by Phill Brooks

As Missouri legislators prepare for the 2024 legislative session, they should consider how many of their major 2023 accomplishments received limited public attention.

The 2023 legislative session focused on divisive issues like restricting transgender medical procedures for minors and restricting students from participating on school sports teams designated for a sex different than the student’s birth certificate.

Another major issue was a failed GOP effort to make statewide ballot issue initiatives more difficult. The measure was filed in response to the abortion-rights constitutional amendment.

Yet, reviewing the legislature’s full record, there were many significant issues passed into law that directly impact Missourians beyond the ideological and partisan issues that often dominated the attention of legislators, the public and reporters.

One major exception that did get public attention is the multi-billion dollar project to expand Interstate 70 to three lanes between Kansas City and St. Louis. It will take years to complete, but could have a huge impact on interstate transportation.

Other successful proposals that got less attention involved tax breaks.

Counties or county voters would empowered to award tax credits for property assessment increases on the homes owned by the elderly. The bill also expands income tax exemptions for pension benefits and Social Security. Legislative staff estimated the state tax cuts would reduce state tax collections by about $300 million per year when fully implemented.

Lawmakers also passed a measure that provides tax credits for businesses that hire student interns. That new law also establishes rights for college athletes to receive private compensation for use of the student’s name or image.

Tax credits would be provided for child adoption costs under another bill signed by the governor which also adds additional provisions for advanced health care directives.

Non-tax laws include giving physical therapists the power to provide treatment without a doctor’s prescription.

An education bill would expand the right of public schools to teach children religious topics including the Bible and Hebrew Scriptures.

Equal-parenting time would be defined as in a child’s best interest in child-custody cases. Beyond that, the new law provides that parents who fail to meet their child support obligations will be given additional rights to seek keeping various licenses including driving and professional licenses.

Medicaid coverage for mothers of new borns will be extended from 60 days to one year after birth. That new law includes a number of other significant health issues.

One unrelated provision restricts examination of the pelvic regions by a health care providers of an anesthetized patients without prior approval or a court order under another new law.

Another provision expands coverage of do-not-resuscitate orders for minors.

There’s a new law to expand to adults the restriction on texting while driving a motor vehicle. The bill also contains provisions to toughen the requirement for a driver to have auto insurance.

Another new law provides consumer protections in civil lawsuit awards on how much the lawyer contracted by a party in the case can get from a court award.

Another bill signed into law by the governor expands to the relatives who can delegate control of the final disposition of a deceased person

There’s a new law that creates a crime for tampering with an automated teller machine (ATM) and also allows school safety officers to carry fire arms in public schools.

While reporters covered many of those issues, I sense our coverage was obscured by the intense ideological and political battles on the major controversies in the General Assembly. Maybe we need to adjust our coverage efforts.

However, statewide public officials also share some of the blame for distracted public attention.

In my earlier years as a statehouse reporter, Gov. Kit Bond, Gov. Mel Carnahan and Attorney General John Danforth were laser focused in public presentations on consumer and education issues that directly impacted a majority of Missourians.

Their support of these issues helped the public, lawmakers and reporters focus on the major issues before the legislature.

On the other side, the legislature itself has obscured attention to the major issues before the General Assembly.

The legislature’s growing practice to throw completely unrelated amendments onto bills in the hectic closing days of the legislative session made many of the enacted bills confusing legislative smorgasboards.

Public confusion and reporting difficulties are inevitable if lawmakers themselves cannot limit focus on the key issue of a bill in the closing days of the session.