Mo Press Capitol Report
Senate rejects Medicaid expansion, setting up likely court challenge
MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK
JEFFERSON CITY — Funding for Medicaid expansion in the state budget was dealt a final blow by the Senate late Wednesday night.
That funding had previously failed to gain support in the House. The next step is likely to be decided by the courts.
Gov. Mike Parson initially included $1.9 billion in the budget — the vast majority of it federal funds — to pay for expansion. That would cover the cost of at least 250,000 more Missourians who would become eligible for care.
Sen. John Rizzo, D-Independence, introduced an amendment to restore funding. It was supported by Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, who voted to partially fund Medicaid expansion in the Senate Appropriations Committee last week. That measure failed in committee 7-7.
The amendment Rizzo first offered included about half of the amount of money Parson included in the budget to expand Medicaid. He then amended that proposal to fully fund expansion.
Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, a longtime opponent of Medicaid expansion, supported funding expansion Wednesday. He was joined by a few Republicans, but the vote fell largely along party lines.
“I don’t think the question before us is if we supported Medicaid expansion in the past," Rowden said. "The question is if we will uphold the decision that voters made… and I think the answer is we should.”
Rowden said he believed if lawmakers fail to fund it now, courts will force them to do so later.
Rizzo addressed a number of concerns with funding Medicaid — including how to pay for the plan — by taking senators through the amount of federal dollars that would be used to offset the state’s costs of Medicaid expansion. He concluded that over $7 billion would come into the state as a result of expanding Medicaid.
Hough and Rizzo also addressed constitutional arguments. They said Missouri voters were clear, when they approved a constitutional amendment to expand Medicaid last year.
“We don't write a budget for individual districts, we budget for the whole state,” Hough said, in response to the argument that the districts represented by some senators voted against expansion. “We budget for over 6 millon people.”
Earlier Wednesday before debate began, Rizzo said he expected the amendment may fail on the floor of the Senate, but if it does he is confident the courts will side with his viewpoint and require that the funding be provided.
“I don't see a scenario where the courts, if we don't implement it ourselves, don’t do it for us,” Rizzo said.
Republican opponents argued that Missourians had a better option in the form of a federal two-year program created by the American Rescue Plan. Sens. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, and Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, said Medicaid is an inferior option, and not worth funding. Onder also feels confident courts will side with his perspective if the issue were to be litigated.
Sen. Barbara Anne Washington, D-Kansas City, responded with a story. She talked about her brother who died in a hospital nine days ago while receiving care through Medicaid.
“What we do know is that if you don’t have health insurance, you don’t have health care,” Washington said. "It's not an inferior product… And finally, Medicaid expansion is what the voters asked for. So, we can't continue to be hypocritical in this chamber to choose when we want to listen to our voters.”
Onder brought out a stack of paper that he said included 451 one of his constituents who said they do not want the Missouri Legislature to fund Medicaid.
Sen. Lauren Arthur took the floor and took up similar arguments. She emphasized that Parson does not support expanding Medicaid personally but committed to funding Medicaid regardless. She encouraged her Republican colleagues to do the same.
“The legislature thinks they can overturn the outcome of the election and just do whatever they please. It poses a real existential threat to our democracy,” Arthur said.
Both Rizzo and Onder had very different messages to Missourians waiting to see whether they might become eligible for Medicaid as a result of Wednesday's debate.
“I hope they're watching, and I hope that they hold their elected officials accountable,” Rizzo said.
“I would encourage them to look further at their options under the American Recovery Act… I think that's a better option. Private insurance is a better option than Medicaid,” Onder said.
Lawmakers make late-session push to pass COVID-19 related legislation
BY HANNAH NORTON
MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK
JEFFERSON CITY — Nearing the end of the regular legislative session, lawmakers supported a variety of COVID-19 liability provisions Wednesday, many of which had previously been brought to the House and Senate floors.
All the provisions fell under House Bill 682, which has nothing to do with the pandemic but prohibits higher education institutions from requiring students to live on campus for more than one year. The overarching bill was sponsored by Rep. Jason Chipman, R-Steelville.
