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How Efficient is Missouri's Legislature: Technology, Outdated Rules, and Organization

Capitol Building in Jefferson City/Credit: Scott Harvey

Missouri’s 2014 legislative session is over—it ended Friday.  And in this second half of our two-part series on efficiency in state government, KSMU’s Jennifer Davidson looks at how technology and a few updates might help streamline the way things are done in Jefferson City.

Missouri lawmakers have at their fingertips some of the best digital bill-tracking systems in the country.  But in other areas, they may not be using technology to their advantage when it comes to running an efficient state government.

Phill Brooks, the longest serving journalist in the Capitol building, says many rules need updating.

“The title of the bill has to be read in an open, formal session of the legislature three times before it can pass that chamber. That goes back to the days before computers existed. You don’t need to do that anymore,” Brooks said.

And, he says, the House and Senate have two different computer systems.

Another thing that needs addressing, Brooks said, is how much money each piece of legislation is going to cost the state.

When lawmakers are in a hurry, like at the end of a legislative session, they sometimes tag on amendments to bills before thoroughly evaluating how much it will cost the state.  Brooks says last week, potentially hundreds of millions of dollars of special-interest tax-cuts were tagged onto bills in the final hours of the legislative session.

“They clearly need a better system for dealing with evaluating the cost of legislation. I think there needs to be some Constitutional restrictions on ramming through bills that have got a fiscal note of significance on them.  Back in the pre-term limited era, legislators took extremely seriously their own internal rules that were designed to stop bills that would cost money, until there was a thorough evaluation of what really was the cost going to be, and could the state afford it,” Brooks said.

Overall, though, Brooks says there’s a much bigger picture that needs addressing.

“I will tell you that I do have a sense that this state seriously needs to reexamine its entire legislative organization and schedule. We need to look at the size of the Missouri House: 163 members makes the Missouri House one of the largest lower chambers in the United States,” Brooks said.

Some groups have called for a much smaller House of Representatives, like cutting it down to about 100 members. Also, there are overlapping committees:  for example, there’s a Ways and Means Committee for the House, and another, almost identical committee for the Senate.

Usually, both committees are discussing similar issues and drafts of legislation, when a lot of that time and effort could be combined.

For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Davidson.

You can see the first half of this series on streamlining the Missouri legislature by clicking here.