The Missouri Legislature Convenes

Article excerpt

When Missouri legislators open the 1996 General Assembly Wednesday, they literally will have no idea of the shape or substance of many issues that will land in their laps before adjourning in mid-May. That's because they must wait until they see what the Republican Congress and the Democratic president can agree upon regarding social welfare spending for the states.

If Congress sends to the states a series of block grants for welfare, health care and other programs, as the radical Republicans running the House want, Missouri's lawmakers will spend much of the four and a half months quarreling over how to divide fewer dollars for the very needy.

Such a time-consuming enterprise will do little to resolve the state's most pressing matters. The very needy will be poorly served by such wrangling and hot air. The debate will give Republicans and Democrats alike many issues over which to grandstand as they prepare for elections in August and November.

House Republicans have set up task forces to study issues that Congress is likely to throw to the states. One example of mean-spirited politics concerns welfare payments for mothers with dependent children. Some legislators would like to consider establishing local welfare boards, akin to the draft boards of old, to pass judgment on eligible mothers. The opportunity this arrangement would present for favoritism, punishment and humiliation ought to be enough to stop it dead in its tracks.

At best, rational Missourians can hope that common sense and decency will prevail - and the Legislature will not turn back the clock on several issues. Among them are a woman's right to have an abortion if she and her physician believe one is needed. There will surely be another push to pass a bill mandating counseling for women wanting an abortion. Gov. Mel Carnahan vetoed such a bill last year. He should keep his pen ready this year, too. …