The COVID-19-related amendments to the bill would do the following:
protect local businesses from criminal and civil liability due to accidental exposure to COVID-19,
prohibit government from closing businesses or requiring individuals to quarantine without strong evidence of the presence of a contagious disease,
prohibit all state departments and agencies from requiring their employees, or anyone who enters their buildings, to be vaccinated against COVID-19
and limit the scope and duration of emergency health orders issued by state and local governments.
Various amendments were debated on the House floor for hours Wednesday afternoon. House Amendment 3, sponsored by Rep. Suzie Pollock, R-Lebanon, was particularly contentious.
Pollock’s amendment stated that public schools would not be allowed to require students to be vaccinated against polio, measles, mumps, tetanus, whooping cough, diphtheria or hepatitis B. In short, parents could choose to “opt out” of these vaccines.
Missouri allows vaccination exemptions for religious or medical reasons. But Pollock said it is difficult for families to actually opt out of vaccinations, so the amendment would have made the process easier.
Pollock’s amendment faced heavy opposition from both sides of the aisle. Lawmakers said expanding vaccination exemptions would put vulnerable Missourians, such as immuno-compromised children, at a heightened risk of becoming seriously ill.
Rep. Mike Stephens, R-Bolivar, said that by removing vaccination mandates, lawmakers would send “a clear message, an anti-vaccine message” to Missourians.
“Vaccines have a wonderful history of preventing disease and saving millions of lives throughout the world,” Stephens said. “But no medicine that you inject or take into your body will be completely safe for everybody, all the time.”
Stephens, who chairs the House Health and Mental Health Policy Committee, said that regardless of how well-intentioned Pollock’s amendment was, it would send the wrong message.
Other lawmakers explained that although they vaccinated their children, they are in favor of individual freedom.
“I believe in vaccinations — my children and my grandchildren have their vaccinations,” Rep. Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport, said. “I think people should get vaccinated, but I truly believe that it is a parent’s right to make this decision.”
After over an hour of deliberation, Pollock’s amendment reached a roll-call vote in the House. The bipartisan body shot down the provision with a vote of 79-67.
Senate denounces Dred Scott decision, calls for a constitutional convention
BY WICKER PERLIS
MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK
JEFFERSON CITY — 175 years ago, Dred Scott and his wife Harriet first sought to be freed from slavery at the landmark Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis.
Their case went on for 11 years. While the St. Louis court initially sided with the Scotts, on appeal, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled against them, denying freedom for them and their daughters. The U.S. Supreme Court later upheld the Missouri court’s decision.
Now, nearly two centuries later, the Missouri legislature has formally declared that the decision was wrong.
House concurrent resolutions 4 and 5, sponsored by Rep. Raychel Proudie, D-Ferguson, gained approval in the Senate on Thursday. It had unanimously passed the House in March.
“We declare the March 22, 1852, Missouri Supreme Court Dred Scott decision is fully and entirely renounced,” the resolution reads.
Sen. Steven Roberts, D-St. Louis, carried the resolution in the Senate. He had also proposed a similar Senate version denouncing the decision. Roberts thanked members from across the aisle for their support, including Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove. Moon had pushed for similar resolutions in previous sessions, when he was a member of the House.
“The court’s not always right,” Moon said. “It’s great that we can come together (and) recognize that.”
Following the resolution’s passage by the Senate, onlooking members of the House began to celebrate. Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, who presides over the Senate, then intervened.
“The representatives wanted to clap, and I reminded them that this is not the House,” Kehoe said, with a laugh. “This is the upper chamber.”
The Senate passed another resolution Thursday calling for a constitutional convention of the states in order to limit the size and spending of the federal government.
This kind of convention is one of two ways laid out by Article V to amend the U.S. Constitution. The other is through an act of Congress and ratification by the states.
Since the Constitution became the supreme document of governance in 1788, it has never been amended through a convention of the states.
The resolution was sponsored by Sen. Eric Burlison, R-Battlefield. Burlison decried the way in which the national debt has grown over the last four decades. He said, under presidents of both parties, the federal government has spent money without concern for future ramifications. Debt “destroys nations,” Burlison said.
