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Killer Roosters

May 14, 1996
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - As Missouri's Senate postponed floor action for another day on the major controversies of the session including abortion and tax cuts, the Senate took time Tuesday night for a heated debate on roosters - the fighting kind.

Sen. John Scott, D-St. Louis, offered an amendment that would have made it a felony to hold cockfights or even to own gamecocks.

"I've offered this every session for the last 20 years," Scott said. "This is the twentieth century; we just shouldn't have cockfighting anymore."

As in years past, rural legislators rose to block the move, citing a variety of reasons.

"You've got basketball, football and hockey," said Danny Staples, D-Eminence. "All we've got is the most beautiful rooster you've ever seen in your life."

Staples went so far as to offer Scott an invitation to view the animals.

"If you come down and see these chickens, you'll never go back to football and basketball," Staples said.

Scott said the fights are cruel to the birds and already violate the law because their sponsors fail to pay taxes on the money they collect.

"If you want to stand there for the injustices done to these animals, you go ahead," he told Staples.

In response, Staples delivered an impassioned defense of the birds.

"Gamecocks in rural Missouri were born and bred to fight just as much as Mike Tyson was," Staples said.

He was supported by Sen. Harold Caskey, D-Butler, who argued the amendment would force the gamecock owners to kill off all of their birds, so as not to become felons.

"Wild Bill Hickcock once said that he considered himself a gamecock, except that he wasn't as noble," Caskey said. "We have a noble bird here that will be wiped out in Missouri if this passes."

The senators overwhelmingly defeated Scott's amendment on a voice vote.

The fighting-bird debate came after the Senate spent most of the day debating an economic development bill for businesses that blocked action on almost everything else.

Tuesday night, however, Senate President Pro Tem Jim Mathewson said the Senate definitely would get to the tax-cut bill sometime today.

But Mathewson conceded private conversations had failed to reach any agreement on a package plan that could win quick Senate approval.

"There's 34 senators out there on that floor and I suspect out there there's 10 to 12 different ideas on what kind of package it ought to be," Mathewson said.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ken Jacob, D-Columbia said he doesn't care which measure gets passed in the Senate.

"All I care about is on the last day here that we have something sitting on the governor's desk," he said.

"It doesn't make any sense for us to collect all this money and keep it in the state's treasury for 15 or 16 months and then spend a couple of million dollars writing checks to pay people back," Jacob said. "It makes more sense to adjust the tax rates. I still think a good public policy way to do it is a food tax."

The latest proposal passed by the House would give the governor power to decide annually how great a cut - if any - to make in the sales tax on food. But that idea faces GOP opposition.

"It's election-year politics," said House Assistant Republican Leader Rep. Don Lograsso, R-Blue Springs.

In other legislative developments Tuesday:

* The University of Missouri won't have to worry about breaking NCAA rules about athletes who sign professional contracts. A bill that would require agents and athletes to report contract signings to universities is on its way to the governor.

Under current NCAA rules, athletes are supposed to let the university know if they sign a professional contract, but many do not.

"The problem is that universities can be in violation of rules, but not even know it," said the House sponsor, Rep. Tim Harlan, D-Columbia.

The bill will require agents to register with Missouri's secretary of state and to notify the university of any athlete who sign with them. There would be a warning on the contract of the penalties to the agent and student -- both criminal and fines -- if the student athlete signs.

* A bill that would prohibit the recognition of same sex marriages is being heard today before the House Judiciary and Ethics Committee.

"There's never been a bill in history, since I've been here, that's come up in the last week and made it. But if there is going to be one, this is it," said Committee Chairman Gary Witt, D-Platte City.

The bill must pass out of committee before going to the full House.

* Legislation to ban gifts from lobbyists appears in near-fatal condition.

The Senate bill was recently passed out of the House Judiciary Committee and the House bill is before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both sides are blaming the other. But action on both issues has stalled.

"It's trapped in the House," said Sen. Joe Maxwell, one of the sponsors. The Senate passed my bill on March 20, in addition to a self-imposed rule against gifts, if the House is serious they should pass their own rule, the Mexico Democrat said.

While Maxwell pointed to the House, a House member said the ball was in the Senate's court.

"It's up to the Senate Judiciary Committee whether there's a vote or not," said Rep. Greg Canuteson, D-Liberty, the other sponsor.

* A minor bill that became a major piece of legislation, after amendments that would gradually "sunset" out welfare programs was attached to it, has been kept off the official House calender -- blocking any action on the bill.

The speaker's office said the bill was being kept off the calender while the bill's sponsor - Rep. Francis Overschmidt and the Senate bill handler work out a compromise.

But Overschmidt said he's working to get the bill put back on the calender so it can be sent to a House-Senate conference committee to work out a compromise.

"The only way it will pass is if I can get it to conference and strip some of the amendments off," the Union Democrat said.

The legislature has until 6 p.m. Friday to send bills to the governor.