KASU

Care for disabled, minimum wage in limbo at Missouri Capitol

May 12, 2017

By SUMMER BALLENTINE, KATIE KULL and DAVID A. LIEB, Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri lawmakers faced a Friday evening deadline to finish work in their annual session with several key proposals in limbo, including personal care services for low-income seniors and the disabled and pay raises for tens of thousands of minimum-wage workers in St. Louis.

Other pending measures would create a prescription drug tracking database, enhance penalties for crimes against police and establish a "Blue Alert" notification system about suspects who assault police. Gov. Eric Greitens has expressed support for all of those.

The Legislature, which must adjourn by 6 p.m. Friday, often saves some of its biggest issues until its final day of work, creating a frenzied pace as dozens of bills are rapidly passed — or die. Among the likely casualties was a bill limiting lobbyist gifts to elected officials, which stalled in the Senate.

Lawmakers have been fighting for most of the roughly five-month-long session over money to pay for Medicaid-funded care services for seniors and the disabled.

Greitens initially recommended funding cuts to those services in order to balance the budget for next fiscal year because of lower-than-expected revenue growth this fiscal year. Under his original plan, nearly 20,000 people would have been prevented from receiving care by requiring them to have a greater level of disability to qualify. He later backtracked.

The budget plan passed by lawmakers scaled down the proposed cuts, but care for roughly 8,300 still depends on an agreement between the House and Senate over where to find more money.

The House has refused to take up the latest Senate plan, which would authorize the state administration commissioner to take $35.4 million from various dedicated funds in order to maintain the current level of personal care services.

Instead, House members on Thursday passed a proposal that would need revenues to exceed projections by at least 3.44 percent to avoid the cuts.

While House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick said revenues are on pace to slightly exceed that threshold, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Dan Brown called that a "pipe dream."

Republicans in the House and Senate appear more unified in their desire to undo a minimum wage increase that took effect May 5 in St. Louis. But Senate Republicans may have to resort to some forceful procedural steps to overcome opposition by Democrats.

The legislation would prevent local governments from adopting minimum wages higher than the state's rate, which currently stands at $7.70 an hour. The St. Louis rate recently rose to $10 an hour and is to rise again to $11 in January under a local ordinance that recently was upheld in court.

The National Employment Law Project, a New York-based nonprofit with advocates for higher minimum wages, has estimated that at least 35,000 St. Louis workers are benefiting from the wage increase. The Employment Policies Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit that advocates against higher minimum wages, puts that estimate at more than 25,000 but figures about 1,000 of those workers will lose their jobs as businesses decide they can't afford to pay them more.

Other bills that are languishing include a plan to create a database that would allow doctors and pharmacists to track patients' prescriptions. Missouri is the only state without a monitoring program, which is aimed at curbing opioid and other prescription drug abuse. Legislators have tried and failed to implement a database for years.

Measures aimed at ramping up police protections — top priorities of the new Republican governor — appear to have a better chance at passing. The Blue Alert system would send public notices when suspects who harm police are on the run. Another proposal would ramp up penalties for involuntary manslaughter, stalking, property damage and trespassing if the victim was intentionally targeted as a police officer or for being related to a law enforcement officer.