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Future looks dim for Republican priorities as legislature begins final week

May 07, 2004
By: Sara Bondioli
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - As the legislative session enters its final week, the priorities presented by the Republican leadership in January remain mostly unachieved.

The governor vetoed the legislature's liability lawsuit bill and the Senate abandoned the House's bill to cut Medicaid enrollments and reduce fraud.

Yet, Republicans say their on-time budget that increases education spending with no tax increases is a notable accomplishment that loomed as the session's biggest issue when it began.

House Majority Floor Leader Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said leadership from House Republicans on the budget helped prevent hundreds of millions of dollars of tax increases.

Other leadership priorities, including bills on workers' compensation, unemployment compensation, foster care and economic development have been passed out of the House and are waiting for Senate action, Crowell added.

"The House has gotten their priorities out of its chamber and now we're just hopeful that the Senate can close the deal and supply the time and votes necessary to make those legislative packages a reality," he said.

In a press conference Friday, Kinder said his priorities for the last week include foster care and a bill that would establish bond issues and tax breaks for business developers. The business bill includes some of Gov. Bob Holden's Jobs Now proposals.

DEMOCRATIC PRIORITIES

However, Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, said he would call it a "wasted session" from the perspective of Republicans. Harris said the legislature has taken very little action in areas including reducing medical liability insurance, promoting economic development and fixing the state's roads.

Democratic leaders of both chambers brought up priorities they said Republicans have neglected to address so far this session. House Minority Floor Leader Rick Johnson, D-High Ridge, said prescription drug coverage for seniors should be priority. He also said the legislature needs to address a bill that would help law enforcement comply with the conceal and carry law passed last year.

Harris agreed. He said the legislation offered by the attorney general has been avoided by Republican leadership. The bill would clarify that fees charged for conceal and carry permits could be used toward all expenses related to the permits.

Earlier this year Holden said he would veto any change to the law that didn't submit the concealed weapons issue to a statewide vote.

Senate Minority Floor Leader Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, didn't address specific bills but expressed his general feelings for legislation coming the last week of session.

"I have much more fear than I do priority, unfortunately," he said.

Jacob has said throughout the session that he must kill bills he considers bad for the state and has done so with frequent filibusters on the Senate floor.

LIABILITY LAWSUITS

Crowell said the House will take a vote to attempt to override the governor's veto of the liability lawsuit bill before the end of the week.

"I think we're doing a very good job of growing the vote," Crowell said. But he said he wouldn't know exactly where everyone stands until the vote is taken.

MEDICAID

Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Gibbons, R-St. Louis County, said earlier in the week that the House's Medicaid bill, House Bill 1566, would probably not come up for a vote again in the Senate. However, Crowell expressed more optimism for its resurrection.

"I am confident that 1566 will pass the General Assembly -- I don't know what version that is," he said.

The House version of the bill reduces Medicaid eligibility while the Senate version only addresses fraud and abuse of the system.

Yet, House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-St. Louis County, said that even without the Medicaid bill, the legislature has begun Medicaid reform with the budget cut that reduces eligibility.