The Missouri General Assembly has been a predictable disappointment, even in a session truncated the coronavirus pandemic.
Much of the rhetoric from leadership when legislators reconvened weeks ago was about the need to pass a budget and little else.
But legislators still have found plenty of time for mischief.
It looks as if Medicaid expansion – after years of legislators’ mindless refusal to even seriously consider the issue – is headed to the voters. Legislators have worked on measures to undermine that and have again held out the false choice that health insurance for working Missourians will mean less money for schools.
Undermining the voters’ choices goes further. A year and a half ago, Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved a plan to avoid the gerrymandering of legislative districts that is the key to Republicans holding more power in Jefferson City than the votes they get on Election Day add up to. Clean Missouri is not a perfect plan. It’s the sort of half-measure compromise that seems to only make sense in Missouri and that unnecessarily complicates things. Other states have adopted simple, objective criteria for drawing legislative districts. It’s math and a map, minus the politics.
But Clean Missouri is far better than what we have now – it also included modest ethics reforms – and 62 percent of the voters said yes in 2018.
The General Assembly this week voted to inform the voters that they were wrong, that they need to vote again, that they undo that they just did – and before the new process can play out even once. This was Republicans’ stated No. 1 priority at the beginning of the year, and nothing interceding from the outside – not a pandemic, not nearly half a million Missourians being thrown out of work – was going to get in the way. We’ll see in November how the voters take that.
What could legislators have done instead? Here’s just one. How about at least talking about raising Missouri’s unemployment benefits, among the lowest and most restrictive in the country? The $600-a-week bump from Washington, meant as economic stimulus more than jobless relief, runs out soon. It’s safe to assume that a good many Missourians and their families will be lacking a paycheck well beyond the Legislature’s adjournment at the end of this week.
Sure, there is talk that Gov. Mike Parson will call a special session or two later this year to take up some issues left aside this spring. We’ll see. The ethos of Jefferson City centers on finding ways to defer and delay on even pressing issues – roads and bridges, school funding, public health, unregulated gambling – unless of course the issue is about holding on to power.