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Opinion: Update the State: Missouri should use surplus to update state technology

In mid-December, the information technology agency that serves Virginia’s General Assembly was hit with a ransomware attack that hobbled their legislative operations. 

Even closer to home, Capital Region Medical Center was recently the victim of a cyberattack, rendering the entire hospital “inoperative” for more than two weeks. 

Gov. Mike Parson has already laid out a plan to spend $400 million on broadband for the state — but an even higher emphasis on technology could be the game-changer that protects the legislature and state agencies from the inevitability of a cyberattack while establishing Missouri as a leader among state governments.

Even with the windfall of money that came to our state government during the pandemic — and the resulting infrastructure bill passed at the federal level — this will be a difficult session to get anything done. Let alone something that has clearly been off the legislative radar for quite some time, like technology updates. With Senate Republicans effectively split into two parties, Democrats in actual disarray, and a redistricting vote that just got a lot more complicated with the departure of Rep. Justin Hill, it seems almost silly to ask.

But my argument here is quite simple: There is no downside to using some of the surplus funds to update our state government’s technological infrastructure. 

With cyberattacks getting worse — real ones, not the kind where a journalist right clicks to see a page’s source code — it’s only a matter of time before the Missouri Legislature gets hit. Anyone who has ever worried about a Sunshine request is going to be really peeved when someone comes in and easily accesses all of their emails without asking. 

This is a bipartisan, non-controversial issue. Our state needs updating.

It’s not just cybersecurity, either. Investing in our digital infrastructure could have ramifications for many other issues that have plagued Missouri for years, even decades. I’m sure elected officials from the St. Louis region would love to see sales taxes paid on all of those cars driving around with temporary plates. That would be easier if the Department of Revenue was given the funds to significantly update its computer systems. 

Citizens and legislative employees alike would love if the websites for both legislative chambers were updated. I know this because I have been both of those things, and I’ve struggled to operate these sites, which look like they were created when I was in grade school.

Technology updates can also have positive implications for infrastructure, agriculture, transportation, communication, and so many other aspects of Missourians’ daily lives that state government affects.

When researching for this column, I typed in “technology” to the legislation search bar on the House website. Nothing came up. On the Senate website, I had to hit cmd+F and type it in … since there is no search bar. Still nothing. This means one of two things: Either no bills have been filed that have anything to do with technology, or the state website’s search function is broken. 

Either way, the issue needs to be addressed.

This piece originally appeared in the Jan. 9, 2022 edition of The Missouri Times newspaper.