A national health care organization released a report Thursday that stated more than half a million Missourians would be eligible for tax credits under the Affordable Care Act.
Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said more that 525, 000 people in Missouri will be eligible for health care premium tax credits under federal law in January 2014. Families USA is a national organization for health care consumers.
The federal health care law passed in 2009, requires almost everyone to own some type of health care insurance or pay a small fine. The requirement takes full effect in January 2014.
Pollack said the tax credits would benefit Missouri citizens with and without health care insurance.
"They also will be eligible for those people who purchased insurance but increasingly are having a difficulty affording that coverage," Pollack said.
Missouri lawmakers don't directily oppose the tax credits but disagree with the federal health law in its entire form. They are mostly opposed to the medicaid expansion requirement under the law.
Missouri Rep. Paul Fitzwater, R-Potosi, said he agrees with some parts of the federal health law but doesn't agree with it as a whole such as the Medicaid expansion requirement.
Fitzwater said Americans can become too dependent on government funds.
The House budget subcommittee debated Thursday about how the funding for a $1.2 billion bond issue would be spent.
Rep. Margo McNeil, D-Florissant, said this bond issue would create jobs for Missourians and create funding for higher education across the state.
"This is a time when we need to be creating jobs," McNeil said. "It will actually have something to show for investment and the infrastructure of our universities, and so I think it will be a very positive, something that the legislature can do."
But Rep. Mark Parkinson, R-St.Charles said the proposal would put Missouri into more debt. He says the government needs to save money and use cash as funding instead.
In a 29-2 vote, the state Senate gave its backing to a proposed constitutional amendment on gun ownership.
The measure, sponsored by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, would put in front of voters a constitutional amendment that would alter the language on Missouri's existing gun laws.
Missouri’s current amendment states that it is the right of every citizen to keep and bear arms in defense of their home, person and property. Schaefer’s bill would add “family” to that list, and remove a provision that exempts concealed carry weapons.
It also adds two sentences to the section: "The rights guaranteed by this section shall be unalienable. The state of Missouri shall be obligated to uphold these rights and shall under no circumstances decline to protect against their infringement."
The measure now goes to the House. If it passes there, it would go before voters in November 2014.
"It simply says elected officials in the state of Missouri don't get the option to be disengaged in this discussion," Schaefer said. "You have to be looking out for the rights of Missourians as enshrined in the Constitution."
A Democratic lawmaker said Thursday that drivers' information is being sold to private companies, and he said that problem is bigger than controversies about information being shared with the federal government.
Rep. Chris Kelly told the House Committee on Downsizing State Government that state law allows the Missouri Department of Revenue to sell information about drivers in large batches--everything from their eye color to their accident history. Kelly is sponsoring legislation that would restrict access to single records in an attempt to cut down on purchasing by firms that use the driver information for marketing purposes.
But information companies, like Carfax, say they use the license data for good purposes. Carfax lobbyist Chris Neal told the committee that his company needs access to that driver information to figure out if a car has been involved in an accident in the past.
This isn't the only controversy in the Capitol involving the Department of Revenue. Republicans have said the department is illegally sending information on gun owners to federal government. Kelly told the committee that he doesn't think that is happening.
"Some people are perpetuating a fantasy that the Department of Revenue is giving to the federal government drivers license information and [concealed carry of a weapon permit] information," Kelly said. "That is documentably [sic] false, but it is politically convenient."
A Department of Revenue official told committee members that some 4,700 people and entities have accounts to pay for driver information from the department.
State lawmakers backed a bill that would ban drone surveillance without consent.
Three proposed amendments aimed to widen the scope of the ban, while Rep. Mark Parkinson, R-St. Charles, proposed an amendment to exempt model airplanes.
By installing a small camera in their model airplane, enthusiasts are able to fly the model "as if they were inside the model aircraft," Parkinson said. Parkinson worried that the cameras would turn a hobby into a criminal act.
