Heard of the Silver-Haired Legislature? Advocate group for senior citizens in Missouri is 50 years-old

Published: May. 16, 2023 at 6:56 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - It was the first organization of its kind anywhere in the United States that began in 1973 as a voice for older people when the Missouri state legislature meets in Jefferson City.

“This is our 50th year, and you’d never heard of us,” said Dorothy Knowles when I admitted to being unfamiliar with the Silver Haired Legislature. “Did you know one-out-of-every-six people in Missouri is now over 60?”

Knowles knows what she’s talking about because long before she became a senior citizen herself, she worked for what is now called the SeniorAge Area Agency on Aging and, during that time, helped organize the Silver Haired Legislature, a non-profit group that the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services supports.

When asked if the Silver Haired Legislature was a lobbyist for the elderly, Dorothy shook her head.

“No,” she replied with a laugh. “Lobbyists get paid.”

This group is made up of volunteers who serve without pay. There are 150 members (15 delegates each in 10 regions) across Missouri. Senior citizens elect three senators and 12 representatives from each region, and they meet every fall to hold a model legislative session at the state capitol in the same chambers as the government’s legislature.

But their goals are a bit different.

“We are advocates for issues that will benefit seniors,” Knowles explained. “Anything we do up there is totally non-partisan.”

Each session, the group puts together a pre-prepared docket of bills and resolutions they are interested in supporting and then settles on five priorities to try and push through the House and Senate.

This year those five priorities saw only two get approval from lawmakers, but they are significant and are awaiting Governor Mike Parson’s approval to become law.

Those two laws would remove the income tax on Social Security benefits and allow counties to grant a property tax credit for those 65 and older that would effectively freeze their property taxes.

Missouri is one of only 11 states that tax Social Security benefits, although the current tax is only for single-tax-filers who make over $85,000 a year and joint filers who make over $100,000. But if the Governor signs his approval, no one will have to pay state income tax on their Social Security even though it will take around $318 million out of the state’s coffers.

“I was proud to vote for that one because too often in this building, the conversation about tax cuts center around corporations,” said Missouri State Representative Crystal Quade, the House Minority Leader. “That’s big businesses taking money away from our budget and everyday Missourians. But this was a tax cut for folks who actually need it, senior citizens who are often on fixed incomes. So we were very excited to pass that with bi-partisan approval.”

Dorothy says she’s proud that the Silver Haired Legislature passed two of its five priorities.

“You very seldom get a piece of legislation across the finish line in less than four years,” she pointed out.

And one of the group’s biggest priorities in the future is the continuing struggle to get prescription drug costs lowered.

“One of the drugs I take costs $800 for a 90-day supply,” Dorothy said. “So what do you do? Sell your house or die? It’s a struggle for many people.”

And with President Joe Biden and Republican Kevin McCarthy trying to agree to avoid a looming U.S. debt default Tuesday, the threat of an economic nightmare is also a concern among those who get Social Security.

“They’re saying it could lead to people not getting their Social Security check next month,” Dorothy said. “And you’d be surprised how much fear that puts in seniors because so many of them live on Social Security. If you didn’t think you were going to get your paycheck next week, you’d probably be a little hyper too.”

To report a correction or typo, please email digitalnews@ky3.com