JCRC hosts meeting with lawmakers


The Jewish Community Relations Council met last week with Missouri’s three Jewish state legislators, and a lobbyist for the Jewish Federation, to hear about Missouri’s current legislative session.

The legislators sounded a cautious note in their predictions for this year’s legislative session, which began last week. The panel spoke at the JCRC board meeting at Hillel on Jan. 8.


Since the Republicans have control of both the Missouri House and Senate, Sen. Jeff Smith, a Democrat, prefaced his remarks by noting, “The Republicans set the agenda.”

Smith said one of the Republicans’ top priorities will likely be the Insure Missouri plan heralded by Gov. Matt Blunt. “It’s an attempt to restore health care to some, but not all, of those who lost health care insurance in 2005,” Smith said.

“It will be very good for the hospitals, but not necessarily very good for people,” he said, noting that the bill would not help children or the disabled.

The issue puts senators in a difficult position, he noted. “In a district like mine, where you have 3,000 people who lost health coverage during the cuts of 2005, it’s very difficult to play politics when you have a chance to get some of those people restored to the health care rolls,” Smith said.

One bill proposed, HB 1463, would prohibit illegal immigrants from entering public universities and colleges. Smith said he would fight the effort, which he said would send the wrong message, particularly to high school students in districts like the St. Louis Public Schools, where dropout rates are already high.

“I hope we will be part of a broad-based coalition to fight these draconian bills,” Smith said.

David Winton, lobbyist for the Jewish Federation of St. Louis said the “major issues are clearly politically driven,” such as tax credit programs. He cautioned that often the programs that are most affected by bills relating to issues like tax credit reform are the nonprofit organizations, or smaller groups that do not have high-powered lobbyists in Jefferson City.

“My fear is that they ignore 90 percent of all the credits because they have high-powered associations that care about them, redevelopment and things like that, and who do we end up picking on? Those without lobbyists,” he said.

As far as immigration, Winton said his concern is that social service groups will have to monitor whether people have legal resident status before they can be helped. “That’s something I know that the Jewish Federation and everyone in this room, is not ready to tolerate,” Winton said.

Democrat Rep. Rachel Storch said property tax reform would likely take up a large amount of legislators’ time this session, and she foresees time spent on Missouri’s non-partisan court plan. “We could take some hits on the non-partisan judges plan, which is really an exemplary system,” she said.

When asked what the Jewish community can do through the legislative session, the panelists said advocacy is always important.

“Most people are pretty disengaged from Jefferson City,” Storch said, which leads to a disconnect between politicians and the people they represent.

Smith said that in advocacy, “the more personal, the better.” “Better than a form email is a personal email. Better than that is a phone call to your legislator. And even better than that, is a personal visit to the Capitol to visit your legislator,” he said.

Storch said that advocacy efforts can pay off. “You just have to keep hammering away,” she said.

JCRC announces new post for Ratkin

In other news, Batya Abramson-Goldstein, executive director of JCRC, announced at the start of the board meeting that JCRC staffer Marilyn Ratkin would be shifting to a new post within the organization.

“An important tenet of Judaism is Hakarat Hatov, ‘recognition of the good,’ and this is a moment in which that kind of recognition is very appropriate,” she said.

“Marilyn Ratkin has been a valued and incredibly valuable member of the JCRC staff for 12 years,” Abramson-Goldstein said.

Ratkin will shift from director of domestic issues at the JCRC to director of the Jewish Fund for Human Needs, which is administered by the JCRC in conjunction with the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.