JEFFERSON CITY — As senators raced to approve a proposed $27 billion state budget Thursday night, they took a break to give seniors a break.
Senators found a way to reduce cuts to Medicaid home health care without relying on a proposal to end a tax break enjoyed by seniors who rent their homes, known as the "circuit-breaker."
The compromise, proposed by Sen. Kiki Curls D-Kansas City, proposed taking money from some dedicated funds, including professional fees, instead of by ending the renters' tax break. Democrats had threatened to filibuster progress on the budget bills if the option was not considered, according to one Republican senator.
Several senators voiced their displeasure in taking money from professional fees, saying it was unfair to use that money for a purpose for which it wasn't originally intended. Many such fees were ultimately excluded from the proposal.
The compromise, which still requires House approval, would reduce the cut initially proposed by Gov. Eric Greitens. It would mean that about 8,000 seniors on Medicaid would not lose their in-home nursing care benefits.
The debate came in the middle of Senate efforts to adopt the 2018 budget. Earlier in the day, the House had passed the budget. The Senate completed its work late Thursday evening, less than 24 hours before the Friday late afternoon deadline.
Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, called Curls' proposal "a brilliant idea." She chastised senators who called the idea of taking the professional fees -- known as sweeping them -- unfair. "They didn't mind sweeping funds from seniors," Nasheed said.
Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, said such sweeps have been done in the past.
Senators were under the gun to approve the budget by the deadline because the House had adjourned until Monday. That would mean that if the Senate didn't approve all the bills without changes, a special session would have to be held. The change in funding for the senior in-home care did not require a change to the budget itself.
Issues that led to prolonged debate in the Senate included Sen. Rob Schaaf's criticism of the budget's expansion of managed care and Sen. Maria Chapelle-Nadal's desire to get more funding for residents in her district who live near a contaminated landfill.
Earlier in the day, Republican House members celebrated completing their work on the budget. Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, said highlights of the budget include fully funding the K-12 Foundation Formula, restoring some of the cuts to higher education initially proposed by Greitens and achieving a balanced budget.
But State Rep. Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, took a different view, saying, "We balanced the budget on the backs of our seniors, our disabled and our students."
McCann Beatty also noted the ongoing tension in the Senate. "This infighting is ridiculous," she said. "It's playground stuff."
Supervising editor is Mark Horvit, email@example.com