SIKESTON - State Representatives Peter Myers and Lanie Black think they have some better ideas for Missouri. As the session opens Wednesday, they will promote those ideas and other bills they have signed on to for lawmakers' consideration.
Myers, who still finds time to help out on the family farm, is pushing several agriculture-related bills. One would allow farmers to keep the seed produced during harvest to be used for next year's crop. Currently, the companies holding the patent on seeds can fine farmers who keep seed.
"There is not a lot state government can do for farmers but this is one way we can help," said Myers. "We are going to have an interesting time with this though - the Monsantos of the world won't like it."
Working with him, said Myers, a Republican, is one of his Democratic counterparts from a rural area. Also Myers and other legislators from the Bootheel are working to change state legislation to concur with federal wording related to boll weevil eradication. The change, he explained, would enable cotton farmers to continue to receive federal assistance without any problems.
Also on his list of legislation is a bill to require that half the state by 2004 use oxygenate blends of fuels for vehicles. Myers notes that ethanol is the only approved such blend and its use would benefit corn farmers who would find a bigger market for their product.
Working with Sen. Peter Kinder, Myers is proposing a bill which would allow the city of Miner to use some of its tourism money for infrastructure improvements. The Sikeston legislator also noted all of the bills he is involved with are bipartisan.
Black, who maintains a chicken-raising operation in Mississippi County, is adding his support to a number of agriculturally-related issues as well. "I remain concerned about the plight of agriculture in this country right now," said Black. "A significant number of our farmers are doing well financially right now. ..."
However, Black said, it was a meeting he attended on term limits which prompted a bill he has initiated involving the Missouri Department of Transportation.
"I spent a good deal of time in the last session talking to former commissioners. I just came up with the idea that is contained in the bill," said Black. He has proposed the appointment of two commissioners - one a Republican and one a Democrat - for six-year-terms every two years providing staggered terms. He is suggesting the House and the Senate each forward a list of three candidates for each spot for the governor's consideration.
The process sought by Black would enable the legislative branch to have more input into the appointment of Transportation Commission.
"I think by letting the House and Senate leaders submit names of prospective commissioners ... brings balance to the commission a little bit." Black added he didn't believe the governor will favor it and he has had trouble getting support from Democrats as well.
According to Black the proposal to create a cabinet level position of Secretary of Transportation only will create more bureaucracy.
While promoting their own proposals, there will be other issues the legislators must face including budget shortfalls and public projects.
"The challenge will be to cut the budget intelligently," said Myers. "We have got to slow the spending by the state or at least not spend any more than last year. The real challenge is to make cuts where it doesn't hurt important programs."
Both men serve on budget committees and will be watching the costs closely. Myers worried that his urban counterparts may go after tax credits used by farm cooperatives as a way to reduce spending; it is an action he would oppose.
"There are places to cut without impacting programs we need," insisted Myers. However, he noted, first the legislators must study Gov. Bob Holden's preliminary budget requests before the process can go forward.
The proposed stadium in St. Louis is another issue both men expect to take up time in the coming session.
"I have spent a lot of time and received a lot of letters from people in the St. Louis area in support of the St. Louis Cardinals ballpark but in this part of the country 70 to 80 percent of people are opposed to it," said Black. "I think the Cardinals are going to lobby everyone they can and I think the state of budget will color what happens. But they don't have the votes to pass it right now."
The representative said he hasn't made a final decision but at the moment will likely vote against it.
But Myers already knows his answer: no.
"I can't vote for it and I've been a Cardinal fan since I was 5 years old. I don't feel it is wise use of public money to put it into private enterprise. This will be a big issue and it may not be settled until the last day."