State legislators evaluate ’09 session


All five Jewish members of the Missouri General Assembly representing St. Louis districts took part in an evaluation of the 2009 session organized by the Legislative Council of the Jewish Community Relations Council, and which was hosted by Congregation Shaare Zedek in University City last Wednesday.

Gerry Greiman, president of the JCRC, welcomed the legislators and guests to the luncheon meeting, and said that each legislator had been asked three questions: How did your top legislative priority goal fare in the session? What were the top two challenges you faced? And what will be the goals and priorites in the next legislative session?


Taking part were five legislators, all Democrats: State Senator Jeff Smith, 4th District; and Represenatives Jill Schupp, 32nd District; Rachel Storch, 64th District; Jake Zimmerman, 83rd District, and Steve Brown, 73rd District.

“What turned out to be my top legislative priority was not on my radar screen before the session started,” Smith said. “I was interested in a government economic development bill, which would have provided tax credits to businesses to develop new markets. A state senator from northwest Missouri was given charge of the bill, which became the Senate Substitute Historic District Bill. The original bill could have provided a 25 percent tax credit, which could have produced $6 to $7 million. It could have provided jobs for 30,000 people.”

Smith said that the bill was “re-fitted” so that what might have produced $100 miilion was reduced to about $3 million. The bill could have benefited the Shaw and Soulard neighborhoods. Smith said that he began a fillibuster against the amended bill, “and at the last minute we reached a compromise with three amendments.” He added that the amended bill will make it possible for historic buildings to be developed in city neighborhoods as well as in suburbs like Webster Groves, Clayton and University City.

Smith said the session brought challenges, including seeking passage of Senate Bill 140, which dealt with criminal non-custodial child support. He pointed out that non-violent offenders could not make child support payments while incarcerated. “We passed two bills which provide that any non-violent offender can enter an alternative program which would included job training, drug counseling, etc. instead of incarceration. Despite the resentment generated by my fillibuster on the other bill, I was able to get the bill passed.”

Looking toward the next session, Smith said the biggest challenge will be health care. “We can restore some 35,000 working people who had been cut off from Medicare. Our hospitals were crying out for this last session.”

Rachel Storch, who has served in the legislature since 2004, and who serves as the Deputy Whip for the Democratic Caucus, said the session proved frustrating. “Of my five years in the legislature, this last session was singularly unproductive. Of course our party is not in power in the legislature, and so it is difficult to get legislation passed. I was seeking tax credits for research and development to take advantage of such corporations as Monsanto, which are on the cutting edge. The budget challenges Missouri faces created a lot of tension on the Budget Committee in the House.”

Storch added that she and her colleagues had sought to restore $20 million to support Metro in St. Louis, “but we met with tremendous resistance. The $20 million was cut to $12 million. Some services can be restored, but not all. The Regional Commerce and Growth Association (RCGA) said that 12,000 jobs would be impacted, as would services needed by people with disabilities.”

Storch said that challenges are also being faced in the areas of long-term care and cuts in the Crisis Nursery program which will affect services to children who are the victims of abuse and neglect. “The issues of unlicensed child care facilities, including those that are faith-based continues to be a challenge. Last year a baby died at such a facility, but there is still tremendous resistance to requiring licenses at such facilities.”

Looking toward next session, Storch said that “we will have a very tight budget, and we will have to balance that with some of the federal stimulus money. Some of it is earmarked, but $100 million may be discretionary.”

She agreed with Smith that health care will also be a priority, especially if the federal government makes it a mandate.

In his remarks, Zimmerman paid tribute to his Jewish colleagues on the panel. “Look at this: five Jews, plus a sixth in Kansas City — we could be on our way to a minyan. These people are among the brightest and most capable in the state legislature. We need more such members and we could prevent things like the fact that we could have had $150 million in funds for health care for the needy, which was defeated for no legitimate ideological reasons. When you walk away from $150 million in needed funds, the only explanation can be that you are crazy.”

Zimmerman stressed that Jewish ethical values are in back of his support and that of his colleagues for “real ethics reform, which is so sorely needed. Until we change this system, we will continue to get such crazy public policy stuff from our legislators.” He said that a non-partisan re-districting panel is needed. “We need to get away from people who are only motivated by what the lobbies that support them want.”

Zimmerman said that while such battles have faced an uphill struggle, the forces of ethical behavior will succeed.”

Schupp pointed out that the session was her first as a legislator, and she thanked Zimmerman and her other colleagues for their advice. “I had an agenda that included action on health care, the environment and education. Then the economy tanked. I learned that I may have absolute principled positions, but I had to be flexible if I wanted to get anything done.”

“One proposal I started with an interim step was an initiative on health care and a ban on smoking in public places,” she continued. “I know there are people in my district who would favor a smoking ban, and I also know that many businesses fear such a ban. Businesses which allow smoking could put money into a Heart Health Fund, for example. While the bill did not pass this session, I am going to re-file such legislation each year to focus on this issue.”

Schupp added, “As a freshman representative, I learned that trying to learn so much the first year is sort of like drinking from a firehose.”

In his remarks, Steve Brown said, “One of my favorite political quotes is that democracy is like sausage. If you like it, don’t see it made. I learned that if I show up on time for a hearing, I may have to wait around 20 minutes for it to start. All of us have lots of ideas, but it is another thing to try to get a bill through the legislative process as a memer of the minority party.”

Brown said that his priorities include childhood nutrition to prevent obesity and diabetes through limiting the calory counts in public school vending machines.

All of the legislators stressed the importance of electing more like-minded progressive members of the state Senate and House to gain more leverage in the legislature, which they described as extremely ideological and conservative on most issues.