JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Dozens of bills are up for debate in Jefferson City, but lawmakers aren’t in session. Instead, a group of seniors is inside the House and Senate chambers, passing legislation.
The Missouri Silver Haired Legislature (SHL) was founded in 1973 and was the nation’s first after the Older Americans Act was amended to include advocacy groups. For 50 years, the group of Missouri seniors has been debating, amending and passing legislation, which turns into priorities sent to the General Assembly.
“To me, this is the highlight of the year,” Missouri SHL President John Kramer said. “To be able to be in the House and the Senate and make bills, pass or not pass, it’s just like being a regular representative or senator.”
It looks a lot like an average day of session inside the Missouri Capitol. While you don’t have to be a Democrat or Republican to be in this legislature, you must be at least 60 years old.
“We come from all over the state, but we come for the purpose of getting our bills together and deciding whether or not they are a good bill and if they should pass or not,” Kramer said. “It’s a vital organization for seniors’ growth and to help them if they have issues.”
Just like the legislative process, the group starts off with nearly 70 proposed bills, which are then narrowed down and sent through committee. The legislation that makes it through then comes to the floor for debate.
Eventually, the group comes to a consensus on five priorities, which are then sent to members of the General Assembly.
Last year, the Silver Haired Legislature asked lawmakers to exempt the tax on Social Security benefits and freeze property taxes for seniors, bills the governor signed into law this summer.
“We’re kind of late coming to the party because many states already did that, but it will definitely add income back into their budgets that they will be able to spend as we have inflation and rising costs of everything,” Missouri SHL Vice President Patricia Bowers said. “I think it is important and it is a big deal for us as seniors to receive it. It may not be many dollars but every dollar helps.”
Kramer served as Senate President Pro Tem on Wednesday. Across the building in the lower chamber, Bowers served as House Speaker.
“We get together and come up with proposals and bills that we think seniors need or want,” Kramer said. “In July, we had a bill proposal meeting and passed out 70 or so bills. We then narrowed it down to 24 before coming here to Jefferson City, and then we go into committees.”
This year, the group is focused on transportation needs, along with housing and income assistance.
“It would allow seniors to go to their doctor appointments, maybe go to the grocery store,” Bowers said. “Transportation is so important, and I understand that it’s costly, but somehow or another, we’ve got to get that into the budget.”
Delegates are elected from each of Missouri’s 10 Area Agencies on Aging. Kramer said there are 122 members in Missouri’s organization, but they have room for 150. Each delegation is allowed 12 representatives and three senators. Missouri’s Silver Haired Legislature, which is coordinated by the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) is a national model for other states.
Gov. Mike Parson proclaimed October as Missouri Silver Haired Legislature Month to honor the organization’s 50th anniversary.