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Opinion: It’s time to move Missouri forward

  

Last week, I told a friend I was preparing to hear a Republican bill to lower the state minimum wage, and their response was, “Have they ever considered moving forward, rather than backward?” Sarcasm aside, they had a point. As a first-term state representative, I’m growing increasingly frustrated by the regressive rhetoric and policies coming out of the Republican party.

And boy, did I feel every bit of that frustration last week.

Rep. Ashley Aune

From gutting Medicaid expansion funding and limiting a judge’s ability to fix misleading ballot language to proposing a delay to the voter-approved minimum wage increase — it’s clearer than ever that the Missouri GOP is steering us in the wrong direction — a direction away from the majority of Missouri voters.

Rather than looking to the future and moving Missouri forward with policies that position every single Missourian for success, Republicans have devoted this session to dragging our state backward. They’re so upset they lost the fight against Medicaid expansion and raising the minimum wage in our state, they have wasted valuable time working to undo the explicit will of the people.

A perfect opportunity for progress is Medicaid expansion. In 2020, Missouri voters spoke loudly and clearly that they wanted the government to stop stalling and join the vast majority of states to approve expansion. They approved a constitutional amendment doing just that, ensuring an additional 275,000 Missourians would receive potentially life-saving health care coverage beginning July 1. In January, Gov. Mike Parson even included funding for expansion in his proposed budget. Despite his long-standing opposition to Medicaid expansion, he recognized that the people decided and respected their decision.

On the other hand, Rep. Cody Smith, chairman of the House Budget Committee, orchestrated a political stunt that separated Medicaid funding from the appropriations bill and ultimately killed it in committee.

And let’s be clear: This is nothing more than craven gamesmanship with people’s lives and livelihoods. We have a constitutional obligation to implement expansion, so funding must get approved — whether it happens legislatively in the Senate or in the courts. So why are we clinging to the past and trying to dismantle something that is basically a foregone conclusion?

Speaking of the courts, last week, the House passed HB 850, which prohibits Missouri judges from changing false or misleading ballot language written by lawmakers. This is in direct response to two courts finding language in a 2020 ballot measure the legislature originally wrote to be insufficient and unfair — prompting the courts to rewrite clearly deceptive language. The measure passed anyway, so this bill feels more like a legislative flex than anything else.

So few bills even get heard, let alone out of committee and onto the floor of the House. The fact that this one passed through the House and is headed to the Senate tells me everything I need to know about Republican priorities.

Regressive priorities were also on full display Tuesday when the Special Committee on Small Business held a hearing for HB 726, which proposes to delay the minimum wage increase. The same increase Missouri voters approved in 2018 by more than 62 percent. This bill would hurt vulnerable Missouri workers who have been hit hardest by the pandemic and the ensuing economic downturn — the same workers we have all clamored to call essential. Frankly, it’s insulting to low-wage workers across the state.

What was equally frustrating, however, was learning at least one of my Republican colleagues wasn’t even familiar with the term “food desert” (he represents Branson, where the poverty rate is nearly 4 percent higher than the state average), while another reported his community has no food insecurity …  despite the fact that his wife runs the local food bank. True story.

In one week, the Missouri GOP has done serious damage — not only to the integrity of the legislation we pass through the House but also to our sworn duty to serve as responsible stewards of the policies governing our state.

We’ve got to do better. We were all sent to Jefferson City to give a voice to the folks back home, and they are clearly screaming for progress. We cannot improve the lives of our constituents if we refuse to listen to them and deny the reality of their struggles.

We cannot move Missouri forward if we continue to look backward.