Missouri legislators are getting really good at offering really bad bills to address matters that either aren’t significant issues or are better handled with an industrial-size dose of common sense.
Last year, Rep. Rick Brattin, a Harrisonville Republican, pitched a bill that would prohibit people on the state’s supplemental nutrition program, commonly called “food stamps,” from using those benefits to purchase steak and seafood. At the time, Brattin said he had seen people on the SNAP program buying filet mignon and crab legs, and “when I can’t afford it on my pay, I don’t want people on the taxpayer’s dime to afford those kinds of foods either.”
The problem, as I pointed out back then, is that “steak and seafood” are broad categories that cover less expensive beef and fish options that can be a part of a healthy diet. Thankfully, the bill never made it to the House calendar.
Brattin stepped up again in January with another grandstanding effort. According to SBNation.com, Brattin “proposed a bill that would strip a college athlete’s scholarship if the athlete ‘calls, incites, supports or participates in any strike or concerted refusal to play a scheduled game.’” The bill was in response to the University of Missouri football team’s support of student efforts to draw attention to discrimination issues on the Columbia campus. Brattin ended up withdrawing the bill, likely because someone pointed out to him how it blatantly violated the First Amendment.
While Brattin’s bills are, in essence, pandering to a vocal minority, a bill this week from Rep. Bart Korman is mind-boggling in its audacity. Korman, a Montgomery County Republican, has proposed a bill that would define sexual relations between lawmakers and lobbyists as a “gift” which would have to be reported on lobbyists’ mandatory monthly disclosure forms.
Keep in mind that two state lawmakers – Democratic Sen. Paul LeVota and Republican House Speaker John Diehl – left office last year over incidents involving interns.
In Thursday’s edition of the Democrat, state House Speaker Todd Richardson told the Associated Press that in the wake of those incidents, this year the Legislature is focusing on tightening ethics policies. Rep. Dave Muntzel told reporter Nicole Cooke: “Because we see so much publicity for these incidents, in order to build confidence back in the minds of people who don’t realize it’s just a few people that get involved in that, it has stimulated some need for ethics reforms.”
Muntzel was right about the public perception, and the efforts to reinforce and strengthen ethics policies are at the very least good publicity. But thanks to Korman’s bill, the Legislature now is being questioned by critics from across the country. Korman told USA Today, “I guess this has gone viral or something.”
It’s more like he created a virus.
Instead of throwing the cloak of blame onto lobbyists, it would be nice if state lawmakers would step up and be responsible public servants and community leaders. As Muntzel and Richardson both noted, last year’s incidents involved just two elected officials – but so long as bills like Korman’s are proposed, the whole lot in Jefferson City will be called into question.
Common sense can cure a lot of the Legislature’s ills. The first dose should go to Korman.
Bob Satnan is the communications director for Sedalia School District 200.