued further changes were not needed. But Richardson disagreed.

"Missourians will go another year without relief," he said. "This is a crisis issue. It is driving people out of business, costing jobs."

Defeat on the abortion front was a particularly bitter pill for Republicans to swallow.

An abortion-counseling bill that joined Republicans with Democratic abortion foes won the approval of a majority in both chambers.

But the bill _ which would have required women to contact private counselors before undergoing an abortion _ didn't have the two-thirds support needed to override Carnahan's veto. Bill supporters never challenged the governor's veto.

"It's a travesty that the governor not only vetoed it, but also misinformed Missouri citizens into thinking it was an extremist bill," Richardson said. "It was just a bill to provide women with information before having an abortion."

In a powerful veto message, the governor said the bill would have intruded on the privacy of Missouri women and their families.

Republicans and anti-abortion Democrats did get a chance to show their strength, forcing a vote on the bill over the once-all-powerful Griffin's objections.

The anti-abortion coalition had launched a lengthy, unprecedented filibuster until they got their way.

Chris Sifford, the governor's spokesman, said Carnahan accomplished many of his goals for this session despite Republican opposition _ and even with GOP support.

Carnahan's top three objectives _ prison construction, tax limitation and tougher juvenile justice _ all were achieved with broad, bi-partisan backing.

"It's been very contentious," Sifford said. "On the plus side, we've actually got a great deal accomplished. The differences we have had on issues have been with both Republicans and Democrats."

But Republicans questioned Carnahan's earnestness in pushing for tax limitation.

And Flotron was one of just three senators to oppose juvenile justice reform, saying the bill was prejudiced against minority youth.

As long as they are a minority in the General Assembly, Republicans have to play a defensive role and can't set the agenda, Flotron said.

After all, the GOP remains the minority party in both chambers and State Auditor Margaret Kelly is the only Republican in a statewide elected office.

"Let's change the agenda," said Flotron, who is likely to challenge Carnahan in 1996. "Let's change the people who control it."