by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
The 94th Missouri General Assembly ended its first regular session Friday. I think I speak for all Missourians when I say, “Thank God that’s over.”
And now it is time for me to announce the winners and losers of the Christianson Missouri General Assembly awards, which I commonly refer to as the Generals.
The clear winner of The Most Influential Lobby Award is Missouri Right to Life, or MRTL. Every bill introduced in the General Assembly this year was scrutinized by MRTL and had to receive its blessing to move forward. More important, MRTL was able to introduce amendments to legislation that either put restrictions on funding or limited women’s access to health care and contraceptives. In the waning hours of the session, MRTL almost killed the midwifery bill based on unfounded speculation that midwives might start performing abortions – a scenario that apparently hadn’t occurred to midwives or the bill’s sponsor.
One of MRTL’s cruelest victories this session was passage of legislation that would allow public schools to shirk their responsibilities to educate students about human reproduction by teaching abstinence-only sex education courses. Not surprisingly, abstinence is the form of birth control with the highest failure rate. Encouraging schools to teach faith in one’s ability to abstain will ensure a lot more unplanned pregnancies in this state.
The big losers in this category: Women and families.
Winner of the Cold-Blooded Reptile Award was hard to choose. Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, seemed like a shoo-in and clearly should have won for his use of the “nuclear” option to pass the MOHELA bill, for signing on to SJR 23, which alters the Missouri Constitution to restrict the judicial branch; and for co-sponsoring a host of bad legislation that panders to special interests. Unfortunately, he was disqualified on technical grounds because it is not clear he is oviparous.
So the award goes to the runner-up, the three-toed box turtle, which was named the official state reptile during this session.
The big loser this year: The ornate box turtle.
The Caught Between A Rock And A Hard Place Award goes to our own Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia. As it became clear that any MOHELA money granted to the University of Missouri would come with limits on academic freedom, Graham used what little power he had in the Senate to fight those restrictions. After losing the fight, Sen. Graham didn’t have time to turn around before being shot in the back by Columbians who care less about essential academic freedoms that make a great university and more about how much concrete and carpet they can sell when new buildings are constructed on campus.
The big loser in this category: The Missouri crayfish. After all, he lives between rocks and hard places and was sure he would win. But don’t worry – as a consolation, the crayfish was named the official state invertebrate.
The Best Return on Investment Award goes to AT&T, which spent just more than $1 million in Jefferson City this session and got the General Assembly to hand over about $50 million in municipal rights of way and deregulation legislation.
The big losers here: Missourians.
The Worst Legislator of the Year Award. This is a tough choice, with a crowd of lawmakers who all are deserving. But I am going to have to go with my personal favorite, Rep. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, who introduced a long list of bills that were outright hostile to the public education system. Though it ultimately failed, one of her most noted bills was the “Intellectual Diversity” bill, which would have encouraged hiring based on ideology, not qualifications, at our public colleges and universities and required institutions to submit diversity reports to Jefferson City every year.
For some period of time, this bill also contained an amendment saying “the Bible is inerrant.” I can only imagine this was inserted as a cost-saving measure because there would be little need for religious studies departments on our public campuses if the Missouri General Assembly had settled this matter once and for all.
The big losers in this field: Missouri students.
Unfortunately, we don’t yet know all the winners and losers. In the final days of the session, so much legislation was rushed through that it might take some time to learn the details about who really won and at what cost.
But for now we can all breathe a little easier knowing the craziness won’t start again until January.