Other amendments widened the scope of the ban to include manned aircrafts, the media, and observation without consent, causing concern among lawmakers who felt the amendments made the bill too vague.
"It criminalizes legal behavior," said Rep. Gina Mitten, D-St. Louis County. Mitten said the amendments would allow courts to throw out evidence of criminal behavior that had been recorded by persons flying for fun.
Law enforcement would still be able to use drones with a search warrant, just as the media would be able to with consent.
The house adopted all four amendments and perfected the bill.
The Senate passed a bill Wednesday which would force Missourians to pay a sales tax on their vehicles no matter where they were purchased.
If Gov. Jay Nixon signs the bill into law, residents will pay a sales tax when they go to title their vehicle. The tax rate will be the sum of the state and local sales tax rates.
A 2012 Missouri Supreme Court decision ruled the Missouri Department of Revenue could not collect local taxes on vehicles bought outside of Missouri, much to the dismay of car dealers near the border in the state. Dealers in states like Illinois would advertise to Missourians it would be cheaper if they purchased a car in Illinois for this reason.
The bill also prohibits municipalities and counties from imposing a use tax on the vehicles.
Taxing jurisdictions that haven’t previously approved local use taxes will have to vote whether to discontinue collecting sales tax on titling of motor vehicles bought outside of Missouri. If they do not vote by 2016, they must stop collecting the sales tax. Also, the jurisdictions can hold a vote to repeal the tax at anytime.
The Senate passed the bill to the Senate earlier this session, and the House added language to the bill that Sponsor Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said made the bill constitutionally “bullet proof.” The Senate approved these changes and sent the bill to the governor with a 32 to 0 vote.
Methods to measure teacher and school merit were criticized in the Senate Education Committee Wednesday.
The committee heard two bills, one which would assign letter grades to schools based on the Missouri School Improvement Standards, and the other which would implement an evaluation system for teachers and principals based off of student achievement and improvement.
Most debate originated from the argument that the systems would simplify the performance of the education system and ignore factors such as the natural ability of students.
Mike Lodewegen, the director of Legislative Advocacy for Missouri Association of School Administrators, said a simplified evaluation system could not capture all of the factors affecting a student’s quality of education.
“We don’t feel that a single letter grade really indicates how well a school is doing,” Lodewegen said.
Supporters of the bill said the measures would allow parents to direct their efforts towards schools suffering the most, instead of focusing attention on successful school districts.
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon meet behind closed doors with the House Republican Caucus on Wednesday to discuss his plans to expand Medicaid coverage for the lower income.
Nixon emerged from the meeting expressing optimism.
"Under the three bears analysis, the porridge is a little warmer," he said at a session for reporters after the meeting.
Nixon said there is a lot of work to do but he believes the legislative session has not hit halftime yet. Nixon said he supports some of the Medicaid expansion work of Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City. Barnes' bill passed the House Government Oversight and Accountability committee on Wednesday, and would allow private insurers to compete to cover Missouri's Medicaid enrollees.
The bill would expand coverage for adults earning incomes up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level and would require the state to ask for a waiver from the federal government. The Affordable Care Act requires states that opt-in to cover adults up to 138 percent of the poverty level.
Nixon also took the opportunity to contribute his thoughts on accusations that the Department of Revenue has given Missourians' personal information to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
"This Department of Revenue in this state of Missouri is not collecting a bunch of unuseful data to send to some sort of magical database someplace to mess with people," Nixon said. He said the attention the Senate has given to the issue is time the General Assembly could be working on Medicaid expansion.
Despite being passed through the Senate, labor union workers continued to express concern about a bill that would eliminate automatic deductions from employee paychecks in a House committee meeting Wednesday.
Bill sponsor Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, said he created the bill to protect the freedom of employees.
“The intent is to give employees an option to better direct their political contributions,” Brown said.
In order to pass the bill out of the Senate, Brown said Senators tailored the bill so it does not apply to “first-responders” such as firefighters and police officers.
Brown said the Senate approved the provision so those workers will not go on strike and risk the safety of people in their districts.
