January 11, 2019
What does it take to pass improved public policy in Missouri, including reforming old laws that were ill-conceived that have been harming the quality of our common life? It is a lot like gardening. We must be persistent in researching what kinds of seeds can work on our particular piece of ground, in plowing the field, and in applying the proper types of fertilizer. “Nature” will have its way related to water and sunshine, and we must also respond to either flood or drought conditions when they arise (that is, the whims of politics).
For years, Empower Missouri’s Criminal Justice Issues Team and the Missouri HIV Justice Coalition that we staff have been busy researching, plowing and fertilizing.
We believe we saw the first green sprig emerge from the soil on January 9, when Speaker of the House Elijah Haahr (R-Springfield) had this to say during his opening day speech to the 100th Missouri General Assembly:
“…..we must provide opportunities to those in a broken criminal justice system. Last year, the House unanimously passed reforms to our sentencing laws and we will again lead on these reforms.”
We have an excellent chance this year for significant criminal justice reform. Mandatory minimums is the failed “tough on crime” program that has exploded prison populations nationwide. It is clear that Missouri has been incarcerating far too many people at far too high of a cost and with far too small of a return on investment in terms of public safety or rehabilitation. Now with our prisons reaching an overcrowded state, there is considerable pressure to make needed changes.
While Speaker Haahr was highlighting mandatory minimums, we are equally excited to see two other significant measures reintroduced this year. Geriatric parole, advancing parole opportunities for those 65 and older is again up for discussion. You may recall our other seed to sprout to much fanfare when pre-filed in December, is a set of bills designed to modernize Missouri’s outdated HIV-specific criminal codes.
Now for the bad news, or perhaps more appropriate to today’s metaphor- the weeds growing in our pasture. Last year we spent considerable time and organizational capital to stop work-documentation requirement bills designed to curtail participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, commonly known as food stamps). Unfortunately, we will again be playing defense to protect that program for hard-working individuals and families who often cannot make the money or get the work hours needed to lift them out of poverty. We are also concerned for some additional bills which could potentially further weaken the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. If you are one of our hunger advocates or just a concerned citizen, please consider signing up for a joint coalition advocacy day organized by the Missouri Coalition for the Environment on February 6th.
Now, will you help by continuing to cultivate change? We need your participation in our 2019 campaigns, your advocacy/volunteer work, and your continued generosity to water and fertilize seeds and sprouts so they move from possibility to reality. You can do that through response to our emailed action alerts, through attendance at public forms and advocacy days, and through setting in-district meetings with your legislators.
In solidarity as we move toward justice,
Jeanette Mott Oxford,
P.S. – Join us for our first of session Under the Dome and Across the State Briefing Call for Advocates on Thursday, January 24, 4:30-6PM (CST). Dial 515-603-3103, passcode 167856#, to hear issue area experts and to access facts about bills that should concern every social justice advocate. In February and March, we will provide two calls per month, since the legislature sometimes moves at breakneck speed by that time and we don’t want you to miss out.