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The Senate Puts the Brakes on a Special Session that Some Say Was Moving Too Fast

Shelton: Joining me on the phone from Jefferson City is Phill Brooks, Dean of the Statehouse Press Corps. Phill, let’s talk about the expectation some lawmakers impose on themselves that when it comes to a special session, a deal needs to be reached prior to session and then session ought to move along quickly. And of course, we saw the Senate slow things down this week by pushing debate of until next week. Have lawmakers always had this sense of urgency and desire to make special session as short as possible?

Brooks: It wasn’t always this sense of rush through a special session, particularly before term limits. You had a significant number of legislators who actually enjoyed being here during a special session, in the summer or fall. They were people who had been in the legislature for decades. The other members were close friends of theirs. They had work they’d be doing on legislative issues beyond the five and half months of the regular legislative session. Of course, they enjoyed being wined and dined by lobbyists. But there wasn’t this sense of ‘It’s a burden to be here. I hate being in Jeff City. Let’s get this done as quickly as we can so I can go back to my job, my family.’ They did not see it as the burden being here. I have a sense a larger number of legislators see it as a burden now.

Shelton: And tell us how that impacts the process. I think we saw that a bit this week when Republican Senator Jason Crowell and perhaps others insisted the process slow down a bit because of concerns they have about passing too quickly a bill that’s so important.

Brooks: It would be difficult for me to exaggerate how staggered I was at the speed at which this General Assembly, particularly the senate that used to pride itself on being a deliberative body, the speed at which it was willing to rush to a vote on a bill that involves close to $2 billion of taxpayer money in tax credits and the China hub tax breaks. This is a bill that’s hundreds of pages long. Legislative staff haven’t put together a full summary. There is not a fiscal note, a staff estimate of what the full costs of this would be, both positive and negative because some of the tax credits actually save the state money. But there hasn’t been a detailed cost estimate of what this thing would mean to state revenue. There hasn’t been an independent outside evaluation provided to legislators of is this practical, what kind of jobs would be created by these warehouse operations for the China hub? You were going to be in a situation where the senate was going to come into session with a bill that had gotten printed out over night, hundreds of pages, dumped onto senators’ desks, which of course, they hadn’t had time to read, and suddenly have to vote on one of the biggest financial impact issues in a single bill that we see, other than the budget each year, with such short notice, really kind of surprised me that they were going to go down that road.

I think part of the question you’re asking involves the degree to which there was this closed door negotiation by a few legislative leaders and the governor to put together a package, a deal that there was an expectation that within a few days, it could be rolled through the house and rolled through the senate. The house does that, they can move the previous question, but the senate has always been the deliberative body where members read these things, study them, they get outside evaluations, and the schedule that legislative leaders had, the schedule the governor was proposing for a “crisp two week session” was not going to allow that kind of deliberative examination of what were they doing with hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money.