While it has never happened, Burlison said “over 30” states have considered calling for a convention on this issue. Thirty-four states are needed for one to occur.
“This is a movement that’s well organized,” Burlison said in a March hearing. “We get emails daily from our constituents. People get excited about it.”
The Senate later gave initial approval to another bill proposed by Burlison, which details the selection process for delegates to a constitutional convention if one were to ever take place
Bill limiting who can inspect corporate farms stalls in Senate
BY ADAM S. JACKSON
MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK
Legislation that would limit who can inspect agricultural facilities stalled in the Senate last week over concerns it would protect mega farms that produce toxic waste.
The effort comes as lawmakers strive to peel back rules and parameters related to the harmful environmental and public health consequences of concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. In 2019, Gov. Mike Parson signed a law that prevents counties from issuing health and safety regulations stricter than state laws governing industrial farms.
Senate Bill 254’s sponsor, Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, argued that the bill protects farmers from opportunistic animal rights activists whose goal is to “eradicate animal agriculture species by species, state by state.”
“I don’t know about the rest of you,” Riddle said. “I’m not vegan. I like to eat meat.”
But critics say SB 254 would violate due process rights for environmental watchdogs — as well as those affected by the air pollution and lagoon breaches caused by CAFOs — while adding new protections for an industry that already lacks oversight from the Department of Natural Resources.
According to a subsection added to the bill’s language, “no testimony or evidence regarding any condition or event at the grounds or facilities … shall be used in any criminal prosecution or civil case” except by the sheriff in the county the farm is located or federal and state regulatory agencies with authority over:
The production of eggs.
The production of milk or other dairy products.
The raising of livestock or poultry.
The production or raising of dogs or other animals that are not used to produce any food product.
Sen. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, supported one underlying goal of the bill that limits access to agriculture facilities. He cited concerns over the potential of biowarfare after watching a presentation on agroterrorism last year, he said. Even so, “It is that subsection four that I have heartburn over,” he said. He also noted concerns he had about unregulated “puppy mills” being granted more leniency under the subsection’s language.
Democratic lawmakers said the bill would violate the constitutional rights of those wanting to sue for damages related to CAFOs and also prohibit expert testimony in litigation.
“I’ve never seen that in legislation for anything before,” Sen. Steven Roberts, D-St. Louis, said in an interview with the Missourian. “Just looking at it as a lawyer, I think it’s bad public policy, and it’s unconstitutional as well.”
The Senate also passed an amendment to the bill that would exclude charter counties such as St. Louis, Jackson and St. Charles and any city not within a county.
“If this is such a great bill, why are we carving out other sections of the state?” asked Sen. Doug Beck, D-St. Louis.
Riddle responded that these largely urban counties don’t have many agriculture facilities.
No other action was taken as Riddle moved to place it back on the “informal calendar,” a procedure that means it can be brought back before senators at any time.
The Senate bill is similar to House Bill 574, which passed the House in February.
House supports expanding farmers market accessibility for WIC recipients
BY CAITLIN R. KING
MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK
JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House gave initial approval Wednesday to a bill that would address food deserts and give people better access to farmers markets and fresh produce.
Sponsored by Rep. Martha Stevens, D-Columbia, House Bill 652 would expand the Missouri Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program to include “Women, Infants and Children.”
Current Missouri law allows for low-income seniors to use “vouchers or other approved and acceptable methods of payment including, but not limited to, electronic cards that may be used to purchase eligible foods at farmers markets.”
According to Stevens, the bill would expand access to “low-income pregnant women, postpartum women and children up to the age of 5 years of age who are found to be at nutritional risk.”
Stevens made sure to clarify that “this is voluntary.” Farmers are not required to accept the vouchers that are currently being provided to low-income seniors and, if this bill passes, the vouchers from WIC recipients.
Numerous representatives discussed the bill and its amendments. The most vocal of those was freshman Rep. Kimberly-Ann Collins, D-St. Louis.
