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Columbia's legislators bring diverse issues to next session

November 05, 2003
By: Matthew Lunders
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Columbia's legislators are gearing up to tackle bills on a range of issues from toll roads to gay rights, from rock-climbing to science research. With the December 1 opening for prefiling bills for the next legislative session approaching, senators and representatives are putting the finishing touches on bills they plan to introduce.

Some familiar topics are expected to be revisited, like increased funding for education and healthcare. Other bills will address issues that are new to the legislative agenda. Here's a look at some of the issues on lawmakers' lists:

Rep. Jeff Harris (D-Columbia)

Harris said he wants to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would create toll roads in Missouri. The money collected would fund road improvements.

"I'm tired of driving on bad roads in the state. Our roads are an embarrassment and we need to fix them," Harris said. "I think we ought to at least put that before the voters to see if they want to approve it or not."

He also said he wanted to offer tax credits to corporations for qualified research in the life sciences. Harris said that research could lead to the development of more high-tech advanced manufacturing, which would create more "21st century jobs." Corporations would get an added tax break if they partner with state colleges and universities to do the research.

Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson (D-Columbia)

Wilson plans to focus more on health issues. She said that mental illnesses, such as depression, contribute to many workplace absences. Yet, insurance policies cover mental healthcare differently than other illnesses, which Wilson said she would like to see changed through legislation.

"We put less effort into making sure that people are mentally healthy enough to go to work and take care of their families," Wilson said. "There is an inequity there that does not serve individuals well, and does not serve our economy well."

Wilson said she would also try to pass "cleanup legislation" to conform Missouri laws to recent federal policy changes. These changes came from Supreme Court rulings and the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, and dealt with issues such as sodomy.

"I want to make sure that any consensual sexual activity between adults is not criminalized."

Rep. Chuck Graham (D-Columbia)

Graham said protecting education funding will be "the number one issue." Through gaming legislation, he said he intended to generate revenue for schools. Two provisions would be to raise taxes on casinos and remove the $500 loss limit.

Another issue he said he intends to address is standardizing regulations for rock-climbing walls. This would require all walls to be inspected, "same as any amusement ride." This summer, a woman died in Columbia in an accident on an unlicensed climbing wall.

Sen. Ken Jacob (D-Columbia)

Jacob was unavailable for comment after several attempts to contact him. A spokesperson for Jacob said he is still unsure of his agenda for the upcoming legislative session.