Senator Cunningham saga continues

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Missouri News Horizon
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The Missouri Senate’s Education committee has voted unanimously to make changes to legislation aimed at regulating electronic communication between students and school employees.

Under language sponsored by Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, individual school districts will have until March 1 to come up with a district policy on electronic communication between students and school personnel instead of the original Jan. 1 deadline. Representatives of several state teachers’ organizations spoke in favor of the new, less restrictive language and Cunningham praised all who came to speak.

Cunningham says she hopes the new language clears up any ambiguity that cropped up in the original version of the legislation that was part of a much larger bill that dealt with teacher-student sexual misconduct and the handling of staff members who commit it.

Still unclear is what will become of the legislation. It now moves on to the Senate floor, where it is expected to pass easily. Then it heads to the Missouri House. But the legislation is clearly outside the parameters set up by the governor in his call for the special session of the legislature. In it, the governor specified that the legislature should only repeal the electronic communication language in Cunningham’s bill, not draft replacement wording.

Scott Holste, the governor’s press secretary, said Wednesday that Gov. Jay Nixon stands by his call.

“The governor’s call for the special session on this particular issue was very narrow and the governor called them specifically back on this issue to repeal that section and not to amend it at all,” Holste said.

But Cunningham maintains that she is within her rights to propose new legislation. Sighting a 1922 Missouri Supreme Court case, she said the governor has the responsibility to determine the subject matter for a special session, but does not have the right to dictate or restrict specific legislative actions.

The discovery of the court case startled several senators during Tuesday’s senate debate on the governor’s call on economic development legislation. Special sessions have traditionally followed a governor’s call to remain within strict parameters on legislation.