Collins offered an amendment to Stevens’ bill that would “address food insecurity and food deserts in our neighborhoods and in our areas. This amendment offers tax credits to utilize vacant lots for farmers markets … and urban agricultural practices. Also in this amendment, there is a tax credit for grocery stores to open.”
Rep. Emily Weber, D-Kansas City, another freshman representative, offered an amendment to Collins’ proposal to remove the tax credit for grocery store owners, an element of the proposal that drew Republican opposition. That provision wanted to offer a tax credit to “reestablish a full-service grocery store within three miles of a formerly operational grocery store that has been permanently closed and that is located within a food desert.”
Weber’s compromise was successful and the bill, with the amendments, won initial bipartisan approval.
Before discussion of HB 652, Collins tried unsuccessfully to add her amendment to Senate Bill 73.
Sponsored by Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, SB 37 would “repeal provisions of law that give the Department of Agriculture oversight over standards relating to anhydrous ammonia.”
One of SB 37’s successfully implemented amendments included provisions that would “extend the pilot program allowing recipients to use SNAP funds at local farmers markets,” which was brought by Rep. Ian Mackey, D-St. Louis.
Mackey is a co-sponsor of Stevens’ HB 652 along with Rep. Raychel Proudie, D-Ferguson.
The bill will need to be read on the House floor for a third time before it can make its way to the Senate.
Senate committee debates voter ID requirement approved by House
BY GRACE ZOKOVITCH
MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK
JEFFERSON CITY — Once again Wednesday afternoon, Missouri lawmakers rehashed the debate on whether election security legislation protects or restricts voting.
The Senate Committee on Local Government and Elections conducted hearings on two voting-related bills. HB 334 would reinstate a requirement for photo ID in order to vote. HB 738 would also institute a photo ID requirement, along with many other provisions — instituting no-excuse in-person absentee voting, disallowing mail-in voting except for absentee ballots and others. Despite heated contention, both bills have already passed through the House.
The photo ID bill is a reaction to a 2020 Missouri Supreme Court decision which declared similar legislation from 2016 unconstitutional because of a provision that could subject Missourians who voted without photo ID to potential perjury charges. This bill attempts to reintroduce the requirement while skirting the areas at odds with the Missouri Constitution.
Several opponents argued that the bill doesn’t clear the constitutionality bar.
“That court decision referenced by the sponsor made clear that any legislation like this one, that would remove non-photo forms of ID, would be unconstitutional,” said Denise Lieberman, head of the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, noting that the costs of such legal challenges are eventually footed by the taxpayers.
Lieberman went on to say that this bill is “a solution in search of a problem.”
She and other opponents said that the state has not prosecuted a single case of voter impersonation-based fraud in any election, which fits into the larger scheme of findings detailing the rarity of voter fraud. They also referenced a Department of Revenue finding that showed over 200,000 Missourians on the voter registration rolls did not have a current ID on file.
Advocates for the bills contended that while cases of fraud may be highly scarce, it’s paramount to instill absolute faith in the electoral process.
“While it may be rare, we know that elections can be decided by one vote,” said Greene County Clerk Shane Schoeller. “We had in this last April election one election that tied, another election that was lost by one vote, another election that was won by one vote.”
Opponents pointed to the impact of the many more votes that this legislation would prevent from being cast.
Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft spoke on the provisions in the bills that aim to combat any incidental voter disenfranchisement. These include a provision to allow voters unable to show photo ID on election day to vote with a provisional ballot and the Secretary of State’s free ID program, which helps Missourians obtain photo IDs and other documents like birth certificates for free.
Some witnesses responded that the free ID program is not a sufficient remedy. Because of either lack of outreach or other issues, there isn’t evidence the program is being utilized by communities lacking IDs.
Lieberman said that “relegating valid voters to cast a provisional ballot which may not count is an insufficient remedy.” Opponents echoed throughout that the issue will be that any burdens placed on voters’ ability to cast a ballot infringe on the rights guaranteed in the Missouri Constitution.
