‘Eggs and Issues’ held at Crowder College
Members of the Neosho Chamber of Commerce gathered on May 18 at Crowder College for ‘Eggs and Issues’ with their local representatives from the Missouri House and Senate to hear about the most recent legislative session in Jefferson City.
Representatives Ben Baker (R-Neosho), representing District 160, Cody Smith (R-Carthage), representing District 163, Lane Roberts (R-Joplin), representing District 161, Dirk Deaton (R-Noel), representing District 159, Bob Bromley (R-Carl Junction), representing District 162, and Ann Kelley (R-Lamar), representing District 127, all spoke briefly during the meeting to talk about things that were important to them during the session that ended May 14.
“It has definitely been a long time and it’s wonderful to see so many smiling faces and to be able to be in the same room as everybody,” said Ashley Siler, Director of Communications and Membership Development at the Chamber before the event started.
Baker spoke first and said that it was a strange session just by nature of some of the issues they were tasked with this year and that a lot of heavy matters came before the general assembly.
Baker said several big issues addressed this year, and priorities of the House, were focused on the children of the state. Whether it was protecting them, educating them or enhancing support for fostering and adopting parents.
“The first bill we passed out of the house this year, and has already been signed by the Governor, I think there’s only been four bills the Governor has already signed,” said Baker. “Two of those dealt with protecting children and enhancing fostering and adoptive parents with funding. One of those expands the tax credits for those who qualify to adopt in our state.”
“I’ve always said if we’re going to be pro-life, which I am,” added Baker. “Then we need to make it easier and more cost effective to adopt.”
Baker also touched on the passing of the Second Amendment Preservation Act. The Second Amendment Preservation Act declares all federal laws, rules, orders or other actions which restrict or prohibit the manufacture, ownership and use of firearms, firearm accessories or ammunition exclusively in Missouri will not be enforced by state law enforcement, state municipal officials and other state officials.
Some of the things Baker was able to “see across the finish line” that he had been working on for the past several years included House Bill 355, the Students Right to Know Act, that requires institutions of higher education to provide outcomes information to incoming freshmen and Senate Bill 86, which created new provisions prohibiting the use of public funds to influence elections.
Next, Smith, who is also the Chairman of the House Budget Committee, spoke on how the budget unfolded this year.
“This year, the conversation around the budget primarily focused on Medicaid expansion,” said Smith, with it ultimately being deciding not to appropriate for expansion.
“The concerns with Medicaid expansion are twofold,” said Smith. “One, is the immediate impact of state revenue and what it would do to the state budget. $200 million a year is a lot of money. Second concern would be the federal spending piece of that. As you all know we are at a tremendous level of debt and deficit spending at the federal level and this would be furthering that.”
Smith said the lesser known story of the session was what they were able to do with the money they didn’t include for Medicaid expansion and that included providing increase for those in nursing homes, with developmental disabilities and providing autism and home healthcare providers with more funds.
Higher Education funding also increased, and Smith added they were able to appropriate some of the federal funds from the COVID relief acts towards capital improvement projects with more hearings to be held on what to use the American Rescue Plan Act funds on.
Roberts talked about the things near and dear to his heart when he spoke, including carrying Senate Bill 5360 on the House side.
“It came over from the Senate with half a dozen provisions,” said Roberts. “It went to our judiciary committee, they worked very hard for several weeks to create a committee substitute that addressed many of the issues on the house side.”
That passed with 138 votes.
Senate Bill 71 was another important topic for Roberts, dealing with modifies several provisions relating to civil proceedings. Orders of protection are limited to at most one year. After that, victims have to go back to court to get an extension.
“That bill was the lifelong protection bill,” said Roberts. “What this bill did, was it allows the judge to hold a hearing and be it of finding of facts say, ‘ok, abuser, enough is enough. This order is good for the rest of your life. Until you can demonstrate to us your rehabilitated and this victim doesn’t have to come back to court every year and renew it,’”
Roberts said it was a meaningful session for him and he had walked away feeling that he had done something worthwhile.
Deaton touched on unemployment benefits and getting people back in the workforce.
“I think what we found, the sizable additional unemployment benefits offered by the federal government through the various stimulus packages was becoming a detriment to restarting economy and getting people to go back to work,” said Deaton.
On May 11, Governor Mike Parson announced that the state was pulling out of the federal unemployment programs.
Deaton, the Vice Chairman of the House Budget Committee since January, said he was proud of the budget and what they funded and didn’t fund, knowing that tough decisions had to be made and they prioritized the biggest needs.
Bromley discussed rural broadband and the transportation gas tax.
“Rural broadband is a real issue, with the pandemic that took place, this became a large issue in many areas of the state,” said Bromley. Bromley told the crowd that there are still eight schools in the state that don’t have high speed internet.
“When you think about that and the disadvantage that can create,” added Bromley. “It’s a big problem with businesses in those areas. Businesses will not locate in an area of the state where there is not good internet service.”
The last time the state increased the gas tax was 1997. The current tax rate of 17 cents per gallon is the 49th lowest in the United States, with just Alaska lower, and Senate Bill 262 will raise it to 29.5 cents over five years beginning with a 2.5 cent increase on Oct. 1.
“When you get up there on the transportation committee and you hear about our infrastructure and trying to figure out how to fund that,” said Bromley “there’s a lot of issues that go into this. I am not for taxes but there’s a lot of compelling arguments on why we should have a gas tax.”
Finally, Kelly said that the session had a sense of urgency as a result of the past year that included bills filed over how things had transpired in the past year and addressed some of those issues.
Kelly talked specifically about three things she thought would have a huge impact.
Mental health, an important topic for Kelly, was addressed via House Bill 604 and 432.
“These two bills were approved by the general assembly containing language that is meant to help Missourians have access to mental health care they need,” said Kelly. “The bills create mental health pairing and mental health addiction act, which requires health insurers to cover mental health care in the same way they cover physical health.”
The other issue Kelly talked about had to do with a hearing bill. Kelly’s husband, a previous legislator, has always had hearing problems and filed hearing bills, with one being passed this year which was House Bill 205 that required insurance companies to cover hearing aids.
“Medicaid covers hearing bills for children,” said Kelly. “But private insurance doesn’t cover hearing aids for children. I don’t know how many times we have received issues where the insurance company is from an out of state person and company and because were Missouri, they don’t cover hearing aids.”
“Hopefully, with this bill that has been passed, if the governor signs it, that won’t be an issue anymore,” added Kelly.