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Bess Should Be Proud of Mike

State Capital Bureau

May 12, 1995

JEFFERSON CITY _ Senate Appropriations Chairman Mike Lybyer deserves much credit for getting the state budget passed this year. He also found time to do a favor for Bess _ his mule.

Lybyer, D-Huggins, guided a bill to make the mule the official state animal to final approval in the Senate.

"Most states have an official animal, and we don't have one," said Lybyer, a farmer. "Missouri had a great reputation for mules in the late 19th and early 20th century."

Abortion counseling, tax limitation, juvenile crime and packed pistols dominated the headlines this year. Still, large-mouth bass, white-tailed deer, square dancing and public toilets _ the burning "potty parity" issue _ all had their 15 minutes in the legislature.

And some oddball bills _ call them "non-traditional" or even "importance-impaired" bills, if you're politically correct _ managed to win a date with the governor's pen and a likely place in the state statute books.

Senate approval of the mule bill came at about 1 a.m. Wednesday, after five hours of caustic, partisan debate over tax limitation. It only took about 15 seconds for senators to endorse Lybyer's bill.

The early-morning end to the tax-limitation debate presented a chance to give mules the recognition they earned in times of war and peace, Lybyer said.

Mules helped propel the Allied war effort during World War I, he noted. And in today's America, saturated by advertising, the mule might have become the official pack animal of the only Missourian to occupy the Oval Office.

"You see pictures of Harry Truman with mules," Lybyer said. "We exported a tremendous number of mules to foreign countries ... Britain, France. We had a lot of good mare stock, a lot of good mules."

Eighty years after Missouri mules helped the Western World defeat the kaiser, the mule bill carried square dancing to statewide prominence. The Senate-approved bill included a provision making the gym-class favorite Missouri's official "American folk dance."

Other offbeat bills were left in the mule's dust. Casualties included proposals to make the large-mouth bass and the white-tailed deer the state's official aquatic animal and mammal, respectively.

They won't join the ranks of the dogwood (state tree), crinoid (state fossil, mozarkite (state rock), galena (state mineral) and "The Missouri Waltz" (state song). Not this year, at least.

But one prominent oddball bill that made it all the way through the legislative process finally settled the "potty parity" issue.

The proposal will force public buildings such as stadiums and theaters to have equal _ but still separate _ bathroom facilities for men and women. A dearth of "powder rooms" left women at concerts and other events fuming in line long after men had returned to their seats.

"If men ever had to wait in line they would be fuming," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Irene Treppler, R-St. Louis County. "They couldn't stand the inconvenience."

You can laugh and nod when Rush Limbaugh gets a hold of Treppler's bill and unleashes a new assault against "feminazis."

But you wouldn't laugh if you were a state institution. Implementing potty parity is projected to cost the University of Missouri System a whopping $3.2 million.