“I hear a lot of times around bills related to photo ID that it’s just common sense,” said Christine Dragonette, director of social ministry at St. Francis Xavier College Church. “But I’m here just to voice that it’s not common sense for people who are unhoused, and who are often most marginalized — those folks who are not going to be in this room today.”
Among HB 738’s many other components, witnesses most often narrowed in on the permanent authorization of no-excuse absentee voting.
Though the expansion of absentee voting has been supported by both parties this session, the outline in the bill wasn’t able to escape contention. The sticking points were over the a shortening of the absentee voting period, from six weeks to three weeks, and the exclusion of mail-in absentee voting.
Opponents said that excluding mail-in options failed to help those availing themselves of the absentee option because of an issue getting to the polls. Lieberman noted examples such as “seniors, people with chronic health conditions, people with disabilities, low wage workers unable to take time off.”
Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, expressed concern with the push to make pandemic-related expanded voting options the norm.
“I don’t see it as an infringement on people’s rights to get back to just a normal type of election process,” Brattin said.
“I see it differently, respectfully,” said Cheryl Adelstein, deputy director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis. “The experiment worked, so I don’t know why we wouldn’t continue to look to the future and look to support more opportunities to vote.”
Both bills will be voted on by the committee and then could be moved to a Senate vote.
Lawmakers question isolation of children in state facilities during pandemic
BY JONATHAN JAIN
MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK
JEFFERSON CITY — As the Missouri Department of Social Services continues to face criticism for its handling of abuse accusations in youth homes, the House Special Committee on Government Oversight held a hearing to look into the department.
Director Jennifer Tidball answered questions about why parents were not allowed to visit their children in DSS facilities during the pandemic and why almost 100 positions in the department were eliminated.
In March, the Kansas City Star released an investigation that showed children being starved, raped and beaten in some boarding schools throughout the state. This report prompted widespread scrutiny of how DSS handled the situation. The oversight committee hearing is the latest of the inquiries into DSS.
Because of COVID-19, parents were temporarily prohibited from visiting their children in Division of Youth Services facilities. Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Republic, said the lack of face-to-face contact parents were allowed with their children is alarming.
“I can’t imagine being a parent and having a child separated from me and (DSS) taking custody of them and me not having physical contact with them this entire year that we’ve been in COVID,” Taylor said.
With phone and video chat visits, he speculated that someone could be in the room and pressure the child not to raise any alarms. Also, rapid COVID-19 tests are required to enter facilities, so he raised concerns that evidence could be destroyed while the investigators are waiting to enter the facility.
“I feel like we’re seeing Circle of Hope all over again in facilities that we run. How is this acceptable?” Taylor asked.
Taylor was referring to the Circle of Hope Girls Ranch, where the owners were charged with abuse, child molestation and statutory rape. Young girls at the boarding school were allegedly subjected to having their faces shoved into horse manure and having hot sauce poured down their throat, among other accusations.
Other legislators shared Taylor’s concerns.
“To not let parents go see their troubled child for a year, do you think that actually helped the child? It doesn’t help the child; it doesn’t help the parents; it doesn’t help anybody,” Rep. Dottie Bailey, R-Eureka, said.
Sharie Hahn, general counsel for DSS, said the children in the facilities had committed a crime and were ordered by the courts to be under the custody of the Division of Youth Services.
“We do have certain obligations to make sure of their safety and to care for them,” Hahn said.
Hahn said curbside visits and outside visits were allowed and DSS had to remain flexible as it learned more about COVID-19.
The other major concern raised during the hearing was the removal of around 100 employees. Tidball said the cuts were intended to “flatten the children’s division.” She added that no case-bearing frontline workers were impacted.
While Tidball said the job cuts didn’t increase the frontline workers’ workload, Rep. Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said her constituents have shared that some of those who lost their jobs stepped in to carry some of the burden when caseworkers were overworked.
“What I’m being told as a representative is that, frankly, children are not being (served) the way that they should,” Quade said.
Tidball said they looked for any redundancies and the results of positions when considering where to cut. She said they had to evaluate employees to see if their jobs could be streamlined to make the department more effective.
