Amendment 2 Victory Has Lessons for Us: We Can Find Ways Around Legislative Logjams

In 2012, Empower Missouri became part of the Missouri Medicaid Coalition. Year after year, our coalition would ask the Missouri General Assembly to close the Medicaid coverage gap so that workers with low wages could get into Medicaid if they did not meet the income guidelines for the Marketplace plans in the Affordable Care Act.

Our pleas were ignored, even after 23 ministers were arrested for praying and singing in the Missouri Senate chambers in 2014. While Jay Nixon was governor, we had a governor who wanted to solve the problem, but the General Assembly refused to cooperate with him. Occasionally we would find a Majority Caucus sponsor who would offer a fairly weak bill which advocates would try to improve. However, these never made it through the legislative process.

Finally, in 2019, we said, “Enough is enough!” We worked with others to gather signatures through petition initiative. We garnered the signatures needed, and the Secretary of State certified that Amendment 2 would be on the ballot. On August 4, we took the power away from a very obstinate General Assembly by passing a constitutional amendment to close the Medicaid coverage gap by a margin of nearly 80,000 votes. This is an incredibly important victory, so please take time to celebrate.

This is the same model that we used twice before when the General Assembly refused to raise the minimum wage to reflect the increase in the cost of living. We used it additionally to pass campaign ethics and other governmental reforms through the CLEAN Amendment in 2018.

Now we are facing two new situations where legislators are refusing to listen to the facts and take appropriate action. First, Gov. Parson has called a Special Session on violent crime, and the Missouri Senate is poised to pass Senate Bill 1 as our Weekly Perspective goes to press. Some elected officials want to use SB 1 to back away from the spirit of the Raise the Age legislation that we secured in 2018. They would increase the use of certification hearings to try and sentence juveniles as adults.

Secondly, the U.S. House passed the HEROES Act in May, a $3 trillion package of relief that responds to the coronavirus public health emergency and the related devastating economic downturn. The U.S. Senate has not shown similar concern however, passing a $1 trillion HEALS Act package in July with these immoral components:

  • $175 million for a new FBI building on its current footprint, across the street from a Trump-owned hotel;
  • $686 million for F-35’s, a military plane with a long history of equipment failures, plus hundreds of millions for additional defense equipment;
  • Doubling the tax deduction for business meals, known as the “three-martini-lunch deduction”; and
  • Liability protections that would make it a monumental challenge for any plaintiff, especially a person of modest income, to successfully seek remedy for a coronavirus-related injury.

From our Amendment 2 win, we can glean lessons to inform us how to respond when legislators refuse to take appropriate action:

  • Never give up. Be persistent and keep coming back.
  • Learn the rules as well as your opponents. There may be a different avenue, like a petition initiative, that can be tried.
  • When elected officials refuse to hear the cries of personally impacted people, the ballot box is a potent tool. It can be used to pass ballot measures, but it also can be used to hold legislators accountable for gridlock that harms the health and welfare of their own constituents.

We have a campaign going on about Senate Bill 1, the Special Session legislation, that you may access at this link. We also are steadily moving toward our goal of 2000 contacts with Senators Blunt and Hawley regarding the need to improve the HEALS Act, and you may participate through this webpage. But, if legislators refuse to hear us, we must also mobilize to hold them accountable in the November 3 election.

Stay informed about what legislators are doing on these issues by registering for the next Empowering You Webinar. Also consider going the extra mile to bolster our voice for social justice by donating to Empower Missouri today. There is strength in organized voices and in dollar signs. Please help us have an adequate supply of both.

In solidarity,

Jeanette Mott Oxford
Director of Policy & Organizing

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