House leader stretches across the aisle

Monday, March 3rd 2008, 7:37 pm
By: News 9

By Alex Cameron, NEWS 9

There are signs that majority leaders in the Legislature are making good on a promise to give minority lawmakers more of a voice this session.

Last year there was a budget showdown between House leaders and the Governor. Then there was a tax filing issues that forced a couple of those House leaders to step down at the start of this session. With those in mind, it made sense when the new House leadership spoke of a new era of cooperation.

When a humble Chris Benge took over as Speaker of the House four weeks ago, he said he would open the lines of communication with the minority democrats and the minority leader says he's been true to his word.

The new Speaker also said he's tried to make sure more Democrats' bills are getting heard.

"I have spoken to a few members about trying to be," Benge said. "Let's just try to take a second look at some of these bills and just try to be fair, and I think many members are taking that to heart."

Numbers would seem to bear that out.

During the last two years of Democrat rule in the House, Democrat bills outnumbered Republican bills about two to one. The last three years, with the Republicans in charge, the majority's advantage jumped to about four to one. This year, however, the numbers have come back closer to where they were.

"Several of our members have had some of their bills heard that probably would not have been heard last year," said Rep. Danny Morgan, House Democratic Leader.

Still, Morgan says there's room for improvement, a sentiment echoed loudly by other democrats whose bills aren't being heard.

"This bipartisanship is nothing but icing on some cake somewhere that i haven't seen, it hasn't produced any results as far as I'm concerned," said Rep. Richard Morrissett.

Representative Morrissette said things are better this year than last, but said there are still too many instances where bills are denied a hearing simply because of the political party of the bill's sponsor.