Lawmakers review pending issues for Eggs and Issues

Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Photo by Murray Bishoff Legislators offer views Lawmakers serving Barry and Lawrence counties on the state and federal level offered views on the current legislative process during the Eggs and Issues session held April 19 at the Monett Area YMCA. Pictured, from left, are, moderator Jack Schulz, State Representative Mike Moon, Senator Claire McCaskill's spokesman David Rauch, Senator Roy Blunt's spokesman Steve McIntosh, State Representative Scott Fitzpatrick from Shell Knob, State Senator David Sater from Cassville and Jeff Meredith from the Monett Chamber of Commerce.

Reviving a time-honored tradition, the Monett Chamber of Commerce brought state lawmakers and representatives of federal lawmakers to the Monett Area YMCA for an Eggs and Issues Breakfast on April 19.

Jack Schulz, the long-time chairman of the chamber's government affairs committee, served as moderator.

Representatives from Missouri's United States senators kicked off the discussion. Steve McIntosh reported on how Senator Roy Blunt voted against the proposed gun control legislation last week. McIntosh said legislation for background checks already exists. With dealers covered, only McIntosh said sales by individuals remain.

Blunt co-sponsored three pieces of legislation on mental health, one with noted liberal Minnesota Senator Al Franken. While the bill getting the most attention failed, two passed the next day, McIntosh said.

On immigration reform, Blunt was still waiting to assess the 844-page reform bill from the "Gang of Eight." McIntosh said the senator does not have a definite opinion on the latest proposal. He has been a strong vocal supporter of securing borders first.

Senator Claire McCaskill's representative David Rauch spoke about McCaskill's recent committee assignments. She planned to use her prosecutorial and auditing skills on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs subcommittee to weed out fraud and contract shortcomings throughout the federal system. She would do similar work on a Consumer Protection Product Safety Subcommittee.

Immigration reform looks like "as contentious an issue as we have seen in a generation," Rauch said. McCaskill did not support amnesty, he said, nor a process that would allow people in the country illegally to "step ahead" of those in line for citizenship.

Rauch recommended going to McCaskill's webpage to access her weekly radio interviews.

Royce Reding, representing Billy Long, said the Seventh District Congressman was pleased to see the gun control legislation fail and wanted it "dead on arrival" in the House. Following the controversy over the handling of documents in the conceal and carry issue in Missouri, Reding said Long was working so that no federal agency would violate citizens' privacy and use a list of gun owners.

Long was excited to see the U.S. Senate produce a budget document after several years, giving House members a starting point for their work. Long voted for a resolution to cut $4.6 trillion from the budget over 10 years to move to an eventual balanced budget.

Long has been named to the Energy and Commerce Committee where Blunt, his predecessor, served. Reding said Long planned to work on the subcommittee on regulations, where he could reduce government over-reaching, especially by the Environmental Protection Administration.

In May, Long planned to return to Monett on his annual manufacturing tour, Reding added.

State issues

State Senator David Sater reported as a freshman in a new government body, he has no committee chairmanships and walks farther to his office. He has seen successes, getting his eighth bill passed out of the Senate, including the first by a first-year senator.

On the conceal and carry document controversy, Sater said he wanted to see some people fired. "The governor needs to take full responsibility. We're not going to stand for it."

The Department of Revenue's budget had been set at zero in the budget bill in response to the controversy. Sater called that action "the first shot across the bow."

Sater discussed various measures to reduce the personal income tax, cut the business tax in half and reduce sales tax over five years. While some expressed concern about reducing state revenues, Sater said, "I feel putting money in the hands of constituents is a better way to drive the economy."

State Representative Scott Fitzpatrick commended Sater for providing early guidance in navigating the capitol. Fitzpatrick reported he had been named to committees for the budget, tourism and appropriations for transportation and economic development, which would search for waste across the government.

Committees have a limited number of bill slots for sending proposals to the full House. Fitzpatrick said he will try to attach some of his proposals to other bills as amendments. He would like to amend the welfare bill with more stringent requirements that participants have employment.

Presently only 23 percent of those getting welfare in Missouri are in the workforce, short of the 50 percent federal requirement. Raising the number could end $45 million in fines Missouri presently pays for failing to meet the goal, Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick called federal efforts to boost background checks for gun purchasers "feel-good legislation" without significance.

Questions from the audience inquired about supporting the new government in Egypt when the controlling Muslim Brotherhood opposes Israel and attacks the Christian community. McIntosh called Egypt "a complex interwoven society" where "at the moment Egypt is an ally."

McIntosh preferred to leave judgments to experts like Blunt and the State Department, adding Blunt has long been a strong supporter of Israel. The questioner said he found responses from the senator's office inadequate, McIntosh answered, "You must ask questions that have answers."

Sater and Fitzpatrick said switching to a "fair tax" system was not practical on the state level. Fitzpatrick said consumers in the Kansas City area could simply cross the state line, unlike Florida, where the fair tax has had some success.

Fitzpatrick said he would support a flat income tax, but that Missouri's tax system "has a bucket with a lot of holes." Plugging the holes would help the state more than changing tax systems, he added.

Monett School Superintendent Brad Hanson said southwest Missouri educators were concerned about pushes for open enrollment. Fitzpatrick said Kansas City and St. Louis legislators were pushing the issue, but that taking down borders between districts would only dismantle the ability of school districts to fund their infrastructure.

Fitzpatrick said open enrollment bills would get no traction on the House floor. Sater agreed.

Some issues had no clear solutions. Sater said a bill coming out of the Senate after considerable time offered a way to keep the long-troubled second injury fund solvent. Fitzpatrick said House members looked at eliminating the fund, but the alternative would throw remaining claims onto worker's compensation, skyrocketing insurance rates.

On expanding Medicaid, Sater said, "I don't trust the federal government," and received applause. He preferred fixing Medicaid before expanding it.

Defending the plan, Rauch said Medicaid has remained unchanged for decades, where 60 percent of funding comes from the federal government and 40 percent from the state. Over time, uncompensated care has increased. Hospitals have relied on disproportionate share (DSH) payments for survival, a load borne by the federal government with states not willing to help.

"We have a system where anyone can get healthcare. The question is who pays for it," Rauch said. "We want the people who use the system to be the ones who pay for it. The expansion of Medicaid is what we're doing to try to fix that."

The proposal has provisions to expand mental health services, Rauch said. While one businessman protested the proposal's costs, Rauch responded the provisions don't apply to businesses with less than 50 people.

"More than half of bankruptcies are tied to unpaid healthcare," Rauch said. "Someone has to pay."

First State Bank sponsored the event. All the organizers commended the large turnout for the forum.

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