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Missouri lawmakers return to Jefferson City this week for the 2014 legislative session. Although it’s a new session and new year, it may look and sound a lot like 2013, with renewed battles expected over Medicaid expansion, tax cuts, and Second Amendment rights. St. Louis Public Radio’s Marshall Griffin takes a closer look at what we can expect this time around.
For starters, Governor Jay Nixon and his Democratic colleagues in the legislature are expected to continue pressing for Medicaid expansion. They say accepting more federal Medicaid dollars would expand health care access to more poverty-stricken Missourians, create around 24-thousand new jobs, and provide much-needed funding to rural hospitals struggling to stay open. During a recent appearance on St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon’s Politically Speaking podcast, Democratic State Senator Joe Keaveny said time is running out on the chance to have the federal government pay 100 percent of the expansion cost before 2017 arrives, after which Missouri would have to pay 10 percent :
“I’ve had discussions about the waivers, and I wouldn’t expect a waiver from the federal government until after the state is picking up some of the tab…I think it’s important to do it now – the hospitals and the acute care centers and the employees, they need the expansion, (and) the citizens need the expansion.”
But Republicans remain opposed to any Medicaid expansion without reforms. GOP House Budget Chairman Rick Stream detailed part of the picture during another Politically Speaking podcast:
“When you talk to people who are in the system, and I have constituents who are in the system, they say the system is broken…I went down with one constituent to the state office down in South County – they had no records for her for nine months, even though she had been spending bill after bill after bill.”
Meanwhile, another major battle is expected over cutting taxes for both individuals and corporations. Last year’s effort was vetoed by Governor Nixon, who then went on the road and successfully campaigned against efforts to override his veto. House Speaker Tim Jones indicates, though, that there WILL be another big push to cut taxes:
“When you have a low, certain fair tax system, you provide the opportunity for growth and prosperity…more businesses want to come here, more businesses want to grow here, it’s reducing barriers to job creation.”
Governor Nixon, meanwhile, has already begun working to block GOP efforts to cut taxes. He recently told education leaders in Jefferson City that any new tax cut bill would jeopardize funding for K-through-12 schools, community colleges, and universities:
“We believe that public funds should be used for public schools…so make no mistake – there will be other unaffordable ill-conceived tax bills…there will be other radical experiments masked as reforms.”
Yet another hotly-debated failed bill that’s expected to make a comeback is the so-called Second Amendment Preservation Act, also known as the “gun control nullification” bill. It would have nullified any federal gun law interpreted as infringing on a Missouri citizen’s Second Amendment rights, and would have made it a misdemeanor for any federal officer who tries to enforce a federal gun law found to be in conflict with state law. The vetoed bill fell one vote short of being overridden last fall. Senate President Pro-tem Tom Dempsey cast one of two Republican “no” votes:
“Frankly, at the end of the day, I was concerned about the unintended consequences of the bill…many people who were a part of the bill agreed that there were problems with the bill.”
Those problems included legal opinions that police officers could be sued by criminals found to be in possession of guns, and that members of the media could be charged with a crime if they publicly identified anyone as being a gun owner. There could also be a more-heated battle over the state budget, as Governor Nixon and GOP leaders have failed to reach an estimate on how much revenue they think the state will have next year.