In a Missouri legislature obsessed with wedge political issues designed more for enraging conservatives than for solving real-world problems, it’s a rare thing when a lawmaker makes a heartfelt, personal plea that moves his colleagues to support a meaningful issue.
Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, has had two such moments.
The first came in 2010, when Schmitt — with his wife, Jaime Schmitt, and son, Stephen, watching in the Senate chamber — explained Stephen’s struggles with autism. The Senate was moved to approve a mandate requiring insurers in Missouri to pay for certain treatments for children with the condition.
Last Thursday, Schmitt had a second such moment. Again, his family was in the chamber as he calmly walked through the times he had held Stephen through epileptic seizures, some of them lasting as long as four hours.
He was urging colleagues to pass a bill that would allow hemp oil to be produced and sold under strict conditions in the state. The oil, a byproduct of marijuana, is believed by some medical experts to help ease certain types of epilepsy.
“There is really nowhere else for us to go,” Schmitt told his colleagues. He said the legislature needs to act so that people like 23-month-old June Jessee of Brentwood don’t have to move out of state to access potentially life-saving treatment.
June’s family is moving to Colorado, where the hemp byproduct, cannabidiol oil, is legal. June’s father, Matt Jessee, is a lawyer with Bryan Cave and a lobbyist. He helped get the ball rolling on the passage of House Bill 2238 by mentioning the issue to Rep. Caleb Jones, R-California, the sponsor of the bill.
The Senate passed the bill 32-0. The House passed it the same day, 136-12.
The bill now sits on the desk of Gov. Jay Nixon. He should sign it. It’s a good bill. It doesn’t provide for other forms of medical marijuana, though those are good ideas, too.
But there's more
Here, as Paul Harvey would say, is the rest of the story.
On the same day lawmakers were making sure that the son of a state senator and the daughter of a well-connected lawyer and lobbyist could access special treatments, they were turning their backs on other children, most of them from poor families, all over Missouri.
On Thursday, the House voted against a proposal to try to improve Missouri’s longtime status as a state with one of the higher infant mortality rates in the nation. In Missouri, more than six infants per one thousand births die, higher than 27 other states, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The problem is most acute in rural Missouri, where smaller hospitals face increasing financial pressures because of the legislature’s failure to expand Medicaid, thereby putting billions of federal dollars to work making the state healthier.
The House previously had given preliminary approval to House Bill 1898, sponsored by Rep. Kurt Bahr, R-O’Fallon. It merely would have urged the governor to appoint a panel of medical experts to study and suggest ways to decrease the state’s infant mortality rate.
But on Thursday, 180 degrees removed from what Schmitt was doing in the Senate, Rep. Keith Frederick, R-Rolla, turned some of his Republican colleagues against the bill.
He did this by waving the Obamacare flag, claiming that a bill intended to save the lives of infants, primarily in difficult pregnancies, smacks of too much “central planning.”
The House, which knows nothing about Obamacare except that it hates it and which, by the way, protects children before they’re born way better than after they’re born, went along with this spurious argument.
Over in the Senate, Schmitt had been arguing, “We have the ability to allow something great to happen, to literally save lives.”
On the other side of the rotunda, lives of poor children and their families were being trashed.
We fully support Schmitt’s bill. There is no doubt of his love for his son. The sacrifices he and his wife have made are awe-inspiring. Stephen Schmitt is a special kid.
But state lawmakers are sent to Jefferson City to care for all of the state’s children, and all of them are special.
When will Missouri’s legislators stand up for children they’ve never met, with a simple vote that would save hundreds, perhaps thousands, more lives than hemp oil, a fairly untested treatment?
There is a reason that states suddenly have new freedom to pass hemp laws and not find themselves in conflict with federal law. The hemp industry inserted a provision in the 2014 Farm Bill that passed Congress to ease the way for hemp-specific agricultural efforts on a state-by-state basis.
You know who signed that bill?
President Barack Obama.
Might as well call it "ObamaOil."
There is still time in this legislative session for Schmitt to join his colleague, Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, and House Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, in pushing for Medicaid expansion. There is time for the anti-Obama obsession to be replaced by serious statesmen looking into their hearts and asking themselves: “What have I done to serve the people today?”
Saving lives isn’t just the right thing to do. It isn’t about one lawmaker’s and one lobbyist’s precious children. It’s what lawmakers signed up for when they agreed to serve their fellow citizens.
Missouri lawmakers have proven they aren’t against health care mandates when the beneficiary is one of their own.
They’ve proven they care enough about children that they will cast a vote for a treatment that some will rightly see as contradicting previous positions.
Now for the heavy lifting: Vote for the children and families of hundreds of thousands of the state’s working poor who desperately need access to health care. Vote for people you’ve never met who want the same thing Stephen does: Hope.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.