Missouri's House restores $31 million for Ellis Fischel Cancer Center

Thursday, April 30, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 9:31 p.m. CDT, Thursday, April 30, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House restored $31.2 million for the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center on Wednesday, two days after a House committee stripped the facility of the funds.

House Budget Committee chairman Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, offered the amendment to put funding for Ellis Fischel back into the $1.6 billion federal stimulus spending bill. The amendment faced no debate or opposition.

"As I looked through the list of projects and tried to find those that are clearly justifiable and that the majority of the members of the body would support, I think Ellis Fischel clearly rises to that level," Icet said.

A final House vote on the bill could come as early as Thursday, Icet said. If approved, the bill would then move to the Senate.

In a House Rules Committee hearing Monday, House Republican floor leader Steve Tilley amended the bill to strip Ellis Fischel of its funds. Tilley drafted the amendment after Democrats, including Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, walked out of the hearing after a spat over rules and procedures.

Republicans then voted 6-1 to wipe out Ellis Fischel's funds and give them instead to community colleges, Southeast Missouri State University and University of Missouri-St. Louis.

But the cancer center's money was never in jeopardy, said Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia.

"I think it's fine; I thought it was fine all along," Kelly said. "We had a bump in the road, but we're all back on track now."

On Monday, Tilley said he shouldn't have to defend Webber's district after the lawmaker walked out. But the amendment wasn't about punishing Webber, Tilley said. Ellis Fischel was one of many projects that lost funding from the 2006 sale of the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority's assets, and Tilley said he did not think it was fair that only Ellis Fischel would be singled out for restored funding.

"I think we picked winners and losers," Tilley said. "I'm not a big fan of it being the only MOHELA project that's in there, but I supported the budget chair and got it back in."

Webber said he was confident the funds for Ellis Fischel would make it through the legislative process.

"It's an incredibly important project, number one, for patients and our ability to do cancer research, and second, as a construction project for central Missouri," Webber said. "As the week went on, I think everybody in the House saw the importance."

It was a disappointing blow to the cancer center when the House committee removed the funding, which will help build a new facility for the center at MU, Ellis Fischel medical director Charles Caldwell said.

"But I think when push comes to shove, everyone in the General Assembly realizes that, as a statewide resource, Ellis Fischel is quite worthy of moving ahead," Caldwell said.

If the General Assembly approves the bill as amended, Ellis Fischel will seek approval from the University of Missouri System Board of Curators before moving ahead with architectural design plans, Caldwell said. He said UM System could request construction bids within six to eight months.

When asked if the funding for Ellis Fischel was on solid ground in the Senate, Icet said, "I don't think there's any guarantees in this building. There will be senators who say, 'I have more important projects.'"

As of 7 p.m. Wednesday, the House was still in session, though Tilley's chief of staff said the House would likely not take further action on the bill until Thursday.

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