“Within Children’s Division, the work that you’re tasked with and that division does — caring for the most vulnerable Missourians and innocent children, trying to protect them — it does seem like a peculiar place to go for cutting staff,” Rep. Dirk Deaton, R-Noel, said.
Another point of concern for the House Special Committee on Government Oversight was the revelation that the cuts were discussed months before the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the department’s initial explanation that the cuts were due to budget hardships caused by the pandemic.
Quade said that when the layoffs happened, the information that went out to staff about the cuts pointed to COVID-19 as the main reason for the cuts.
Tidball said the department discussed several reasons for the cuts. She said that after initial budget talks, they weren’t far enough along to propose the cuts before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Costly carpeting calls attention to lawmakers' spending in capital improvements
BY LIANNA KOWALKE
MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK
JEFFERSON CITY — House members approved spending just over $770 million in capital improvement projects Tuesday.
But it was the almost $1 million to replace two carpets in the Capitol that drew much of the attention.
Several budget bills, sponsored by Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, designate funding for a range of purposes, including capital improvements, renovations to state properties and parks, and secondary education institutions.
Many of these projects will span multiple budget cycles and fiscal years, according to Rep. Dirk Deaton, R-Noel.
The approved spending includes $15 million to go to MU for the construction of a new veterinary laboratory in House Bill 19. The bill also designates nearly $1 million to each of the 19 community colleges in Missouri for deferred maintenance.
However, some lawmakers asserted some of the apportionment included in the bills were unnecessary spending. Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern, D-Kansas City, pointed out the designation of $376,000 to replace the Senate Chamber carpet and $576,000 to replace the House Chamber carpet.
Nurrenbern acknowledged that there is a lot of “good stuff” in the bills, but ultimately lawmakers need “to have our constituents look at us to be good stewards of our tax dollars.”
Rep. Tony Lovasco, R-O’Fallon, also called attention to the designation of $400,000 for the repair of the bronze doors in the Capitol building, suggesting this expense is excessive.
“Is there some kind of sinkhole, maybe, developing underneath the carpet that needs repair?” Lovasco asked.
Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, noted that the state has money for all of these projects and reserves but isn’t funding Medicaid expansion.
“We’re still hearing this ridiculous message that we can’t afford to spend $100 million right now for a year of the first year of Medicaid expansion. And I’m sick of talking about this,” Merideth said.
Rep. Cori Bush makes redistricting case for St. Louis congressional district
BY MARK OSSOLINSKI
MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK
JEFFERSON CITY — The final scheduled meeting of Missouri’s House redistricting committee drew the biggest name of any of its hearings this legislative session.
U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, D-St. Louis, lobbied for an “equitable” redistricting process in addressing state lawmakers as part of a longer visit to the Capitol on Tuesday.
Tuesday marked the last hearing of a larger process in which the House Special Committee on Redistricting has heard testimony from lawmakers and constituents from each of Missouri’s eight congressional districts. The testimonies are designed to better inform the committee about the makeup of each district before it begins drawing new district maps this fall.
Bush’s appearance at Tuesday’s hearing for Missouri’s 1st Congressional District, the St. Louis-centered district she represents, came on the heels of Monday’s release of state population totals by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Those showed Missouri’s population holding steady, meaning it will retain eight seats in Congress.
However, the more granular district-level population data that will determine those districts’ shapes are not expected from the census until September.
However, 2019 population estimates foreshadow a population decrease for the 1st District. That means its boundaries will likely have to expand further into St. Louis County, in order to comply with constitutional requirements that districts be “roughly equal” in population.
While Bush provided some initial thoughts on where the lines of her district should extend, her high-profile attendance at the hearing as a rising star in national Democratic politics appeared to be largely aimed at drawing attention to the redistricting process.
“This is not an independent commission,” Bush said in an interview, referring the the control that state lawmakers have over the congressional redistricting process in Missouri. “So we have to look to our state legislature to say, let’s do this in an equitable manner.”
Her appearance Tuesday made her the only congressperson to come before the committee during its eight separate district hearings.
“I didn’t want to look back and, if this thing doesn’t go in a way that I feel favors our district, say, ‘Oh shoot, could I have done something?’”
