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Balanced Budget Raises Concerns

By Sarah Karp
State Capital Bureau

January 06, 1995

JEFFERSON CITY _ Legislative Leaders in Missouri plan to send a message to Washington during the 1995 session _ do not try to balance the federal budget on the backs of the states.

Making sure this declaration gets to Capitol Hill is one of the priorities that both Republican and Democratic legislative leaders outlined during the first week of the 1995 legislative session.

Other issues cited by legislative leaders include tax limits, juvenile crime, health care, worker's compensation and welfare reform.

Senate President Pro Tem Jim Mathewson, D-Sedalia, and House Speaker Bob Griffin, D-Cameron, have pledged to present resolutions to enter Missouri into a national conference to discuss how to maintain a balance between the federal and state governments in both rights and responsibilities.

"As the new Congress works to draft it's balanced budget amendment, the states must join together to prevent massive cost shifts to the states," Mathewson said. "In the fires of change that burn across the land, we must reforge federalism."

Minority Floor Leader Sen. Francis Flotron, R-St. Louis, agreed that federalism is a critical issue.

"Right now, there are some very important governance issues that we have to deal with," he said. "We must find a balance."

Mathewson and Griffin both endorsed changes in the way juvenile criminals are handled. The main issue involves the current restrictions in when a juvenile can be certified to stand trial in the adult criminal system _ where records are open to the public and the penalties are much harsher.

Griffin has proposed abolishing the current limitations for certification and allowing judges to decide.

While agreeing that the certification system needs to be changed, Flotron warned that the changes need to be made carefully.

"I went to juvenile detention centers and talked to kids and they want to be certified," he said. "They want to be certified because then they can get out on bond and it is easier for them to slip through the system."

Another issue cited by legislative leaders is tax limits.

While Missouri voters overwhelmingly defeated the Hancock II tax limit proposal in November, many legislators say the public wants more input in what taxes are imposed on them.

The approach endorsed by legislative leaders is to require voter approval for any large state tax increase.

"I will propose a simple, more direct measure that will not conflict with what we are already doing," Griffin said.

Health care _ the dominating issue of the 1994 legislative session _ will return this year.

But House Speaker Griffin is pushing a far less drastic proposal, one that he describes as "modest."

The House Democrats plan would drop the efforts at regulating the health-care industry, that failed last year.

Instead, the proposal would be limited to regulations on health insurance policies.

The proposal outlined by the House Speaker would prohibit insurance companies from denying a person coverage because of pre-existing medical conditions and would assure continuation of coverage when changing jobs.

"They say that health care is a dead issue, both nationally and locally," he said. "These days the most dangerous preexisting condition is cold feet."

That approach was echoed by the House Republican leader. Mark Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, said people with pre-existing conditions and those changing jobs should be able to maintain insurance.

The Republican leaders have two other issues to add to the Democrats' agenda _ the welfare system and worker's compensation that pays the medical bills for workers injured on the job.

Flotron and Richardson said there needs the ballooning costs to businesses for the worker's compensation program needs to be halted.

Flotron has proposed a bill that contains several different methods which he thinks will help control costs. He said he doesn't really care what parts of the bill passes as long as some action is taken.

Richardson said the current definition of an accident covered by the program is so loose that too many people qualify for compensation.

"It has become like a social service," he said.

On the welfare system, Republicans are proposing tougher restrictions to the welfare bill passed last year by the legislature.

They complain that bill did not go far enough in getting people off welfare and preventing abuses to the system.

"Last session's bill provided for more government, more programs, more agencies," Richardson said. "The bill was full of carrots to entice people, but it was devoid of sticks."