JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Senate passed the $21.5 billion state budget bill on Wednesday, but not without a challenge by one of its members to introduce an amendment to allow embryonic stem cell research in life science research grants.
Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, one of the leading Senate proponents for stem cell research, offered an amendment to the budget to remove language from the bill that limited life sciences research funding to only animal and plant research.
Human medical research was intentionally excluded from the state’s first appropriation from a new life sciences research fund — a result of Missouri’s continued controversy over embryonic stem cell research.
Both the Senate and House, which passed its version of the budget last month, included $13.5 million for “life sciences” research grants, all of which would go to animal and plant science projects.
The Senate, in a vote of 23-10, voted against Graham’s amendment and then quickly passed unanimously the budget bill.
Traditionally, appropriation bills only include the money amount that goes to a department, without restrictions, so the bills are open to interpretation.
Removing limiting language would have opened up funding to go toward any type of life sciences research — including embryonic stem cell research.
Graham, a former House Education Appropriations Committee chairman, said he understands the work put into appropriations bills and was not trying to change the bill drastically. He said he only open up opportunity for more research.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Chuck Gross, R-St. Charles, said deleting the limitations still wouldn’t have resulted in money for human medical research, but could have jeopardized the bill, because of concerns it could have funded embryonic stem cell research.
Graham said lawmakers were shirking their duties because of unfounded fears about stem cell research.
“We’re shutting down all medical research because of a political controversy about something that is probably one-hundredth, not even that, of the area of human medical research that is being done today,” Graham said.
Numerous other aspects of state government also are virtually assured more money during the fiscal year that starts July 1 because of agreement between the House and Senate budget versions.
Gross said his committee tried to pour money into proven programs, rather than new ideas. He declared the spending plan “an extremely sound budget,” far removed from past lean years where “when we smelled a dollar, we put it in the budget,” whether it would materialize or not.
Among the areas of agreement between the House and Senate are:
$2.84 billion in basic funding for public K-12 schools, the projected amount needed under the state’s distribution formula and a 5 percent increase over the amount originally budgeted for this year.
A 3 percent pay raise for state employees.
$47 million for Missouri’s main college scholarships for those with financial need, a 72 percent increase over the $27 million originally included in the current budget.
Funding increases of 4 percent to 5 percent for state colleges and universities, although the exact amount remains to be determined for a few schools.
$21 million for the state’s tourism budget, a 14 percent increase over last year.
$20 million to restore or enhance Medicaid coverage for the working disabled whose benefits were cut or reduced two years ago. The money, though, is dependent on the passage of separate legislation authorizing the program.
Lawmakers also appear likely to grant pay increases to contractors who provide health and mental health services to Medicaid recipients and certain other Missourians. On the list are doctors, nursing homes, in-home care providers, psychiatrists, those who serve the mentally disabled, and alcohol and drug abuse counselors. The exact amount of some of those increases remains to be determined by House and Senate negotiators.
Among other items to be reconciled between the House and Senate is the amount of money for Amtrak passenger train service between St. Louis and Kansas City. For next year, the House voted to eliminate most of the state’s current $6.6 million subsidy. The Senate voted to increase Amtrak’s state aid to $7.4 million.
Missourian reporter Tina Marie Macias contributed to this report.