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What Christmas presents does the Missouri legislature need this season?


What Christmas presents does the Missouri legislature need this season?

Dec 11, 2023 | 6:50 am ET
By Janice Ellis
What Christmas presents does the Missouri legislature need this season?
The Christmas tree outside the governor's office in the Missouri Capitol in December 2018 (photo courtesy of the Missouri Governor's Office).

As the year draws to a close and a new legislative session dawns, what presents do you hope Santa will leave under the Christmas tree at the Missouri Capitol?

Each of us can help Santa out as he is making his list and checking it twice.

What do you hope legislators will find when they open the big, beautifully-wrapped boxes left for them as they begin a new session on Jan. 3?

So here goes.

No doubt curious, and perhaps caring, legislators will be tempted to open the best-wrapped box first, the contents of which contains a crystal ball that implores them to muster the collective will to actually pass meaningful policies and bills to make life better for the majority of Missourians.

We can see those gathered around the tree smiling, shaking their heads in agreement, even glad-handing in acknowledgement that it would be a great departure from the infighting, grandstanding, and gridlock that have been the standard fare the last several legislative sessions.

Hopefully, legislators will recall and want to improve their dismal performance of the last session.

In the present marked education, they will find lots of reasons and evidence to help improve the outcomes for Missouri’s children — increased availability and access to childcare, early education programs to meeting the technological and other resource needs of elementary and secondary students.

What will legislators find in the present marked health care?

There are a host of opportunities in that box to address some tough and lingering issues when it comes to availing Missourians access to the best health care in multiple areas.

Let’s begin with providing citizens the opportunity to weigh in and vote on a 2024 ballot measure to help resolve the abortion issue.

Within the health care box are also tools to ensure Missourians who most need Medicaid can get it, including vulnerable children. Then there are the ongoing problems of how the program is poorly administered — or failed to be administered at all.

There is voluminous data on the problems as well as solutions to make it easier for those who most need Medicaid services to get them.

The biggest box under the tree, labeled “miscellany,” contains a host of tools for legislators to address other pressing needs like overhauling the child welfare agency by first addressing adequate funding and staffing to fix one of the largest foster care systems in the country.

Missouri, like many states, is experiencing growing homelessness, especially in metropolitan areas. It is a problem, if available tools are applied, that can be effectively addressed if not totally minimized. The state legislature passed a law that bans sleeping on state-owned land, yet did nothing to provide places where people with no home can sleep.

With available dollars in the Missouri Housing Development Commission and the state’s large surplus, there are resources to address these needs.

The continual use of lead pipes to deliver drinking water is still a generational health issue. Adopting a plan and schedule to remove them to meet the Environmental Protection Agency 10-year deadline is an imperative.

Will legislators use the tools in the miscellany box to finally pass a sports wagering bill that will keep billions of dollars in revenues within the state?

What about fixing the problems — from guaranteeing the quality of the product to equity in granting licenses to operate dispensaries — that plague the cannabis industry?

Perhaps one of the most important item in the miscellany box is how to best preserve the right of Missourians to cast a vote. Will legislators use the tools within their disposal to protect and prevent the disenfranchisement of large groups of its citizens?

While such a Christmas tree in the Capitol with presents containing the will and tools that will enable and empower legislators to work on behalf of most Missourians would be a great thing, allowing our imagination to propel us into action could be more effective.

Now is a good time to give some thought about how best to convey our legislative wish list. What do we want our legislators to work on, find solutions for, and work to get policies and legislation passed?

Once we communicate our priorities, we can also figure out how to monitor what, if anything, is being done to address them.

How do we help set the legislative agenda by sharing our wish list? How do we help break the partisan infighting, side shows and gridlock on issues that represent the wishes of the minority — like book banning, transgender participation in sports, preventing the teaching of the history of race in America — while the concerns of the majority go unaddressed.

Are you making a legislative wish list? Are you checking it twice?

How are you assessing the behavior of your elected representative? Santa looks at whose been naughty or nice.

What standards will you use to measure the effectiveness of your representative and senator in using the tools available to them to address some of our most pressing issue for the state when they return to the capitol on Jan. 3?

There is no better time than now to give a legislative wish list serious thought and determine how you will track how it will be fulfilled.

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