Union workers spoke in opposition to the bill and said it would not give them more freedom, but would weaken their organizations.
“I get that someone wants to weaken union workers because they make more money than non-union workers,” said Rep. Michael Frame, D-Eureka. “And their employees--these businesses--are making contributions to their opposition.”
Other labor union workers said this bill fixes a problem that does not exist because union employees already have the opportunity to opt out of automatic deductions.
Opposition to an education bill charged it would revert back to segregation in Missouri schools.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Michele Kratky, D-St. Louis City, would give the St. Louis School district the power to divide the district into four sub-districts.
Kratky said the district would have to explore this option to see how it would work, but she said she wanted to propose the bill to explore the idea of the sub-districts.
The main concern over the bill is that it could racially segregate schools.
"I don't know how you could do this without having a segregated school system," said Steve Carroll, a lobbyist for the Missouri Special Administrative Board.
The committee also heard a bill that would extend the normal school year for provisional and unaccredited school districts for five weeks.
The Missouri House Budget Committee unanimously passed a $1.2 billion bond proposal Wednesday that would allocate funds for state projects .
The measure would ask Missouri voters to approve a constitutional amendment that would authorize the General Assembly to issue the bonds. The bonds would fund higher education improvements, construction, landscaping, land or building purchases, and water projects.
Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said some of the bonds will go toward renovating the Fulton State Hospital, improving the "eroding state capitol," fixing the sewer systems in state parks and rural water projects.
"We can't do everything that needs to be fixed in Missouri, but we can do a lot" Kelly said.
Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, sponsored a similar measure in the Senate. Schaefer's proposed constitutional amendment would permit the Board of Fund Commissioners to issue bonds up to $950 million. Up to $250 million of the bond funds would go toward construction of state buildings, facilities and projects. At least $40 million of the $250 million would be allocated toward the maintenance of parks and park facilities.
The Senate resolution passed in the Senate Appropriations Committee in February.
Missouri senators voted Tuesday to get rid of a property tax credit given to low-income renters across the state.
The senators voted 21-12 for a measure that could mean higher tax bills for some people who rent homes or apartments. The legislation now goes to the state House.
Supporters say the bill needs to pass so that Missouri can balance its budget. Cutting out the tax credit would free up $57 million next year to go to programs for seniors and the poor. Lawmakers have said tax credit reform is a priority this year. But Democrats, like Kansas City Senator Jolie Justus, say this bill unfairly puts the burden on the state's poorest residents.
"The problem is, this is a program that we've had for years and for many low-income seniors, who have a fixed income, this is the only expendable money that they'll have over the course of the year."
After weeks of questioning from lawmakers, the Missouri Department of Revenue responded to a rare Senate-issued subpoena Tuesday by delivering a mountain of documents to the state Capitol.
The response-- 50 boxes-- some packed with thousands of pages. Sixteen were delivered straight to Sen. Kurt Schaefer's office Tuesday that the department told him were more related to his inquiry, the other 34 are available for review in the department's office.
The Senate issued a subpoena last week demanding the department turn over information related to the licensing program, and any documents involving communication between the department and any federal agency dating back to 2009.
"Before we can, in good faith, allow spending of the public's money, we have to have a full and accurate picture of what's going on," said Schaefer, R-Columbia. "If it takes going through all those boxes to get an accurate picture, which I'm assuming its going to, then that's going to take awhile and everybody needs to understand that."
Schaefer said the department has been violating state privacy laws by sharing Missourians' personal information with the Department of Homeland Security, when they apply for driver's licenses and concealed carry permits.
Schaefer, who is the Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman, said he plans to review all of them. And he and other Senate leaders suggested they might delay work on the department's budget until the review is complete.
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder signed a letter yesterday with 22 other lieutenant governors renewing his support of the Keystone XL Pipeline. The letter was sent to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.
Kinder said that despite the oil leak in Arkansas over the weekend, Missouri can build the pipeline in a safe, environmentally friendly, and responsible way.
