JEFFERSON CITY - With some lawmakers getting closer to a voter-imposed career change, the debate over scrapping eight-year term limits got nasty Tuesday.
House Speaker Steve Gaw, D-Moberly, is a "wimp," said the Senate's longest-serving member.
"Right now, we have a Speaker of the House who is so afraid he has a hard time making a decision," said Sen. John Schneider, D-St. Louis County, a lawmaker since 1968.
By not assigning it to a committee, Gaw effectively can kill Schneider's bid to scrap the current eight-year limit on legislative terms. "As long as we continue to have a wimp trying to run the place, we're going to have trouble," Schneider said to his Senate colleagues.
Instead of the limits adopted by voters in 1992, Schneider's plan would restart the clock, allowing current lawmakers to hold their seat for an extra 12 years.
Schneider, for example, would be out of office in 2003. But under his proposal that date would change to 2014.
Because the proposal limits lawmakers to 12 consecutive years, those lawmakers willing to resign and take a temporary hiatus would receive unlimited terms.
The resolution also limits the House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem to a four year term.
It was approved last week by the Senate 21-12.
But Gaw never sent the resolution to committee, the next step in the legislative process. The 2000 legislative session ends a week from Friday.
"He won't assign to committee the bill dealing with term limits because his opponent said he was in favor of it," Schneider said of Gaw, who is running for secretary of state. His likely opponent, Rep. Matt Blunt, R-Springfield, supports the limits.
Schneider later apologized in a short statement to the Senate.
Advocates for term limits seemed happy with the day's events.
"It means that what they voted for in 1992 won't be subject to an end run," said Greg Upchurch, a leader of Missouri Term Limits.
Upchurch characterized the ballot question as "specious and cowardly."
But, the St. Louis patent attorney said, "Nothing these people do surprises me. They just can't imagine not being there."
U.S. Term Limits, based in Washington, D.C., paid for advertisements Upchurch's group has been airing on mid-Missouri TV stations that covers the state capital.
The Blunt campaign uses the same production company that produced the term-limit spots.