WHAT OTHERS SAY: General Assembly pandering, not legislating

Monday, April 29, 2013 | 4:26 p.m. CDT

With only three weeks left in Missouri’s 97th General Assembly, legislators seem to be more interested in appearances than substance, leaving the state in economic jeopardy.

Legislators have endorsed school personnel carrying concealed weapons in school buildings, state employees keeping guns in their cars, Concealed Carry Weapon permit holders packing heat in plain sight, criminalizing enforcement of federal gun laws and withholding funding from a necessary state agency — the Department of Revenue — as a punishment over its handling of Concealed Carry Weapon information.

So much for pandering to the gun lobby and gun-loving constituents, despite the fact that most of those efforts will go nowhere — an appropriate place for them to go.

So far, here’s what they failed to do:

  • Pass comprehensive tax credit reform.
  • Consider any type of jobs bill.
  • Act on a proposal to use bonds for infrastructure funding.
  • Find any answers to reforming the state’s education funding formula.
  • And most pressing of all — didn’t even bring a Republican proposal for Medicaid reform up for a vote.

Every legislator knew before the session even started that one of the jobs waiting for them was to find a Missouri-based solution for expanding Medicaid so the poor in our state can get reasonable health care and hospitals can stay open.

While the National Rifle Association might feel that an “assault on the Second Amendment” is the most important issue in the country, the Missouri legislature needs to focus on the serious issue of the health of our citizens and our economy.

Last week, the legislature put a nail in the coffin of any reasonable Medicaid reform in Missouri despite a genuine and serious effort on the part of Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, to start a conversation that could have led to a Missouri alternative to the Affordable Care Act. Barnes withdrew his proposal, blaming the Missouri Senate for not having the “stomach to pick up a Medicaid transformation bill this year.”

Our neighbor to the south wasted no time in finding a way to take advantage of the federal government’s financial assistance with Medicaid while finding a result-based alternative that has more flexibility and would encourage people to make better health care choices. Arkansas’ proposed fee-for-payment system could become a model for the country.

Like Missouri, Arkansas has a rural population and a states-rights mentality. Its Republican majority legislature has been able to work with its Democratic governor to find a solution that would protect the state’s investment in its health care system.

Other typically red states, including Florida, Alabama and Arizona, have also developed proposals for Medicaid reform, each seeking to use the federal Affordable Care Act funds while obtaining waivers to establish their own programs that best address each state’s needs and resources.

There is no reason why Missouri couldn’t do the same.

We need stronger leadership in the legislature, including a speaker of the House who can manage the majority. Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, has failed to keep his supermajority Republicans in line on a number of issues that ranked high on his legislative agenda — from education to the economy.

Perhaps that is because Jones has been leading by punishment instead of promoting meaningful ideas. His recent large and embarrassing losses on education reform demonstrate this. Jones supported reform that would have developed a teacher evaluation system focused on student achievement. Instead of getting his party behind his cause before sending it to the floor for a vote, Jones watched as it went down in flames. Those House members had instead heard a different message from their local school boards and teachers — the people who vote in their districts.

Instead of recognizing his own failures in leadership, Jones removed two Republicans from a committee because of their votes not to advance a similar teacher evaluation bill. Rep. Jeff Messenger of Republic was one of the two members removed from the Fiscal Review Committee.

Jones’ explanation was that Messenger and Rep. Denny Hoskins of Warrensburg didn’t understand the purpose of the fiscal committee. But it appears to be Jones who fails to understand the purpose of the speaker to lead the majority.

We can only hope that, with new leadership in the 98th General Assembly, serious consideration of Medicaid reform can be started early and address the real needs of Missouri residents.

Unless the legislature is willing to take on this issue, and the many other economic issues facing the state, Missouri will lose control over our future.

But we will all be able to pack heat.

Copyright Springfield News-Leader. Reprinted with permission.

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