"The safety concerns, I believe, have all been addressed," Kinder said.
He said the pipeline will create jobs in Missouri, extend energy security and give the state an economic boost.
Opponents of the pipeline, including the director of Missouri Chapter of the Sierra Club, said that Kinder's lack of concern over safety risks is irresponsible.
Chapter Director John Hickey said that the corrosive tar sands that flow through pipelines like the proposed Keystone XL can lead to serious environmental problems.
After a massive tax overhaul bill passed the state Senate with relative ease, the measure met opposition from a House Republican that said the Senate moved too fast on the bill.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee's Summit, would increase the state sales tax by half of one percent and decrease the income tax for residents and corporations by three-fourths of one percent.
The measure was first heard in the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday. Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, said the Senate did not give the measure enough thought when the bill passed the Senate floor in five hours.
"I talked to three Senators and I asked what do it do, and all of them said I'm not sure, but I'm sure (the House) will fix it," Engler said.
Engler, a former Senate majority leader, said he agrees with the idea of cutting corporate taxes, but he thinks the House will have to spend a lot of time making sure the bill won't bust the state's budget.
The bill is 205 pages long and an inch thick. It changes a multitude of state tax policies and would drastically alter how Missourians pay in taxes and how much the state has to spend.
A House committee advanced two bills Tuesday that would extend education benefits for military members and veterans who attend colleges in Missouri.
The Senate passed both bills last month and the bills were heard in the House Veterans Committee on Tuesday. One bill would allow military veterans without a dishonorable discharge to pay in-state tuition at Missouri higher education institutions.
Under current law, a veteran must reside in Missouri for 12 months after they retire from the military before they qualify for in-state tuition.
Bill sponsor Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee's Summit, said the bill would waive the residency requirement for military veterans. Kraus currently serves in the U.S. Army Reserves and he was a platoon leader in Iraq in 2003.
"This is one of those things that I think makes sense to help our veterans reduce their cost for education." Kraus said.
Another senate bill heard in the committee would require higher education institutions to award credit to students for training they took in the military. The bill would also make it so health licenses of military members won't expire while they're away for duty.
"To me, it's common sense to give them credit for what they learned while in the military," Davis said.
All Missouri counties are out of severe drought conditions for the first time in nine months, according to the National Weather Service.
Despite this, food prices at supermarkets throughout the state have continued to rise.
The poor rainfall caused prices for vital farm commodities such as hay to rise putting cattle ranchers like Mexico's Colby Willer in a bind.
"The hay crop wasn't good, and therefore the pastures weren't good as well. So then we had shortages on hay and pasture ground."
The shortage of hay and pasture ground caused him to thin out his cattle herd, Willer said.
With the recent rain, cattle ranchers and other farmers can expect to rebound and grocery prices to fall, Willer said.
Missouri has received more than two inches above the state's normal precipitation by the end of March.
After weeks of grilling the Missouri Department of Revenue on its licensing procedures, state lawmakers threatened Thursday to delay the department's budget if it doesn't provide answers.
Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said Thursday that several constituents had recently notified him that the department has been giving old state-owned ID processing equipment to a private company for disposal as a part of its contract with the group.
But a spokesman for the Department of Revenue said Thursday in an email that the equipment being removed from the fee offices is not state property.
Less than an hour after the Missouri House passed the state budget, Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard said to Schaefer the Senate would delay allocating funds to the department until proof is provided.
"If we have to go into special session on their budget we will go through the budget process," said Richard, R-Joplin. "But we will not go through their budget until you are satisfied with their answers."
The Missouri House of Representatives passed its version of the state budget Thursday, but that spending plan leaves out an expansion of Missouri's insurance system for the poor that is mandated as part of federal health care law.
In a series of 13 votes, House members sent their spending plan on to the Senate. Both chambers will have to agree on a final balanced budget before their regular legislative session ends in mid-May.
The end of the House's first debates on the measure were marked by good spirits and praise across both sides of the aisle, except on the issue of the health care expansion.
