JEFFERSON CITY - Two of the governor's top priorities, both meant to benefit Missouri's children, passed major hurdles at the Capitol Monday.
Within two hours of each other, each chamber passed bills highly touted by Gov. Mel Carnahan.
The Senate approved legislation to finance day care services by local schools and the House passed the governor's plan to expand Medicaid coverage for child health care.
In a classic example of legislative back-scratching, the Senate approved the governor's child care bill Monday afternoon.
Earlier this session, Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, opposed the Early Childhood Development bill. He questioned the ability of public schools to provide a nurturing environment for very young children.
Jacob switched his position after he was able to add two major amendments:
* The first is similar to a bill Jacob said he's been trying to pass for years. According to the Democrat, it would be the first need- and academic-based scholarship program ever set up by the Missouri legislature.
* The second amendment would pay for a study to ensure the child care program is worth the $21 million price tag.
"After four years there will be an evaluation of the program, and it will prove my concerns wrong or my concerns right," Jacob said.
Everything that has been added to the bill so far, including Jacob's provisions, money for the Veterans' Commission and money for the National Guard, would be paid for from casino revenue.
Sen. Joe Maxwell, D-Mexico, a major supporter of the child care initiative, said he supported Jacob's scholarship proposal, though he admitted, "I thought he was asking for way too much money."
The pair compromised at $3 million.
Meanwhile, Maxwell said conducting the four-year study on the child education plan sounded like a reasonable compromise.
"We just hope our math folks do a good job in four years," he added.
The House approved its own version of the child care bill in March, but now the differences in the two versions must be worked out before the lawmakers head home for the summer at the end of next week.
Across the Capitol, the House of Representatives passed another of the governor's priorities -- expanding Medicaid coverage for children.
Medicaid is the government health care program for the poor and disabled. Its costs are shared by both the federal and state government.
The Clinton administration last week approved Carnahan's request to expand Medicaid coverage to children in families with incomes up to three times the federal poverty level. But Carnahan also needed legislative approval for his plan, which he said would provide health care coverage for 90,000 more children.
Republicans said the bill was welfare for the middle class because the income threshold set in the bill would mean a family of four with an income of almost $50,000 could qualify.
"We're saying to people if you're willing to abdicate your personal responsibility to pay for your health care, then we'll do it," said Rep. Charlie Shields, R-Springfield, one of the outspoken critics of the bill. The Republicans had wanted a lower level.
Democrats argued that families with two working parents on the lower end of the income scale need the help. They also said Missouri should take advantage of the funds the federal government was offering. Last year, Congress passed the plan allowing states to raise the income threshold to 300 percent of the federal poverty level.
"The real world is if we don't draw down the 300 percent, the money goes to other states, and Missouri can pay for children in those states," said Rep. Scott Lakin, D-Kansas City, the point man on the bill for the House Democrats.
Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, voted in favor of the bill, which passed 87-71. He said it would help people who work in construction or food service, industries he said don't often offer their workers health insurance.
Another version of the bill has already passed the Senate. Members from both chambers will meet to iron out differences before a final version is sent to the governor for his signature.
Missouri Digital News is produced by Missouri Digital News, Inc. -- a non profit organization of current and former journalists.