A new session

Sunday, January 8, 2006

Every legislative session has its shares of surprises and disappointments, but some things are as predictable as death and taxes. For example, this being an election year, look for proposals in the Missouri Legislature, which opened last week, to appeal to voters: more school funding, stricter guidelines for eminent domain and restoring some of the funding cut from Medicaid last year.

If there is any room for increased spending on state programs, it can be attributed in large part to the pro-business climate pushed by Matt Blunt since he became governor last year and backed by legislative action on key items of interest to business in general.

But it's still obvious that there are pressing needs that continue to outstrip projected funding. The state's highways and transportation infrastructure, for example, continue to demand more and more dollars.

During opening-day speeches designed to set the tone for the session, legislative leaders conspicuously avoided a couple of controversial topics that will still likely get some, if not considerable, attention: Blunt's proposal that 65 percent of school funding be spent on student instruction, and stem-cell research.

Meanwhile, the legislative grind is expected, as usual, to produce a variety of bills on topics as diverse as sex offenders, telemarketing calls, open meetings and records, camera surveillance of traffic violators and photo IDs for voters.

Not every bill that is proposed, of course, will find its way to the governor's desk for signature. But legislative proposals serve another useful purpose: to test the will of Missourians on matters that are, or should be, of importance to them. Through committee hearings, floor debate and contacts with constituents, legislators help educate the state and develop compelling arguments -- on all sides -- for many worthwhile issues.

By May 12, when this year's session ends, much of what is being proposed today will either be law or will have gone the way of many legislators' hopes and dreams: into the dustbin of history or back to the drawing board for next year's session.

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