April 26, 2007

Do You Know Your State Government?

For many, the fourth grade is a distant memory. So for that same majority, knowledge of state government may be just as vague a recollection.

First District State Representative Brian Munzlinger was in Memphis on Friday, April 20th to meet with fourth grade students at the Scotland County Elementary School. The students are in the middle of government and civics lessons that teach them how state government works.

Munzlinger talked to the kids about the first district, his job and how Jefferson City works.

The nine and 10 year olds were able to answer many of the representative’s questions about how the state government functions.

However, just like when the crowd that attends the spelling bee cringes at some of the difficult words that must be deciphered by the youngsters, many of the adults present for the program appeared puzzled by some of Munzlinger’s queries.

The presentation talked about the three branches of state government.

Munzlinger also talked about the state capital building and the facility’s history.

“When I am able to give people the tour of the state capital, I always like to start in the basement,” Munzlinger said. “There are pictures there of when the building was under construction back in 1917. I always start there if I can because I like people to see the photos of the foundation and the cornerstones that were the start of one of the nation’s most ornate state capital buildings.”

The representative walked the students through the legislative process, starting from the basic idea for a new law all the way to its enactment.

The students knew that a law got its start as a bill, but Munzlinger discussed the process from its very beginning. The idea for a law is first introduced by a member of the House or Senate and then is sent to the entity’s legislative research division where workers study the concept, drafting prospective legal language while considering the impact such legislation would have on current laws.

The idea ultimately leaves this area as a bill, Munzlinger told the students. It has a first and second reading before the house and then is sent to committee for consideration where a public hearing is held to get further input on the proposed law.

If passed out of committee the entire House considers it. During the initial consideration, members of the full House often offer amendments or changes to the bill, before ultimately deciding its fate with a vote.

“Each of the 163 representatives has a desk, upon which there is a laptop computer for us to track the bills we are discussing in session,” Munzlinger stated. “The desk also has a vote button, where each of us casts his or her decision on the bill.”

The proposed law goes through the same process all over again in the Senate. If approved there as well, the legislation goes on to the governor.

The students knew that the governor could sign the bill into law or he could veto it, and send it back to the legislature. But Munzlinger reminded them, why it is rarely done, that legislation can become law without the governor’s signature, if no action is taken to sign it or veto the bill within 15 days during session or 45 days after session.

While the students are learning about the governmental process, Munzlinger also tried to point out some nuances in the system they might not read about in books.

He unfolded a Missouri map and outlined his service area in the first district, which consists of Clark, Scotland, Schuyler, Knox and Lewis counties as well as a small portion of Adair County.

“I have one of the largest districts in the state,” Munzlinger told the students. “If you took the first district and overlaid it in the St. Louis area, the same amount of area would cover the districts of more than 40 representatives down there.”

He explained the 163 house districts are created in an effort to equally distribute population.

This type of districting creates obvious differences between the districts.

The fourth graders were aware that agriculture is the #1 industry for the first district and also were able to discuss several of the other differences between the rural and urban regions.

Munzlinger pointed out one more difference as he closed his presentation by telling the kids he was off to see the fourth graders at Schuyler County, the last of his stops at the nearly one dozen schools in his district.

“A few of the most urban districts do not even have schools within the district boundaries,” he stated.

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