There, the parties were sharply divided. Republicans who control the House said they're worried about the expansion's cost. The GOP has said that growing the state's insurance program for the poor could greatly what the state spends on health care in future years.
But Democrats said that not doing the expansion will hurt poor Missourians. House Minority Leader Jake Hummel said that lawmakers get taxpayer-funded health insurance and he said poorer citizens should too.
"To turn our backs on Missourians, to say that we think that we as a legislative body deserve to have our taxpayers pay for our health insurance, but that they do not deserve to have health insurance, that's wrong for this state," said Hummel, D-St. Louis.
The state House passed a measure Thursday that would cap non-economic damages in medical lawsuits, a move supporters said could help draw more doctors into the state.
Lawmakers have tried to cap such damages before. But Missouri's Supreme Court threw out those caps as unconstitutional.
In a 93-62 vote, the House passed legislation that would cap damages for things like pain and suffering at $350,000. There is also a proposed constitutional amendment moving through the legislature aimed at overcoming the Supreme Court's objections.
Democrats largely opposed the caps, saying that they interfere with a person's right to have decisions made by a jury. But Republicans, like Rep. Bill White, say that measurable awards, such as lost salary, would excluded from the caps.
"That deals with things like pain and suffering and enjoyment of life," said White, R-Joplin. "This is not going to put people on welfare. This is not going to leave them owing lots and lots of medical bills."
The measure now heads to the state Senate.
A former Miss America came to Missouri's capitol on Thursday to talk about her battle with anorexia to support a Senate bill that would require Missouri's health care insurance companies to cover complete treatment for eating disorders.
The Senate passed a bill Thursday that would require the Joint Committee on Legislative Research to investigate how a mandate to treat eating disorders will impact the costs of health insurers and customers. That bill now goes to the Missouri House.
Another Senate bill would require Missouri health insurance companies to provide coverage for eating disorders. The Senate Small Business, Insurance, and Industry Committee heard the bill last month but it hasn't voted on it yet.
Haglund said she recovered from anorexia but said the process was a long one that lead to her parents being in debt because their insurance didn't cover all the care she needed to fully recover.
The Missouri House gave final approval Thursday to $219 million in additional state spending for 2013 in a broadly bipartisan vote.
The measure is spending in addition to the $24 billion budget lawmakers approved last year. About 69 percent of the supplemental measure comes from federal dollars, with about 10 percent coming from Missouri tax dollars.
Most of the money in the bill goes to the state's K-12 schools and services for people with disabilities. The largest state-funded expense is $17.1 million for payments by the Department of Mental Health.
The measure now goes to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.
The Missouri Senate endorsed a plan Wednesday to roll back a tax credit provided to low-income elderly and disabled renters.
The Senate measure -- sponsored by Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St.Charles -- would restrict to home owners a tax break known as the "Circuit Breaker" tax credit.
Under current law, the tax credit is provided to both home owners and renters who have lower incomes and are either elderly or disabled.
Critics charged it was unfair to deny to renters a tax break provided to low-income home owners.
"Don't you think the cost of the property tax is buried in the rent?" asked Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph.
Dempsey responded that the property tax is part of the landlord's cost of doing business. He described the bill has part of a broader plan designed to reduce tax credits provided to various categories of persons, activities and developers.
Sen. Kiki Curls, D-Kansas City, said many low-income seniors depend on the rebate to pay for necessities each year. However, Dempsey said the state can make a more efficient use of the funds to help seniors.
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon included elimination of the program in his 2013 State of the State address, and his appointed Tax Credit Review Commission recommended that the program be eliminated in its 2010 and 2012 reports.
Legislative staff estimate elimination of the tax credit for lower income renters would free $57 million per year. Under the bill, that money would be transferred to programs for the elderly.
On the same day the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on gay marriage, nearly 100 gay rights supporters rallied in the rotunda of Missouri's Capitol.
About a dozen legislators addressed the rally, including the legislature's two openly gay members.
