The silly—and nasty—season in Jefferson City, Missouri came to a merciful end last night [May 18, 2012], with the customary cheers and sophomoric tossing-in-the-air of papers that accompany the final gavel of the legislative session. This year, Missouri’s Show-Me-state legislature gained national notoriety by showing the rest of the country how to be a role model for idiotic ideas, hypocritical lawmakers and downright stupidity. [See “The Daily Show,” and “The Colbert Report.”] My sources tell me that, mixed in with the awful bills that passed and failed this year, there were a few worthy efforts—most of which were fiercely opposed by the no-nothings who hold the majority. Sadly, too much of what passes for governance in this state—and elsewhere—is either stupid, mean-spirited, democracy-killing, religiously motivated or corporate-driven—and, sometimes, all of the above.
Here are summaries of some of the most egregious bills of the 2012 Missouri legislative session. For readers who don’t live in Missouri, don’t be smug. Be afraid.
Silly stuff that actually passed
No Jayhawk license plates: Incredibly, the Missouri legislature actually spent time debating whether the state should issue University of Kansas-themed license plates [Kansas?] without special permission from the legislature. Maintaining that old MIZ-ZOU team spirit is one of my top legislative priorities, too.
No bad words in church: Apparently, the church lady is now in charge of the Missouri General Assembly. This new law establishes as a misdemeanor crime the intentional and unreasonable disruption of a house of worship, including through the use of profanity, noise or rude or indecent behavior. What? I can’t fart and/or say shit in synagogue anymore?
Pre-dawn jello shots: If you’re a nervous flier, this one’s for you. HB 1758 allows alcoholic drinks to be served as early as 4 a.m. at Lambert St. Louis International Airport. That seems like a really good idea.
Sillier stuff that they wanted to enact, but, thankfully, didn’t pass
Aerobic asininity: HB 1063 would have made the jumping jack the official state exercise of Missouri. I’d like to suggest a rider to that bill for next year: stupidity as the official state behavior of the Missouri legislature.
A 19th century solution: HB 1637 would have declared that gold and silver issued by the United States government would be legal tender in Missouri. This turn-back-the-clock notion isn’t unique to Missouri—in fact, several states have already passed a similar bill. Perhaps next year we can entertain legislation to bring back the horse and buggy, ban indoor plumbing and rescind women’s right to vote.
Casino loan-sharking: Unfortunately for the gambling lobby, the legislature hedged its bet on this one, which would have allowed casinos to make instant loans to gamblers who run out of money.
And now for something completely serious
In the lulls between debates on these frivolous bills, Missouri lawmakers managed to pass some seriously troublesome laws that will negatively impact the state. A few examples:
Chipping away at a national role model: Missouri is viewed as a backwater and flyover in many parts of the country, but its longstanding non-partisan courts plan is seen as a role model for keeping politics out of the judiciary. Many states have used the plan as the basis for their own judicial reforms. Now, the Missouri legislature has passed a bill that will create a constitutional amendment [subject to voter approval in November 2012] to give the governor more control over selection of appellate judges—a change that could inject political favoritism into the process of judicial nominations in the state.
Creating obstacles to healthcare exchanges: Under SB 464, the November 2012 ballot will include a proposal that would prohibit the establishment of a state-based health insurance exchange [as enacted in the federal Affordable Care Act], unless the exchange is established by a legislative act, initiative petition or referendum. [Who cares that it has already been enacted by federal law!] Missouri legislators also tried—but failed—to pass a bill that would have declared the federal healthcare overhaul unconstitutional and set criminal penalties for anyone who tried to enforce it. These moves are part of a nationwide strategy to undermine—in every possible way—the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. They’re also a frightening assertion of states’ rights and could bring all of us dangerously closer to a situation in which states feel empowered to disobey federal laws that they don’t agree with.
Legislating under the influence of Roy Blunt: The fact that Missouri’s U.S. Senator Roy Blunt couldn’t get it done in Congress didn’t stop the Missouri legislature from passing SB 749, which allows employers to refuse health insurance coverage for services that go against their religious or moral beliefs—including abortion, contraception and sterilization.