The Missouri General Assembly meets for more than four months each year and consistently has little to show for its efforts.
Given that limitation, a list of do’s and don’ts for 2020 makes sense as legislators convene next week.
Start with the don’ts. There is no reason for legislators to try to undo what 62 percent of the voters approved in 2018 with the Clean Missouri initiative. That effort cuts down on such things as lobbyist gifts to legislators, but what really upset Republican leaders in Jefferson City is the attempt to get a handle on gerrymandering legislative districts. That is the chief means by which the party in power in Jefferson City tries to stay in power.
Republican leaders have made it clear that stopping Clean Missouri is among their top priorities. But the voters have spoken, and the plan they adopted should go forward.
If they set that aside, legislators would have more time to:
• Find funding and a solid plan to process the 7,000 untested rape kits across the state. These are from victims who have come forward, and they are being denied justice. This is inexcusable.
• Get to the bottom of why thousands of children have been dropped from Medicaid rolls, when other states have not seen similar declines. The fact that no one in power in Jefferson City wants to talk about it doesn’t mean it’s not important.
• Reverse a bad law from several years ago that undercuts cities’ abilities to enforce their own traffic laws. There is in effect no sanction for those who just don’t pay a ticket and don’t show in court to contest it. Let cities do their jobs.
• Put an end to the so-called “gray machine” gambling devices that have cropped up at convenience stores and elsewhere across the state. There are an estimated 14,000 of them, and the Missouri Gaming Commission has determined that they are illegal. They are unregulated and untaxed, meaning less for schools and other services that legal gambling in Missouri supports. This may take more courage than legislators can muster, since the company behind these machines is politically connected.
• Go slowly and carefully on allowing sports betting.
• Pay the state’s bills. Missouri is millions of dollars in arrears on its obligations to pay counties for inmates held on state charges – $3.5 million to Jackson County alone.
Finally, there are the larger issues that evade significant action year after year.
The sharp rise in gun violence in Missouri is the direct result of policies enacted by this legislative body. At the very least, if the state won’t act, it can let cities take the steps they deem necessary to protect the lives of their citizens.
The state’s roads and bridges are significantly underfunded, the effects are evident, and it’s holding Missouri back. Education and workforce development – a critical need in the state – go hand in hand, but the state lacks an overall vision and has been content to muddle along in a time when that’s just not good enough. Gov. Mike Parson has said these are his highest priorities; the Legislature hasn’t been listening.