Commentary
9:54 pm
Thu January 9, 2014

Editor's Weekly: How Missouri's Legislature Is Like A Snowstorm

Two topics dominated St. Louisans' news this week -- unusual cold and snow returned to our region and Missouri legislators returned to Jefferson City.

It would be snarky to ask which poses the greater threat to public welfare. Yet as the bad weather rolled out and the legislators rolled in, I couldn't help but notice certain parallels in the way we think about these natural and political phenomena.

For example, both involve talk of slippery slopes. The snowy ones bedeviled traffic. The metaphorical ones have been playing a role in the debate over Medicaid. Key Republicans are refusing more federal money to expand Medicaid coverage because they say it would put the state on the slippery slope of federal dependency. Their refusal leaves thousands of Missourians stranded -- too poor for the new insurance exchange, not poor enough for Medicaid. How to pay for their medical care is one of the most important questions our elected representatives will -- or perhaps will not -- face up to in this session.

Thomas Jefferson in Jefferson City
Thomas Jefferson in Jefferson City
Credit Marshall Griffin, St. Louis Public Radio

Another similarity between Mother Nature and the legislature is that both are inescapable. Sure, you can temporarily ignore either. And it makes sense to discount the hype that pervades discussion of both. But in the end, storms and laws have real impact on our lives. We ignore their formation at our peril.

As much as we may fear what the legislature might do, doing nothing may sometimes pose an even bigger danger. You may question the way state officials mobilized to pursue Boeing jobs recently, but at least they demonstrated that they can overcome gridlock. Reaching a compromise on school accreditation and student transfers will be a bigger challenge. This week's snowstorm brought gridlock, too -- the literal kind. St. Louis city residents stuck on unplowed streets had plenty to say about the hazards of government doing nothing.

There is one important differences between weather and the legislature. Storms are impervious to human intervention. Legislative action is fueled by influence. Of course, elected officials are supposed to pay attention to what their constituents want. But Missouri's laissez-faire approach to campaign contributions and ethics has raised suspicions that special interests can easily trump the public interest in our state.

This week, St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon did our best to cover both the weather and the legislature. Rachel Lippmann and our newscasters took the lead in reporting on how the weather affected St. Louisans' daily routines; graphics by Brent Jones put the snow and cold in historical perspective; and Mary Delach Leonard debunked the urban myth that you're legally safer not to shovel your sidewalk.

Political reporters Marshall Griffin and Jo Mannies took the lead in reporting on what the legislature might do, with special attention to education issues from Dale Singer and Tim Lloyd. In coming weeks, we'll continue to explore how action in Jeff City might affect the daily lives and long-term prospects of people in our region. We hope our coverage on either topic will leave you better prepared to cope with both.

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