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Altaf Rahamatulla on June 3, 2010 - 12:03pm
Missouri lawmakers left Jefferson City on May 14 following a session defined by extreme budget cuts, partisan posturing, and the upcoming midterm elections. Some lawmakers criticized the session as failing to address crucial issues. Rep. Shalonn Curls stated, "[i]t's unfortunate we couldn't pass more meaningful legislation this year. We spent a lot of time on meaningless resolutions denouncing the federal health care plan, when we could've been creating more opportunities for economic growth and stability for our constituents." Indeed, right-wing lawmakers mulled over the elimination of the state's income tax and advanced extremely restrictive abortion legislation.
Tax and Budget: In addition to the $1.5 billion FY2010 budget shortfall, Missouri experienced the steepest declines in revenue in state history. Lawmakers responded by enacting steep budget cuts of $487 million on top of the $900 million that the state slashed in the past year. As Amy Blouin, Executive Director of the Missouri Budget Project notes, this follows "a decade of decreased funding for state services--including education, transportation and health -- (the) state budget was already trimmed down to the bone."
This year's $23.3 billion budget agreement slashed programs and imposed a five percent reduction in state funding for higher education. As a result, 1,000 state workers will no longer have a job. Deep cuts to mental health services will leave 2,200 state residents with mental illness with the inability to receive treatment. Legislators also decreased funding for Missouri's Parents as Teachers program, which assists parents track the development of their children ages 5 and under, from $30.8 million to $13 million.
Gov. Nixon intends to cut $350 million more before he approves the budget in the next few weeks. Despite the state Auditor's Office discovering that the state had spent $1.1 billion on 15 of the largest tax credit programs beyond the projected cost from 2005 to 2009, there are no plans to enact enhanced transparency or control ineffective tax credit spending.
Health Care: Although the state moved forward with painful cuts to mental health services, progressive lawmakers scored a substantial victory with the passage of HB 1311 and 1314, which require insurance companies to cover the treatment and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders.
Other notable bills included:
- HB 1375, championed by the Missouri Family Health Council, will allow physicians to use expedited partner therapy (EPT) when someone is diagnosed with gonorrhea or Chlamydia. EPT is a clinical practice of providing prescriptions or medications to a patient with either of these sexually transmitted diseases to take to their partner without health care provider first examining that partner.
- SB5 83 will require insurance companies to cover adopted children on the same basis as other dependents.
However, conservatives placed HB 1764, which would claim authority by Missouri to opt out of the individual mandate to purchase insurance from federal health reform, on the ballot in August, similar to a handful of other costly and misguided right-wing initiatives to challenge the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Education: The Legislature also increased scholarships for students at public universities and expanded the Access Missouri Scholarship program by approving SB 733. Despite several rounds of steep budget cuts, the Legislature was able to maintain K-12 education funding at current levels. Nevertheless, this is unwelcomed news for cash-strapped school districts and localities that will not receive sufficient aid to keep up with student needs.
Finally, lawmakers strengthened anti-bullying efforts by adding "cyberbullying" and electronic communications to the list of required elements of school's policies to prevent intimidation and harassment. HB 1543 is the culmination of years of legislative effort in response to the tragic death of Megan Meier in 2006, when she committed suicide after receiving taunting Myspace messages from a fake account that a 49-year-old woman and two other teenagers created.
Public Safety: SB 981 allows Kansas City to increase its quarter-cent public safety sales tax upon city voters' approval. The increased revenue will permit the city to hire new police officers and support public safety services.
Abortion: Unfortunately, right-wing lawmakers moved one of the nation's most restrictive abortion bills, SB 793, which expands the state's 24-hour consent policy. In addition to current law requiring a woman having an abortion to receive information on possible physical and psychological risks 24 hours before the procedure, this legislation would mandate that the woman receive that information in person, be forced to view an ultrasound image, and listen to the heartbeat of the fetus.
Ethics: The Legislature approved SB 844, which allows the Missouri Ethics Commission to launch its own investigations, prohibits committee-to-committee transfers of campaign donations, and requires any donation to a lawmaker over $500 during the legislative session to be disclosed within 48 hours. While the bill is a step in the right direction, some progressive lawmakers contend the bill was not comprehensive enough. Rep. Jason Kader remarked, "I'm disappointed that we missed an important opportunity to restore campaign contribution limits, to prohibit lawmakers from working as political consultants for one another, to close the revolving door between legislators and lobbyists, or to disclose potential conflicts of interest."
Zoos: HB2297 allows voters in Cass, Clay, Jackson, and Platte counties to consider the establishment of the Kansas City Zoological District and imposition of a 0.25 percent sales tax to provide support for zoos in the region.
- SB 693 would have created the Foster Care and Adoptive Parents Recruitment and Retention fund to encourage foster care and adoption.
- SB 612 and SB 613, legislation aimed to restore food stamp eligibility to people who had previously been convicted or felony drug possession or use if they had had completed a treatment program, failed to pass.
- Legislators failed to pass SB 692, a bill that would have made it a crime to display a noose or burn a cross for purposes of intimidation.
The Associated Press - Mo. Lawmakers Approve $23.3 Billion Spending Plan
Citizens for Missouri's Children - 2010 Bill Watch
The Kansas City Call - Lawmakers Share Their Thoughts About the 2010 Session
The Kansas City Call - In Analyzing their 2010 Session, Missouri Lawmakers Get a Grade of Incomplete
The Kansas City Star - Missouri Passes Expanded Abortion-Consent Requirement
The Missouri Budget Project - Significant Cuts, Rather Than Revenue Solutions, Prevail During Legislative Session Marked by Missed Opportunities