The state legislature adjourned for the year before agreement was reached on a proposal to provide health care coverage to uninsured, low income Missouri parents at no cost to the state. A plan which made use of $93 million in federal funding, as well as over $50 million offered by Missouri’s hospitals, was supported by the Governor, Republicans and Democrats in the State Senate, as well as health care advocates, providers, insurers and business leaders. It failed due to lack of support from the State House Leadership. The proposal would have provided health care coverage to 35,000 Missouri parents with incomes between 20 and 50 percent of the Federal Poverty Level.
In a shameful and blatant show of political gamesmanship, according to Crystal Brigman, representing Planned Parenthood of Southwest Missouri, the anti-choice lobby attached an anti-Planned Parenthood amendment to a bill that would provide information to the parents of 6th grade girls about the HPV vaccine which prevents cervical cancer. This 11th hour move caused the bill to die, Brigman reported.
“These 35,000 low income Missouri moms and dads could have received health care coverage at no cost to our state,but instead House Members squandered this critical opportunity,” said Amy Blouin, executive director of The Missouri Budget Project. “Our state had much to gain, and nothing to lose, from assisting these families. They must now continue to live without health care access, and our state economy will not see the stimulative impact of these significant federal funds.”
The legistlature also failed to pass the much debated abortion restriction bill. The extremist wing of the anti-choice lobby fought a slimmed down version of their own abortion restriction proposal, Brigman noted, which ignored existing law requiring any woman seeking an abortion to sign a consent form stating that her decision is completely free and voluntary, and then wait at least 24 hours before having an abortion.
Proposition A's language is tweaked
New gaming money derived from the passage of Proposition A last November by Missouri voters will go as intended to students in Missouri classrooms based upon an education bill sent to the governor by a vote of 29-3. SB 291 fixes an error in the proposition language. Lawmakers voted to have the gaming funds generated from the removal of loss limits deposited into the Classroom Trust Fund and distributed to school districts through the fund. This means an additional $60 million for Missouri classrooms in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Included in the bill is language aimed at developing standards for teaching that includes the active participation of students in the development process. It also appears to greatly increase the amount of clerical work rerquired of teachers in creating what is termed a "successful learning process."
In addition the act allows school boards with a majority vote of its members to establish a four-day school week instead of the current five-day. The minimum term for a school district adopting the new schedule must include 142 days and 1044 hours of student attendance and must not create a drop in student performance.
While the Senate was unable to break a filibuster despite having spent many hours debating House Joint Resolution 10 that would have let voters decide whether or not we should change the way appellate judges are chosen, the lawmakers make Gov. Jay Nixon's fee office reform official by mandating that contracts to manage the state’s motor vehicle licensing bureaus will be awarded on the basis of competitive bids, not political patronage. Other last minute achievements included a bill offering incentives to businesses to locate good-paying jobs in Missouri and to expand the eligibility for state job-training incentives and a bill to make sure that Missouri gets and uses $133 million in federal stiumulus money to fund unemployment benefits for a longer period of time.
HB 154 was enacted that requires the Missouri Children's Division to contact a grandparent immediately when emergency placement of a child is necessary. The focus of this legislation is a strong belief that children under duress are more loved and less traumatized when they are with their own family. Prior to HB 154 grandparents had no standing or preference for placement and were less likely to be chosen for placement of the child than a foster family completely unrelated and unfamiliar to the child.
HB 152, another victory, provides law enforcement with a significant crime prevention tool. Representative Marilyn Ruestman (R-131), sponsor of both HB 152 and HB 154, claims this bill makes Missouri the twentieth state to mandate DNA profiling of criminals arrested for violent and sexual felonies. This bill, known nationally as Katie's Law, brings rapists and violent criminals to conviction sooner, preventing them from committing further acts of violence. Both bills await Nixon's signature.
Sen. Nodler champions legislation
Thanks to work completed by the General Assembly earlier this year through Senate Bill 313, a bipartisan measure Sen. Gary Nodler (R-32) sponsored, the Missouri legislature had the ability to draw from two clearly separated types of money during the appropriations process: stabilization dollars with less federal restrictions and stimulus funds (for specifically targeted projects). This includes transportation funding and some projects that are awarded competitively.
House Bill 21 contained uses for this funding for FY 2010. One of the projects included in this bill expands broadband internet opportunities in rural areas of the state, which could include areas of Southwest Missouri. Nodler explained, "At this time, we are estimating broadband expansion grants for the state could total approximately $185 million. This, combined with a $40 million commitment by the state, would amount to $225 million going towards high-speed network expansion. While many details of the program have yet to be announced on the federal level, we have made it clear that we are committed to expanding this service to rural areas and improving the opportunities in our area."
House Bill 22, which utilizes a portion of the federal stabilization dollars available, contains a variety of capital improvement projects throughout the state, including several in Southwest Missouri. The bill totals $600 million, with a little over half coming from this funding. It contains $3 million for a vocational education facility in Joplin, as well as $1 million for Crowder College for maintenance and repairs on campus.
Another project contained in HB 22 is for the Department of Economic Development to offer $50 million in potentially forgivable loans to expand facilities making and developing battery technology. EaglePicher Inc., Joplin's battery manufacturer, is expected to receive a $25 million loan, that essentially will become a grant when the company meets certain commitments such as creating at least 500 jobs in the area and spending $150 million on the project. This expansion is an opportunity to expand high-tech jobs and strengthen the Joplin area economy.
What Rep. Emery found disappointing
Personal disappointments for Rep. Ed Emery (R-126) included HB 321, HJR 36, HB 554, HB 226, and HB 227. These bills affected issues including restrictions on sexually oriented businesses (HB321), eliminating the Missouri state income tax (HJR36), protecting pharmacies from government mandates regarding abortion (HB 226), protecting public schools and universities from court-expanded human rights liabilities (HB227), and revising state energy policies to ensure future energy supplies at the most economical price (HB554).