WHAT OTHERS SAY: Missouri's desultory, destructive legislative session

Monday, May 21, 2012 | 6:05 p.m. CDT

This will be remembered in Missouri as the year the legislature didn’t even try.

Lawmakers passed no significant job-creating legislation. They made only a weak, unsuccessful stab at reining in the runaway tax credits that gnaw into the state’s revenue.

Attempts to make it easier for state education officials to intervene in the Kansas City Public Schools or other failing districts were derailed by a combination of union resistance and radical conservative agendas. Lawmakers watched a court strike down the state’s law on student transfers but did nothing to clarify under what circumstances children should be able to enroll in neighboring school districts if their own district is unaccredited.

A cigarette tax increase to lift Missouri from the bottom of the heap among the states? Not a chance.

Lawmakers couldn’t even get serious about passing legislation that would require or even encourage online retailers to pay to the state the sales taxes it is lawfully entitled to receive.

Instead of getting serious about economic development or agreeing on ways to raise revenues for the state, legislators bickered over how to dole out the inadequate dollars they had to work with this year.

In a new low, the House passed a budget that ultimately would have ended health care benefits for 2,800 low-income blind Missourians. Some especially callous lawmakers actually depicted those people, many of whom have multiple and severe health problems, as freeloaders. Fortunately, the Senate restored the health care funds.

The lowlights of the 2012 legislative session vastly outpaced the highlights.

Republican House Speaker Steve Tilley locked the public out of the House chamber so that a bronze bust of incendiary radio host Rush Limbaugh could be inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians.

A legislator’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt to prevent any discussion of sexuality in public schools — the infamous “don’t say gay” bill — was mocked nationally.

The House passed a bill making it a crime for any federal official to enforce or enact any portion of the federal Affordable Care Act in Missouri. The Senate put an end to that piece of nonsense. But both chambers agreed to a ballot issue asking voters to bar Gov. Jay Nixon from setting up a health insurance exchange, as required by the federal law. That shortsighted move will put Missouri behind the curve if the U.S. Supreme Court allows the rollout of the health care reform law to proceed.

Speaking of Nixon, his contribution to this legislative session was negligible. The Democratic governor stood up for the blind Missourians whose health care was on the chopping block but showed virtually no leadership on economic development initiatives, ethics reform or education reform.

For a governor who so far faces a smooth road to re-election, Nixon seems content to sit back and play it safe. Missouri needs more than that.

On the plus side, the legislature passed some good criminal justice legislation, including a measure to even up the sentencing disparity in crimes involving crack cocaine and powdered cocaine. And a bill enabling cities to set up a “land bank” to deal with vacant properties and derelict housing should be good for Kansas City’s neighborhoods.

Overall, though, the session was as much of a bust as the bronze image of Limbaugh that everyone is now trying to figure out what to do with. Missouri’s legislature is seriously dysfunctional. This wasted session should be a concern for taxpayers, and the people responsible for it should get close scrutiny from voters in the August and November elections.

Copyright The Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.


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