Often times after a scandal, politicians promise change. This year's big scandal was all about the Department of Revenue and the scanning of personal documents, which made their way to the federal government. Of course the story has changed a million times, with more agencies getting involved and contradicting each other throughout the past few months.
Legislators have been drafting bills to stop the scanning of documents, the Senate Appropriations Chair Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, proposed to cut funds from the Department of Revenue in an attempt to get answers, and today House Speaker Rep. Tim Jones, R-Eureka, announced his plan to created an investigative committee on privacy. I'd say close to half of political coverage in the past two months has been directly DOR-related.
But what good does this do? Do scandals like these really promote change in the system, or does the constant attention on them impede real progress within the legislature?
So many Missourians are outraged with the possibility of their privacy being compromised, I doubt many politicians would admit to thinking the investigation is taking too much time or halting real legislative progress in the chambers. But what do legislators REALLY think?
Is the Department of Revenue an important story to cover? Most definitely. But, has it taken attention away from other important legislation that will now go nowhere, or would the other bills never have made it through anyway? We will never know (until time travel is invented and we can change the past, of course), but it is something to ponder.
I've already counted over 40 bills made it to the governor's desk last year...and I'm not even to the Senate bills yet. With a couple weeks left in the session, Gov. Jay Nixon has only signed and/or vetoed four issues.
Missourians have not approved a sales tax increase in decades. While legislators have approved different sales tax increase initiatives in the past, not have passed through a public vote in a long time.
This year, legislation proposing a sales tax increase to fund transportation improvements already has first-round approval in the Missouri Senate, but still needs one more vote before sending it to the House.
Will it pass in the legislature? If so, will the people then approve it? Only time will tell. But what about other types of sales tax increase initiatives in the past? Some have repeatedly failed, such as a push to increase the state's cigarette sales tax.
Missouri currently holds the lowest tobacco tax in the country at 17 cents per pack of cigarettes. For years, there has been a push to increase the sales tax to deter tobacco use in the state and create revenue. However, in the past two decades, no cigarette tax increases has passed. In fact, last year's defeat at the polls was the third time in 11 years.
As a journalist your biggest road blocks are obstructors of information...this includes secretaries, dispatchers, media lines and spokespeople. Often times you will call, with what seems to be a harmless question, and a man or woman on the phone will tell you, "I'm sorry, I can not give you any information. If you give me your name and number I can try and get someone to get back with you."
Sometimes they really will help you, but a lot of times they're just trying to get rid of you because they think the information you are after is 1) a waste of time or 2) going to put their organization in jeopardy. The hardest time to get information from a governmental department is when they know they've done something the public is unhappy about, and they must then scramble to come up with some apology or way to put it lightly to the press.
What can you do when you're repeatedly getting stonewalled for information? There are multiple things to do. If the department you need to talk to is close, GO THERE. If someone sees you there they are a lot more likely to take your request seriously. Also, bring a camera or recorder. If you're working in TV and radio, audio/video of someone denying you access or information is a story in itself. The intimidation of knowing their obstruction of information or people could be broadcasted can encourage them to let you in. When an organization denies access a lot of times it makes the public thinks the organization is hiding something, which will not look good for the organization.
Persistence is key. Multiple visits, repeated calls, finding new ways and new people to get the same information you need. As a journalist you may feel as though you're annoying someone (you probably are) but if you do it confidently but politely you will be more likely to get the information you need, which the information the people you serve, the public, need.
The motto of the Missouri legislature is to propose bills year after year in hopes that someday, eventually, maybe people will accept it.
As my first year covering a legislative session, I didn't notice it at first, but most of the bills I hear about and stories I'm covering are on issues which have been brought to the legislature year after year.
Take Sen. Will Kraus, for example. This is his third year in a row trying to get rid of a two license plate requirement. He has been calling for the law to only require a back license plate to save money. Law enforcement officials site major issues with safety, but Kraus keeps pushing on.
Sen. John Lamping, again, is pushing to shorten the legislative session in order to make lawmakers more efficient in the limited amount of time they have.
Then there's large issues debated each and every year in multiple states...things like voter ID laws.
They say history repeats itself...this is incredibly true in the legislature. And Missouri isn't the only place it happens...this happens everywhere, every year. It's interesting to so how much work and effort often times goes into solving absolutely nothing. I suppose that is just the nature of politics! It is impossible to please an entire state, or even country, of people all at once.
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