Missouri lawmakers are taking a breather in the wake of a tumultuous 2005 legislative session, but Boone County representatives are already anticipating the work ahead for next year.
Although there were predictably mixed reactions to the session that ended in May, local representatives agreed the atmosphere in the House of Representatives has improved.
“The decorum of the House had deteriorated the past two years but now was much better,” said Rep. Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence. “The way we ran our business was better. I think we had some folks in leadership that, frankly, I got along with quite well. I knew when I was going to lose, but I got treated very fairly.”
House Minority Leader Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, said he was disappointed with the agenda pushed by Gov. Matt Blunt.
“My goal was to create more opportunities for Missourians and to make Missouri a better place,” Harris said. “What I saw was a denial of opportunities and a series of broken promises that are detrimental to the taxpayers and voters in this state. It makes the American Dream out of reach and more difficult to achieve.”
Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, said he did his best to stand by the promises he made on four major campaign issues: tort reform, workers’ compensation, education funding and a balanced budget.
“We were able to accomplish all of those. Not only did we get medical tort reform, but we got universal tort reform,” Robb said. “It’s not just physicians who are impacted by frivolous lawsuits but all businesses.”
Robb said the education funding formula that takes effect next year is a “step in the right direction.”
“(It) is not perfect by any means,” Robb said. “It’s adequate, but it didn’t do as much for the Columbia school district as the superintendents would have liked.”
Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia, worries that the state will rely solely on projected economic growth to fund the formula.
“I don’t like gambling with children’s education, and that’s what we’ve been banking on,” said Baker. “I would like to see something that would address the Columbia problem of losing so much money. I don’t like that Columbians raised their (tax) levy and weren’t rewarded for that. We were essentially penalized.”
Shoemyer said cuts to Medicaid will hurt senior citizens in his district. He said lawmakers should have studied the ramifications of the changes before passing legislation. “Seventy-five percent of Medicaid goes to seniors and folks with disabilities in my county,” he said. “Now, each year we will decide what parts of health care to fund for people like them. The governor and the Republicans did not manage this situation. They need to realize we are all in this together.”
Harris said cutting 100,000 people from Medicaid denies Missourians equal opportunities, and he predicted insurance premiums will rise.
“There was no earnest attempt to find waste and inefficiencies across the state,” Harris said. “There were $10 billion of our tax dollars that were not critically examined. Millions and millions of dollars were spent without a real explanation.”
“We continue to give tax breaks to big businesses and not everyday people,” Baker said. “When we have a budget crisis, it’s curious why we are doing that. But something else that can stimulate the economy is good roads, education and health care.”
Baker said the Integrity of Justice Act, a comprehensive bill addressing crime lab oversight and eyewitness protocol, will be on her agenda next session.
“It addresses the problem of innocent people being mistaken for guilty people in the justice system,” Baker said. “I think it has a good chance to pass.”
Baker said the new, bipartisan Healthy Missourians Caucus will focus next session on legislation to provide cervical cancer screenings for women. She said such tests could potentially eradicate the cancer.
“I would like to see this pass and covered more often by insurance,” Baker said. “We’d also like to focus on getting budgetary support for health programs for tobacco and diabetes and nutrition education for schools.”
Rep. Steve Hobbs, R-Mexico, was pleased with legislation on natural resources that passed this session. Hobbs chaired the Conservation and Natural Resources Committee, which reworked hazardous waste and solid waste programs.
Hobbs also cited the Legislature’s approval of a bill calling for voters to decide on a constitutional amendment that would extend a one-tenth-cent sales tax for parks and erosion prevention until 2016. The amendment also would require that the tax be resubmitted to voters every 10 years.
Hobbs said Missourians should expect lower profile and more specialized bills next session.
“One of the key issues for me will be looking at ways we can increase the number of jobs in our communities across the state,” Hobbs said. “I will be meeting with business leaders … sometime this summer to hear what they have to say.”
Here’s a look at the bills and issues local representatives want to address in the General Assembly’s 2006 session.
JEFF HARRIS, 23rd District
- Toughening homicide laws in cases of child abuse
- Banning the sale of violent and sexually explicit video games to minors
- Passing a responsible fatherhood initiative, focusing on fathers who are not financially or otherwise involved in their children’s lives
- Reducing the production and sale of methamphetamine
- Finding ways to help military families
- Allowing crime victims to take off work to attend criminal proceedings
ED ROBB, 24th District
- Creating a flat rate income tax
- Enacting corporate tax reform
- Establishing new charter schools
- Working with unions to promote Missouri as a business-friendly state
JUDY BAKER, 25th District
- Modifying the Nutrition in Schools bill to limit sugar-based drinks
- Establishing a state Surgeon General’s office and an ambassador for health
- Providing cervical cancer screenings for women
- Improving crime-lab oversight and establishing eyewitness protocols
- Providing funding and a protocol for the use of rape kits and hospital exams
WES SHOEMYER, Ninth District
- Passing the Glotel bill, which would create a fund to pay back people who use the product to dye anhydrous ammonia, a key ingredient in methamphetamine
- Passing the Seed Availability and Competition Act, which would allow farmers to retain their own seed and reimburse companies who hold patents on them
- Passing a bill that would eliminate tax abatements for companies with at least 500 employees that pay
STEVE HOBBS, 21st District
- Recycling of electronic waste such as computers and televisions
- Requiring all gasoline in Missouri to contain 10 percent ethanol
- Encouraging the use of biodiesel fuel
- Changing eminent domain laws to make them fairer to property owners