Proposal to exempt many seniors from property taxes gets initial approval in state House
BY JUDY LUCAS
MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK
JEFFERSON CITY — Lawmakers debated a resolution Monday that upon voter approval, would exempt certain senior citizens from paying property taxes during session.
The resolution proposes a constitutional amendment to address the issue of senior citizens with fixed incomes being unable to afford ever-rising property taxes. The amendment would authorize a tax exemption for select senior citizens who qualify.
To qualify, the senior citizen, or their spouse, must be of age to be eligible for full Social Security retirement benefits and have fully paid off their home for at least two years. There are no stipulations regarding someone’s socioeconomic status attached to the bill.
The resolution is sponsored by Rep. Bill Kidd, R-Buckner, who argued the state is taxing senior citizens out of their homes after their homes are paid off.
“You want to have the ability to own your house, a place to be secure,” Kidd said. “You’re never secure in your property because you owe property taxes on it.”
Kidd said he has spoken to constituents who have lost their homes because their property tax payments were higher than their house payments.
Members who testified believed senior citizens should be protected from losing their homes after they have worked and supported the state. However, representatives expressed concern regarding the possible negative repercussions of cutting property taxes for senior citizens.
Property taxes fund public school districts and fire and police departments. If voted for and passed, the tax exemptions could result in over $33 million in lost revenue for the state by 2024. Local governments would lose even more, with the total reaching $400 million.
Rep. Michael Burton, D-St. Louis, said the legislation is radical and would create a problem without providing any sort of solution. He said he’s concerned about how the state would make up the difference of funds being cut from public schools and public safety departments.
“Let’s help seniors without hurting our public schools or fire departments,” Burton said.
Multiple other representatives agreed with Burton and said the issue needed to be addressed but in a different way.
The bill is HJR 17.
Missouri is getting billions in federal aid. Lawmakers want more oversight
BY JOSE LUIS ADRIANO
MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK
JEFFERSON CITY — Lawmakers are considering creating a committee to oversee money allocated to Missouri counties under the recently passed American Rescue Plan of 2021 and future economic stimulus plans.
The Committee on Local Recovery Accountability and Transparency’s primary function would be preventing fraud, waste and abuse involving federal stimulus spending that is allocated directly toward political subdivisions in the state, said Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, in a House hearing Monday.
“The committee would have an oversight role at the state level over the expenditure of those dollars by those respective political subdivisions,” he said.
The proposed committee is meant to comprise five members: one member from the House, one from the Senate, the state auditor, the state treasurer and the state budget director.
Using a submission form for the local governments to report their receipt of funds and expenditures, it would review contracts and expenses related to the American Rescue Plan of 2021, the most recent pandemic relief aid package.
If the committee considered it necessary, it would take testimony and request further evidence to help explain the use of money.
Because the committee is only meant to oversee spending related to the rescue plan, it anticipates its dissolution Dec. 1, 2023.
The relief package, approved by Congress in March, would distribute $1.9 trillion nationwide to counteract the economic impact of COVID-19 in the U.S. Missouri is expected to get more than $5.4 billion, including $1.19 billion for counties and almost $2.9 billion in state fiscal relief.
Boone County is expected to receive more than $35 million, according to the public policy analysis organization Missouri Budget Project.
Monday’s discussion revolved around the need for a separate committee to take care of these expenditures’ oversight. Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, questioned the committee’s creation because that role already could be filled by the State Auditor’s Office.
The auditor is a Democrat, but House and Senate leadership is Republican. There was concern among some, including Merideth, that the committee wouldn’t be bipartisan.
“Perhaps having an appointment from the minority leaders as well could help with that, since we’re talking about a lot of dollars that are going directly to urban areas that are represented typically by our side of the aisle here,” he said. “Having that perspective in this process could be a useful thing.”
Limbaugh’s bust sparked a lobbying effort to honor suffragette
BY JACEY JOHNSON
MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK
State legislators are trying to establish a Rush Limbaugh Day to honor the conservative radio talk-show host, who died Feb. 17.