"This is my favorite day of the year. This is the day of the year when everyone comes to my office and says, 'hey, isn't this the day when your big gay army shows up in Jefferson City?'," said Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City and the Senate's Democratic leader.
Rather than gay marriage rights, many of the lawmakers address the group stressed pushing for laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and to toughen laws on school bullying.
Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, directly urged the group to avoid lobbying on gay marriage.
"Some of us are not in tune with you on the marriage issue," said Engler who had sponsored a gay-marriage ban measure in 2004. "But all of them, in particular the ones who profess to be right-wing Christian fundamentalists, should be with you on non-discrimination."
In the same year Engler had sponsored his measure to deny recognition of gay marriages, Missouri voters approved a similar state constitutional gay-marriage ban by an overwhelming margin.
One of the rally's organizers suggested the large number of lawmakers seeking to speak to the group suggested that attitudes about sexual orientation were changing.
"We used to have to go and ask and beg them to come down and they would stand on the side and say hello. And now we can't stop them from coming and wanting to speak," said Claire Cook, the Kansas City and Mid-Missouri field organizer for PROMO.
Debate over whether to expand the state's Medicaid program flared up quickly Tuesday as the House of Representatives finished the first debate about how the state should spend taxpayer dollars for the coming fiscal year.
Several Democrats chastised Republicans for leaving the Medicaid expansion out of their proposed budget, which totals about $24.8 billion. The expansion is part of the federal health care law passed in 2009 and has been the focus this year of state Democrats and Gov. Jay Nixon.
Republicans mostly oppose the expansion because they say it will great increase the state's health care spending over the next decade. Their budget calls for the state to pass on about $940 million in federal funds to cover the costs of the expansion.
Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, said that without the expansion, lawmakers would be leaving the state's poorer residents "out in the cold." Roorda moved to send part of the spending plan back to the House Budget Committee, but that motion failed in a vote of 110-47, mostly along party lines.
Republican-controlled committees in both the House and Senate have voted down Democratic legislative proposals to expand the Medicaid program. A House committee heard testimony Monday about a proposal that would expand the eligibility criteria for Medicaid, but that would ultimately decrease the number of people enrolled in the program.
Later Tuesday, the House voted 105-50 to strike down an amendment from House Minority Leader Jake Hummel that would have put the Medicaid expansion into a budget bill for the state Department of Health and Senior Services. The vote came after nearly an hour of emotional, high-strung debate that had members from both parties yelling at each other and at least one Democrat storming from the chamber in frustration.
The House gave first-round approval to the budget bills in a series of 13 votes. House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, has said that he wants to send the budget to the Senate by the end of this week.
Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal spent more than four hours Tuesday filibustering an anti-gun control measure.
The measure, sponsored by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, would put before voters a proposed constitutional amendment that would force state lawmakers to prevent any measures restricting gun ownership.
"When you took that oath as an elected official to uphold the rights of the constitution it meant all of the rights, not just the ones you like," Schaefer said. "We're simply saying that when those things come up that are a potential infringement it is the responsibility of the elected officials to make that determination and then act on it."
Chappelle-Nadal initially supported the measure, but said she filibustered because she said Schaefer was disrespectful to her when she tried to change some of the measure's language.
"I hope he learned his lesson," said Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County.
Sen. Kurt Schaefer said Tuesday that the Department of Revenue is breaking state privacy laws through its new driver's license process.
In the Missouri Senate's first subpoena since 1990, Schaefer and several lawmakers said the department bypassed the legislature when it changed the system to meet federal guidelines passed down by the 2005 Real ID Act.
"When they're no longer candid with us about what they're doing with the public's money and we have to second guess, we're simply not going to give them the ability to spend the public's money," said Schaefer, R-Columbia.
Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, announced that he had issued the subpoena Monday night.
Schaefer said the subpoena will provide more information about whether license offices overseen by the revenue department have been violating Missourians' rights. In recent weeks, state Republicans have accused the license offices of scanning the personal information of people applying for concealed carry permits and then sending that information to third-party companies with connections to the federal government.
