Takeaways from the 2013 Missouri legislative session

By Jill Schupp

Walking to the Capitol each morning during session, with a view of that magnificent building just beyond the hill reminds me of the serious and awesome responsibility I have been afforded by the constituents of my district and the people of the state.  And then, home on the weekends and during the interim, I meet with constituents whose lives are very personally impacted by the decisions we make.  

So, finding the energy comes easily to me.  For those we are able to help, we feel useful.  For those we are not, we look for alternatives.  There is always so much to do for and in support of people, being energized comes naturally.  

Playing defense is a critical part of the process.  Based on the results of our elections for statewide offices versus the elections for members of the house and senate, the two chambers seem very much out of balance with what happened statewide.  A lot of the bills are very extreme, and a lot of opportunities are left on the table.   

The most important opportunity the legislature failed to act upon this year was providing healthcare access to 260,000 low-income Missourians.  Timing was critical, because for three years, starting in 2014, 100 percent of the funding was to be covered by the federal government.  Not passing the legislation for the 2014 start date means we lose one year of 100 percent federal funding.  

Then, consider that the expanded coverage would pay for both doctor and emergency room visits.  Currently, care for the indigent making emergency room visits is partially covered by federal DSH payments (disproportional share), helping hospitals afford to take care of the un- and under-insured patient.  Part of the Affordable Care Act includes DSH payments winding down in 2014.  This was an important incentive for states to expand coverage of Medicaid. Hospitals will not receive reimbursement from DSH, and in Missouri, because we did not expand Medicaid, thousands of patients will still not have insurance.  Some hospitals, including and especially rural hospitals, are likely to close.     

And there is more.  For all the talk about economic development and competition with our neighboring states, providing this extended healthcare access is estimated to provide 24,000 Missouri jobs in the first year alone, and over the next several years, infuse billions of dollars into Missouri’s economy.  Divergent groups from the Hospital Association to Insurance companies to the Missouri Chamber, Missouri Budget Project, Catholic Charities, Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice and Metropolitan Congregations United (and more) have all agreed to the importance of this initiative.  Other than political ideology, there is no reason to have defeated thisexpansion.

And, to compete with neighboring Kansas, a state that is predicted to become bankrupt over the next few years, Missouri has cut corporate and personal income taxes.  We have done so without ensuring that there are revenues to make up for the cuts.  In a state where we do not even fully fund our own K-12 education formula, it is concerning that we are risking our future.  Thus far, Missouri’s relatively low tax rate (about 43rd in the nation) has not resulted in booming business expansion and a stronger economy. Our budget reflects our priorities.  

Legislation that did pass through the process includes a response to recent events in Sandy Hook that expands the use of guns throughout the state.  Lowering the age for a conceal and carry permit to 19, and not only nullifying federal legislation that limits some forms of gun ownership, including machine guns for individuals, but also makes it a crime for officers of the law to enforce federal legislation is extreme, unreasonable and will likely prove to be unconstitutional if a court challenge becomes necessary.

Repeating, our budget reflects our priorities. On a positive note, arriving at the point where conciliation won over partisanship, the legislature found a way to continue the tax credits for low and fixed income renters while reinstating dollars for First Steps and people with disabilities, including the blind.  

Continued attacks on a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions regarding pregnancy serves as an ongoing wedge issue that pits people of differing faiths and those of differing views within the same faith against each other.  Overturning access to contraception at no additional copay through the Affordable Care Act was passed through the legislature despite the overwhelming public view that contraception is an acceptable form of family planning.     

Overall, the seeming lack of compassion for the poor and those less fortunate rears its head through bills designed to punish people receiving support through programs such as TANF (temporary assistance for needy families).  TANF recipients are subject to drug testing and loss of support based on what might be just the whim of a caseworker.  The loss of income to these families, in most cases, these are single parent families with a female head of household and two children, can be devastating. Loss of these temporary funds can undermine a woman’s ability to feed her family or pay the rent or utilities. And, while drugs in this population are no more prevalent than in the general population (about 7 percent), those who are drug tested and need help to have a drug or alcohol disease treated face months of waiting and are often unable to afford to pay for needed treatment.

Judaism has taught me to have compassion for the poor and those among us in need.  Judaism has taught me that it is right to share some of what I have, and that a collective responsibility is sometimes appropriate.  Judaism has taught me the value of community. There is a general attitude in Jefferson City that everyone should be able to pick him/herself up by the bootstraps and take care of him/herself and his/her family.  As we know, (and I think I once heard Rabbi Andrea Goldstein say) some have no boots…

There is always hope and optimism for the future.  I was the lead sponsor on 17 bills this year.  The pendulum swings.  It will take a while (until 2021) for the census to help us determine how new maps for house and senate districts will be re-drawn.  And yet, people continue, on both sides of the aisle, to run for office, sometimes defying the partisan odds and changing minds and hearts.  Meantime, people with ideas and ideals have a responsibility and opportunity to make their cases known to the public throughout the state about a different vision for the future.  As we work to repair the world, there are so many of us, some of whom are legislators, who will relentlessly and passionately work to serve the vision of tikkun olam.  I will always be hopeful.  There are always places to find common ground.  We start there and then tackle the tough issues of our time.  After all, the most critical decisions are never the easy ones.