If the bill passes, it wouldn’t be the first time lawmakers have honored Limbaugh. In 2012, they installed a bust of the controversial pundit in the state Capitol’s Hall of Famous Missourians.
That action incensed a coalition of Missouri women so much that it launched a two-year lobbying effort to install a bust of 19th-century activist Virginia Minor, who battled to give women the right to vote.
The addition of Limbaugh was so controversial that a camera was placed on his bust so that no one would deface it. The usual public ceremony became a secretive one hosted by then-Speaker of the House Steven Tilley — but not for long.
“When we found out, we were furious,” Mary Mosley said.
Mosley was a Columbia branch member of the American Association of University Women and served as a co-leader in the Missouri Women’s Network project of lobbying for another female inductee, who would be the eighth woman, as opposed to the 36 men. Today, there are nine women and 39 men in the Hall of Famous Missourians.
Shirley Breeze, a Ferguson-Florissant branch member of the AAUW and Mosley’s partner in the growing project, also recognized a heightened need for more women in the hall after Limbaugh’s induction.
“We were just so irate that there were only so few women represented and all those men — including Rush Limbaugh,” Breeze said. “So, we just couldn’t keep our mouths shut.”
Mosley and Breeze got to work on rallying as many women as they could to vote for Minor, a 19th-century suffragette, as soon as the speaker of the house announced his plan to let the public give input for the upcoming induction through an online vote. By then, the speaker of house was Tim Jones. Regardless of the vote, he would decide which individual would be chosen.
The Missouri Women’s Network was a necessary and powerful tool in enlisting the help of women across the state to change the number of women from seven to eight. Those involved were the National Organization for Women, AAUW and the Business and Professional Women of Missouri — which is now Business Women of Missouri.
During the two years leading up to the Sept. 10, 2014, induction day, Mosley and Breeze were at the Missouri State Capitol at least once a week to talk to staff, attend meetings and continue in their lobbyist roles.
“If you want to know what’s really going on in the state of politics you need to be in the Capitol,” said Mosley, who has stayed involved in the National Organization for Women and now resides in Idaho as the president-elect of the Boise branch of the AAUW.
MU History Department chair and professor Catherine Rymph stressed how important it became in the 1970s for professional historians to get the accomplishments of women recognized. According to Rymph, very few women would have been found or acknowledged in halls of fame or museums 50 years ago.
The Missouri women of AAUW and beyond noticed a similar sentiment still established in the Hall of Famous Missourians. And they were astounded that a figure as prominent in women’s rights — especially at the national level in U.S. politics — as Virginia Minor wasn’t already included.
“It’s not the Missouri part of her story that’s important,” Rymph said. “It’s that she tried to vote and they didn’t let her, and she took it to the Supreme Court.”
Mosley and Breeze also took their plea for Virginia Minor’s recognition farther when they created a “1,000 Strong” campaign to raise money for the bust sculpture. Virginia Minor hadn’t won the most votes, but the speaker of the house still decided to induct her. He did not, however, decide to host the annual golf tournament that typically funds the inductee’s bust.
When Mosley called the speaker of the house’s office, she was told Virginia Minor’s bust would be privately funded and that the sculptures were always privately funded.
Women across the state got behind the idea of 1,000 Missouri women donating $10 each. The coalition raised all $10,000 and enough extra to cover the costs of the base and catered reception on induction day — two additional fees they were also unaware of.
“There was so much enthusiasm in the women’s community,” Mosley said. “And women came out of the woodwork.”
Because so many women across the state were involved, Mosley wanted to include as many as she could on the day of the induction. Pat Shores, a Ballwin-Chesterfield branch member of the AAUW at the time, took a bus from St. Louis with other women to attend the event.
“We’re not a frivolous group,” Shores said. “We do things that make a difference for Missouri families.”
The bill to honor Limbaugh every year on Jan 12, his birthday, was heard earlier this month in a Senate committee, but no vote was taken.
It would not create a new state holiday, and schools, government offices and banks would remain open.
It would, however, encourage “appropriate events and activities to remember the life of the famous Missourian and groundbreaking radio host.”
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