The Department of Revenue did not respond to a request for comment on the subpoena, but department officials have vehemently denied that the license offices are sending the personal records to outside entities.
In a separate action Tuesday, the Republican-controlled House voted to add provisions to the state budget that would effectively bar the Department of Revenue from carrying out any such program using its state funding. Rep Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, said a scanning program like that would jeopardize the privacy of law-abiding residents.
That provision was attached to the budget legislation after a voice vote in the chamber.
A House committee on Tuesday heard parents’ emotional testimonies about how their children died in daycare facilities to support a bill that would regulate the number of children an unlicensed daycare can provide for at one time.
The bill entitled “Nathan’s Law,” was named after three-month old Nathan Blecha who died in 2007 at an unlicensed in-home daycare from lack of oxygen after he was placed face-down on bedding. Current Missouri law passed in 2011 states that a licensed daycare must put babies on their back to sleep but the law doesn't’t regulate unlicensed daycares.
Nathan Blecha’s mother, Shelley Blecha, of Imperial, Mo., spoke at the hearing on Tuesday and said that the day her son died she found out his at-home daycare had 10 children there and six of those children weren’t the provider’s relatives. Blecha said charges weren’t brought against the daycare provider.
“We were told by the police department that there’s nothing that they could do because she was unlicensed and she was remorseful,” Blecha said.
Kerry Messer with the Missouri Family Network was the only person who spoke in opposition of the bill. Messer said his concern is that if someone is babysitting kids and there is an emergency where they have to take on additional children then they are in violation of a law and are considered a criminal under the bill. He said it often isn’t known whether these facilities are licensed or not. Messer said this bill would put everyone under a microscope.
Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis, who became teary-eyed after Blecha testimony, said was appalled that Kerry decided to speak in opposition.
“It is beyond my comprehension that your sitting there testifying against it," Montecello said.
House Governmental Oversight Committee Chair Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, presented to his committee a broad set of changes in the Medicaid system that includes expanding eligibility levels for some adults.
The increase, however, is below the 138 percent of federal poverty income level recommended by the governor and covered by the new federal health care law.
Instead, Barnes' plan would raise eligibility to 100 percent of federal poverty. Barnes bill is contingent upon federal acceptance of the lower coverage level. Critics said the federal government would not accept anything less than 138 percent, thus making the entire bill useless.
Barnes makes cuts in several other Medicaid programs including coverage for the Blind Pension recipients, the Women's Cancer program, the Women's Health Program and child health care coverage.
Barnes told the committee that in total, his bill would reduce the total number of persons eligible for Medicaid, but that he expected total participation would increase because of other changes.
His bill would place all Medicaid recipients into managed care systems, require treatment for substance abuse recipients, encourage preventive care and offer cash rewards to recipients who keep down their health care costs.
Barnes criticized the federal health care law, but said it provided an opportunity for Missouri to "transform" the state's health care program for the lower income in an historic fashion.
"It turns receipents into participants by empowering them to make their own health care choices, cuts down on waste, fraud and abuse and it reduces dependency of Missourians with incomes above the federal poverty level," Barnes
Representatives of several organizations that had endorsed the governor's Medicaid expansion plan testified in support of Barnes' bill, although some urged the eligibility for adults be raised to the 138 percent federal income level provided by the federal law.
"I think it is important that we do consider going to the 138 percent so that we can get the necessary waivers that we need from the federal government. Remember, they're in control of what we can do with the system," said Ray McCarty, president of Associated Industries of Missouri.
After the committee hearing, Barnes indicated he was willing to compromise on the issue.
Other Medicaid-expansion bills have been defeated in House and Senate committees on party-line votes.
If Barnes' measure clears the House, it could face a difficult future in the Senate. Senate leaders previously had issued a statement attacking the Medicaid expansion idea. And on the same day Barnes' bill was heard, Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, told reporters the prospects for the bill were dim in the Senate.
Get the bill, HB 700.