The bill would require installation of fire alarm systems and smoke-stop partitions, and that a staff member be awake 24 hours a day. It would also set up a loan fund through which facilities could borrow money from the state to comply with the law.
The debate focused on the details of the bill, rather than whether it should pass. Rep. Edward Wildberger, D-St. Joseph, said that this kind of legislation had been considered before the Anderson fire, but could not gain the necessary support.
"(The fire marshall) told us that it would take a disaster of several people killed before this state would ever pass a fire code and he was correct," he said. "We had a disaster, several people were killed and now we're considering what we should have done a long time ago."
Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, submitted an amendment to change the date by which facilities much comply with the law from 2019 to 2015. He said that even though he preferred the earlier date of 2012 from the legislation's original drafting, he was willing to compromise.
"We heard testimony in the committee that said that in other states it's taken them six years to get these sprinklers retro-fitted in facilities that pre-existed the adoption of such statutes," he said. "So I think an eight-year window is more than enough time for every facility in this state to reach compliance."
Rep. Michael Corcoran, D-St. Louis County, said that he also preferred the earlier date but understood the need for compromise. He said that despite concerns that the bill would "put these places out of business" it hadn't happened in other states that had enacted similar legislation.
"What I fear is the loss of lives. We lead the nation in the loss of lives in these nursing homes," he said. "Missouri does once again have that dubious distinction. And I just am worried about future loss of lives. I'd like to see them put in tomorrow, if I could have my way."
Rep. Ray Salva, D-Jackson County, was in favor of moving the date forward four more years.
"We're only in office for eight years," he said. "You're giving those people longer that we're in office to put a sprinkler system in."
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Kevin Wilson, R-Neosho, said he thinks his bill will pass both the House and Senate, since a similar bill passed the Senate March 29.
The bill is estimated to cost the state $260,000 in 2008 and increase to nearly $280,000 in 2010. But, Wilson said it isn't about money.
"I think when you look at how much money would be spent in hiring additional people and phasing this into the facilities, I think we can't put a dollar amount on the lives that we've lost."